Move over Rex, Bev is on the way

BMW NZ has upped the pace of its i3 initiative – by delivering a battery-pure model that, though offering half the range of the incumbent, is expected to broaden the type’s appeal.

RANGE anxiety doesn’t seem to be a problem for the majority of i3 owners – and it’s no longer an issue for BMW New Zealand either.

That seems to be the implied message from the brand’s determination, confirmed exclusively to Motoring Network today, to introduce the purely battery-run edition of the teensy four-seater.

The order book is now open for the i3 BEV – short for battery electric vehicle - with intent to begin sale later in the year.

The derivative will offer as an alternate to the i3 REX (for range extender), which has been on sale for 18 months and is the latest recipient of the New Zealand car of the year.

The cars are identical in look and construction, sharing the same radical structure, with its carbon fibre four seater body perched atop an aluminium chassis. In either format the rear-mounted electric motor produces 125kW and 250Nm to propel it from 0-100kmh in 7.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 150kmh.

Whereas the REX can clock between 240 and 300km, through using its petrol engine to generate more power for the battery pack, the non-assisted BEV is only rated for an optimum 170kms.

That’s no turn-off, BMW NZ now believes.

Corporate communications manager Edward Finn says company research has shown that most i3s in NZ ownership are clocking just 20kms a day, and are largely used for city driving.

However, that doesn’t suggest that by bringing in the BEV, BMW here is seeking to enforce that the car is just for town driving.

“Someone living in Auckland could conceivably drive as far as Coromandel (in the BEV). So, no, I don’t think it is a city-based car exclusively.

“The city, however, is the best environment in respect of the proliferation of charging opportunities, it’s certainly not as compromised there.”

Removing the 660cc twin-cylinder motorcycle engine and its nine litre tank lowers the kerb weight and might also lighten the price load.

Although BMW NZ has yet to announce its sticker strategy, in other markets where both cars represent, the BEV has been up to $10,000 cheaper than its twin, which presently starts at $83,500 here.

A $10k price decrease seems unlikely, though if it did occur it would mean that the just-landed $74,990 Renault Zoe would supplant, as the country’s most expensive full electric car. Not a bad coup for a BMW created as the world’s first premium car purpose-designed from the ground up for an electric drive system.

Finn says pricing is yet some months away.

“It will depend on final specification and pricing options.” However, he promises the sticker “… will be extremely attractive compared with other competition arriving in a rapidly growing EV market.”

The BEV’s involvement here is a surprise turn – though that BMW was undertaking a big change for the car was not.

The Mt Wellington office has for some time been deflecting talk that it is about to bring in an update allowing the model to recharge off direct current, which makes for much quicker replenishment than the original Alternating Current-dedicated car.

Finn has confirmed the BEV, while capable of drawing from both sources, is best-suited to take full advantage of the Direct Current-capable public fast-charging network that is slowly being implemented around the country.

Long-term intent is to have enough charging posts around the country, or at least on the main routes, to create create an electric highway.

With DC recharging, an i3 could be provisioned with an 80 percent repower in just 30 minutes - basically, a relaxed coffee stop.

That’s up to one sixth the time it takes for a REX to achieve the same level of recharge using BMW’s AC-dedicated i Wallbox charging station – even though that system, in turn, is faster then the drawdown from a household 10AMP socket: That’s a six-to-eight hour event.

Finn denied the BEV decision is not a response to a growing count of ex-Japan used import pure electric i3s appearing in New Zealand.

It is thought these are only AC-capable and cannot be converted to DC draw. Neither can the AC-dedicated REX editions sold new here. However, Motoring Network is aware of one NZ-spec car from the initial shipment that arrived with both plug types – an abeeration at the time but, in hindsight, a detail that has allowed its owner to be comfortably future-proofed.

Our country was one of the few export markets where the BEV wasn’t available from the get-go but the logic to keeping it off the consignment sheet seemed strong.

BMW NZ felt Kiwis, given the nature of our travel habits and the lay of the land, would be more comfortable being in the edition that had an engine acting as a generator.

The prudence of that was proven only this week when Motoring Network, while participating in a promotion for electric cars, drove a i3 REX from Picton to Christchurch.

The 320km run required three refuels but was otherwise accomplished at a pace and travel time expected from an orthodox fossil-fuelled car. There are no fast-chargers on the route, so conceivably it would have been a much more challenging run in the BEV.

Finn says starting with the range extender was still considered a sound decision.

“We thought it important to answer any concern from early adopters about range anxiety.

“But we’ve had a lot of customer feedback about the way they use the vehicle and have found that most, on their daily commutes, are clocking up less than 20kms so the electric charge option seems more than adequate to answer that.”

He believes the BEV might provide opportunity for increased sales volume. “It will be interesting to see which way people will swing. Certainly it will enhance the attractiveness to those people who prefer to be running a pure EV.”

At the same token, there is no consideration being given to dropping the REX.

“It will continue to be available as it suits a different customer.”

That’s not to suggest the REX has failed to fire up its fans. More than 50 have found private ownership and, just last month, Air New Zealand ordered 35 more as part of an electric vehicle initiative.

At that time, the BEV was not available for consideration and BMW NZ will not say if the national airline, which gets its first cars soon, was considering changing its option.

Said Finn: “You will need to ask Air NZ as we don’t comment on their business.”