At the Frankfurt motor show BMW rolled out its new i3 electric car, part of a new sub-brand focused on efficiency and “Responsive driving”.
However for those of us out here in the real world, with wives, kids, and jobs to go to, what matters the most is:
1: How far will it go on a full charge, and,
2: How much will it cost?
Let’s get those two questions out of the way first. The BMW i3 will travel 150 kilometres (100 miles) per full charge, and is expected to cost $35,000 USD when it goes on sale.
So why the disappointment in the title of this article I hear you ask? Simply that the vehicle won’t be sold until 2013, which means Nissan, Coda, Mitsubishi, Renault, Toyota, and Peugeot (who are releasing their all-electric vehicles for sale next year) will have already beaten them to it.
This means a compact car with 100 miles / 150 kilometres range is going to have to do better than $35,000 USD if it wants to lead the pack, unless there’s more to the i3 than meets the eye.
There may be just that too: The i3 consists of a very lightweight construction of both aluminum and carbon fibre. This means the battery pack needn’t be as large as the Nissan LEAF’s for the same distance. It also means the i3 can reach 100 kilometres per hour (62mph) in only 7.9 seconds. Not bad for a runabout.
However, if you’re like me, then you’re probably wondering why BMW have made a car which weighs a total of 1250 kilograms (2756 pounds) yet only given it 100 miles of usable range. We all know well-engineered electric vehicles can travel several hundreds of miles per charge, and considering the Nissan LEAF weighs 1526 kilograms (3366 pounds) you must wonder why the i3 is so lacking.
Given the falling cost of long-range battery packs, and BMW’s recent $100,000,000 purchase of its very own carbon fibre plant in the USA, there’s no reason why the i3 can’t have a more usable 150 or 200 mile range for a slightly higher price – perhaps $40,000 USD.
I say this because the cost of the battery pack in the Nissan Leaf cost $10,000 USD almost 2 years ago, and battery costs fall 8% each year (according to Elon Musk of Tesla). Considering this is a car which won’t even begin production until 2013 I feel there’s room for improvement in the specifications.
There’s also another ace BMW have up their sleeve to justify a higher cost for a better car; which is the fact motorists are more likely to pay a bit extra simply for that blue & white BMW badge. Or maybe they know all of this and just don’t want to.
Let’s not forget the recent past. BMW haven’t ever been interested in electric vehicles and up until the last two years were still touting hydrogen internal combustion as a more likely future engine, long after all the other car makers had realised what a dead horse it was and dropped it.
So I expect it all comes down to simple business: If you spend decades engineering, building, and refining internal combustion engines and all their replaceable components, why on earth would you throw it all away for some newfangled electric nonsense.
Electric propulsion may be simpler, cheaper in the long run (for the motorist, not the manufacturer) and cleaner in a world that’s falling apart ecologically, but it’s not where the money is yet. I remember from my days in sales, that a “Sensible” business allows follows the money trail. Clearly there’s still a load of money in their existing technology.
What a shame.