The i3 is BMW's electric future, but where would it be without its past? Hilton Holloway investigates

The new BMW i3 is a cutting-edge piece of engineering, but its arrival in showrooms shows just how long the ‘cutting edge’ can spend in gestation before it is seen as viable for production.

Indeed, it is nearly 22 years since BMW’s first electrically driven urban concept appeared. After just 10 months’ development, the E1 was unveiled at the Frankfurt show in 1991, a concept with remarkable similarity to the new i3.

Just 3.45m long, it had space for four people and was built around an extruded aluminium spaceframe clad mostly in panels made from recycled plastics. A 32kW electric motor drove the rear wheels. Top speed was 75mph and 0-30mph took 6.0sec.

The 200kg, 19kWh sodium-sulphur battery was stored under the floor. BMW claimed it could be recharged in six hours from the mains for a 100-mile range. A second version was shown in 1993, with a more powerful sodium-nickel-chloride battery.

It’s thought that the E1 concept was not taken any further because California’s threat to force car makers to build electric vehicles never came to fruition. BMW also bought Rover Group in early 1994, curtailing a number of projects.

Another city car concept thought to have been a victim of the Rover takeover was the innovative Z13. Revealed at the 1993 Geneva show, the Z13 was also rear-engined.

The Z13 started as an unofficial project at BMW’s advanced Technik division under designer Robert Powell. He envisaged a compact, inter-city commuter car with an emphasis on high-end luxuries such sat-nav and a sophisticated audio system.

The final design was just 3.4m long and weighed 830kg. It used a central driving position, with the driver’s seat flanked by two passenger seats. Like the i3 and E1, the Z13 was based around an aluminium chassis. The rear wheels were driven by a 82bhp, 1200cc K1100 motorcycle engine, through a CVT ’box.

With the i3 concept taking two decades to reach the showroom, could a car similar to the Z13 be ruled out if a sub-Mini car looks like a viable new niche, especially in Asia?

To see more of BMW's previous electric concept cars, click here.

Our Verdict

BMW i3

BMW made waves with Europe’s first premium-brand compact EV, and continued development means the i3 keeps upping the ante

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Comments
13

3 August 2013

NO, it isnt, its a milkfloat with a carbon/plasitc body, and an ipad for instruments. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0seCNxRUmI

3 August 2013

Citytiger wrote:

NO, it isnt, its a milkfloat with a carbon/plasitc body, and an ipad for instruments. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0seCNxRUmI

It just isn't. BMW is innovating with this one.

3 August 2013

Citytiger wrote:

its a milkfloat with a carbon/plasitc body, and an ipad for instruments. 

Couldn't have put it better. The i3's a poorly executed pile of rubbish.

3 August 2013

Ray60 wrote:

Citytiger wrote:

its a milkfloat with a carbon/plasitc body, and an ipad for instruments. 

Couldn't have put it better. The i3's a poorly executed pile of rubbish.

Of course you know that for a fact without ever having seen or driven one.  You must be unusually perceptive.

4 August 2013

Clarkey wrote:

Ray60 wrote:

Citytiger wrote:

its a milkfloat with a carbon/plasitc body, and an ipad for instruments. 

Couldn't have put it better. The i3's a poorly executed pile of rubbish.

Of course you know that for a fact without ever having seen or driven one.  You must be unusually perceptive.

Indeed I do wish people would avoid confident assertions as to how vehicles will perform or how reliable they will be before having even seen one. The resemblance to a football supporter's bad mouthing of other teams is marked.

However, judging from the pictures we have seen, this will be a very ugly vehicle indeed. BMW/MINI are going through a dire period at present as indeed is the German industry in the mass or near mass market sector. Bland and boring appears to be the best we can hope for. 

4 August 2013

So good to read you again Hilton,you do not seem to give us as much as you

once did,a shame.

I am sorry but i do not look upon the i3 as cutting edge,will it sell?,well its a BMW

it stands a good chance.

For me there is only one EV for the city,if you have to have an EV that is? and that is

the T27.

What a pity no one will build these cars,T25/T27,in my opinion no other comes near,as

for the instruments,well the T cars have a very good instrument pack.

Its very simple and gives you all you need,you do not need to read a book to find

out what is what,how nice.

Still no one will ever build the T cars so who cares.

3 August 2013

............and this one is about a 22 year old prototype!!

3 August 2013

Why does it need to look so ugly?

I get that electric cars are better for the environment and that in the not too distant future they will become the norm. But why does it need to look like that? Its like a badly styled Vauxhall Meriva / DS3 / Smart Car.

Not one of the colours offered by BMW hides those black panels or the window lines. 

3 August 2013

Thanks Mr Holloway for this insight in the development of this cutting-edge electric vehicle.

I couldn't help noticing that even the early prototypes were RWD and packed decent pace.

4 August 2013

In my opinion there is a reason why nobody will take up the T27. It looks like a pile of particularly stinking poo to me. Unlike the i3 which I think looks great. 

 

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