After years of development, BMW is bringing its first true electric vehicle (EV) to the market. Believe it or not, we think that the biggest advancement is not the electric drive itself, rather the fact that this is the first mass-produced carbon fiber vehicle.

Meet the BMW i3

Meet the BMW i3

Given the corporate tagline is "The Ultimate Driving Machine," BMW has some large shoes to fill. In order to produce a different type of EV, BMW took the same route as Tesla Motors, developing a pure electric vehicle, with several tricks that we would say surpass even the wizards of Silicon Valley. The BMW i3 is the first massively produced car built out of carbon fiber, with the use of material going from the chassis e.g. "carbon-fiber reinforced plastic passenger survival cell". If you know cars, this is the same concept McLaren used on 4-12C, the trend started with Ferrari F40 in 1988.

Time will tell if BMW will be hailed as a technology and market leader, but if the company pulls this off, an era of lightweight carbon fiber chassis might be upon us with other conventional powered cars, probably starting with other models in BMW lineup. This would not have been possible without the use of advanced software such as I-deas NX from Siemens UGS division.

BMW i3 beneath the bridge in New York City.

BMW i3 beneath the bridge in New York City.

The end result of using the CAD/CAM/CAE with advanced material simulation is a vehicle weighing at 2,630 pounds or 1,193 kilograms. Seeing a vehicle of this size weighing less than 1.2 (metric) tons is an impressive feat indeed. For example, we recently tested the Chevy Spark EV, an Electric micro-car from GM – which weighs almost 3,000 pounds or approx. 1.35 ton. As expected, BMW managed to keep its weight ratio at 50:50.

The rest of the car is no less unique than the chassis itself, which is, manufactured in the United States. Interior is a combination of plastic and hemp, while the wooden trim comes from a species of Eucalyptus – one of fastest growing trees on the planet which BMW’s suppliers will continuously replant and keep the green footprint.

BMW i3 from the side

BMW i3 from the side

Still, if you’re talking about a BMW, the conversation will always drop on the drive train, which is quite impressive. The electric motor puts out 170 hp (125 kW) which should be good to achieve 7.0 seconds from 0-60 mph, or 0-100 kph. If you compare these figures to a Leaf or Spark EV, we’re not talking about the same ballpark here. Still, the vehicle will also compete against larger cars such as Chevy Volt / Opel Ampera, which does 0-60 in 8.9 seconds – advantage BMW. Given that 22 kWh battery is good for 80-100 mile range, BMW is offering two options to relieve the owners from the term "Range Anxiety", which continuously gets mentioned when a subject of EV pops up. We will not go into how much money car manufacturers and oil lobby sunk into the "range anxiety" term but the i3 has two very good options. First and foremost, you can get this car with BMW’s motorcycle engine (2-cyl, 650cc) that charges the batteries and enables additional 60-100 miles of range. The second option is quite interesting – if you buy a BMW i3, you can loan a BMW X5 SUV for couple of weeks per year – enough for vacations etc.

The interior brings a lot of innovative solutions, such as bonding hemp and plastic - does this mean the car will be popular in California?

The interior brings a lot of innovative solutions, such as bonding hemp and plastic – does this mean the car will be popular in California?

We will leave you to discuss the exterior and interior design in great length and the biggest question is can the BMW i3 stand the test of time. The car will go on sales in bit less than a year, with a starting price of $42,275 – comparable to a Chevrolet Volt, which is still a bit bigger in size. This price is without local, state and federal incentives, which could significantly reduce the cost of a vehicle (for example, if you live in California and want to buy a Chevy Volt – you receive $7,500 Federal Tax credit, $1,500 California cash rebate, additional $15,000 pre-tax rebate, slicing the price of a $45,000 car to $22,000). If BMW undergoes the same case scenario as a Chevy Volt or Tesla Model S, the i3 might be not just attractive, but very competitive.

Still, we believe BMW will turn most of the heads with its upcoming i8, which is going to cost more than $125,000 and probably target to replace the Tesla Roadster as the ultimate lightweight electric sports car.

You can see the launch of the car here: