BMW’s first electric car hits the street
Before we get hammered over the head, the MINI E is not a BMW. MINI is owned by BMW, but that does not make it one. That said, BMW learned a lot from its MINI E experience. BMW delivered the first electric BMW – the ActiveE – in New Jersey last Friday. Pretty brazen of BMW to launch their car on Friday the 13th. Then again the BMW i3, of which this is the precursor, will launch in 2013 so this may be part of some grand marketing scheme. Who knows?
So – what’s the difference between the ActiveE and the future i3? Marketing. This is simply a research and development project leading to the future production of the i3 according to BMW. Global supply of 1,000+ ActiveEs will be made available to select markets in the United States, Europe and China. As a development project, just as with the MINI E, these vehicles will only be leased, and the lease term is for two years. The vehicles will be returned to BMW at the end of the lease. Our thoughts are that any significant changes that occur as a result of this phase of the program will not reflect poorly on the i3 as it does not yet exist. At least, that is likely the thinking behind the closed doors at BMW headquarters.
The above illustration shows the layout of the technology under the skin of the BMW 1 series coupe that turns it into the ActiveE. The battery back is in three modules – one module up front, one in the conventional transmission tunnel area, and one under the back seat where the fuel tank normally resides. The electric motor is mounted in the rear, powering the rear wheels. If you have never driven a BMW 1 Series coupe, the handling is pretty amazing. The ActiveE is said to offer the same 50:50 weight distribution with a lower center of gravity than the gasoline powered coupe, although we don’t know what the weight difference is between the two. The big difference between the two – acceleration. The ActiveE with 170 horsepower on tap and 184 lb-ft of torque, is no barn burner. In fact, the torque in the BMW ActiveE is less than that in the LEAF. It would be interesting to put them side by side for a quick sprint to 30 mph and see who gets there first. We suspect that someone will get that opportunity fairly soon.
BMW has chosen to use an active liquid cooled battery thermal management system for their lithium ion battery cells supplied by SB LiMotive. What this tells us is that the coolant system is needed to maintain an optimum operating temperature. BMW tells us that each of the three modules is encased in a steel-plate housing. Could be important, as Chevrolet found. No mention of the capacity of the battery pack, although the range is the typical 100 mile range offered currently by most manufacturers.
When we had an opportunity to drive the MINI E we were astounded at the extremely high level of battery regeneration thrust upon the vehicle occupants on throttle lift. It is one thing to offer exceptional regen, but to offer no alternatives seemed a ruthless decision by the powers that be. We almost grew nauseous due to the learching about. We imagine that as one becomes accustomed to the aggressiveness of the regen that it could be suitably managed with one’s right foot. It truly would require concentration and care to achieve anything close to comfort, in our opinion. Someone at BMW must have agreed. While BMW states that “in urban traffic around 75 percent of all deceleration can be accomplished without using the brake pedal”, they do offer one significant change not available in the MINI E. The ActiveE will offer an intermediate position of the accelerator pedal allowing the vehicle to “glide.” Perhaps a suitable solution; we’ll see. Our preference would be to see three brake regen settings, similar to that offered on the Mitsubishi i. Let the driver select which mode they want and not have to fuss with maintaining a certain amount of pedal pressure to be in the “gliding sweet spot.” Sounds like a lot of unneeded fine-motor coordination called for on the part of the driver. Call them whatever you want to from a marketing standpoint, but offer light-, medium-, and heavy-regeneration. As long as we brought up the Mitsu i, the most aggressive regen setting in that car should actually be more aggressive. Not enough difference among the three in our view.
Should you have an interest in leasing an ActiveE, the vehicle will be available in the following markets in the US: Boston, Hartford, Los Angeles, New York, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco.