With the launch of the new i3, the Bavarian automaker is launching a new sub-brand for electric vehicles. Set to debut live next month at the Frankfurt Motor Show — where interested parties will actually be able to drive the zero-emission vehicle indoors on a track around BMW's burgeoning display — the i3 is the company's first purpose-built electric vehicle (as opposed to an existing car converted to electric drive). The compact hatchback is designed around two elements: the Life Module and the Drive Module. The former is an monocoque frame made of carbon fiber — the first such mass-produced structure in the industry — that's already proven its worth in supercars and F1 racers. Lighter than aluminum but stronger than steel, the carbon monocoque helps BMW keep the weight down to 2,700 pounds despite the 450 pounds of battery on board.
The Drive Module is situated underneath the Life Module. The aluminum structure houses a 22-kilowatt lithium-ion battery pack that powers the electric motor, which in turn sends 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. With all that juice available instantly, BMW quotes a 0-60 time of 7.0 seconds and a top speed of only 93 mph, so don't expect to see one in the left lane on the Autobahn. 20 minutes plugged in to the optional fast-charger will top up the battery to 80 percent, and a full charge takes only 30 minutes, after which BMW says the i3 will travel for 80-100 miles before it needs to be recharged. But if your commute takes you farther than that, an optional 34-horsepower, 650cc two-cylinder generator turns the i3 from an electric vehicle into a hybrid.
“The car industry has waited well over a century for its own revolution. Today the wait is over. What the mobile phone did for communication, electric mobility will do for individual mobility,” said BMW chairman Dr. Norbert Reithoffer. “The BMW i3 is more than an evolutionary step — it is a great leap forward. From sketch to street, the i3 is unique in every respect. With the intention of creating a truly sustainable car, we conducted research in megacities around the world.”
Of course, coming from an upscale German automaker, the i3 benefits from all the latest driver assistance systems, safety technology and luxury features you'd expect of a BMW. The i3 will be available in three trim levels, and will launch in the US in the second quarter of 2014 with a $41,350 starting price (before either government incentives on the one hand or the $925 destination fee on the other).