BMW i3 Concept Revealed

By · July 29, 2011

BMW plug-in concepts

BMW held a press conference today and officially unveiled their concept i3 & i8 cars. It was great to see them finally show the world something other than a vague rendering. Tthese cars are way past the concept stage so I was honestly expecting something closer to what they are currently conducting real world testing in.

However knowing BMW, they always play close to the vest and the new i cars will be no different. Overall I think they will be very similar to what the concepts show, minus the glass roof and sides. The i3 for example will sport an unpainted carbon fiber roof. It will have a glossy, black carbon fiber look, not painted like the rest of the car. I have already seen pictures of the roof designed for pre-production models.

BMW plug-in concepts

Some i3 details that were revealed:

  • It will have 19” wheels that wear low profile yet narrow tires. This design was chosen to reduce rolling resistance. I don’t know of any small car like this that has 19” wheels.
  • The battery pack will charge in six hours from a standard European household outlet. This means the 16-18kWh pack that I have heard will be used is pretty accurate. They also say it will charge to 80 percent in an hour using a special high speed charger, but didn’t offer the details on that. That makes me wonder if they are going to employ the same Level 2 charging that the MINI-E has. I can charge 50 amps at 12 kW, which would charge a 16 kWh pack to 80 percent in about an hour.
  • It will go 0-60 in less than eight seconds, faster than the MINI-E or ActiveE, and be limited to 93 mph. (The MINI-E is limited to 95.) Either way, it’s fast enough for me.
  • Range is 80 to 100 miles depending on driving conditions. This is the first time I have heard anything less than 100 miles. I have had a lot of conversations with BMW people and they have all said it will have a real world range of 100 miles, just like the MINI-E and ActiveE. I’ll be following up on this with my BMW contacts for clarification.
  • There will be a range extender option. They call it “i-REx.” It will be a small gasoline engine that is mounted just behind the rear axle and next to the electric motor. It will not be connected to the drivetrain at all, and unlike the Chevy Volt, it cannot power the wheels under any condition, it can only sustain the battery charge. Although I’m sure it will be an expensive option, it would make an interesting vehicle. I think an 80 to 100 mile AER with the range extender will be an interesting combination. They didn’t go into detail about what engine they would use, but I’ve heard talk of a three cylinder gasoline motor for this use.
BMW plug-in concepts

Nick Chambers was actually at the press conference today so I’ll leave the heavy lifting up to him when he gets back. So what are your thoughts on what has been revealed so far? Will the i3 be a boom or a bust for BMW?


· · 7 years ago

Boom or bust? To me that depends on the i3 price. However, I realize that BMW competes in the luxury/performance category, so price may not be an obstacle for the typical BMW buyer. Not being a member of that exclusive club, I don't know what motivates them.

· · 7 years ago

dgp: You are certainly correct in bringing up price. I've heard anywhere from $35,000 to $45,000. That's a big spread and the difference would make a huge difference in sales. Personally I don't know how they could sell it for under $40-42K and not lose their shirt on it. Of that's the case and it's $32 to $35K after the Federal tax rebate then I think it will do well, provided it looks good in production trim and they manage to get 80 to 100 miles out of a 16kWh pack as they claim they do.

· · 7 years ago

Tom, 16 kWh is about half the size of the Mini E battery, isn't it? A range of 80-100 is asking a lot but if they really work to keep the Cd and weight down, as it appears, then I could see it happening. That small battery pack would lower the cost considerably versus the Leaf 24 kWh pack. But those exotic materials to get the weight down would boost the price back up again.

At $35K ($27.5K after tax credit) I would think that the i3 would be a great success, at least for small number of people willing to consider an EV for their next car. Over $40K and they are well into the luxury car class and I never understood how that market segment works — why pay big bucks for a luxomobile when one can get a decent new car for half the price or a decent lightly used car for one third or one fourth the price? (Bragging rights? Showing off one's wealth?)

But, then, I am thrifty by nature and buying any of the early EVs will be a major financial stretch for me, when I could buy a gas-sipper for $12K or so. So I guess I will be making a statement when I buy my EV: "No more oil!"

· · 7 years ago

Yes, it is just about half the size. Here's how they do it. The MINI-E has a Cd of.36(it's a rolling brick) and the i3 is (from what I'm told) .28. Then there the weight. MINI-E is 500-600lbs heavier even though it's smaller due to the huge battery and the extensive use of CFRP and other lightweight materials on the i3. Obviously these lightweight materials will push the cost of the car up some. Also figure in the new battery cells being used. I've been told by BMW engineers that these new nickel-manganese-cobalt cells made by SB-Limotive have 4-5 % better energy density than any other cells they have tested and are much better than the batteries that they used in the MINI-E.

Why do people spend so much for luxury cars? I guess we all have our own reasons. I don't really care much what other people think of me(and I'm not just saying that!) but I do enjoy nice cars. I work hard and I'm lucky enough to be able to afford just about any car I like. After 14 hours working in the restaurant I enjoy sitting in a car that I like and driving home. For most people buying a car is an emotional decision, not a practical one. If that were the case, as you said above, everyone should buy a used car because the value is so much greater.

· · 7 years ago

Tom, I don't really think a price of $35K for the i3 will happen but I'd be thrilled to buy one if it did. Except that by then I will probably already have purchased a Leaf or FFE. However, if a price like that for the i3 were announced before EVs make it out here to the boondocks, I'd be sorely tempted to wait and see...

Glass roof aside (only people who live in a cloudy country would come up with such a thing) I find that i3 concept quite> attractive!

· · 7 years ago

This is still a show car. I'm expecting the production model to be narrower.

· · 7 years ago

The dimensions will remain virtually the same as this concept. The most notable differences will be the removal of the silly, concept only glass roof and lower glass sides. They already have a bunch of these made (non concept form) and have been testing for eight months now. I know the length is 151.4 inches and weight is 2,700lbs, but I don't have the exact width. It has a very long and wide wheelbase for this size car which has supposedly made it very agile and handle very well.

· Jerry (not verified) · 7 years ago

Looks cool. Not like some of the other electric cars that I'd be embarrassed to drive. If they manage to keep it at around $40,000 I think it's a boom. Over $45,000 and it's a bust. JMHO

· Henrik2 (not verified) · 7 years ago

Will it boom or bust? The price will be important of cause. Its price could be importantly higher than the Nissan Leaf that will be its overwhelming competition because it will be available everywhere by 2013. The i3 will have better handling than the Leaf because it is rear wheel propelled and it will have considerably more performance with a larger 125 kW electric motor versus only 80kW for the Leaf and on top of that the i3 weights only 1.250 ton versus 1.521 ton for the Leaf.

The i3’s ability to charge at 12kW using a level II home charger is a big plus. The Leaf model 2013 will only get a 6.6KW charger up from its current 3.3kW ability. However, the Leaf can also charge at 50kW using a public level III charger and it will be a big minus IMO if the i3 does not come with that ability as well. Level III chargers are popping up everywhere in Japan now and they will also start to appear in large numbers in Europe and USA once the Leaf is sold in volume. It makes a very big difference in convenience whether you can fill up your batteries in less than 30 minutes using a level III charger because this is about the time that you can spend doing something useful such as shopping or dining whereas one hour is much too long for shopping and many other things.

I like the i3’s idea of a small range-extender option. It would be really cool if it could be installed and uninstalled on demand like Better Place’s swappable batteries. In that way it should be possible to rent a range extender whenever needed at the BMW dealer.

· · 7 years ago

Need more details about the charging. EU 12 kW “home charging” sounds to me like an external charger. Charging quickly at home is not the issue. At one point, the i3 question was 6.6kw on board charger, or "Quick Charge" port and external charger. Watching the CHAdeMO debate here in the US, I think a useful Quick Charge infrastructure is uncertain, or at best, a long way off. Business model is also uncertain. The “i-REx” option says BMW thinks so too. At intro, I’m hoping for a 6.6kW on board charger.

· · 7 years ago

@Tom "I know the length is 151.4 inches and weight is 2,700lbs, but I don't have the exact width."

That length looks really small. Leaf is 175" - so i3 will be 2 feet shorter ? Mitsu i is 144.8" - so i3 will be 6 inches longer. So, looks like dimensions will be more comparable to i than a Leaf.

Even so, if the price is decent and the production vehicle not too compromised, i3 will be on the short list once my Leaf lease end in 2014. But, I think we will be getting better EVs than i3 by then, including Infinity EV and Nissan ESFLOW.

· · 7 years ago

@Henrik2, "The i3 will have better handling than the Leaf because it is rear wheel propelled".

Rear wheel drive is a major negative when it comes to driving in snow. I'd much rather have front wheel drive in a two wheel drive car. Trying to get a RWD car up my driveway in winter is difficult. Front wheel drive works fine.

· · 7 years ago

Some more info :

"The i3 uses an approximately 22-kilowatt-hour battery and a BMW-designed electric motor to deliver a range of up to 150 kilometers (93 miles) on a single charge."

So - about 80% of that 22 kwh will be usable. To get 93 miles on the 17 kwh battery, one would have to get 5.4 m/kwh or 180 w/mile. I don't think that would be the norm. The cd of i3 is close to Leaf (0.29) - but it is lighter by 500 pounds or 15%. Let us be generous and say, i3 will be 15% more efficient than Leaf.

Leaf uses 21 kwh and got 73 miles on EPA i.e. 3.47 m/kwh. So, we can expect i3 will get 4 m/kwh - that gives us 68 miles of EPA range. If i3 is 10% more efficient, we are looking at 65 mile range.

Not sure people will pay above $40K for a car that has a range in mid-60s. Esp., given that in 3 years, we would expect EVs with EPA range of over 100 miles ...

· · 7 years ago

EvNow: To make it even harder to understand, I believe the pack is smaller. I do believe it will use a 16kWh pack, although I don't know if that is the full size, or usable amount.

Everything they are doing to this car is designed to make it substantially more efficient that anything else for sale in 2013. I know this for a fact. I will be disappointed if it doesn't come very close to 6kWh/mile in everyday driving, less with heavy heater or A/C use of course. Whether or not they succeed is up for debate. As with everything, the proof is in the pudding.

As for the length yes, it is small. About half a foot longer than a MINI Cooper, however it is really spacious inside. Not as much room as your LEAF, but definitely more spacious that a Focus EV even though it's shorter. The i3 has 14.1 cu.ft of cargo space and the LEAF has 14.5. I don't have the Focus EV's info, but it is much less as the rear hatch area is mostly taken up by the battery.

· · 7 years ago

@Tom "I know this for a fact. I will be disappointed if it doesn't come very close to 6kWh/mile in everyday driving, less with heavy heater or A/C use of course."

Well, there isn't too much magic that can be done with EVs. The drivetrain is already very efficient in EVs. The real variables are in cd & weight. I don't see how anything can take that 4.0 m/kwh figure to 6 m/kwh. This is for the EPA rating, and not what one can actually get. Afterall, I got 5.8 m/kwh yesterday in my urban trip in our usual hilly terrain. I got 4.8 in mixed trip last week which included quite a bit of freeway driving and large elevation changes.

· · 7 years ago

Tom said "I've been told by BMW engineers that these new nickel-manganese-cobalt cells made by SB-Limotive have 4-5 % better energy density than any other cells they have tested and are much better than the batteries that they used in the MINI-E."

SB-Limotive? That's a new one to me, Tom . . .

This is a joint venture between Bosch and Samsung, apparently.

As for the BMW i3 concept . . . yes, I agree that the glass side panels have got to go. It almost looks like an old fiberglass dune buggy with a glassed-in roof and doors. I hope they also smooth out the overly-sculpted front end somewhat. So many of these newer cars look like Darth Vader's helmet up there. If they can tone down those particularly garish styling elements and concentrate on the technology, I think they'll have a winner on their hands.

· · 7 years ago

Benjamin: I know BMW is very excited about these new large format cells. They are using them in the ActiveE to have a few years of testing before they sell them in the i3. The batteries, the motor & the power electronics in the ActiveE will be used in the i3.

The ActiveE weighs 4,001lbs and the MINI-E weighs 3,300. The ActiveE has 3 less kWh of energy storage (35kWh to 32 kWh) than the MINI-E yet even weighing 700lbs more and having a smaller pack the range is virtually the same (LA-4 city cycle test: MINI-E 156 miles & ActiveE 149 miles). This is due to the efficiency of the new powertrain and the better cell chemistry (at least that's what I'm told).

I'll be getting an ActiveE to drive for one week, months before they are publicly available so I'll be the first to report on the real world range under various driving conditions.

· · 7 years ago

@Tom "I've been told by BMW engineers that these new nickel-manganese-cobalt cells made by SB-Limotive have 4-5 % better energy density than any other cells ..."

Do you really mean 4 to 5% ? That doesn't sound too much. NMC that Nissan is working on almost doubles the Energy Density.

· · 7 years ago

EVNow: Yes, that's correct. Everyone is working on cells that will be better than what we have now for sure. However this battery was made specifically for BMW and is available now, and is being installed in the ActiveE's rolling off the assembly line as we speak. I'm sure everyone will claim they have the best battery, so you have to take it with a grain of salt. I know the folks at BMW are very enthusiastic about it though.

· · 7 years ago

I've been told by someone who was at the unveiling that the car has very unusual proportions. Compared to a Mini, it's barely longer, but it's about 20 cm wider (8 inches), and that is a serious flaw for a city car in Europe.

Nothing has been revealed officially about the battery...

· · 7 years ago

Laurent: It will be wider and taller than other cars of similar length. According to the dimensions I have now it's 151.4(L), 79.2(W) and 60.51(H), however it's possible the width was given including the side mirrors so it is possible it isn't that wide at all. If that is the correct width sans mirrors, then comparing it to a MINI Cooper, it's six inches longer, thirteen inches wider and five inches taller.
As I posted above I know the car has a lot of interior room for a small car.

· · 7 years ago

@Tom "it's 151.4(L), 79.2(W) and 60.51(H), however it's possible the width was given including the side mirrors so it is possible it isn't that wide at all"

That width can't be right. It would be wider than a X6 or Ford F150 ! To compare we need the width without the mirrors. May be 70 to 72" ? Model S, BTW, is 74".

· · 7 years ago

EVNow: Yes, I agree it's highly unusual. However it is what I have been given and I just looked at a post over at BMWBLOG that has the same figures as I do. BMWBLOG is usually spot on as they have very good contacts in BMW and get fed privileged information regularly. Here's a link to their piece:

I still think it's possible they are giving the dimensions of the total width including the mirrors. That would add about 12 inches and bring it back to reasonable width. However I have heard that it will be wide and very spacious for a car of it's size so I really don't know what to think now.

· · 7 years ago

@Tom "However it is what I have been given and I just looked at a post over at BMWBLOG that has the same figures as I do."

I believe it is customary in Europe to give full width (with mirrors). Infact, the UK brochure for Ford C-Max gives 3 widths - mirrors open, mirros closed and without mirrors.

· · 7 years ago

BMW doesn't usually give width with mirrors included, it didn't for the new 1-series last month. Maybe it did this time, but I don't understand why...

Anyway, the i3 will be the widest of all city cars.

· · 6 years ago

Laurent: I've confirmed that they did include the mirrors in the width for the i3, I don't know why but they did. The 79.2" with the mirrors, it's between 70" & 71" without the mirrors.

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