BMW didn’t exactly shock the automotive world when it announced that it was launching a new sub-brand known as "i" to develop new “sustainable mobility solutions” for its vehicle lineup, but it did signal a major commitment to the electrification of its cars in the coming years.
Starting in 2013, the company will offer a range of plug-in vehicles targeted at drivers in the so-called megacities that are spreading around the globe. These are large urban centers surrounded by densely-populated suburbs, like New York, Beijing and Paris. Such places major challenges for pollution control, and present drivers with very unique needs.
The brand’s first all-electric vehicle will be the i3, a compact four-door that will feature the extensive use of exotic materials like carbon fiber and lightweight aluminum in its construction and a range of just 100 miles between charges, which BMW says is enough for most drivers.
For the past couple of years, the company has been collecting real-world data from a small test fleet of battery-powered cars made by its subsidiary MINI that were leased to private individuals. According to BMW, that car’s range of 104 miles proved to be more than enough for most of the lessees.
“Once we got a handle on the idea that 100 miles of range was going to be suitable for 95 percent of folks’ daily driving needs, then we used that as a benchmark,” BMW Advanced Powertrain Communications Manager Dave Buchko told FoxNews.com.
So, instead of trying to reach more buyers by making an electric car that goes further, the company is focused on creating short-range cars that are more efficient and affordable.
“If we can make the vehicle lighter by integrating carbon fiber technology…we can reduce the weight of the vehicle and, therefore, the size of the batteries that we need to achieve that hundred mile range becomes less. So, in some respects, the cost of the carbon fiber being so much higher is offset by using fewer batteries,” Buchko says.
To put this in perspective, the i3 is expected to use a battery pack with a capacity of 16 kilowatt hours (kW/hr) of electricity, the one used by the Nissan Leaf, which has an EPA-rated range of 73 miles, is 24 kW/hr. Along with the savings in cost and weight, the smaller size of the batteries should also translate into shorter charging times, which will further add to the appeal of the vehicle.
Of course, for those who like to take a good long road trip now and then, the i3 will be joined in showrooms by the i8. Based on the stunning Vision Efficient Dynamics concept car, this all-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid will use two electric motors combined with a three-cylinder internal combustion engine to deliver an all-electric range of 31 miles, overall fuel efficiency of 62 mpg and the ability to accelerate from 0-60 mph in less than 5 seconds.
Shown only in teaser sketches so far, both cars are expected to make their public debuts sometime next year.
Fox Car Report is on Twitter. Follow us @foxcarreport