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New all-electric BMW aims to tackle drivers' range anxiety

BMW has launched an attempt to win over drivers worried about electric vehicles’ limited range with its first production-ready battery-powered car.

The BMW i3, which was unveiled this week, includes several options also being tried by competitors – including leasing models and a range-extending petrol motor – that allow drivers to try out the car’s electric capabilities without spending tens of thousands of pounds in order to rely entirely on battery power.

The move comes as electric vehicle (EV) sales remain relatively low and manufacturers look for ways to push the cars into the mainstream, despite the insistence of companies such as BMW that a more environmentally sustainable business model is vital for the future of long-term profitability.

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One of the key barriers to public acceptance of EVs is range anxiety – the fear a car doesn’t carry enough charge to complete its journey – despite research suggesting 95 per cent of trips are under 30 miles, well within the range of most EVs.

The i3 was designed from scratch with an electric powertrain in mind, featuring a low centre of gravity due to the low, central placing of the battery, and a lightweight carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) body to cancel out the extra mass this adds.

But the car’s stated range of 81-99 miles (130-160km) in ‘everyday conditions’ is still comparable to those of other models already on the market, which have so far only sold several thousand units in the UK.

To counter the anxiety issue, BMW are making the i3 available with a petrol-driven motor that doubles the car’s range compared to battery power alone (in the way of plug-in hybrid cars such as the Vauxhall Ampera), and offering three-year leases and options to borrow other vehicles for longer journeys.

Although the company has not released sales or production targets for the car, BMW spokesperson Krystyna Kozlowska said, ‘We are envisaging that in the first instance the range extender will be a slightly higher proportion [of sales] than electric only. But I think over time that might change as people come to understand how they use their vehicle.’

The leasing model is already being trialled by Nissan with its all-electric Leaf and was tested by BMW when it ran an international study of EV usage with its Mini E, which has yet to enter mass production.

‘Research that we’ve done has shown that people tend to prefer to lease this type of vehicle,’ said Kozlowska. ‘There is some element of the unknown with it and so leasing rates have been popular.’

Uptake

UK electric car sales are increasing and at a rapid pace (although from relatively low numbers), according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

‘In 2011 we saw just over 1,000 cars registered,’ said SMMT spokesperson Jonathan Visscher. ‘By 2012 that had more than doubled. This year we’re already past the 1,500 mark half way through the year, 85 per cent up on we were a year before.’

Visscher said several factors were driving the increase in sales, including falling prices – the cost of buying a Leaf has dropped from £25,000 (including the £5,000 government grant available for EVs) to £15,000 for a basic model.

‘A big part of that will be the development of the model, refinement of the technology and the new model is being built in the UK,’ he said. ‘We’re seeing more and more vehicles come onto the market so more vehicles, more competition, better prices etc, and different ways of owning them.’

He added that BMW’s entry to the market could help drive that trend.

‘When players like BMW come to the market it raises the game for everyone. It raises the awareness, it raises the perception and they think this is something to take seriously if the brand and influence of BMW are being part of this.’


Readers' comments (16)

  • I find it interesting that BMW is dealing with the anxiety of driving an all electirc car by having people not drive an all electirc car.

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  • In the hope that they find they don't need the range extender?

  • LOL, BMW take away the worry of range with an 'all electric car'. I had to read this... oh, 80m range unless you have the optional 'range extender'...is that a V8 range extender?
    Such a miss. but nevertheless, progress.

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  • What we need is all hands to the pumps to increase the charge density of current batteries rather than the usual electric car bashing. Hopefully the new generation of Engineers flush with success of an all electric win in formula student this year will have a different attitude to electric cars.

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  • This is absolutely the right way to go. Many will find they don't need the range extender, which is fine. But we will all wonder how we would make that crucial journey in the dead of night without it. Long term the battery charge density will increase and backup power via the use of various new fuels will become ever more efficient. All the work by BMW engineers is spot on. Well done!!

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  • Most trips may well be sub-30 miles; but most of us only have one car, and it has to do all the jobs we require of it, including the 350 mile runs.
    Unless we can recharge the battery in an hour (max), as during a meal stop, our journey time will be significantly delayed, something most people will find unacceptable; so a major improvement in charge density in the battery is still needed.
    Perhaps the answer lies in an end to ownership of a car, in favour of the lease/rental of our cars, so that we can drop our city runabout at the dealer, and swap it for a longer range (liquid fueled) car for the longer trips.

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  • Excellent idea.....call me in 10 years when you have the battery capacity and charge time problems sorted and it becomes a comparison to normal IC engine'd cars.

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  • Before I comment, I should declare that I took the plunge and bought a hybrid car last year, (No, not a Prius - Citroen DS5) and I still like it. It seems to me that there are at least two issues that are only starting to be addressed.

    (1) Range anxiety - e.g. I drive less than 40 miles each day, except once in awhile I will need to drive 300 or 400 miles in a day. I even drove to Switzerland this year with two overnight stops. Had I an EV this would have been impractical today.

    (2) Charging systems. Who wants to mess about with cables each night? And then there is the need for alterations to be made at home to accommodate the charging. e.g. an outside socket or perhaps a charger to be installed. And what about those who do not have a private drive on which to park whilst charging? It is impractical to drape a cable over a pavement, even if it were legal. I know that wireless charging will address some of those issues but it is still only practical for those that can afford it at home, the space or private drive way, or an office car park with an enlightened employer who installs charging points! ( I can't see that happening anytime soon!)

    Car designers don't help either - why do so many of the cars look plain weird? At least the Nissan Leaf is inoffensive.

    Let's look at the costs too, a car with an electric motor, hybrid or otherwise, costs a lot more to buy than an IC car, and the fuel savings for a hybrid v. IC car are not that great. On the plus side, the car tax was only £10.00, but for how long will that last? If I have to lease a battery, then that equates to much the same cost as filling a tank up with fuel once a month - and there goes any price advantage. Of course, I have a warm fuzzy feeling about protecting the environment when I am running on electric only - but even that is illusory as it doesn't take into account all the non-environmentally friendly processes in making the car, or the electricity with which to charge it.

    By the way, in case any should think otherwise, I am a fan of EV in general, but there is a long way to go yet. The technology makes a strong case though in commercial delivery vehicles - any one remember the milk float?

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  • The anxiety projected onto us by the media is not actually range anxiety but recharge anxiety. Where and how long to recharge, sort this and the range is not such an issue.

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  • Kerry has it. Sort out how to recharge and the time it takes then the whole issue goes away. Maybe Tesla has the right idea in the USA. If you could pull into a garage, plug-in and recharge like you fill up with petrol the game changes. But 4 hours to recharge is way too long. 15 minutes is more like the maximum that most would tolerate. So there you have it. The challenge is to design a battery and charge system that can go from empty to full in 15 minutes.

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  • Or follow Tesla's idea for swapping batteries rather than recharging them?

  • Re. the swapping batteries concept:- who would be prepared to exchange their nice new battery for a (possibly) less than fully charge-retaining one?
    I agree that the idea of swapping a battery out overcomes the 'time to recharge' issue - providing cars designs permit rapid battery swapping, of course! However, I can only see this working if the batteries are the property of the supplier - like Butane Gas cylinders - drop off the empty one and pick up a full one, the cylinders remain the property of the supplier, you simply lease the use of it.

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  • Renault is already running a battery leasing scheme in order to lower the car sale price and remove worries about battery life.
    http://www.theengineer.co.uk/channels/supplements/out-of-the-box-sustainable-product-design/1008421.article

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