Drive

BMW’s electric whizz i3 out in November

Simultaneously launched yesterday on three continents with live web-cast unveilings in London, New York and Beijing, the i3 is BMW's similarly global attempt to enter the electric vehicle market ahead of its luxury car competitors and in a way that keeps the company's reputation for performance intact while underlining in no uncertain terms that something radical needs to be done in order to ensure the future sustainability of personal mobility.

During a 1966 concert in Manchester, UK, Bob Dylan was heckled and called a ‘Judas' and labelled a traitor by the audience for going electric and for abandoning his acoustic folk roots in favor of amplified, distorted guitars. So stung was he by the comments that he ceased performing in Britain, the scene of the musical crime, for a number of years.

With the launch of the i3, BMW's first all-electric car, the company is in danger of similar catcalls and heckling; after all this is a German vehicular stalwart whose reputation and allure is built on “sheer driving pleasure”.

Every car it creates is designed around the driver.

As such, BMW, which has already spent over five years and countless millions developing the car completely in house, knows that even with growing environmental concern among the car-buying public, a limited-range all-electric family car is a tough sell even if the car retains that special BMW driving magic.

To address the performance doubters, the compact, four-door city car is rear-wheel drive and has an incredibly low centre of gravity -- two must-haves for any car with even the vaguest hopes of sporting credentials -- but, thanks to the instant power of electric drivetrains, can accelerate from 0 to 60 km/h in a mere 3.7 seconds and 0 to 100 km/h in 7.2 seconds. That's supercar territory.

"The car has to be exciting, futuristic and innovative. We are offering our customers a new dimension of sheer driving pleasure," said Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Norbert Reithofer, when he took to the stage in New York.

Innovative perks and services

However, the range -- 130-160km is still limiting (as it is with all plug-in electrics). But, just like the launch, BMW is taking a global approach to addressing this issue and alleviating the anxiety of potential customers in a number of innovative ways. Firstly, this car is the most “communicative” one the company has ever built.

A smartphone app gives the owner almost total control of the car's systems, battery life, time to recharge and navigation planning tools. Destination routes are calculated based on range, driving style and proximity to charging points. Then there’s the 24-hour help line and road side assistance programme for further peace of mind.

The company has also forged partnerships with a number of car parking companies to ensure that charging stations are available and that BMWs will have priority. Then there's the “generator” option. A small, 650cc engine can be fitted to the car that doesn't drive the car's wheels but instead fires up from time to time to charge the vehicle's batteries for extending range. And finally, there's the use of a “traditional” car for a set period of time every year when a long journey, such as a family holiday is on the cards.

"The BMW i3 sets a new benchmark for sustainable mobility in all stages of development and production, as well as after sales," said Friedrich Eichiner, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Finance, who was present at the Beijing unveiling.

The message is clear, the company isn't abandoning its roots, but innovation is needed to drive change. The i3 is BMW's vision of tomorrow's mobility while still being able to meet customers' current needs, particularly in cities.

The BMW i3 will be released in Germany and other European markets in November 2013. The market launch of the BMW i3 in USA, China, Japan and several other markets will take place in the first half of 2014. The base price for the BMW i3 has been set at 34,950 euros (about RM160,000) in Germany. The optional range extender will add a further 4,500 euros to the price. – AFP/Relaxnews, July 30, 2013.

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