BMW’s i3—a New Take on City Cars

BMW i3 concept

BMW presented two very interesting working concept cars this week in Frankfurt that demonstrate the company’s new commitment to hybrid and EV technology.

The i8 is an expensive, sexy plug-in hybrid working off the Vision EfficientDynamics ideas of two years ago. It performs, says TopGear, like the base Porsche 911 (4.6 seconds to 62 mph), with 350 hp and very light weight. More on this one in a future post.

But the i3 is more radical and represents BMW’s attempt to seriously engage in redesigning the city car as something more practical and appealing than the current offerings.

Car and Driver calls it “revolutionary,” with batteries, motor and drivetrain in one “Drive” module (mostly aluminum), and the “Life” module as a separate unit (mostly carbon-fiber) for passengers and luggage. It’s actually roomy.

i3 with doors openSuicide doors and bench seats front and rear permit easy entry and egress. A very compact electric motor uses a 1-speed transmission (no shifts!) to get you to 60 mph in 7.9 respectable seconds (top speed is limited to 93 mph). It will hop off the line to 37 mph in just 3.9 seconds. Ah, the torque of an electric motor.

Battery range is 80-100 miles and a full charge takes about 4 hours, but a special charger can get you to 80 percent in just 1 hour. To mollify those with range anxiety, the i3 can be ordered with a small gas engine range extender, like the Volt’s but likely smaller.

This car is a very different package from either the Volt or the Leaf. It’s going to be available in 2013, with a transparent roof, a fairly posh interior and a style like no other city car.

Toyota’s Smart-“forthree”-like iQ, to be called the Scion iQ mini, will come on sale in the U.S. in October for about $16K, around the same price as the Fiat 500. The ridiculous Aston Martin Cygnet (same basic car as the iQ) will now cost around $57,000 at last report.

The BMW i3, we predict, won’t be priced at anywhere near that number and will be a lot more car.

Does BMW seem to be on the right track in developing the i3? Will there be a market for a prestige electric city car?


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  1. I can’t agree that a hybrid is a logical concept for a “city” car, unless you are talking about cities like Dallas and Los Angeles. 80-100 miles range on batteries should be more than enough for true city cars, and eliminate the expensive, heavy and unreliable hybrid engine and control circuitry. I congratulate on BMW for applying their typically hyper-priced talents to this concept, but a “real” city car should have some of these features:
    1. About 100 mile range on batteries. No hybrid, pure electric.
    2. Two passenger cabin with a rear compartment that has two outward-facing jump seats that can be easily folded for cargo space.
    3. Max speed of 50MPH and crash systems optimized for low-speed protection. That should also save a lot of weight to improve efficiency.
    4. Full 90 degree parking ability– Pull into a space just inches longer than the car. Add to that a standardized racking bracket system on these cars to allow them to be racked into ultra-high density parking structures.
    5. Spend the money saved on the hybrid systems to provide autodrive capability. Many city routes could be equipped with guide wires in the pavement to allow cars to drive themselves when used with automatic braking and acceleration. That would allow a driver and/or passenger to get some work done while commuting.
    If properly designed, such a car should be able to achieve the equivalent of 300-400 mpg, be super easy to park, allow some automatic guidance, and be safe at lower city speeds.
    Wouldn’t research into developing such cars be a better investment for government research dollars than glass solar roads, chicken teeth, bra strap irritation, and bridges to nowhere?

  2. There’s a market for blow up dolls, so we shouldn’t be surprised that there’s a market for a luxury EV. I’d rather have the Tesla but only for altruistic reasons.

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