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BMW i3 Concept

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The BMW i3 Concept is an uncompromisingly sustainable vehicle designed for urban areas. Driven purely by electric power and purpose-built to meet the demands of sustainable and emission-free mobility, it embodies an intelligent form of urban transportation and commuting.

“This automotive concept uses a new architecture which showcases all of its new possibilities and potential. It is the world’s first premium electric vehicle.” (Andreas Feist, Head of vehicle project BMW i3)

BMW i3 Concept Technical Specifications
i3 Concept
No. of seats
Kerb weight
1250 kg
Fuel type
Power output
125 kW
250 Nm
Top Speed
150 km/h | 93 mph
7.9 s
Electric range
Everyday range
130-160 km | 80-100 miles
FTP72 cycle
225 km | 140 miles
Battery charge time
6 h for 100% charge
1 h for 80% charge

3845 mm
2011 mm
1537 mm
2570 mm

The BMW i3 is a well-resolved all-round concept, with every detail conceived and optimised to fulfil its eventual purpose. Central to its design is the innovative LifeDrive architecture, the key to the BMW i3 Concept’s appeal as a light, safe and spacious car. Innovative use of materials and intelligent lightweight design not only enable the i3 Concept to travel long distances on a single charge and provide superb safety in the event of a collision, they also help give the car its excellent driving dynamics. The secure arrangement of the battery in the Drive module gives the vehicle a very low centre of gravity and optimum weight distribution. The electric motor over the rear axle – which generates output of 125 kW/170 hp and impressive torque of 250 Nm (184 lb-ft) from a standstill – and a small turning circle combine to deliver pleasingly crisp driving characteristics and give the driver a very immediate experience of the BMW i3 Concept’s lightweight design. The BMW i3 Concept accelerates from 0 to 60 km/h (37 mph) in under four seconds and from rest to 100 km/h (62 mph) in less than eight seconds. The extremely direct sensation at the wheel is expressed in outstanding agility at low speeds and during turning manoeuvres, and makes parking in tricky situations that much easier.

The Life module conjures up a feeling of space inside the car more generous than even the latest conversion vehicles can offer. Select materials lend the open and airy cabin a lounge-like character. The use of renewable raw materials is another defining characteristic of the interior, offering passengers a further means of “experiencing” the sustainability of the vehicle. Elements of the instrument panel and door panelling are visibly made from natural fibres, while the naturally tanned leather of the seats creates a lounge-style ambience. Together, these materials provide an appealing contrast to the clear, “floating” forms of the instrument panel and door elements, and lend the interior a strikingly modern feel. With the drive components located in the Drive module, there is no centre tunnel running through the passenger compartment. This allows the two front and two rear seats to be connected with each other by a continuous seat surface, which allows for ease of entry and exit via the front passenger side of the car and means you can park up close to walls, for example. With four seats, wide-opening opposing “coach” doors, boot capacity of around 200 litres and an additional functional compartment in the front, the BMW i3 Concept is neatly equipped for the demands of everyday use.

However, the electric motor developed by BMW and the optimised lightweight design of the LifeDrive architecture cannot take all the credit for imbuing the car with such efficiency and enabling it to travel such long distances on each charge. Indeed, the ability of the car to recoup energy while on the move and special range-extending functions, such as ECO PRO mode, also add miles to the clock. With ECO PRO mode activated, all the vehicle functions operate with maximum efficiency. For example, the accelerator mapping is tweaked to limit the output summoned when the driver flexes his right foot, and the climate control functions also use as little energy as possible. Added to which, sophisticated aerodynamics and slim, low rolling resistance wheels minimise resistance to the car’s forward progress and maximise its range.

Innovative connectivity functions create a seamless connection between the BMW i3 Concept and its customers’ lives outside the car. Remote functions accessible via a smartphone enable owners to find their vehicles, flag up nearby charging stations, allow battery charging and preconditioning at the touch of a button and supply information on the current status of the vehicle. Meanwhile, intelligent assistance systems ease the stress on drivers in monotonous city driving situations and allow them to arrive at their destination more safely and in a more relaxed state of mind.

The LifeDrive architecture of the BMW i3 Concept.

Both the BMW i3 Concept and the BMW i8 Concept have been designed around the innovative LifeDrive architecture. However, the geometric implementation of the concept differs in the two models, having been adapted to suit their different usages. The BMW i3 Concept features a horizontal-split variant of the LifeDrive concept optimised to accommodate the car’s electric drive system. Here, the Drive module provides the solid foundations for the Life cell, which is simply mounted on top. The driving element of the Drive module’s functional design is the battery, which is made as large as possible to give the car better range. Bearing in mind the size of the BMW i3 Concept’s battery, the most space-efficient place to store it was in the car’s underfloor section. There, it occupies the whole of the module’s central section, giving the car optimum weight distribution and a low centre of gravity and therefore enhancing its dynamics. The battery is penned in by aluminium profiles, which protect it from external impacts. Crash-active structures in front and behind it provide the necessary energy absorption in the event of a front- or rear-end collision. The electric drive system is, as a whole, much more compact than a comparable combustion engine, cleverly accommodating the electric motor, gear assembly and drive electronics – in space-saving fashion – within a small area over the driven rear axle. The BMW i3 Concept therefore features the optimum LifeDrive architecture configuration for a purely electric vehicle.

The chassis of the BMW i3 Concept is also ideal for city driving. Its enviably small turning circle and direct steering responses are a recipe for outstanding agility, notably at low speeds. Rear-wheel drive allows the front axle to remain free from drive forces and therefore to carry out its steering function to optimum effect. These elements team up with the electric motor – whose impressive torque from a standstill provides exceptional traction – to produce extremely dynamic handling characteristics.

The spacious Life module of the BMW i3 Concept allows the vehicle’s interior to boast a totally new design. The integration of all the drive components within the Drive module removes the need for a centre tunnel bisecting the interior, through which power would previously have been transferred to the rear wheels. The BMW i3 Concept therefore offers significantly more interior space than other vehicles with the same wheelbase and – through solutions such as a full-width seat bench – also allows the interior to be adapted extremely effectively to the needs of urban mobility. Added to which, a pair of opposing doors and the omission of B-pillars provide a large entry area for passengers – and a generous view into the cutting-edge interior for admiring eyes. The BMW i3 Concept offers comfortable accommodation for four passengers and, with around 200 litres of boot space, room for their luggage as well. Up front, underneath what would normally be the bonnet, the Life module gives the BMW i3 Concept a separate luggage area with space for the charging cable and other items passengers would rather not carry in the passenger compartment.

All-electric – the BMW i3 Concept.

The electric motor of the BMW i3 Concept is designed primarily for operation in an urban environment. Already tested in a pre-production version in the BMW ActiveE, the version of this permanently excited hybrid synchronous motor which will be used in the BMW i3 Concept has undergone further optimisation in terms of weight and driveability. It develops 125 kW/170 hp, with peak torque of 250 Nm (184 lb-ft). Typically of an electric motor, maximum torque is developed from standstill, in contrast to an internal combustion engine where torque increases with engine rpm. This makes the BMW i3 Concept highly agile and provides impressive acceleration. The BMW i3 Concept accomplishes 0-60 km/h (37 mph) in under four seconds and 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in under eight seconds.

But impressive, instantaneous, response is not the only distinctive aspect about the driving experience in the BMW i3 Concept. Another is the dual accelerator/decelerator function of the accelerator pedal. After the driver eases up on the accelerator, the electric motor acts as a generator, converting the kinetic energy into electricity which is then fed back into the battery. Energy recuperation generates a braking effect which makes a significant contribution to vehicle deceleration. Around town, approximately 75 per cent of all braking operations can be performed in this way, i.e. without using the brake pedal at all. Intensive use of this energy recuperation function of the electric motor can increase the driving range by up to 20 per cent. Only when the driver’s braking request exceeds a given level is the conventional brake system of the BMW i3 Concept engaged as well.

A coasting facility makes this unique “single-pedal control” of acceleration and braking using just the accelerator even more user-friendly. The BMW i3 Concept features a distinct “neutral” position of the accelerator pedal, i.e. rather than switching straight to recuperation when the driver eases off the pedal, the electric motor’s zero torque control keeps the drive train disconnected as long as the pedal is in this position. The vehicle now coasts without consuming power, driven by its own kinetic energy. Used as part of a proactive driving style, this coasting mode is a very user-friendly way of increasing the driving range even further.

Compact and powerful – the electric motor.

The electric motor of the BMW i3 Concept not only offers attractive driveability, it also has a very high power-to-size ratio. This is partly explained by the fact that electric motors typically achieve over 90 per cent energy efficiency. This means that a smaller electric motor can produce the same power output as a larger internal combustion engine. Due to its compact size, the electric motor used in the BMW i3 Concept can be optimally integrated into the vehicle architecture. The permanently excited hybrid synchronous electric motor and the power electronics of the BMW i3 Concept were developed entirely in-house, and boast very high efficiency, optimised power delivery and compact design. As mentioned, the innovative nature of the electric motor is particularly evident in the favourable power-to-size ratio. As a result of continuous development and refinement, the space requirements of the electric motor used in the BMW i3 Concept have been reduced by 40 per cent compared with the motor used in the MINI E. This compact drive unit is mounted over the rear axle, together with the power electronics, transmission and differential, causing no loss of interior space.

The power needed to drive the vehicle and to operate all other vehicle functions is supplied by specially developed lithium-ion battery cells. The BMW i3 Concept’s battery system has undergone detailed optimisation which significantly reduces the extent to which external factors can influence the vehicle’s power and driving range. An integrated liquid cooling system keeps the battery at its optimal operating temperature at all times, which helps to significantly boost the performance and life expectancy of the cells. The climate/heating system cools the fluid circulating in the battery housing via a heat exchanger.

If necessary, in winter, this fluid can also be heated in order to bring the battery up to its optimal operating temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius. These precautions ensure that power and torque remain constant throughout most of the battery’s charge range and make the system significantly less sensitive to extreme external temperatures. The battery can be fully recharged in six hours at a standard power socket. If a high-speed charger is used, an 80 per cent charge can be achieved in just one hour.

Range Extender increases the driving range.

As the MINI E field tests showed, a driving range of 120 to 150 kilometres (74 to 93 miles) was sufficient to meet 90 per cent of the mobility requirements of the pilot users. However, some customers want a longer driving range, or want their vehicle to be as flexible as possible. The BMW i3 Concept therefore offers an optional Range Extender, the REx, which allows the electric driving range to be increased. REx, a small, very smooth-running and quiet petrol engine, drives a generator which maintains the battery charge level and therefore extends the range of the electric motor. As soon as the battery charge reaches a critical level, REx supplies the necessary energy to get the driver the rest of the way to his destination. In a sense, therefore, the Range Extender is like having a reserve fuel can on board.

The very compact size of the electric motor used in the BMW i3 Concept means there is room left over to accommodate REx and its attached generator over the rear axle, alongside the drive components. The petrol engine complies with the SULEV standard, currently the strictest emissions standard for internal combustion engines. To reduce fuel consumption to a minimum, REx also features such functions as Automatic Start-Stop and other intelligent operating strategies.

The design language of the BMW i3 Concept.

Sustainability in the interior.

A stand-out feature of the BMW i3 Concept interior is the visible use, for the first time, of renewable and naturally treated raw materials. This allows the vehicle to express the brand’s claim to sustainability throughout its value chain in stylistic terms. The BMW i3 Concept sets new benchmarks in the use of sustainable materials. In addition to the extensive use of natural fibres in the floor pan and naturally tanned leather, 25 per cent of the weight of the interior plastic is accounted for by recycled or renewable raw materials. All in all, this is another great opportunity taken when it comes to reducing the environmentally damaging CO2 emissions of the cars.

BMW i3 Concept – compact, agile, sustainable.

The design of the BMW i3 Concept reveals the car’s qualities the first time you set eyes on it. The BMW i3 Concept represents the dynamic interpretation of an impressively practical vehicle.

The proportions – dynamic, compact.

Agile and compact proportions showcase the agility of the BMW i3 Concept and the dynamic prowess of its electric drive system. The stylistic lines within the car’s proportions provide additional emphasis here. From the side view, a number of elements combine to create a dynamic wedge shape, giving the car the feeling of pushing forward before it even turns a wheel. The generously-sized greenhouse tapers towards the rear and, together with the rearwards-rising door sills, emphasises the car’s dynamic inclinations. Above the greenhouse, the “stream flow” – a dynamic stroke descending from the roof into the C-pillar – adds further urgency to the forward-surging stance. From the outside, a flowing silhouette and long wheelbase hint at the extraordinarily generous levels of space on offer in the interior, while short front and rear overhangs make parking in tight spaces that much easier. Practicality gets another boost from the “coach doors”, whose opposing construction creates a fresh new way of accessing the wide-open spaces of the interior.

“The design reveals the driving pleasure on offer with electromobility. And you can add to that a large and practical interior.” (Benoit Jacob, Head of BMW i Design Team)

Extensive glass surfaces and black elements like the window surrounds and door sills give the vehicle a feeling of lightness and, together with the exposed carbon structures, draw attention to its low weight. At the same time, the lack of B-pillars ensures a seamless transition between the two doors. The result is a large, homogeneous glass surface, which gives the car’s flanks a very transparent look. Large, narrow 19-inch wheels add further impact to the dynamic side profile of the BMW i3 Concept. Their slim construction allows them to reduce the car’s drag and rolling resistance, and to avoid encroaching into the interior. And that means more space for the passengers.

The striking front end.

The front end of the BMW i3 Concept has a very clear and uncluttered design. The dominant element here is the strikingly moulded kidney grille, which has the hallmark BMW i blue background and – thanks to the car’s all-electric drive system – is totally blanked off. The grille also has a conspicuous swage line picking up from the bonnet edge. Below the kidney grille, the silver-coloured outer layer lends the sculptural front apron its form. The precise, vertical edges of the front apron element serve as the vehicle’s side borders and reinforce its powerful stance on the road. Black surfaces identify the functional areas of the front end, such as the load compartment under the bonnet and the air inlets.

The eye-catching LED headlights usher in a fresh take on BMW light design. Along with the strikingly formed kidney grille, the U-shaped LED-backlit lines form an important part of the arresting new BMW i face. The minimalist interpretation of the individual headlights underlines the efficiency and lightness of the BMW i3 Concept and lends it an individualist, outward-looking and reputable air.

The functional rear end.

The rear end of the BMW i3 Concept represents a microcosm of the car’s impressive functionality overall. The large, retractable rear window offers optimum access to the luggage compartment, and the roof pillars stand upright to create as much space as possible in the interior. Its large glass area allows the rear window to offer unbeatable rear visibility. The rear window is also home to the tail lights, which are U-shaped (like the headlights) and appear to be floating in the glass. Behind it lies an extremely versatile boot area, whose capacity can be further increased by folding down the rear seats.

The wide, silver-coloured rear diffuser marks the body’s lowest edge and allows the driver to experience the car’s efficient aerodynamics. Bordered by a blue layer, the diffuser tapers heavily towards the road and appears to continue underneath the car. The form of the diffuser underlines the car’s powerful stance. A sportier version can be found on the BMW i8 Concept, forging a link between the two models.

Self-supporting and light – the interior.

The version of the LifeDrive architecture that underlies the BMW i3 Concept opens up totally new avenues in interior design. Since the battery is located entirely in the underfloor section of the Drive module, the whole of the Life module is given over to the interior – a further benefit of purpose-built design. There is no centre tunnel bisecting the cabin, and the interior creates a very free, open and airy impression. At the same time, the design of the interior is extremely modern and clean: taut lines, powerful contours and small radii dominate the geometric forms on display. Here again, the Porcelain White support structure, black technical level and comfort section with Mocha Brown leather are split into separate layers.

The passengers sit in a raised position in the generously-sized Life module of the BMW i3 Concept. This semi-command position provides a good view over the hustle and bustle of city traffic and, at the same time, eases access to the seats. The full-width seat benches in the front and rear create a new and connecting feeling of space for the passengers in the light interior. With the benches stretching like bridges across the interior, passengers no longer sit strictly apart. This layout also allows them to swap from one side of the car to the other and, if necessary, to all climb out of the car comfortably on the same side. This represents a major boost to comfort in tight parking spaces and when access to one side of the parked car is impeded. The front seat bench features delicate-looking seat backrests marking out the driver and front passenger seats. The slim backrests are a faithful expression of the car’s systematic lightweight design and, at the same time, create more legroom for the rear passengers. The backrests are only connected with the seat bench towards the centre. At their outer edges they appear to be floating freely, which further underlines the airy character of the interior. Another special design element are the blue straps behind the seats, which run diagonally across the backrest and offer another functional stowage facility.

A distinctive element of the light interior is the freestanding steering column, around which all the other elements are grouped. Its pared-down surroundings leave the steering column to extend out prominently into the interior, while cut-outs in the column add to the airiness of the interior. All the driving-oriented controls – such as the instrument cluster, start/stop button and gearshift lever – can be found on the steering column. The gearshift lever takes the form of a rotary controller which can be moved forward or backward to select the desired driving mode – the car moves in the direction indicated by the controller. Positioning the controls on the steering column removes the need for a centre console in the BMW i3 Concept, and integrating the iDrive Controller into the seat bench eliminates this dividing element between the driver and front passenger. Another functional detail is the cupholder, which is integrated to the left of the driver in the air vent. This neat solution allows drinks to be kept warm in the winter and cooled by the climate control system in the summer.

Contrasts as a calculated design element.

Taken as a whole, the interior – with its warmer colours – provides a pleasant contrast to the cool and technical air of the exterior. And there are many other contrasts to be found when you get down to the details. Behind the steering column the extremely intricate yet extensive instrument panel spans the interior. It begins at the air vents next to the steering wheel, continues in a line around the steering column, includes the radio and climate controls, and continues on its path to the front passenger. Shortly before the front passenger door it then shears upwards, heads back towards the centre of the interior and reaches the end of its journey in the central information display (CID) monitor positioned above the control panel for the radio and climate system. Connectivity – the linking up of the driver and passengers with the outside world and information superhighway – plays an important role in the BMW i3 Concept, and is a theme given prominent treatment by the interior designers. For example, the instrument panel generates an almost calligraphic surface design around the displays, one large, wide surface sweeping prominently into a narrower and more delicate counterpart, before culminating in another wide section. The CID and control unit therefore present an attractive contrast to the clear, precise borders of the instrument panel.

The area around the instrument panel, the doors and the floor area of the BMW i3 Concept also features contrasting materials. The entire lower area of the BMW i3 Concept interior consists of renewable raw materials. The natural origins of the high-strength dark anthracite material made from compressed and coated plant fibres are clearly evident and showcase the light and beautifully crafted elements of the interior to optimum effect. The subtle background sets off individual elements such as the instrument panel and door pockets extremely effectively and, at the same time, underlines their function.

The dark Mocha Brown leather also provides a pleasant contrast with the Porcelain White support structures of the seat bench and instrument panel, and brings a homely lounge character into the vehicle. A large, light-grey wool felt floor mat with blue trim completes the warm and cosy feel. A further contrast to the transparent, pared-down design of the interior is provided by the support structure in the roof, whose organic, branched-out appearance recalls the myriad tentacles of a road network.

Interface design delivering intelligent mobility.

In the BMW i3 Concept, three large displays act as interfaces between the vehicle, the outside world and the car’s occupants. These screens provide access to vehicle and environment-related information, such as the current driving conditions and battery charge, route guidance and nearest charging stations. The freestanding instrument cluster, meanwhile, emerges out of the steering column directly in front of the driver. With a 6.5-inch (16.5 cm) screen diagonal it displays all the relevant driving information in the driver’s field of vision. Its freestanding design generates a very free and open feel around and above the driver’s head. Meanwhile, the central 8.8-inch (22.4 cm) information display curves out of the black technical layer of the instrument panel’s upper section towards the passengers. It blends seamlessly into the black surrounds, creating a very high-quality, continuous black surface which makes the display appear even larger. Below, the likewise unbroken black audio/climate control panel shares the form of the central information display (CID). Like the CID, the homogeneous touch-control surface curves towards the passengers and uses another screen to show additional information relating to the content on the central information display.

On another level, the highly technical-looking display graphics of the instrument cluster and CID lend visual form to the BMW i3 Concept’s electric drive philosophy. All the information is displayed in the high quality and visually appealing fashion you would expect from BMW. Although the relationship of the i3 Concept to the parent brand is clearly evident again here, a very distinctive graphics profile has been created for BMW i with the emphasis on an individual and minimalist approach. All the displays are three-dimensional. The efficiency display, which takes the form of an open-topped ellipse, surrounds the digital speed screen in the centre of the instrument cluster. Its gauge tells the driver whether energy is currently being taken from the battery or supplied to it through recuperation. The driver can also find information here on the car’s remaining range and driving mode currently selected. If the driver switches to range-enhancing ECO PRO mode, the whole display concept also changes. The ellipse in the instrument cluster becomes flatter, the projected range increases and a display showing the optimum accelerator position for efficient driving completes the new format. The climate control panel also provides visual confirmation of the function-related changes in ECO PRO mode. The driver is therefore kept very effectively informed and given the best possible support in every driving mode.

BMW i3 Concept and sustainability.

Integrated perspective.

For BMW i, sustainability is of pivotal importance. A holistic approach to the issue of sustainability is a defining feature of this sub-brand. BMW i aspires to sustainability throughout the entire value chain. From the earliest strategic and planning stages, therefore, clearly defined sustainability targets were set for the BMW i vehicles. All three sustainability aspects were addressed across the entire spectrum, from purchasing, development and production to sales and marketing.

This process had its beginnings in project i. Employees working for this think tank play an enabling role in the BMW Group’s development of new technologies and processes designed to provide sustainable mobility and to ensure sustainability throughout the value chain. This research work has resulted in an all-electric vehicle based on an innovative architecture, new materials and a completely new production process. This vehicle is the BMW i3 Megacity Vehicle. In their quest for a completely sustainable process, the BMW Group specialists began by looking at the entire vehicle life cycle. They quickly identified potential for reducing environmental impacts and went on to define concrete targets, as a benchmark for measuring and monitoring progress. In the subsequent vehicle development process, these sustainability targets were given the same priority as cost and weight targets. This is the first time a vehicle project of the BMW Group has implemented such an approach so radically, so extensively and so systematically.

The BMW i3 Concept proves beyond doubt how successfully these sustainability targets were achieved. The life cycle global warming potential (CO2e) of the BMW i3 Concept, assuming a European electricity mix (EU 25), is at least a third lower than for a highly efficient combustion-engined vehicle in the same segment. If the vehicle is powered by renewable electricity, the improvement increases to well over 50 per cent. In addition to global warming potential, other environmental impact categories have been taken into account as well. This is reflected in a large number of innovative measures relating to the development, production and recycling stage. Some of these solutions were developed by suppliers. In this way BMW i is setting new standards of sustainability across the entire value chain.

“The new directions being taken by BMW i – including the LifeDrive architecture, the drive units, the production methods and the use of sustainable materials – all help to reduce the global warming potential (CO2e) of every single vehicle.” (Simone Lempa-Kindler, Responsible for sustainability at project i).

Sustainability in the development process.

With its innovative LifeDrive architecture and extensive use of intelligent lightweight design, the BMW i3 Concept is specifically targeted at electric mobility. This purpose-built design, which compensates for the weight penalty of an electric power train, also features innovative use of CFRP (carbon fibre-reinforced plastic). The weight savings ensure an extended driving range and even more efficient zero-emission electric operation – in other words, more miles per kilowatt of electricity. At the same time, sustainability is also reflected in the high-class interior, where for the first time the use of renewable materials is clearly visible. Natural fibre-based materials are clearly identifiable in instrument panel and door trim surfaces and details, for example. Along with naturally tanned leather, these materials make this new, “natural” interior aesthetic immediately likeable.

The BMW i3 Concept also has a high recycled material content. 25 per cent of the interior plastics by weight have been replaced by recycled and renewable materials, as have 25 per cent by weight of the exterior thermoplastic components, while the CFRP used in the Life Module consists of 10 per cent recycled material. The use of recycled CFRP in this form is currently unique.

Source: BMW Group Press Release

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