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The BMW i3, in 3, 2, 1…

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BMW’s first production-ready, all-electric i3. Photo by Tessa Salazar

Hold it! Before you start counting down the days to the BMW i3’s dream arrival on these shores, consider first the three conditions that must be fulfilled to pave the way for the feasible distribution of the full-electric vehicle in the Philippines, a country that charges one of the highest electricity rates in the Asian region.

The hype and global anticipation over the i3 is justified. It is the first full-electric vehicle endeavor of the German premium automobile manufacturer.

Inquirer Motoring recently witnessed up close and personal, with Asian Carmakers Corp. (BMW’s official importer and distributor in the Philippines), the BMW’s production-ready, all-electric compact, five-door hatch i3 in Singapore. This EV has a general architecture deviating from any conventional cars, or other electric or range-extended cars. It was constructed with carbon-fiber materials and other raw materials processed in manufacturing plants (in Leipzig, Germany, and Moses Lake in the United States) that use wind and water to generate power and electricity, making their production processes virtually 100-percent CO2-free.

The i3 rests on a chassis of carbon fiber and aluminum. The i3 itself is composed of thermoplastics and carbon-fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). CFRP, which has 50 percent lower density than steel or even aluminum, possesses the high level of strength and stiffness suitable for the passenger cell called “Life module.” The extruded aluminum used for the chassis carries the drivetrain and is called the “Drive module.”

Sethipong Anutarasoti, corporate affairs director of BMW Group Asia, explains the reason the i3 could be suitable for a megacity like Metro Manila.

“EVs will help reduce pollution in megacities like Metro Manila and contribute to cleaner air for not only the drivers but pedestrians and people living in these cities,” quips Anutarasoti.

He said, however, that for the i3 to arrive in the country,  contributions are required of many parties, specifically three conditions that must be met:

1. From a technical perspective, BMW’s EVs require an excellent telecommunications network, as the cars will be connected via a powerline communication or telemetry system which helps to identify for the driver the available or nearest charging stations.

2. From a regulatory perspective, local governments will have to define rules and incentives to encourage the adoption of EVs to reward the vehicle owners for contributing less pollution and CO2 to the eco-system.

3. Infrastructure readiness will also be crucial. Therefore, city and building authorities will need to encourage the widespread installation of charging stations.

“To sum it up, if there is a business case to introduce EVs to the Philippines, the possibilities are aplenty. And this would not only apply to BMW i cars, but EVs in general,” Anutarasoti said.

EV vs PHEV

Inquirer Motoring also asked Anutarasoti about online discussions questioning the true nature of i3’s full-electric vehicle, in light of the availability of its much-talked-about optional petrol-powered Range Extender (REx) module that acts as a generator to recharge the batteries, roughly doubling the 190-kilometer range (the full-EV i3 runs to a maximum 190 km on a full charge, 360 km with the REx). REx, which acts as a generator to recharge the batteries, is a two-cylinder, 650-cc gasoline engine that works only as a power generator and doesn’t drive the wheels.

“An EV has one single system (i.e. battery) powering its wheels, regardless of whether it has a REx or not. The REx is essentially different from a PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle), whereby the combustion engine would directly drive the wheels of the car,” he explains. Therefore, the power output of a PHEV is based on the combined output of both the combustion engine and its electric motor.

The power output of the BMW i3 is 12 5 kilowatt per 170 horsepower. This remains the same with or without REx.

Anutarasoti pointed out the BMW i8, which is a PHEV and powered by two drive systems: A three-cylinder, 1.5-liter petrol engine with power output of 231 HP, and an electric motor with power output of 131 HP. As such, the combined output of the BMW i8 would be 362 HP.

32 million km of driving

“Based on our field trials in key cities (including New York, Los Angeles, Seoul, Shanghai, Beijing, Munich, Berlin and London) of up to 32 million km of driving over a four-year period via the MINI E and BMW ActiveE, we have established that BMW i3’s range of 130-160 km is sufficient for most urban mobility usage,” reasons Anutarasoti.

“Therefore, the REx is really just there to provide  peace of mind for initial customers who may not be used to an EV and those who are living in cities that have not developed a full-scale charging infrastructure as yet. The REx is not designed to be the key energy source to power the BMW i3 because that should be done via the electricity charging,” he adds.

Costs

The official launch of the BMW i Series is likely to be in mid-2014. Pricing would only then  be available.

Asked about BMW’s investment costs for the i Series, Anutarasoti replied, “Up to 600 million euros was invested in terms of production network, which includes the windmill and power generation capability, as well as new capabilities to develop carbon fiber, the new capability of the High Voltage Battery, and so on.”

‘One-box’ i3 design

The “one-box” design of BMW i3 combines both form and function. The tall-stance, one-box design is meant to provide ease of driving in an urban environment. The roominess and airy feeling of the cabin, as well as its short front and rear, contribute to the ease of maneuvering in tight spaces expected when driving in a big city. Further, it comes with a fun driving characteristic with its low center of gravity and short overhangs.

Fun. Another reason why the i3 and the Philippines should be a match made in heaven.

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