Gavin Shoebridge – an electric vehicle nut, a keen environmentalist

                Electric Car Conversion Blog By Gavin Shoebridge

September 18th, 2011 at 10:54 am

BMW i3: Specifications, Pricing, and Disappointment

The new BMW i3. High tech, coupled with low spec.

The new BMW i3. High tech, coupled with low spec.

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.

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  • Ian D
    2:07 pm on September 18th, 2011 1

    The people I know who have BMWs (of a similar price bracket) seem to be purely about the badge, unfortunately. They don’t notice things like value for money.
    I’m talking here of people like my boss who will drive a clunky 2002 318i because it has the badge (despite it being slower and less value for money than a similar age Corolla.)
    Though not really talking about those who are buying the quite lovely BMW M3s, 535s, 735s etc (“drivers cars”.)

    Doesn’t matter, I will stick to my Tesla or Leaf thankyou :)

  • Crazy Al
    7:36 am on September 20th, 2011 2

    I doubt the I3 will get released.

    BMW had an E1 concept car in the early 90s
    and a BMW 1602 electric car in 1972.

    The only Electric BMWs I see are the ones where people like yourself did their own Electric Car Conversion.

    I’m of the belief that if you want an electric car, you are better off buying Gav’s book and doing your own Electric Car Conversion.

  • Andrew
    10:44 pm on December 2nd, 2011 3

    I love the design and price of this car. I really hope they release it! I’ll buy the day I graduate from college.

  • Jason
    11:50 am on November 17th, 2012 4

    This article assumes there is nothing more to a car than its gas mileage and price tag. The assumption that BMW is riding on it’s badge is silly. BMW’s are engineered to drive! Driving a corolla, nissan leaf is not the same as driving a BMW. BMW handle better, brake better, have more safety features, etc than some of the cars you compare them too. Also BMW is not trying to compete with Nissan, Toyota. They do not have the same target market. You have to compare them to Mercedes, Lexus, etc. This article is a disappointment…

  • gavin
    3:11 pm on November 17th, 2012 5

    I’m sorry you’re disappointed in the article, but now’s your chance to write a better one on your own blog. Let me know when you do.

  • j
    1:34 pm on January 3rd, 2013 6

    the people that buy used bimmers for the badge are a bunch of welfare losers that could never afford a new one….and btw BMW’s driven 10x better then any jap or american car…

  • jkc
    4:32 pm on October 29th, 2014 7

    I recently had the opportunity to drive an i3 (not yet released in NZ). I would definately say it is a very nice car to drive and certainly pulls away at the lights quickly. The interior is also well built with some very interesting design features and materials. Loved the barn door style doors, though not sure how much of an advantage these are with two people getting in/out at the same time. Having also driven a Nissan Leaf I wouldn’t say that the i3 is twice the car, if going on price. I think the Leaf gets a slightly longer range and also has a faster charging option. Price will determine success of EVs and the Leaf in NZ has dropped in price by a large amount, to the point that it is competing in price with similar fossil fuel powered cars. Nissan also have a good 3-4 years of real world sales behind them. I also thought the Leaf felt slightly softer riding on the roads – the i3 possibly firmer due to the large 19″ wheels with low profile tyres to reduce rolling resistance. If you have money to burn and give a shit about badges, then the i3 is likely your car – otherwise, I think the Leaf is the better choice.


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