Underneath its radical styling, the BMW i3 electric car has some unusual features.
Its carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) body shell and aluminum chassis are unlike anything found in most other cars--let alone its floor-mounted battery pack and optional range-extending two-cylinder engine.
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That's why a firm specializing in reverse-engineering for the auto industry recently took apart an i3 to unlock its secrets, and gave Forbes a look.
Munro & Associates orchestrated a "teardown" at its facility outside Detroit last month, and chief executive A. Sandy Munro said he was impressed with what he found.
Munro's company disassembles new cars to offer competitors a chance to see how they're constructed and how much they may cost to build.
One of the highlights of the i3 tear down was the "Life Module" body shell, which accounts for the majority of the car's structural strength.
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Munro was impressed by how the fibers of the material were aligned to resist crushing, and by BMW's decision to use the still-exotic CFRP in a mass-market car in the first place.
The firm's engineers also praised the design of the i3's lithium-ion battery pack, saying its modular design allows for the relatively easy replacement of individual groups of cells as they wear out.
BMW i3 at DC fast-charging station
However, the i3 reportedly isn't just an interesting engineering exercise. According to Munro, it also "makes money."
He said that in his judgment, the car would be profitable at volumes of just 20,000 units per year at its current price (which starts at $42,275 including delivery, before any Federal, state, or local incentives).
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And 20,000 units appears to be close to the volume BMW has said it is aiming for.
The carmaker originally intended to build 10,000 units of the i3 in calendar-year 2014, but early demand encouraged it to increase production.
It has said in the past that it has capacity to build up to 30,000 such cars a year.
[hat tip: Christopher Mirabile]