In a simple event in Singapore last week, BMW gave members of the ASEAN press a look at its coming i3 electric car, as well as the i8 concept vehicle. The i3 is the first of BMW’s i lineup of electric vehicles. It is powered by a 170hp motor, and is built using the German carmaker's most advanced and eco-friendly materials. It is a zero-emissions vehicle, in the sense that the car itself produces no gases or pollutants. And because it carries the BMW badge, it will still have the driving dynamics expected of the sporty European brand.
We saw the car for ourselves during said event, and even in production trim it looked more advanced and radical than anything on the road today. We had to verify with Glen Dasig, executive director of local BMW distributor Asian Carmakers Corporation, if this was indeed the final product or just a prototype. Dasig confirmed that this is what will go into production. Of course, we also saw the out-of-this-world i8 concept, which put things in perspective.
The i3 is not the first mass-market electric vehicle, but it is the first performance-oriented EV from a major manufacturer. As anyone who's familiar with the characteristics of EVs know, the torque from an electric motor is instantaneous; in other words, the power band is the only range the motor knows. Sprinting from zero to 100kph takes only 7.9 seconds.
The biggest question about EVs is their range. Similar to gasoline-powered cars, an EV's range varies depending on how it is used. In other words, repeated acceleration and stopping quickly depletes the energy stored in the i3's lithium-ion batteries. BMW states a maximum range of 190km for its pilot EV, and a realistic range of 130-160km for typical driving.
A cool feature the i3 has is a range extender that, um, extends the range of the EV. The range extender is a 647cc two-cylinder motorcycle engine from BMW's Motorrad division that will charge the battery at a specific critical point. The range extender isn’t connected to the i3's drivetrain. The device will increase the BMW’s range from 160km to 360km--more than doubling the regular mileage. The range extender basically eliminates the risk of running out of charge. The driver just has to keep refilling its nine-liter fuel tank.
The i3's construction is its other big innovation. The passenger cell is made of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic, a material 50% lighter and five times stronger than steel. This makes the i3 relatively light and strong. Even with the batteries and the range extender, it's about the same weight as a Toyota 86. And the structure is so stiff, it doesn't need B-pillars. The i3 has a suicide-door configuration, which makes entry to the rear more convenient than in a coupe body. Carbon fiber might already be a cliché in the automotive industry, but the i3 is the real thing. We looked at the door sills and the distinct weave of the exotic material is easily visible.
BMW also built an optional charging station for its i range of cars. The carmaker calls it the BMW i Wallbox. A technician certified by BMW will install this in the owner's house or garage. The Wallbox can fast-charge an i3's batteries in about 30 minutes. With normal house current, a full charge takes roughly four hours.
In Germany, the i3 will go on sale for 34,950 euros (P2,067,000), and the range extender's US price is $3,850 (P170,000). Here in our market, it's too early to tell if the i3 will even arrive. Despite carmakers like Toyota and Honda bravely bringing in their hybrid vehicles, the cost of alternative-fuel cars is still prohibitive. The alternative fuels bill would have eased the tax burden on carmakers who want to introduce modern mobility to the Filipino motorist, but it seems like our legislators have had different, more selfish, priorities all along.
Still, ACC is hopeful about our market's prospects. After all, they wouldn't bother sending a select group of journalists to Singapore literally in the middle of a storm just to show off, would they? Dasig had this to say: "The future of sustainable mobility is not exclusive to the more advanced countries, and the Philippines will definitely be part of that future. I can assure you that we will work hard to make it happen."
The momentum is already here. Just very recently, Meralco boss Manny Pangilinan showed off his company's first EV charging station. He even bought a Tesla Model S just to demonstrate what an electric future could be like.
BMW is very much a part of that future. It has a whole plan ready to be implemented, and the i3 is only the tip of the iceberg. Involved in this scheme are smartphones, telcos, public charging stations, credit/debit cards and even special parking spaces. It's a grand vision, and it's coming our way. Not even a bunch of dumb senators can stop that.
Photos by Dinzo Tabamo