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Are The BMW i3 And i8 Electric Cars A Mission Impossible?


Los Angeles Auto Show, BMW "Mission Impossible" presentation

Los Angeles Auto Show, BMW "Mission Impossible" presentation

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At the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show, BMW introduced its press conference with a preview of the next installment of the Tom Cruise Mission Impossible movie series. 

BMW features prominently in this production, with its plug-in hybrid supercar i8 as one of the team’s advanced tools.

The movie's theme--the impossible mission, which always somehow seems to be achieved--is exactly what BMW is pursuing with its move into electric power for its vehicles. 

The theatrical challenge must be concluded in 180 minutes or less, but BMW has patiently evolved its electric-drive technology over several years--as Rich Steinberg, BMW’s American Manager of Electric Vehicle Operations and Strategy, outlined in an interview at the LA debut of the i3 and i8 concepts.

Even BMW's deep pockets couldn't draw Tom Cruise to this debut, but one of his co-stars, Paula Patton, was on hand to add her impressions of the i8 as part of their movie technology.

BMW i Launch Event, Frankfurt, July 2011

BMW i Launch Event, Frankfurt, July 2011

Enlarge Photo

After the staged excitement with the beautiful star, we settled down for an interview with Steinberg.

He asserted that the concept i3 is “95 percent final” against the production car that will go on sale in the third quarter of 2013.  Based on feedback from the field testing of the MINI E, the i3 will have the desired “100-mile electric range,” but the final size of its battery pack is still being assessed. 

Steinberg noted that since the i3 will be much lighter in overall weight, due to its carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger shell and aluminum platform and impact design, it probably won't need as large a battery as a more conventionally engineered vehicle like the Ford Focus EV. 

BMW i Launch Event, Frankfurt, July 2011

BMW i Launch Event, Frankfurt, July 2011

Enlarge Photo

This will save BMW considerable expense--and although carbon fiber doesn't come cheap either, BMW has been working for several years with companies on both sides of the Atlantic to achieve cost savings in the production and manipulation of carbon fiber.

Applying the savings from a smaller battery system to the extra cost of the carbon-fiber technology probably won't “zero out” the cost differences, Steinberg said, but he went on to note that "the i3 will be a premium electric drive city car, so it will cost more than other entry-level models from the competition.”

BMW i Launch Event, Frankfurt, July 2011

BMW i Launch Event, Frankfurt, July 2011

Enlarge Photo

As a concept, the exotic and supercar-aspiring i8 is all glass and swooping, highly sculpted lines--not unusual on concept cars, but less often making it into production.

Questioned about how close the production i8 will be to this dramatic concept, Steinberg said it would be very close, the deep sculpting and dramatic glass included.  

That's the good news, though he went on to say that the i8 is cast as a “supercar,” and will be priced accordingly. That means well over a $100,000 ticket to ride when it appears in 2014.

BMW i Launch Event, Frankfurt, July 2011

BMW i Launch Event, Frankfurt, July 2011

Enlarge Photo

It is clear that BMW’s pursuit of this impossible mission--no less than reinventing the automobile--is a program for the long run.

BMW vehicles 10 years from now are likely to be further evolutions of the i3 and i8, and almost inconceivably different from the classic Sixties 2002 that started the company toward the "ultimate driving machine" cachet it enjoys today.

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