Sunday, June 30, 2013

BMW i3 Interior Pictures Captured

Super-thin seats of the i3. They'll save weight but will they be comfortable and supportive?
There have been dozens of i3 spy photos captured over the past couple years since BMW has been field testing mule i3's in hot and cold weather climates. Until last week the cars have been camouflaged with a blue swirly cover that effectively disguises the body lines beneath it. However they have all been exterior pictures. Nobody has really been able to capture any interior pictures at all, until now.

An Autokarma follower happened upon a parked i3 on the streets of Leipzig, Germany which didn't have its interior completely covered so he snapped some shots with his cell phone. Although much of it was covered, the seats are completely visible and we get to see them for the first time. They are surprisingly thin, no doubt to save weight. The picture of the rear seats is kind of dark but what you can take from it is there will be plenty of rear leg room which is uncommon in a car of this size and much more than there is in a BMW 1 series like my ActiveE. In fact, I'd say it looks like there is at least as much room in the rear seating area than there is in a 3-Series. This would confirm what BMW NA electric vehicle program manager Jacob Harb said at last years LA Auto Show, that the i3 would have about as much interior passenger room as a 3-Series even though the exterior dimensions are much smaller.
The rear seats will have plenty of legroom

Now that BMW has pretty much shown the whole exterior and are leaving pre-production i3's on the streets of Germany it can't be long in my opinion before we get to see the whole car. I had previously assumed BMW would hold off to the Frankfurt Auto Show to reveal the production i3, but recent reports have claimed it will be much sooner than that and I'm beginning to believe that will be the case. All the better!
Practically uncovered i3's now roam the streets in Germany. BMW is still obscuring the funky look of the rear window though.
The video above is brief but you can see the interior a bit and even an armrest which people have asked about. It was shot by Joachim Kerscher in Sittenbach, Germany. He just happened to see the car drive by his house so he drove around looking for it and found it parked here. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

BMW i3 REx: A Hobbled Horse or a Galloping Thoroughbred?

The BMW i3 range extender engine which is made by Taiwanese manufacturer Kymco for BMW.
There is still a lot of unknown information about the i3. BMW has been extremely conservative about what information they offer. While they have stated it will have an electric range of 80 to 100 miles and cost about the same as a nicely equipped 3-Series, the two biggest questions still remain: What will the EPA range rating be and exactly what will it cost? However right behind those two questions for many people is: What will the performance be when the range extender is in use?

The range extender engine will be a 650cc Kymco engine borrowed from the BMW C650 GT scooter. It will be highly optimized to lower noise & vibration and will only put out 35hp, compared to its 65hp when used for the scooter. The gas tank will be a miniscule 2.8 gallons and BMW has stated it will extend the range of the car about another 90 miles, effectively doubling the cars range. However many journalists are wondering will that added 90 miles be an ultimate driving experience or the ultimate disappointment?

The REx will fit nicely next to the e-motor
The Chevy Volt is the closest vehicle to compare the REX i3 to, even though it's not exactly an apples to apples comparison. The Volt has a 1.4 liter gas engine that puts out 80hp to power the generator, more than double the output of the i3's gas range extender engine. However the Volt weighs 1,000lbs more than the i3 will and isn't nearly as efficient so it would naturally need a larger, more powerful range extender engine. The Volt's robust range extender allows it to drive uninhibited while the range extender is maintaining the car's charge. The million dollar question is will the same be said about the i3? That answer looks like it will be no, it won't. BMW's Product and Technology Communications spokesman, Dave Buchko said of the range extender: "The i3 range extender is meant to enable the car to go a little further than the pure BEV on those rare occasions when driver needs to go a little further. It is not intended for daily use. We've said that the REx [range extender] will double the effective range of 80-100 miles. I have not seen anything to suggest that it would not be capable of doing so.". Then BMW North American CEO Ludwig Willisch said while the range extender is running: "The car will not be as agile," Willisch said. "It will not have full power when it runs on the combination."

I'm not exactly sure what "not intended for daily use" means though. That sounds like you'll break if you use it every day and that's obviously not going to be the case. Will the cars performance be so inhibited while in REx mode you wouldn't want to drive it that way every day? I find it difficult to believe BMW would add the range extender if it was so weak it offered terrible performance while in use. Willisch must have confidence it will perform admirably in REx mode though because he predicted at least 80% of US i3 buyers will order it with the range extender. I've also heard it described by some as a "limp home mode" by some(not BMW people) and I also don't believe that is accurate either.

An i3 with the range extender was caught at a gas station refueling in this spy photo. The gas filler door will be located on the front passenger quarter panel and the charge port will be on the rear passenger side quarter panel, just above the wheel.
A big determination of how it will perform in range extender mode is how much of the battery the car holds as a buffer when the range extender turns on. Lets say the i3 normally only uses 90% of its 22kWh capacity. That means the all electric i3 will utilize about 19.8kWh's. If the REx i3 holds another 10% as a buffer to help with short bursts of needed energy than the range extender will turn on after using only 17.6kWh's of the 22kWh pack. This will allow the car to perform better when in REx mode but it will also mean the car will drive about 10 miles less on electricity. The larger the buffer the better the REx performance but the shorter all electric range. I hope BMW allows you to turn off the REx for those times when you could make your destination on pure electricity if you only need a few miles after the REx would have turned on. That way you could utilize the full ~19.8kWh that a BEV i3 has available, without reserving the buffer needed for the REx since you don't intend to need it. Of course the percentages of the battery pack utilization I'm using here are just guesses on my part, but I expect them to be pretty close to reality.

My guess is it will be pretty much in between the hobbled horse and "ultimate driving EV" when the range extender is in use. I think it will drive fine on flat terrain, and can probably even drive along at 70mph in those circumstances. However introduce an extended incline or times when you need to go 75 or more to keep up with traffic and the car could quickly find itself gasping for enough energy to maintain its motion. It definitely won't be a "It'll get you home but you'll have to crawl along at 30mph" but lets just say you'd lose if you try to autocross in REx mode. Then again, if BMW does reserve a fair amount of the battery back as a buffer, it could perform very well for the first 20 miles or so, before the stored energy gets to a minimum and the REx is working at maximum output to sustain the charge level.

The bottom line is if you really just want the security of knowing you'll never have to call a tow truck to get home, then the REx will be worth its weight in gold for you. I've been there on the side of the road a couple times in the past four years falling short of my destination so I know it will be a valuable asset for those circumstances. However if you plan to use the range extender to drive hundreds of highway miles to make a far off destination, then I'm guessing this isn't the right EV for you. Horses for courses. Hopefully, we'll get the answers to these questions and all the technical specifications of the i3 soon. It launches in Europe in the fall so the wait is nearly over.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

How Much Will It Cost To Fuel The i3?

The concept i3 coupe parked with a BMW i branded level 2 wall charger
I get asked all the time "How much does it cost to drive an electric car?" I've also had a fair share of people say " I like the car, but I wouldn't want to see your electric bill". Like gas cars, some electric cars are more efficient than others. The BMW i3 has been purpose built to not only offer the dynamic driving experience BMW customers have come to expect, but to also be a highly efficient car. But what is efficient for an electric car? Everybody understands MPG for gas cars but few really understand how electric cars are measured for efficiency, let alone how that will translate into the cost to operate it.

The ActiveE Monroney sticker
First off lets discuss how the EPA calculates the miles per gallon equivalent(MPGe) for electric cars. Gas cars have the official EPA miles per gallon listed on the window(Monroney) sticker and electric cars have a rating called MPGe. Since one gallon of gasoline creates the same energy as 33.7 kilowatt hours of electricity, electric cars are tested to see how far they can go on 33.7kWh's and that is the official MPGe which is listed on the window sticker of every new EV. The BMW ActiveE I drive has a rating of 107 MPGe. Not bad for a heavy converted gas car, but not especially good as far as electric vehicles go. The Chevy Spark EV, recently was rated at 119 MPGe making it the most efficient EV rated so far as it barely beat out the Honda Fit EV's 118 MPGe rating.

Neither The Fit EV or the Spark EV were purpose built as electric vehicles. They are converted gas cars like the ActiveE. Being purpose built as an EV with a lightweight CFRP body and aluminum frame, the i3 should easily top the Spark's 119 MPGe rating. I'm guessing the i3 may have an MPGe rating as high as 130, which will give it the "most efficient EV" crown, one that it may hold for quite some time as there is really no other EV coming out anytime soon that will challenge it in my opinion.

So lets say the i3 gets a 130MPGe rating for arguments sake. That means it will go 3.86 miles for every kilowatt hour of electricity you use to charge it or need about 26kWh's to drive 100 miles. The average price of electricity in the US is 11 cents per kWh, however that varies greatly from state to state. I pay 18 cents per kWh so for me it would cost $4.68 to drive an i3 100 miles. If I were to drive 15,000 miles per year my annual fuel cost would only be $702! How far can you currently drive on $702 in gas? If your car gets 25 miles per gallon and you pay on average $3.50 per gallon(which is lower than what we have averaged the past year) it would cost you $2,100 in gas to drive the same 15,000 miles! Plus, we all know gas prices will only climb over time. Electricity rates do go up occasionally but historically they are much more stable than gas prices. Plus, many people do have the option of installing a solar array which will guarantee a free supply of electricity for the next 25 to 30 years. There is nothing the gas and oil industry can offer to compete with solar, as the customer supplies, and has control over their own energy.

BMW will offer solar canopies to i3 customers

So whip out your electric bill and find out how much you pay per kWh for your electricity. Then divide the number of miles you drive per year by 3.86 and multiply that by your electricity rate and you'll know how much it would cost you to fuel an i3 for a year. I'm sure you already know how much you dump into the gas pump so calculating your savings won't be too hard. Of course if you want to save even more you can install a solar array at your home like I did and start making your own electricity. Sure there's an initial outlay of cash for the solar system and not everybody can afford it, but if you can it's a fantastic set up and you'll have it paid off in a few years of savings from driving your i3 on sunshine!