Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Battery Options for the 2017 BMW i3?

A Samsung employee shows of one of the new 94Ah battery cells which I predict the 2017 i3 will boast
Ever since last October when BMW CEO Harold Krueger stated that the 2017 i3 would have an increased electric range, there's been speculation on how they would accomplish it. While BMW hasn't made any official announcements yet, it's widely believed that BMW will be using the new Samsung 94Ah battery cells for the 2017 i3, which I first speculated here, back in November. 

The current i3 uses 96 Samsung 60Ah battery cells which are 3.75v ea. This adds up to a total of 21.6kWh (96 x 60 x 3.75= 21.6). The new 94Ah cells are the same physical size and voltage so an upgrade to these cells would mean BMW could use the same modules and battery tray, greatly reducing the cost as compared to engineering all new packaging for the new cells. Therefore, the new pack should increase from 21.6kWh to 33.8kWh (96 x 94 x 3.75 = 33.8). If the weight of the cells is the same, that should increase the BEV i3's range from the existing 81 miles per charge to approximately 125 miles per charge and the i3 REx's range from 72 miles per charge to about 112 MPC.
The battery pack of my i3 REx. It was removed to replace a faulty battery heating element. 
So we know for sure that the 2017 i3 which begins production this summer will have increased range from improved battery cells, and we believe we've figured out which cells BMW will be using. The next logical question then is:  Will that be the only battery available for the 2017 i3, or will BMW also continue to offer the current 60Ah cells as a lower cost battery pack option? We say the latter.

As a comparison Tesla has always offered different battery pack options for the Model S. That, along with direct sales and the Supercharger network been part of the fabric which has made the Model S so appealing to so many people. But there is another example of an OEM offering battery size options which is an even better comparison, and that's Nissan. Ever since the Nissan LEAF launched in late 2010, it had been fitted with a 24 kWh battery pack. Just past Fall Nissan added a 30kWh battery pack as an option. The entry level "S" model still has the 24kWh battery pack, but if you want the higher level SV or SL trims, you also get the new 30kWh battery pack. 

BMW could do something like what Nissan did and continue to offer the 21.6kWh battery pack, but only on a base i3, to offer a lower cost option. Or they could do like Tesla does and simply allow the customer to choose the battery size they want like any other option. This will however drive dealers nuts because they'll now have to stock four different i3's. Some dealers are already having difficulty deciding how many of each of the current two versions to stock, so four different versions of the i3 definitely won't make their life any easier.  I am however, going to predict this is indeed what BMW does, and if I am correct, here's the 2017 i3 options that will be available as early as this September:

BEV with 21.6kWh battery and 81mi electric range
REx with 21.6kWh battery, 72 mi electric range & 74 mi additional gas range (39mpg x 1.9gal)

BEV with 33.8kWh battery and ~125 mi electric range
REx with 33.8kWh battery, ~112 mi electric range & 93 mi additional gas range (39mpg x 2.4gal)

Note the gasoline range on the 33.8kWh i3 REx increased from 74 miles to 93 miles. That's because in the US, BMW reduced the amount of gasoline available on the car to 1.9 gallons, even though the  fuel tank is actually 2.4 gallons. European customers have had access to the full 2.4 gallons all along, and will continue to do so. The reduced gas availability in the US was so the car would be classified as a CARB (California Air Resource Board) BEVx vehicle, giving BMW the maximum amount of the valuable ZEV credits, and qualifying the i3 for additional state rebates and tax exemptions. However, with the larger battery and longer all electric range, the i3 REx can now utilize the entire 2.4 gallons and still have BEVx designation, so I see no reason why BMW wouldn't remove the gas tank restriction and give access to the full 2.4 gallons. That would increase the overall combined range of the i3 REx from its current 142 mi to 205 mi. 
With the battery tray cover removed, you can see the eight distinct modules that make up the i3's battery pack.
Each module contains twelve 60Ah Samsung battery cells. 
Of course we're still just speculating here, and as we draw closer to the beginning of production for the 2017 model year i3 BMW has been as tight lipped as always on new or improved models. Perhaps the announcement will happen next week at NYIAS, or BMW may wait until closer to the 2017 launch as to not really kill sales of the remaining 2016 i3 inventory. In any event, the improved range will be a welcomed improvement for the i3, if not a necessary one. The new 30kWh battery pack of the Nissan LEAF is only a temporary improvement, as it's been strongly rumored that the 2018 LEAF may have a 60kWh battery. That, coincidently matches the 2017 Chevy Bolt's 60kWH battery pack, and that EV will boast a 200 mile all electric range. Then, in 2018 the Tesla Model 3 will launch, and offer a 200 mile range for about $35,000. So I'm guessing the next i3 range boost will have to happen in 2018 as a 2019 model, perhaps when the 2nd generation i3 is released. 

I'm sure BMW realizes they need to continuously improve the battery in their EV's if they want to be competitive in this space, and this LCI refresh for the i3 proves that BMW isn't going to sit idle and let the competition eat their electrons for lunch. 


  1. Good observations and analysis, Tom. It would be nice of BMW and Nissan to use the new battery chemistries in all of their variants going forward, to minimize weight. So if you don't need the greater range, you could opt for the old range and get a lighter car with better performance and efficiency.

    I also think Nissan should decouple the trim level and battery capacity; many people would like the better-optioned car, but have no need for the greater range.

    But I'm becoming resigned to the trend toward longer range EVs (even though the majority of drivers have no need for it). I'm working to adjust my mind on that as the Model 3 reveal approaches, knowing that it will have a large battery (50 kWh?), and that I am likely to give them a deposit notwithstanding that (even though I never drive more than 100 miles in a day, and normally drive only 6).

  2. Great post Tom, it will be fun to watch how this rolls out and what current i3 owners do next as their leases wrap up....or even those who purchased like me!
    Ed B

  3. I'm one of those for whom the current range limit on my i3 BEV has never been an issue. That said, when my owner's choice term is up this summer I would probably opt for a new i3 with the increased battery if it doesn't cost an arm and a leg extra vs the base battery model.
    To me, the improvement over my 2014 model that I most want is actually (as those who have followed my whining posts over time will know) the sunroof that has been available since day one in Europe! :)

  4. I have to assume that if BMW offers four options, that it will not provide the extended range battery to retrofit existing i3s. Am I on track here Tom?

    1. The two are not necessarily connected, Dr B. There are still the existing owners that might want to upgrade. I'm not optimistic that BMW will offer this, not yet at least. It would be a very expensive option, and not worth it for relatively new owners like us. It would have to cost at least $5,000. They will (I believe) offer it in the future, though. So if you were thinking about keeping your i3 for many years, you could upgrade the battery after 120,000 miles or so with the new pack which has much greater range. And it will cost even less by then.

    2. That is my plan! I bought mine as a long-term investment since I do not drive a lot nor very far. A new battery option 10 years in might be nice if it was around 5% of the total cost which for me would be ~$2,500. I could keep it another 20 and then have that elusive EV "classic" car.

  5. You make a good case, Tom. Based on the evidence, I'd be surprised if this *isn't* what will happen.

  6. In Teslas case, the smaller battery packs costs less to make (less cells, as well as being used in a model variant with a smaller motor). Not sure about Nissan's, but the battery config is a bit different as well, so I don't know how it affect cost to carmaker.
    In the i3's case, if the battery config and casings are the same, it might even be the same controller, and I don't expect the per-cell price will that much lower, so it may not be much cheaper for BMW to make a "bare" 21kWh i3. Of course, they might still do it for marketing (artificial segmentation), but I don't think volumes are already large enough for that.

    I don't believe BMW can really make a cheap i3 given the intrinsic high price of CFRP, and the 80mi-AER i3 will have a serious value proposition issue once $35K-$40K 200mi BEVs hit the market.
    _Maybe_ a 21kWh REx version can be justified, but I doubt that either. people seriously concerned with range will go for 34kWh+REx.

  7. Tom - Can you get a message to Harald Krueger to add the color "matte black" to the color lineup for the 2017 i3s?
    That's a killer color on the Tesla Model III!

    1. Haha. I'm still trying to get them to add "Moloughney Red" as an option!

  8. Well in case BMW hasn't made any official announcement yet about the news of its new 2017 i3 battery system. But still we can get some hints on it through various sources; rumors are spreading that BMW is using the new Samsung 94Ah battery cells for the 2017 i3; but who knows how much truth present in this statement.
    BMW Repair Monroe, NC