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Old 07-31-2011, 11:11 AM
motordavid's Avatar
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"Will Plug-In BMWs Turn Enthusiasts On?"

From Sunday's NewYawkTimes...it's the newspaper, not R&T or C&D, or Roundel Mag, but interesting, imo. GL, mD

Will Plug-In BMWs Turn Enthusiasts On?

ELECTRIC The BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports coupe is a prototype at the moment, but it is expected to come to market in 2013. More Photos »


Published: July 29, 2011
FRANKFURT BMW’S designers and engineers have long vowed that the company’s eventual battery-powered cars would not be geekmobiles but true BMWs, with all the zip, handling and style that the German automaker is known for. Norbert Reithofer, the chief executive, is fond of saying that an environmentally friendly auto should not be “a vow of poverty on wheels.”


Slide Show
Germany Goes Electric

BMW fans can soon decide for themselves whether the company has delivered on its promise. On Friday in Frankfurt, BMW unveiled working prototypes of the i8, a plug-in hybrid sport coupe that will carry a six-figure price tag, and the i3, a four-seat battery-powered compact car aimed at a wider market.

The two cars are the first from the company’s new “i” subbrand for electric cars, plug-in hybrids and other alternative-power vehicles. While BMW hasn’t disclosed what other models may be in the works, the i8 and i3 appear to be the high and low ends of what may someday be a broader line of low-emission, high-mileage offerings.

Though officially labeled concept cars, the prototypes presented in Frankfurt are essentially the vehicles that will begin rolling off an assembly line in Leipzig, Germany, in 2013. BMW plans to market the cars in all of its main markets, including the United States, by the end of 2013, with the emphasis on urban areas.

There was never much worry that the i8, versions of which BMW has shown before, would disappoint purists. With a battery-powered electric motor turning the front wheels and a 1.5-liter 3-cylinder gasoline engine driving the back, the i8 will race from a standstill to 100 kilometers per hour (or 62 miles per hour) in 4.6 seconds, BMW says. That is faster than the most powerful version of BMW’s Z4 sports roadster and competitive with most incarnations of the Porsche 911.

The i8 is also a riposte to the Audi R8 E-tron and Mercedes-Benz SLS E-Cell, electric sports cars that have already been publicly shown in concept form and will go into limited production within the next two years.

The four-seat i8 can go 20 miles solely on battery power and will theoretically travel more than 100 miles on a gallon of gas when the engine and batteries are working together, with the electric motor providing a power boost during acceleration. The company concedes that hard driving will cut that figure in half; this BMW may be green, but it can also be aggressive.

It is less clear if the i3, presented as a city car, will rate a place alongside highly regarded BMWs like the 3 Series. The fuzzy renderings the company had shown before Friday, as it carefully rationed information about the electric-car project, looked more like a streamlined Mini than a prototypical Bimmer.

There had remained doubts as to whether the company was really willing to risk its prestige on a market for electric cars that, for all the hoopla, remained unproven. But based on the model shown in Frankfurt, BMW has clearly concluded that the i3 will cast a positive halo on its brand.
The car is visually a BMW, including the trademark double-kidney grille, which, however, is purely decorative. The battery-powered i3 doesn’t need a front air intake for engine cooling.

The i3 also preserves the rear-wheel-drive format that is another BMW hallmark. At the same time, designers have updated the design language for the iPhone generation. Familiar elements, including a prominent roundel badge and L-shaped taillights, mix with features like transparent roofs and side panels, the better to show off the carbon-fiber passenger compartment and the seats of leather tanned with environmentally friendly olive oil.

The i cars also signal that they represent a new kind of BMW. In contrast to the monocolor of most conventional cars, the i8 and i3 prototypes have what BMW calls layered schemes, swoops of carbon black and light gray on the body panels, with blue accents.
The i3 aims for Euro-coolness rather than the techno-nerdiness of a Toyota Prius or Nissan Leaf.

“It is a BMW,” said Richard Steinberg, who is in charge of the company’s electric car operations in the United States. “It remains an ultimate driving machine.”

The performance metrics of the i3 seem respectably BMW-like. It can go from 0 to 62 m.p.h. in less than 8 seconds, faster than some variants of BMW’s 1 Series and 3 Series cars. Moreover, the i3 will deliver a nice kick from stoplights, reaching 60 k.p.h. (37 m.p.h.) in just 4 seconds, according to BMW. That is because electric motors deliver peak torque from a standstill. In internal combustion engines, torque increases, up to a point, with the engine speed.

“You really accelerate right off the line,” Mr. Steinberg said of the i3. Electric car skeptics, who are legion, may focus on the obvious disadvantages, primarily the limited range. The i3 will be able to go 80 to 100 miles between charges, which will take about four hours from the 240-volt charging unit that Mr. Steinberg said most buyers would want to install in their garages.

“Range anxiety is a bit of a myth,” Mr. Steinberg said, citing field studies with battery-powered Minis indicating that most people travel well under 100 miles a day.

Still, in recognition that many buyers may worry about running out of juice, BMW announced Friday that the i3 would offer an optional gasoline range-extender engine. The engine will be able to generate electric power if the batteries run low, in a manner similar to the Chevrolet Volt, though the i3 will have more range on the batteries alone.
Many analysts remain unconvinced. “People still need to get their heads around the whole range-anxiety thing,” said Tim Urquhart, senior analyst at IHS Automotive, a market research firm in London.

“There are still huge obstacles” to mass-market acceptance of electric vehicles, Mr. Urquhart said.

Demand for the battery-powered Nissan Leaf and the Volt plug-in hybrid has so far exceeded the limited supplies in the United States. But sales of electric vehicles in Britain already seem to be slackening, he said.
Noting that the Leaf starts around $42,600, Mr. Urquhart said, “It’s a pretty rarified subset of buyer who is going to be in the market for this vehicle.”

But BMW may in a better position than Nissan or Chevrolet to command a premium price. And the German company argues that it has gone further than competitors to design an electric car from scratch, exploiting the technology’s underappreciated virtues.

Range aside, electric cars have some distinct selling points. They are easy to drive, and with an energy-recuperation system that slows the car when the driver eases off the accelerator, the driver will use the brake pedal mostly for sudden stops. Acceleration is smooth and quiet, and there is no fuel smell. (Granted, some car buffs will miss that gasoline aroma.)
Electric power also frees the body designers from many constraints. The i8 and i3 have carbon-fiber passenger compartments mounted atop an aluminum frame that supports the drivetrain. The lightweight body cancels out the extra weight of the batteries and helps to extend the driving range, BMW says.

The so-called LifeDrive design allows BMW engineers to array the batteries and other components evenly around the car for optimal weight distribution and sporty handling. The design, which requires no side pillars behind the front seats and no tunnel for a driveshaft, makes the i3 exceptionally roomy for a small car, BMW says.

The i3 has bench seats front and rear and no gearshift to intrude, allowing passengers to exit from either side. In short, with the i3 and i8, BMW is trying to make the argument that battery power is not just greener, it is more stylish and more fun.

It may take a while to convince customers of that, Mr. Urquhart of IHS Automotive said. But BMW can apply its investment in lightweight technology to other models, he said, while also positioning itself as the premium carmaker with the most advanced electric car program.

“They may not be making much money this decade,” he said. But “it’s all part of a wider strategy to be not only the leading premium carmaker, but also the leading high-efficiency carmaker.”

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Old 08-02-2011, 07:55 PM
statdoc's Avatar
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I can easily see a multi-car family owning one of these for "around town" driving, short commuting to work, and other such mundane tasks. I am glad to see a performance-oriented company putting in the work on this, rather than only companies focused on ugly, fuel-efficent cars.
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