The luxury automaker BMW Group is going green in a big way, with plans to roll out purpose-built pure electric and hybrid-electric cars that will make heavy use of carbon fiber materials.
Two new BMWs -- the all-electric i3 and the hybrid-electric i8 -- will hit the streets in 2013 and 2014, respectively, BMW said at a recent sneak preview. They'll make their North American debuts November 16-17 at the Los Angeles Auto Show. They are the culmination of years of research by BMW engineers on concept electrics known as the Mini E and the ActiveE. The new vehicles have been designed from the ground up to use electric powertrains. Doing so assures that the vehicle's available volume is used more efficiently, BMW said.
Click the image of the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid below to view a slideshow of the two upcoming Beemers:
The doors of the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid swing upward like wings to provide a sporty feel.
(Photo courtesy of BMW)
"If you can tell your designers that they have freedom from having to house this big engine that needs airflow around it, it opens up your ability to rethink what the automobile is," Tom Plucinsky, a BMW spokesman, said in a Design News interview. "That's why our engineers worked so closely with our designers. They rethought how to design a car that is purely electric."
Both vehicles are part of the BMW i "sub-brand." As a result, both will use a BMW system known as LifeDrive, which is composed of two functional units -- a Drive module and a Life module. The Drive module, made from aluminum, integrates the suspension, battery, drive system, and structural components. Its partner, the Life module, sits atop the Drive module. It is a high-strength passenger cell made from carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP), which is said to offer a huge weight reduction.
The i3 will take advantage of the lightweight body to travel long distances on a single charge. Using a lithium-ion battery of as-yet-unknown capacity, the i3 will have a range of about 90 miles. BMW engineers say they learned from their work on the Mini E and, based on that knowledge, were able to reduce the space requirements for the electric motor by about 40 percent. A 170HP electric motor is mounted in a small space above the rear axle, along with the power electronics, transmission, and differential. The battery, rechargeable in about six hours from a standard power socket, will offer the option of a "range extender," which consists of a small gasoline engine and a generator.
In contrast, the hybrid-electric i8 will use two distinct drive systems. The front axle will employ the i3's 170HP electric motor, while a 220HP three-cylinder internal combustion engine will drive the rear. Using that arrangement, all four wheels of the i8 will be driven at the same time, in a manner similar to an all-wheel-drive vehicle. The all-electric range for the i8 will be about 20 miles, and the battery will be fully rechargeable in about two hours using a standard power socket.
"You want as much range as possible, so you can drive in future inner cities, where you might only be able to drive electrically," Plucinsky said. "And a 20-mile range would probably satisfy that need."
The two vehicles differ significantly from BMW's ActiveE electric car, which will roll out this year. Based on the well-known BMW 1 Series, the ActiveE is essentially a converted gasoline-burning car.
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