Tuesday, 23 September 2014
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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)

  • The problem with battery swapping is that it is only going to stand a chance of working if the battery packs are standardized across the board. Otherwise, how could one be sure that the next motorway services is going to have the correct one for your vehicle? And just think of the space required to store all those batteries! Battery swapping will have to be easy and quick too. I just cannot see the average person accepting that their vehicle has to go up on a ramp to change the battery several times in a long journey. On the plus side, service stations would have a future role to play.

    On balance though, I think battery swapping is non-starter for the general public but might be practical for commercial fleets that maintain their own depots.

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  • I (and I think many others) do not suffer from range anxiety as expressed in this article. For me, it is a straight forward economic question - will the lower cost of operation offset the higher purchase cost? I have an electric bicycle, and have quickly learned to estimate and work with its range. For me (in the US, where fuel costs are lower) I cannot justify the high cost for either an electric, or range extended vehicle. One major disadvantage of the range extender is that I have to carry the additional weight during my normal, 100% battery driven commuting.

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  • Sadly an electric bicycle doesn't do it for me. I have too far to commute for it to be practical, like many here in UK. 16 miles each way in the rain...no. I don't think so, thank you.

    My wife is classic EV doubter and I think she represents the problem clearly. She has a small IC car (a Nissan Micra) and drives no more than 3 miles each day to work with perhaps a bit further at the weekend, occasionally. She should be a perfect candidate for a small electric city car but she will not have it. She says "But what if I want to go further?" despite the fact she never has!

    The other problem is that she has enough trouble putting petrol in it; fiddling about with cables or battery packs is NOT going to happen!

    With regard to the electric bicycle - what do I do with the 10 shopping bags when we do the weekly shop at Tesco's (Walmart etc). I suppose I could always get it delivered (by an electric van perhaps!), but that is not always convenient.

    Oh and I do have a bicycle as well...

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  • All for EV which means environmentally safe & viable. Leg up for the challenge to reduce CO2, global warming, climate change = go green is the way!

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  • Perhaps it's we humans that need to accept that the days of travelling hunderds of miles in a car are over. Perhaps politicians need to understand that things like HS2 will only work if there are options for travel at either end that are easy, quick and convenient. An electric car stand with Boris Bike type rental cars.

    Perhaps we need to lose our obsession with owning cars altogether, they are modes of transport that depreciate wildly not works of art that grow in value.

    And motorway service station, automated, standardised battery changes are surely not beyond the wit of engineers. A bit like VHS Vs. Betamax (If you're under 35, your Dad will explain that one) the dominant technology will be...........superseded by DVD's!

    Home charging of a vehicle should never be needed if you jump into a fully charged rental, not owned by you, and drive it 20 miled home, then 20 miles to work the next day where you find a Boris Car Port that charges it for the next person to use.

    But why cars at all? The 'Lit' bike with a stabilising gyroscope enables a fully enclosed two wheeled vehicle that quite literally can't be knocked over in a crash. A genuine quarter sized car footprint that can utilise bike style charging stations. Wipers, proper lights, bluetooth hands free, the works. Oh! and it looks fantastic and does over the ton so no problem on a single trip, especially if there are 'bat' stations all over the place.

    And on the subject of storing batteries. Just how big do you imagine the diesel, premium diesel, leaded and unleaded tanks take under the tarmac of a petrol station?

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  • There is nothing what so ever wrong with this concept I had the idea in 1972 but with a diesel powered generator.
    Since then I have moved to having Hydrogen fueled motor to power the generator; There is no difference to having a fuel cell, in performance, simply that a motor will have roughly the same manufacturing costs as a petrol engine.

    Beginning to prototype the motor in the New Year should BMW wish to be involved or to have the hydrogen range extender for future models they know where I am, since I made Rolls Royce - BMW the offer over two years ago.
    Only difference being they could have had my concept for a song, now it will cost millions.
    It was and still is up to any Major Manufacturer to get in touch, over the past 6 years I have written several times most of them.
    Best Regards
    Al Scott

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