The BMW i3 is the world’s first premium car designed from the ground up for an electric drive system. This visionary four-seat, five-door hatch is the first ever BMW to run solely on electric power, and was the first such vehicle to be crowned Wheels’ Car of the Year in January this year. With an everyday driving range of up to 160km from its rear-drive electric motor, the revolutionary BMW i3 offers all the style, premium features, connectivity and hallmark driving chracteristics for which BMW is renowned in a sustainable zero-emission small car package. With its carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger cell, a world first for a production vehicle, the BMW i3 is a true game changer.
The BMW i3 draws upon a similar carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) lightweight construction as its i8 sibling, which is unprecedented for a vehicle in its market segment. Previously, the costs associated with constructing a passenger compartment with carbon were prohibitive, given it had to be built by hand. BMW i however has revolutionised automotive manufacturing by independently developing the first production version, manufactured at a bespoke facility in Moses Lake, Washington, USA.
In contrast to vehicles with a monocoque body, BMW i vehicles are constructed upon LifeDrive architecture platform, comprising two separate functional units. The upper ‘Life’ module mainly consists of a high-strength and extremely lightweight passenger cell made of carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP). The lower ‘Drive’ module, a 100 per cent aluminium construction, integrates the battery, electric drive train, suspension system, and structural and crash components. LifeDrive ensures every BMW i comes with the kind of agility and driving experience expected from BMW.
The exterior styling of the BMW i3 reflects the car’s innovative LifeDrive architecture and advanced BMW eDrive electric powertrain that allowed designers an exceptional degree of freedom. That freedom is exhibited in a body design that dispenses with B-pillars, thanks to the lightweight but extremely rigid CFRP passenger cell, and together with the front and rear “coach” doors that open in opposite directions, provides easy and expansive access into the spacious cabin. The large glass surfaces and short front and rear overhangs emphasise the “lightness” of the car expressing not only its sustainable efficiency but also its urban agility.
The interior of the BMW i3 is distinguished by the visible use of natural materials, for example European eucalyptus wood from 100 % certified, responsible forestry management. Natural fibres in the side trim also emphasize the premium claim of BMW i, since they conserve resources and produce only as much CO2 when processed as the plant itself retained while growing. Leather made from cowhide from the south of Germany is tanned using a special olive leaf extract to give it a highly distinctive feel. Meanwhile, the climate-active wool material used for the seats, guarantees excellent temperature regulation between the upholstery and the people in the car, saving energy otherwise used for seat heating. As well as the natural materials, 25 percent of the synthetics used in the interior are made from recycled products or renewable materials. The textiles used for seats, headliner and floor are actually made of up to 100 percent recycled materials.
In the BMW i3’s Life module (passenger cell), all of the seats are slightly elevated. This so-called semi-command position allows for a good view of traffic, and makes getting into the seats easier. Because the floor of the interior is perfectly flat, it’s easy to exit the vehicle from either side – a particularly convenient feature in narrow parking spaces and other difficult parking situations. The design of the front seats displays a very sophisticated execution. Their lightweight construction offers more legroom without any loss of comfort, as well as a very low weight, which extends the electrical range. The Life module’s carbon fibre construction also made B pillars unnecessary. The two opposing doors make getting into and out of the rear seat very comfortable. Additionally, due to their sound-absorbing qualities, the upholstered surfaces (e.g. the roofliner) give the interior pleasant acoustics, impressive on any drive thanks to the nearly noiseless electric drive train. The total volume of the luggage compartment can be expanded from 260 to 1,100 litres by folding down the rear seat backs.
The BMW i3 features the ability to designate a specific route based on the most efficient use of the electric powertrain. Taking into account the vehicle’s charging status, personal driving style and real time traffic information, the navigation system can determine a route whereby the electric motor is employed as efficiently as possible. The system is also able to display a range map based on similar parameters; a driving range assistant to assist with route planning; and a display of available ChargePoint public charging stations. Many of these features, as well as the ability to manage the vehicle’s battery charge through planning and real time data, can also be carried out remotely on a smartphone through the BMW i Remote App available for IOS and Android operating systems.
BMW i vehicles clearly demonstrate a holistic approach to sustainability. The entire production of this vehicle is completed using renewable energies, hence the establishment of a manufacturing plant to produce carbon fibre specifically in Moses Lake, USA, utilizing clean energy derived from two large hydroelectric power plants on the Columbia River. Four wind power stations were recently constructed in Leipzig, Germany, its assembly plant, as well, generating 26 GWh per year. The high voltage lithium-ion battery can also be charged with energy from ‘green’ sources, resulting in even lower CO2 emissions, and once the high-voltage battery reaches its maximum lifespan, recycling options are already available: for example as buffer storage for solar or wind powerplants. In total, 95 per cent of the materials needed to produce the BMW i8 are recyclable, while 100 per cent of the production energy utilised to manufacture the car is drawn from renewable sources.