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Old 12-24-2013, 09:40 AM
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BMW i3 The Toaster

From Sat's WSJ...Dan Neil remains one of the better current automotive topic writers, imo.
Pics and stuff don't show in my copy & paste. GL, mD

Link below:
BMW Takes Positive Step in Electric Vehicle Field With i3 - WSJ.com

BMW Takes Positive Step in Electric Vehicle Field With i3

The i3 is to cars what the first iPhone was to yakking with mom. A perfectly reasonable, perfectly visionary way to deliver function

By Dan Neil

Dec. 20, 2013

Gone are the days when you would drive a sports car through Central Park to get attention. Dan Neil takes a break from fast cars to test out the all-electric, all-recyclable BMW i3, which is meant for city traffic and is quite a head-turner.

WITH A SNOW STORM ON MY TAIL, I finally found my way to the all-new, all-electric BMW BMW.XE +0.67% i3 last week in Manhattan, where holiday gridlock was in full swing. I located the Start button on the compound-switch nacelle behind the steering wheel (this is a car so different we are going to have to create new vernacular). The display graphics lit up. Twenty-one miles of range. Merry Christmas.

OK, electric car. You are making me look bad. As an advocate of EVs I know that these machines are the future of urban personal transportation. But you do occasionally have to plug them in. Also, it was bitter cold, which wasn't helping the car's 22 kwh lithium-ion battery pack, recently exercised from speeding the 2,700-pound car in from New Jersey.

Then, a miracle on West 59th Street: a city cop who was so excited to see the car he waved us through the cones in Central Park. We drove off with the LED e-flashers going, the park pretty much to ourselves. I spent some loving minutes nipping around and shooting video before slogging back toward the garage in Chelsea.

Fortunately, the i3 has two range-extending drive modes, Eco Pro and Eco Pro +. The latter is the Apollo 13 option, shutting everything else down, even seat heaters, to extend range by as much as 24%. Me and m'cold bum returned the car without incident.

I was looking forward to putting some serious miles on BMW's new wunder-wagon, but perhaps it is all for the best: At my age I don't know how much radical and new I can take at one time.

The i3 is to driving cars what the first iPhone was to yakking with mom. A perfectly reasonable, perfectly visionary way to deliver function. The "i" brand emerges out of BMW's multiyear project researching problems and solutions in mass mobility. This is by no means an abstract exercise for European auto makers, with dozens of cities across the Continent establishing Low Emission Zones to help meet EU air-quality standards. BMW's largest foreign market, the U.S., also incentivizes/coerces zero-emission vehicle production, through California's clean-air credit system and the feds' steady tightening of fleet mileage standards.

“ BMW is surprisingly serious about the i3 being a sporty car. ”

At the risk of being reductive, the design problem of a four-passenger, zero-emission city car comes down to an equation involving mass: Weight. Batteries don't have anything like the energy density of gasoline or diesel and so, as night follows day, you have to shed vehicle mass to do the same work.

BMW is taking innovative steps in order to achieve this lighter vehicle weight. The i3's powertrain, the so-called Drive module, is a sort of aluminum dolly, a low-deck unitized chassis, with the liquid-cooled battery assembly (450 pounds) inside the deck, between the wheels. The Drive module also integrates the MacPherson-strut front/multilink rear suspension, the traction motor, assorted plumbing and power electronics. A 170-hp, 184-pound-foot electric motor sits in back on the passenger side, driving the rear wheels (0-60 mph in 7.2 seconds, 93 mph e-limited top speed) and spinning up to its very blender-y 11,400 rpm.

Here is something my test car didn't have, quel dommage: a range-extending two-cylinder gas engine (an optional $3,850). This repurposed BMW motorcycle engine, crammed where the sun don't shine behind the rear seat, maintains battery charge for extended operation (150-190 miles), though it doesn't mechanically drive the rear wheels.

A carbon-fiber cabin structure, which BMW calls the Life module, is then epoxy-bonded onto the chassis. Because the Life and Drive modules are married on the assembly line (in Leipzig, Germany), it is body-on-frame construction, but the technology is less like car production and more like how the Empire builds clone armies.

The assembled car weighs about 2,700 pounds, which I estimate to be 1,000 pounds or so lighter than a comparable conventional vehicle. The enabling technology is the process BMW uses to produce the Life cell with carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP), the first such automotive structure to be mass produced. First, CFRP is a good thing: 50% lighter than steel and just as strong, with lots of other desirable properties (the weave can be aligned to bear loads in precise directions, for example). CFRP is also tough and crashworthy. They make race cars of the stuff.

The problem has been the cost, complication and cycle time of producing carbon parts. This involves hand-laying the fabric in piece molds, investing them with resin, sealing them in vacuum bags and autoclaving them for hours. That is why carbon-composite "tubs" are typically confined to low-volume exotica like Ferraris, Lamborghinis and race cars.

Base price: $42,275

Price, as tested: $47,000 (est.)

Powertrain: battery-electric car with hybrid-synchronous traction motor; liquid-cooled 22 kwh lithium-ion battery pack; rear wheel drive.

Horsepower/torque: 170 hp/184 pound-feet

Length/weight: 157.4 inches/2,700 pounds

Wheelbase: 101.2 inches

0-30/0-60 mph: 3.5/7.2 seconds (est.)

Top speed/range: 93 mph/80-100 miles nominal

Charging time: 3 hours (220V, 32 amp, J1772 charger); 30 minutes with optional SAE Combo charging

The i3's enveloping body shell emerges rather miraculously from a highly automated process in a matter of hours, not days, with minimal hand finishing. BMW has invested heavily in this technology, joining with the U.S. firm SGL Group for a thread manufacturing facility in Moses Lake, Wash. Thread cost, apparently, is a key driver and BMW researchers have been saying since the Frankfurt auto show in 2011 that carbon-fiber used for aerospace was over-engineered for automotive applications and needlessly expensive.

The promise is—setting aside for the moment, the profitability—that one day many kinds of cars could be made with these fuel-saving composites, which would move all sorts of needles in the right direction. In fact, the LifeDrive architecture isn't a new idea. GM spit-balled a fuel-cell concept car with a skateboard chassis in 2000. The positives of such a layout probably occur to every automotive engineer at some point. But BMW got there first. I predict that in the timelines of technological history, the i3 will prove to be a significant event.

Many in the splendid company of women jogging in Central Park—moms, I judged many of them—practically fell over themselves to get a look at the i3. Why? Car seats. By virtue of its superstrong carbon cell construction and robust aluminum undercarriage, the i3 can get away with not having a fixed B-pillar between the front and rear. These rear doors are hinged at the back (coach doors, like those of Rolls-Royce), so they can be thrown open for maximum access to the interior.

And because no driveline tunnel consumes cabin space, the floor plan is open and Tomorrowland-spacious. Thanks to the dedicated EV packaging, BMW notes, the i3 casts a shadow the size of a 1-series but has more interior room than a 3 series. The i3's seats, dash assembly and door panels are carved out of space-saving lightweight materials with profiles limned in strong geometric lines. The wood trim is sustainable eucalyptus, the upholstery is made from recylced plastic bottles, the plastic is made from some sort of bean, the owners manual is made of recycled paper, the very factory that makes the thread uses only sustainable hydroelectric power. Hey hippie, get off my lawn!

BMW is surprisingly serious about making the i3 a sporty car, considering it looks like it should dispense hand towels. But here is the evidence: a 50-50 weight distribution (a brand verity); rear-wheel drive; 0-30 in 3.5 seconds (pretty punchy, all right); strut-front/multi-link rear suspension; low center of gravity; big wheels.

Well, interesting wheels anyway. The tires are super-narrow 19-inch, 155/70 all-season radials. But, these narrow-section tires (with lower rolling and aero resistance) provide additional clearance in the wheel wells, allowing the i3 to turn in a tight 32.3-foot circle, a fine quality in a city car.

Like BMW's previous EV research projects—the Mini E and 1 series-based EfficientDrive—the i3 exhibits the strong regenerative braking effect when you lift the throttle, making the car essentially a one-pedal operation. This is BMW's idea of EV sportiness, with the retarding tug of regen up front and hydraulic braking well in the background. The i3's powertrain software has evolved from the earlier projects. There is now a palpable neutral position in the accelerator/rheostat. If you feather it just right, the car goes into a free wheeling, or coasting, mode, which can add precious miles of range in extremis.

One small drive for a man, one giant leap for mankind.

Corrections & Amplifications
The 2014 BMW i3 weighs 2,700 pounds. In earlier versions of this article, a statistical profile on the car incorrectly listed the weight as 3,700 pounds.
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Old 12-24-2013, 10:14 AM
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Very cool car & good write up!

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Old 12-24-2013, 11:40 AM
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Excited for this car!
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Old 12-24-2013, 01:56 PM
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Cool car. Looking forward to the carbon technology crossing over to other BMW models as well.
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Old 02-24-2014, 10:17 PM
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Good intel! I went into the local bmw dealer today to get an oil filter, and found out that a pair of I3s will be on site to demo on wed... I figured why not, and reserved a time slot for a 15 min test drive... I'm pretty excited to see what it looks like in person and to drive... I'll be sure to post pics/impressions afterward..
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