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.