BMW Holds Electric Car Sneak Preview in NYC

By · November 09, 2011

BMW i3

BMW had what they called a “Special Sneak Peak Event” today at Center 548 gallery today in New York City. It was the first time BMW showed the i3 and i8 in North America. While the cars will make their first official public appearance later this month at the Los Angeles Auto Show, this event gave the press an early look.

Both concept cars were there, as well as an ActiveE. There were presentations by Richard Kim, exterior designer of the i3 & i8, and Rich Steinberg, manager of electric vehicle operations and strategy.

There weren’t any big new revelations, I think BMW just wanted to give the east coast journalists an opportunity to photograph the cars and ask questions—in case they couldn’t make the Los Angeles show.

A Clean Start

Mr. Steinberg’s presentation focused on how the dedicated platform of the i3 has allowed BMW to maximize the interior and luggage space. He had video that showed how complicated it was to retrofit the electric drivetrain in the 1-series platform with the necessary reinforcements and the compromises needed to make it work. BMW isn’t going to be retrofitting internal combustion engine cars into electric vehicles. All of the cars in the i line will be purpose-built, designed from the ground-up as electric vehicles.

BMW i3
BMW i3

Mr. Kim talked about how he and his team started with a clean sheet of paper—and even moved its operations to a new location, separate from everyone else, to work on the i3 and i8 exterior design. This was such a break from their traditional design they wanted the whole process to be different. They wanted to give the i line a distinctive trademark, a common theme that will be incorporated into all of the cars in the sub-brand.

What they came up with is called “stream flow.” The sides of the cars will have two horizontal lines that sweep down the side of the car from the front to the rear where they converge into the C pillar. This streaming signature style is meant to represent streaks of air flowing down the side of the car while it is in a wind tunnel.

One of the things that struck me was how much space the interior had. It really looked like the inside of an SUV. It’s a compact hatchback that’s only 151.4 inches long but it really felt much larger, perhaps because it’s very wide. The width is listed at 79.2 inches, but it’s definitely not that wide. (The X5 is only 76 inches wide.) I think the measurement includes the side mirrors for some reason. However it is definitely wider than any car in its class that I’ve seen. The flat floor and bench-like seats also contributed to the open-air feeling. This also makes is easy for any passenger to exit from either side regardless of where they are sitting.

No Wimpiness

Of course the use of carbon fiber reinforced plastics and aluminum was discussed, and we were promised the i3 will have the dynamic driving experience that BMW customers expect. Mr. Steinberg mad it clear this wouldn’t be a wimpy little city car. It will accelerate from zero to 60mph in less than 8 seconds, and will offer great handling and exceptional maneuverability. It will have a tight turning radius and have great outward vision due to the exceptionally large windows especially in the rear hatch that is all glass. This will allow the driver to easily maneuver and park in tight city streets.

BMW i3
BMW i3

Mr. Steinberg talked a little about the range extender for the i3 called REx, but gave no details other than to say customers that need more range will have the option of ordering the range-extender. It will have a very small gasoline engine—rumored to be a motorcycle engine—and a very small fuel tank of only a couple gallons. It will add 100 miles of additional range to the 100-mile EV range and will have no connection to the wheels. It will only charge the battery. Hmm, where did we hear that before?

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