New BMW electric car “agile and engaging to drive”

epa03699876 (HANDNOUT) A handout provided by BMW dated November 2012 made available on 14 May 2013 shows a BMW i3 Coupe concert car in Munich, Germ...
 May 2013 photo shows an i3 Coupe in Munich, Germany. BMW's first electric car is expected to be in U.S. showrooms in about one year. Steffen Jahn/BMW

Although it’s still a year from reaching U.S. showrooms, BMW has set a price of $42,275 for the new i3 electric vehicle that will serve as the launch platform for its all-new battery-car brand-within-a-brand, BMW i.

The little battery-electric vehicle will primarily target urban commuters who are nonetheless looking for more than just basic transportation. The BMW i3 will not only offer more up-market attributes but also will be notable as the auto industry’s first mass-produced vehicle to make extensive use of super-light carbon fiber.

“The BMW i3 heralds the dawn of a new era for individual mobility and for the BMW Group,” said Ian Robertson, Member of the Board of Management, Sales and Marketing BMW. “True to a genuine BMW, the BMW i3 has strong emotional appeal, outstanding product substance and a guarantee of sheer driving pleasure. With this leading-edge vehicle and attractive price, we will provide customers with a compelling offer for electro-mobility.”

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An official unveiling of the production i3 set for next Monday, underscores the global reach BMW expects for the new i3 battery-car, with simultaneous events scheduled in New York City, London and Beijing. The electric city car will reach U.S. showrooms during the second quarter of 2014.

The BMW i3 will offer interior space, the maker promises, similar to that of a more conventional 3-Series model, albeit on a shorter overall body with a turning circle of just 32.3 feet – something that could prove appealing to urban dwellers, especially those in older European or Asian cities.

The German automaker promises, in a statement, that the new battery-car will be “agile and engaging to drive, yet ideally suited to driving in dense urban areas.”

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The BMW i3 will be powered by a 170-horsepower, 184 lb-ft hybrid-synchronous electric motor developed by BMW. It will draw power from a 22 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. And though final EPA testing has not been completed, the maker expects the city car will yield between 80 and 100 miles per charge.

BMW has not revealed charging times using a Level 2 charger, though a completely drained battery would likely require something between 5 to 7 hours using 220 volts depending upon the hardware built into the vehicle, estimates. The carmaker did note that a Level 3, 480-volt quick charger will provide an 80 percent recharge in 20 minutes.

BMW is the latest among a growing list of manufacturers to reveal plans for entering the electric vehicle market. The German maker’s move is significant in several ways, however:

· Like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S, the BMW i3 will be one of the few battery cars to adopt a completely unique platform and body optimized for electric propulsion;

· BMW plans to launch an entirely new battery-based sub-brand, BMW i, and will follow the i3 model with a sportier plug-in hybrid, the BMW i8;

· The i3 will adopt a carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, or CFRP passenger cell mounted on an aluminum chassis.

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Many in the auto industry see super-light carbon fiber as the material of the future. The challenge is bringing down costs that have, until now, largely limited CFRP’s use to Formula One race cars and super-exotic sports cars. The Bavarian maker is pushing to bring down production costs and has set up new CFRP manufacturing facilities in both Moses Lake, Washington and Leipzig, Germany.

The final price of $42,275 will be offset by a $7,500 U.S. government tax credit. Buyers also will be eligible for various state incentives, such as the $2,500 credit in California. For comparison, the Nissan Leaf starts at $29,650 without shipping costs for the stripped-down model and the upper SL i spriced at $35,690. The Ford Focus Electric has a $39,995 list price.