If you think that a BMW i3 is a rare sight in Germany, a charging station that caters to the carmaker’s electric offers is even rarer. During a recent four-day test drive, which came a year after BMW launched the i3, the EV managed to cruise around 200km (125 miles) in Berlin, which one of the four cities picked by the German government to promote electric cars.
By the time the i3's battery indicator showed that it is running its last 10km, the EV had to be driven into one of the around 500 charging stations in Berlin. But that is also when the problem started to show up. The i3 visited three charging stations to recharge, but, two of them weren't part of BMW's payment system.
The third one was in a shopping mall, but didn't work. The situation underscores the current hurdle that electric driving has to surpass to entice people to embrace this kind of mobility. The situation also brings some questions on whether electric driving is really practical for urban consumers who have no garages or dedicated parking areas.
"These are the kinds of growing pains that you simply have to persevere through," remarked Joerg Welke, spokesman for Berlin's eMO agency for electric mobility. He remarked that "a lot of people and companies” are working to improve the situation.
Having a nearby charging station where people can easily charge their EVs is a critical part of a bid to attract customers not only in Berlin or Germany, but also in other markets around the world.
One of the leaders in the segment, Tesla Motors Inc., is trying to appeal to customers to embrace electric mobility by setting its own fast-charging stations. It now has around 280 superchargers in North America, Europe and Asia, and is adding charging stations in China.
The new BMW i3 follows what is known as the single-pedal control concept which was put together by no less than the drive system development engineers at BMW Group. This particular concept is what helps the new i3 deliver a more engaging driving experience. The minute the driver stops pressing on the accelerator, the recuperation mode is immediately activated. What happens is that the electric motor changes its mode from drive to generator and it is then able to feed power to the lithium-ion battery.
While this is happening, the system also creates a precisely controllable braking effect. Since the recuperation is speed-sensitive, it means that the vehicle is able to “coast” under maximum efficiency when running at high speed and when at low speeds, creating a strong braking effect. For those who get a chance to be behind the wheel of the new i3, they will get that all too familiar feel of the driving pleasure.
This is mainly owed to meticulously implementing the overall concept, which among others, involved developing that optimum balance between range for urban mobility, performance, and weight. There are two important factors and these are the BMW eDrive technology and the LifeDrive architecture. By utilizing lightweight CFRP for the vehicle’s passenger cell, it made it possible to negate the extra weight brought in by the lithium-ion battery.
In addition, by putting the battery pack in a central and low position, it improves the agility which is already present due to the perfect 50:50 weight distribution. Meanwhile with the electric motor being mounted close to the driven rear axle, this allows for a rather distinct performance quality for this particular drive system while also offering unmatched traction. Equipped to the new i3 as standard are the forger light-alloy 19-inch wheels.
Despite the wheels being ultra-lightweight, it delivers exceptional torsional stiffness. Fitted to the wheels are the low rolling resistance tires sized 155/70 R19. Because of the relatively narrow and bespoke dimensions, the tires provide that ideal mix of a contact area that has been designed for dynamic cornering and a lower drag. Customers however have the option to put in the light-alloy 20-inch wheels.
Talking about the driving characteristics of this new model, the dominating quality is maneuverability, which is obviously a direct answer to customer demands when it comes to driving in the city. The electric motor is able to deliver power in an instant and this is paired with the stiff-suspension configuration, small turning circle of 9.86 meters, and precise steering. This allows for that usual BMW take when it comes to electric mobility.
In terms of actual figures, the electric motor can offer an output of 170 hp (125 kW) with top torque at 184 lb.-ft. (250 Nm), all of which are available from the start. This combination enables the new i3 to go from 0 to 37 mph (0 to 60 km/h) in 3.7 seconds and standstill to 62 mph (0 to 100 km/h) in 7.2 seconds.
In addition to having a weight of around 50 kilograms, the electric motor has both responsiveness and power density never before seen in the electric mobility world. BMW revealed that the hybrid synchronous electric motor was exclusively developed for the new i3. Further, the specific construction meant that it would be able to maintain a linear power flow even as it goes to the rev range’s higher reaches.