Monday, September 30, 2013

Customer Reactions From The First US BMW i3 Test Rides

The i3 used for ride-alongs at the San Diego National Plug in Day event. Photos courtesy Chris Llana

This weekend there were over about 100 National Plug In Day events held around the US. I was at the North Jersey event held at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey. I was there with my new ActiveE and we had a total of about 25 electric vehicles in attendance. By all means it was a great day and we helped spread the word about how great plug in cars really are. However across the country at the San Diego Plug in Day event something special was happening. BMW had an i3 there, and for the first time in the US they were taking customers on test rides.

No one was allowed to actually drive the car, as it is a pre-production i3 and only BMW employees are allowed to actually drive it, but the driver was definitely giving the passengers a taste of what the i3 is capable of. He wasn't just rolling around a parking lot at 15 mph like many EV ride-alongs do, they went for a real drive on the streets and the driver was punching the accelerator to show off the power as well as the cars grip on the road. Since I wasn't there, I reached out to three people, Peder Norby, Grant Kluzak and Chris Llana, that were there and had the opportunity to go for a test drive to get their impressions.  

Peder and Grant are very experienced electric vehicle drivers. Chris doesn't yet own an electric car, but has been closely following the electric vehicles currently on the market and intends to buy one soon.

First up is Grant Kluzak. Grant drives a Toyota RAV4 EV and his wife Kristine drives an ActiveE and here's what he had to say:

"At the San Diego National Plug-in day event I had the opportunity to ride as a passenger in a pre-production model of the BMW i3. Since my wife is the primary driver of our BMW Active E, I am somewhat of a professional passenger in an electric BMW. I had a slight hang-up on the overall look of the i3, however after the ride, I now think the look fits the vehicles behavior. It's not an SUV and it’s not a traditional BMW sports car. It is truly a cross-over. You do not feel as low to the ground, or sporty as you do in the Active E. 

It appears to handle nearly as well as an Active E, possibly even accelerating faster. One truly amazing feature is the incredibly tight turning radius which will be very handy in tight parking lots or small city streets. The driver told us that the regenerative braking feel is nearly the same as the Active E and that he finds himself one pedal driving most of the time. I’m excited about this because I drive a Toyota RAV4 EV and find the regenerative braking is too light compared to the Active E. The interior cabin was comfortable and supportive as we would expect from BMW. There is an interior finish on parts of the dash and doors that looks and feels like felt. We were told that it is made from recycled carbon fibers. I really liked the look of this new material and was glad to hear it is made from recycled material. 

Riding in the back seat behind the driver was comfortable for me a six foot two large man. That is not something I can say about the Active E and the i3 was much easier to get into with it’s “suicide” doors in back. There are plenty of cup holders, two in the back and one fixed and one movable between four different locations up front. The BMW engineer I talked too found it amazing that Americans were so fixated on the cup holders in our cars. Apparently there was much debate between the US and Germany on the number and location of the cup holders. I think they got it right with one per passenger. Yes, it’s a four seat vehicle. Having loosely followed the development of the i3, I was under-impressed with the slight glimpses we saw of the vehicle along the way. I did not think it would be a good follow on to the Active E. Having now ridden in an i3 and getting to see and feel the ride comfort, I can’t wait to get behind the wheel and test drive one. I think it has great potential as being the vehicle we will replace our Active E with."
Photo courtesy Peder Norby

Next it's Chris Llana. Chris has been a longtime follower and commenter on my blogs and he even helped me out with photo-shopping for my April Fools post here this year.

"I attended the National Plug In Day event in San Diego on Saturday.  There were about 110 privately-owned plug-in cars there, of all sorts, as well as more than a dozen plug-in cars available for drives and rides (the Model S and the BMW i3 were passenger rides only).  There were seven ActiveEs there (and almost 40 LEAFs).  
 I arrived early and headed right for the i3.  Not a lot of people there at that time, but lots of enthusiasm.  I ran into Peder Norby there; there were at least a couple of other ActiveE drivers inspecting the i3.  The car looked better in person than in photos, Tom, as you have mentioned before.  The interior, in particular, was much nicer than the photos let on.  The driver's position was very comfortable, with ample head and legroom for my more than 6'2" height; the steering wheel was very nice, and placed to perfection.  Visibility was great.   
  The back seat was the big surprise -- very usable by full-size adults, and the front seats did not have to be moved forward to give room for the backseaters' legs.  At one point, both Peder and I were in the back seat -- both of us commented about how comfortable it was, for short runs at least.  Peder is about as tall as me, and not a small man.  We pretty much filled all of the available space, with no extra headroom, but that means most adults will find the back seat more than adequate.  
  I was in the i3 for the first ride of the day (in the front passenger seat), along with two others in the back seat (including one ActiveE driver).  A BMW engineer was driving.  The drive was out on the streets surrounding the parking lot where the event was held -- city speeds, no highway travel.  The acceleration from a stop was impressive, even with four people in the car!  I can only imagine what it would be like with just the driver in the car (and 500 fewer pounds).  With the windows open, the car under hard acceleration sounded like a muted jet engine spooling up -- very cool sound!  The ActiveE driver in the back seat said it was quieter than the ActiveE, and after one spirited take-off, told the driver he had just sold a car!  All in all, I was very impressed!"

Lastly, it's Peder Norby weighing in and he's a real EV pro. Like me Peder has been BMW's e-mobility trial lease programs since 2009. Peder had a MINI-E and now has an ActiveE as well as a Honda Fit EV and has racked up nearly 70,000 all electric miles. Here's what Peder wrote on our i3 group's Facebook wall:

There was plenty of room for Peder and Shawn in the backseat
"I think Shawn is 6'2" and I am 6'3" We thought we would put the two biggest guys in the back. Warning do not try this in an ActiveE! I would never think of trying to shoehorn myself back there.

Lots of room in the i3 for a small car. With the drivers seat fully back there is 4 inches between the seat and the back seat as compared to the ActiveE where the seat touches the back seat. Width wise up front I would say larger than the Active E but not quite as wide a as a 3 series. The space in the rear of the seats is very good, with the seats folded down there is a lot of room. Similar or greater to the Honda Fit EV. The Fit EV is a touch wider but not as deep.

Sitting in the back was very comfortable and we had a 6'0" driver in his comfortable driving position in front of me. I was just fine and not cramped.

Test drive was great, MUCH faster than a Mini-E which is MUCH faster than an ActiveE, and it all comes from the rear so much better control. The driver punched from the lights and it was very impressive even more so than the Mini-E.

Best impressions are:

That the car looks much much better in person, It is very planted on the road at speeds just like the ActiveE and unlike the Honda Fit EV (I love the Fit EV but its a bit of a tinny dancer on the highways. The car for me seemed even quieter than the ActiveE. The interior on the test car was the highest class and it was indeed higher in quality than the ActiveE,

Insights, The rep said that if dealers are taking list it's not official from BMW but unique to the dealer. He also said that BMW will be reaching out to the Electronauts and that they will be in the first group to get the cars. The driver of the i3 said he has lots of seat time in both the i3 and the ActiveE. He described the range on the freeway of both cars as similar and range in the city of the i3 as superior to the ActiveE.

One very interesting conversational detail was that the braking distance in the i3 is among the best of the BMW cars including the M cars. They are validating the stopping distance currently but that it is going to be a big surprise to a lot of people. That bodes very well for performance and for safety

We made some circles in the parking lot and I have never been in car with that tight of a turning radius. The carbon fiber roof is awesome, many areas where you can see the carbon
fiber such as the sills and when you open the rear hatch. BMW left a lot exposed and that is good. Love the rear lights.

Very Impressed."
Peder also maintains a blog about his electric driving experiences and wrote a post on the i3 driving event. You can read the whole post here. So I'd say so far so good. The people at the event that had the chance to go for a ride all seem generally impressed. I suspect it won't be long before BMW gets a lot of production i3's delivered here to the States and opens up actual driving events, that will be the real test.

Friday, September 20, 2013

BMW i3 Production Video Series

BMW released a four part video series which shows in great detail the construction process of the i3. From carbon fiber manufacturing, to battery pack construction and full vehicle assembly on the production line at Leipzig. It's rare that a manufacturer allows such a detailed look at how they make a car. There's over an hour of combined video in the four part series below. If you are an i3 enthusiast, or even just a car person, this is definitely worth watching.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

BMW i3 Electric Motor Assembly Video

A friend of mine posted a video that shows the manufacturing process of the 168 horsepower, 184 lb-ft electric motor used in the i3. It's nearly nine minutes long and pretty comprehensive so I thought I'd put it up here. Hat tip to George Batek for finding and posting it on the Facebook group page!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

BMW i3 Production Begins!

Fitschen accepts the keys to Job 1 from BMW board member Harald Kruger
Series production of the BMW i3 began today in Leipzig. In less than two months the i3 will be available for sale in Germany and select European countries with US deliveries beginning 4 - 5 months later. BMW gave the keys to the first i3 to roll off the assembly line to German Marathon runner Jan Fitschen.

These are exciting times. The i3 is the first volume series production car in history to make such extensive use of carbon and aluminum and it's the first electric vehicle to be offered for sale by BMW company history. The better news is, this is just the beginning of the electric revolution!


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Serial Production of The i3 Begins Tomorrow

According to Automobilwoche a German car website, serial production of the BMW i3 will begin tomorrow, September 18th at BMW's Leipzig manufacturing plant. You can read (if you read German) or translate the article here.

The i3 is scheduled to go on sale in select European countries in November with the US launch set for Spring 2014. However, it's not clear if the range extender will be available as an option from the start. I have had people in Germany and the UK tell me when they placed their order the BMW i representative told them the range extender option will not be available until after the new year meaning they will have to wait a few more months if they want the REx. I have not heard any official confirmation of this, but I have no reason to doubt those that told me this. I have been told that the range extender will be available right from the start in the US though, and since we have to wait 4 or 5 months longer than Europe for the launch, that seems legitimate. 
The floor of the i3 assembly plant.
Carbon fiber i3 passenger cells are carried down the production line in Leipzig

Saturday, September 14, 2013

More i3 Video Love

There have been i3 videos popping up just about every day now. I posted a bunch of them a few days ago and when I find any of interest I'll post it here. This one by Automann TV spends a good amount of time inside the car so I thought it would be interesting to post. Make sure you change the settings to 720p or 1080p for the clearest look.

Friday, September 13, 2013

i3 Range Extender Closer Look

If you look at the two pictures of the i3 chassis above, you can see the one on the left has a large empty space to the right of the electric motor with only a support brace in the empty void. In the picture on the right there isn't any spare room and it appears as if the entire unit there is one large piece of machinery, which of course it isn't. That's the i3's optional range extender and BMW certainly used every inch of space they had to squeeze it in there.

The engine used in scooter trim
When equipped with the range extender the i3 weighs 330lbs more, is slightly slower (because of the added weight) and has a lower all electric range since the rage extender comes on automatically once the state of charge reaches about 20%. The driver will have the ability to manually turn the range extender off so it doesn't come on at 20%, and many will likely do so as long as they can make their destination to recharge safely before they run out of charge. However many will be willing to accept these drawbacks because of the added utility the car when equipped with the range extender, as well as having the peace of mind knowing you'll never get stuck somewhere if you fail to calculate the cars electric range properly or need to drive further than expected.

The i3's range extender is a modified version of the 650cc Kymco engine used in the BMW C650 GT scooter. It's highly optimized for this particular use and puts out only 34 horsepower compared to 65hp when used for the scooter. It has a tiny 2.4 gallon gas tank which is positioned in the front of the car close to the filler door which is above the front right wheel. BMW claims the range extender will add up to 87 miles of range before needing to refuel but whenever a manufacturer says "up to" I've found you can easily discount that number by as much as 20% so without any proof  I'm guessing it will provide around 70 miles of additional range.

The range extender tailpipe is shown here. This picture was taken from the rear of the car and you can see how it won't be possible to see any tailpipe unless you bend over and look under the car.

The Frankfurt Motor Show just opened a few days ago and Horatiu Boeriu, the managing editor for BMWblog was there covering the event. I have been providing content for BMWblog for a few years now and Horatiu usually asks me to cover electric mobility topics on his site. I asked him to get a picture of the underside of an i3 because I haven't seen any good pictures of that yet. I tried to get one myself at the i3 premier but the lighting was so bad my picture wasn't clear enough to use. So Horatui got the picture I asked for and I was pleasantly surprised to see the car he picked had the range extender option on it and he got a great picture of how BMW managed to conceal the range extender tailpipe so it's not visible from the outside unless you crawl under the car like Horatiu did to take the picture. This is important because many electric vehicle owners have expressed how they are proud they don't have a tailpipe on their EV. They don't want to see a tailpipe on their car, even if it's a range extended EV that happens to need a tailpipe. This is the very first picture I have ever seen of the range extender exhaust, and may just be the first one ever published.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rory McIlroy & Gary Woodland Race BMW i3s!

Rory Mcllroy and Gary Woodland competed in a driving challenge Tuesday to kick off BMW Championship week. The two competed against the clock to raise money for the Evans Scholars Foundation. For their participation, BMW donated $10,000 to the Foundation.

BMW has also pledged to give an i3 to the first player who makes a hole-in-one this week at Conway Farms’ 17th. As for the competition, both Mcllroy and Woodland were impressed with the i3's acceleration, handling and braking and they finished only 2 seconds off the courses' record.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

BMW i3 Video's Galore!

With the Frankfurt Auto Show in full swing now, there have been various videos of the i3 posted on YouTube. Some, like the first one here were shot by journalists (that one was done by Horatiu Boeriu of BMWBLOG) getting a ride in an i3 and others vary from describe the navigation system to "taking a ride" around BMW's indoor track at IAA. There hasn't been any new i3 information coming out if the show, but videos are always fun:


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Bizarre Case of The Abandoned i3

Source: Jalopnik

A few days ago Jalopnik posted some pictures of an i3 sitting on the side of the road on I-684 in New York and called it "Poor Little i3 Gives up, is Abandoned in NY Suburb". The author makes the assumption that the car broke down and the driver just left it there on the side of the road, near an exit ramp for the tow truck to come and get it. While I find that hard to believe, at the same time there are few other valid explanations.

Evidently a Jalopnik reader was driving by and saw the car sitting there unattended and stopped to take the pictures. This area isn't far from BMW's North American headquarters and it's not uncommon for prototypes and pre-production BMWs to be seen driving around these parts. However it is very uncommon to see one left unattended. These are not production cars and are pretty rare now. There are probably only a dozen or two of them in the entire US at this point and for one to be left sitting on the side of the road unattended it's pretty shocking.

However we don't have the whole story, and likely never will. I don't suspect this is the kind of thing BMW would comment on so I wouldn't even ask. There is no picture of it being towed so there really is no proof that it was actually broken down, other than to say why else would it be sitting there like that.

Maybe the driver needed to make an unscheduled bathroom break in the woods? I guess I'd rather believe that then it broke down and the driver just left it there. I suspect someone at BMW had some explaining to do when they came to work on Monday!

What do you think happened here?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Loads of i3 Pictures From Frankfurt!

The Frankfurt Motor Show hasn't officially opened yet, but today is the first day the press had access. The i3 and i8 are the centerpieces of BMW's display this year and BMWBLOG is there snapping dozens of pictures of the i3 in various colors. There's no new news yet, but I wanted to get these pictures up ASAP. I'll post any new i3 information as it gets released, but for now enjoy the pics! Click to enlarge. All photos credit BMWBLOG.

BMW has an indoor track set up at the show. The i3 & i8 are available for test drives. Here is an i3 in Laural Grey on the track.