Category Archives: BMW

The BMW i8: Even Hybrid Cars Can Look And Sound Great!

BMW have built some fantastic vehicles in the past, and it looks like a trend that’s set to continue well into the future. The German firm is taking an active interest in alternative fuel technologies. One of the most notable examples of hybrid technology is the BMW i8.

If you’ve not heard of that model before, let me tell you more about it. It’s a hybrid sports car that’s powered by electric motors and a small three-cylinder engine. Of course, the only downside is that it’s one of the world’s most expensive sports cars!

Still, if money is no object and you’d like to drive a stylish, high-performance and eco-friendly car, the BMW i8 is for you!

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It looks futuristic – in a good way

I don’t know about you but have you ever noticed just how weird today’s hybrid cars look? Car manufacturers associate hybrid vehicles as ones that should look futuristic. I get that car makers want to think outside the box when it comes to styling.

But some cars are just too out there. Toyota Prius, I’m looking at you!

The fantastic thing about the BMW i8 is that it too seems futuristic – but in a GOOD way! The contours of the vehicle match the front and rear ends well. It doesn’t look like a car Homer Simpson would have designed!

It uses lots of carbon fibre

We all know that car batteries weigh a lot. The heaviest are the ones that get used for electric and hybrid vehicles.

That’s not a good thing when you’re trying to design a fast hybrid sports car! To overcome this problem, BMW have used lots of carbon fibre. It’s 50% lighter than steel and 30% lighter than aluminium. But it’s just as strong as both metals.

The door architecture is amazing

When you open the doors on the BMW i8, one thing you will notice is that it uses “dihedral doors.” Or, as the guys at Thames Motor Group put it, gullwing doors! They are the kind of doors you might see on cars like Lamborghinis and even the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG.

They swing upwards when opened. You might think that it’s not possible to do that, given how heavy car doors are. But BMW claim that the doors are 50% lighter than conventional ones.

It’s a good performance sports car

The car boasts 0-60 mph speeds of just 4.3 seconds. And the eDrive system boasts a total power output of 231 brake horsepower. It doesn’t sound like much, given that cars like the BMW M4 have more power.

But you need to bear in mind this car is lightweight. The power to weight ratio is different in the BMW i8.

On the BMW i3 Concept Coupe

BMW is finally entering the electric vehicle market with their i series after clinging to absolute confidence in clean diesel technology for years. The most promising prospect of the their concept stable is probably the BMW i3 Concept Coupe: a highway capable, two-door hatchback with a subtle futuristic style and hints of the traditional BMW heritage. The Coupe appears much closer to production design than the  “Megacity Vehicle” i3 and the supercar BMW i8 seen below:

The i3 Coupe is a happy medium between the outrageously designed super hybrid i8 that is predicted to accelerate from 0-60 in less than 5 seconds, and the neighborhood electric vehicle i3, according to the specs.
The BMW i3 Coupe can drive 80 to 100 miles before requiring charging. Through optional DC fast charging, the battery can be replenished to 80% charge within less than 30 minutes.  The coupe will also feature ConnectDrive, which includes a navigational panel that indicates most efficient routes, the locations of charging stations, and a remote app for your smartphone.  The i3 Coupe sports a hefty 170 hp engine, which is a lot for its lightweight frame and instant max torque at the rear wheels.  So it looks like BMW will maintain some of its sporting heritage with this coupe, even if it does look a lot like BMW inspired Leaf.  BMW anticipates the price to be at least $40,000 before tax credits.  It will be a gamble to see if BMW fans and electric car lovers will embrace a BMW at that price without the finely tuned machismo growl

NY Auto Show: Notes from the EV Press Conference

I had the pleasure of attending the EV Press Conference on the second press day of the 2010 New York Auto Show.  The event was right after Mitsubishi’s press conference, filled with loud indie rock, light shows, and the big reveal of their new crossover.  The EV press event was much more low key, and really a sequence of rapid fire, five minute speeches from five EV companies.  Amp Electric Vehicles, Mini, Mitsubishi, Think, and PEP Stations all gave a quick rundown of their vehicles, goals, and innovations.

First up was Steve Burns, CEO of Amp Electric Vehicles.  Amp does high quality conversions of domestic ICE vehicles to 100% electric drive.  The Midwestern team is currently converting the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox as well as 2007-2009 Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice convertibles.  They brought a converted Sky and Equinox, which were definitely the sexiest looking electric cars driving around at the show.

Amp Sky in front of the Amp Equinox
Amp Sky in front of the Amp Equinox

Anyways, Steve Burns focused on the Equinox, a SUV that truly shows that electric vehicles are just as capable as their internal combustion predecessors. The Amp Equinox crossover has a 150 mile range, 90 mile per hour top speed, and a 0-60 mph acceleration of 8 seconds. Burns attributed this exceptional performance to the Remy electric motor. Remy has made over a billion motors of all sorts around the world, and they are bringing their legacy to the electric drivetrain. It is exciting to see established internal combustion companies adapt and apply their expertise to electric drive applications. The Amp presenters suspiciously omitted the price of their Equinox, so I’ll include it here: $50,000, more than twice the price of a 2010 Chevy Equinox.

Next up, a BMW spokesman gave a short presentation for the Mini E.  He briefed us on the specs for the highway capable EV with a 100 mile range, and “go kart-like handling.”  The Mini E is already being leased to select drivers, and he announced they have extended the lease for another year, with over 50% of the leasers renewing.  More interestingly, he noted BMW’s Project i.  Which will catalyze more applications of electric drive trains in BMW vehicles, like the 1 Series coupe.  They already revealed the BMW ActiveE concept at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show.  The ActiveE will pack a 170 horsepower electric motor in a 1 Series, to give it similar specs to the Mini E, but lets hope they give us some trunk space.

Product Planning Manager, Brian Arnett gave us the rundown on their plans for the Mitsubishi i-MiEV.  Sounds like they are pretty far along already in the east, with 1,400 cars sold to Japanese fleets.  The 80 mile range highway capable EV will retail in Japan this month.  Mitsubishi hopes to introduce the the i-MiEV to the US in Fall 2011.  They are already creating partnerships with companies in the US, like Best Buy (Geek Squad cars), and California Electric (for EV infrastructure).

John Harmon represented Think North America next.  The company plans to begin manufacturing the THINK City in Elkhart, Ind. beginning in early 2011.  The Think City will have a range of 100 miles, and a top speed of 70 mph.  The two seater also has a large cargo area in its recently redesigned rear.

Finally, Brady Blaine, Vice President of Pep Stations, elaborated on their goal to supply America with an electric vehicle charging infrastructure.  This is obviously easier said than done, but the premise is simple.  PEP (Plug-in Electric Power) has designed a simple charging station they hope to sell to malls, rest centers, gyms, and everywhere else people park their cars.  Patrons can park their electric cars, charge up in 1 to 5 hours, and drive away with a full battery.

In summary, the EV press conference characterized how the electric vehicle industry is slowly making its way to the mainstream.  Cars like the i-MiEV, Think City, and Nissan Leaf are practically designed, have ample cargo space, and have more than enough range for 90% of Americans.  These cars will be on our roads, in our showrooms, and charging in our garages within the next year.  The concept cars of two years ago are finally becoming a reality, and I was thankful to see and drive them at the 2010 New York Auto Show.

i-MiEV vs. Mini E at the New York Auto Show

Usually, at auto shows you will find abstract concepts of electric cars that are so far fetched, nobody takes them seriously.  This year at the New York Auto Show, companies like Mitsubishi, Mini, Think, and Amp Motorworks are changing the regular programming by providing press and public test drives of highway capable electric vehicles.  In the 2010 auto show, electric cars like the Mini E and the i-MiEV are already on the road, leased to select test markets and certain fleet and government patrons.

The electric vehicle test drive track is in the EV Pavilion at the back of the bottom floor, but it will surely be a crowd pleaser when the auto show opens up to the public April 2-11.  When I arrived, only 2 electric vehicles, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and the Mini E, were circling the winding track.  I had to “sign my life away” on some contract that relieved them of any responsibility for any bodily harm I might inflict on myself while I played Dukes of Hazard with the EVs. They also made me swear not to go take it over 15 mph.  It was an indoor go kart track, after all.  Then I was ready to drive some electric powered machines.

Mini E

Ready for Action
Ready for Action

First up was the Mini E.  This mighty mouse has a good amount of power, 200 HP, and that is with a 100% torque electric motor, so it really picks up.  With an electronically regulated top speed of 95 mph, and a 150 mile range (told 100 by the spokeswoman, oddly, perhaps realistically), this car can get you anywhere you need to go, fast.

Here is what I didn’t like.  I sat in the driver’s seat, looked back, and saw this:

This is about neck high, right behind the drivers seat.  It is the battery pack.  Not only is this a two-seater, but it is a two-seater with the storage space of a Vespa.  I contemplated the Mini E’s practicality watching press groups load up the 5-passenger i MiEV.

Moment of truth.

I took the car out of park, following the instructions of the Mini spokeswoman in the passenger seat.  No lurch.  The car does not lurch forward in drive like your typical ICE vehicle.  Once you get moving, drives much like a car in first gear all the time, meaning it is very torque-ee.  You accelerate, let off the gas (electricity) and you rapidly decelerate because of the strong regenerative braking.  I had heard about this being an issue with the Mini E, so it was pretty much what I expected.  It makes me wonder if the big sacrifice in momentum is worth the electricity regained.

Anyway the car accelerated great on the miniature straightaway.  I would love to see what the Mini E could do on an interstate on-ramp instead of an indoor track.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Honestly, I am still uncomfortable pronouncing this one aloud (i Meeve or i Me-ehv).

But I am picking this one as the winner in this EV battle.  Here’s why:

Back Seats
Back Seats

Yes, this is a fully equipped, four door family EV.  The cabin was so spacious, I could not believe they fit a lithium ion battery in there, which is hidden flat under the car.

This will not compete with the Mini E on the track though.  It will get you 0-60 in 13 seconds, has a top speed of 80 mph, and has a 100 mile range.  But I could not even fit my backpack into the Mini E with another person in the car.  I could get married, have a couple kids, and take them all to soccer practice in the i-MiEV.  The i-MiEV makes such good use of the space it has, and is just smartly designed for what it is, a family commuter vehicle.

Not only is the i MiEV more spacious, but it rides more comfortably too.  The car creeps forward in drive like a traditional vehicle, and the regenerative braking is much more natural.  The car kind of coasts when you lift off of the accelerator.  The interior space and user friendly drive make the i-MiEV the winner in this EV showdown.

Anyone who happens to be in the area of New York City the next few days should definitely come to the Javits Center to get a first hand experience in these fascinating new electric vehicles that are becoming more and more real every day.  I’ll leave you with a rough video I took of some of the action on the track later in the day:

On Electric Cars is at the 2010 New York Auto Show

Stay tuned for upcoming articles detailing electric car test drives and press conferences from the 2010 New York Auto Show.

I just test drove the Mini E and the Mitsubishi iMiev, and I can honestly say I was impressed with both, but one was the clear favorite. A thorough review will be coming soon.

I will also write a full review of my test drive of the new Amp Motorworks Electric Equinox. A 100% electric SUV.

Thanks for reading!

MINI E to use AC Propulsion Drivetrain had an interesting article today on another electric car that will be utilizing the AC Propulsion drivetrain that has been found in the likes of the GM EV1, Tzero, Telsa Roadster, eBox, and Venturi Fetish:

While we were discussing the upcoming premiere of the new MINI E at the LA Auto Show, we mused that the retro-cute might be sporting a drivetrain courtesy of Tesla Motors. Now comes word via Paul Scott at the new website for the film, “Revenge of the Electric Car” that the MINI will get its gumption from the good folks at AC Propulsion. This may make the MINI spiritually related to the Tesla Roadster, as it was the ACP prototype, the tzero, that served as an inspiration of sorts for the creation of the now-iconic two-seater, but, as they will share no parts, the relationship is purely metaphysical. Indeed, the only current link between ACP and Tesla is the licensing of a “reductive charging” patent.

This revelation does tell us a little something about how the MINI E will be to drive. As those who have gripped the wheel of the ACP eBox know, the re-gen effect is quite strong on this system. While it’s great for getting extra range out of the battery pack, it may take a little getting used to for some drivers. The effect is not unlike the engine braking experienced with a manually shifted car and occurs as one relieves the go-pedal of downward pressure. Once adjusted to the re-gen, the experience of motoring in the MINI E should be excellent and we look forward to being able to confirm that. For the benefit of our readers, of course.

This is exciting news, as every car utilizing this technology has been a highway capable EV, with superior performance, and range. If you’re going to put your money on an fully electric vehicle, I suggest it be one with an AC Propulsion drivetrain, based on its past history.