BMW’s Car of the Future: the Global Debut of the BMW i3

By Michael Lockhart

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BMW’s Car of the Future: the Global Debut of the BMW i3:

BMW staged one of the most elaborate launches in history for the 2014 i3 production model, the first carbon-fiber electric vehicle to hit the road.

Although the production variant of the i3 was expected to premiere this fall on home turf in Frankfurt, BMW sought to make the biggest impact possible among the various fans, media, government and competitors. What seemed like 300 or 400 of North and South America’s largest outlets on the ground in New York’s Meatpacking District were joined by satellite feeds to simultaneous events in London and Beijing; BMW Corporate AG’s board members were spread among the three megacities.

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The i3 is a pinnacle of engineering, development and functionality. The first car to make it out of the gate for the i brand, the i3’s LifeDrive architecture allows this aluminum-sculpted vehicle to run without the typical bulky transmission, allowing it the space of a 3 Series in the footprint of a smaller 1 Series. There is more than enough space in the clean, modern interior that features two dashboard screens and premium features in three trim levels. The interior of the i3 makes use of renewable and recycled materials such as eucalyptus dashboard, carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) and 25 percent recycled plastic.

As for the design language shared by the i3 and its sexy older sibling the i8, Adrian van Hooydonk, Global Head of BMW Group Design, stresses that the design is purely a means to represent the new and revolutionary technology under the hood. “Our design should always communicate what lies underneath, because people don’t read the manual. So the design is the best means that we built to communicate what this vehicle can do. The design for the i line began out of some concept cars; we used these as an emotional anchor for this new division. BMW and its customers know and have come to expect sporty design. So we decided to show them that sporty and emotional driving in the future can also be done with less emissions.”

The car’s Drive Module contains a hybrid-synchronous electric motor that produces 170 horses and 184 pound-feet of torque, with the 22 kWh lithium-ion battery able to sustain an 80- to 100-mile range. The i3 can hit 0 to 60 in about 7.2 seconds and has a top speed of about 93 mph, more than enough for a city-focused vehicle. An optional 2.4 gallon range extender will give you an additional boost to maintain the engine charge until the vehicle gets to its next outlet. Charging takes eight or so hours on a normal North American outlet, with an optional fast charging system available for around $1500 to get a full boost in 30 minutes. BMW-trained technicians will even come to your home to make sure the charging will not disrupt your system as part of their 360 Electric Services.

Of course, in a country as dependent on oil as the U.S., carmakers alone can’t make an electric vehicle successful. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg reaffirmed his commitment to add hundreds of electric parking spaces to the city before he bows out of politics. And Jacob Harb, Head of Electric Vehicle Operations and Strategy for BMW North America, stressed the government’s role: “We’re dialed in to all the government levels, policy and legislation. If anything, they are just as excited for i as we are. They see this as the future—the game-changer—all clichés that are accurate and applicable.”

What sets the i3 apart from other brands’ electric vehicles or hybrid experiments is the go-big-or-go-home attitude of BMW’s consumer and motorsports divisions: utterly, almost stubbornly, addicted to the pursuit of performance and perfection.

The best part of this package is the cost: a starting price of $41,350 for the basic model and $45,200 with the range extender. Consider that this doesn’t take into account federal, state or provincial tax incentives and you’re looking at one hell of a contender in the market.

The BMW i3 will be available in Europe this fall and in North America early next year. For more information visit bmwusa.com


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