Range spark up for NZ-set i3 BEV

The pure electric version of the BMW i3 introducing late this year seems set to deliver with a higher-capacity battery adding another 50 percent to its emissions-free range.


AN announcement by BMW Germany about a big battery boost for its pure electric i3 seems to further explain why the New Zealand distributor has now determined to add this BEV edition locally.

The battery update provides a range of up to 300km, which is virtually double that available from the previous BEV, and in theory means that when being driven optimally, the BEV has a range almost equal to that from the petrol-assisted REX edition that has solely been available to New Zealand customers since the i3 launched almost two years ago.

However, it is probable the REX, which runs – purely as a generator - a two-cylinder 660cc engine fed by a nine litre fuel tank, will also regain range advantage, as it also takes the updated battery. BMW has not yet cited a revised range for the updated REX.

Conceivably, though, it could be around 450kms as the fuel-fed operation has always been cited to provide a 150km range.

Germany says the improvements comes from it having boosted capacity from 60 ampere hour (Ah) to 94Ah. The new battery is no larger than the 60Ah found in the original i3 and has no significant impact on the model’s performance or practicality, the brand assures.

The upgraded version becomes available to right hand drive cars from the fourth quarter of this year, which ties into the timing outlined for the BEV introduction outlined to Motoring Network by BMW New Zealand on April 21.

BMW NZ has not offered further comment and the spokesman who outlined the strategy a fortnight ago, Ed Finn, is no longer with the company. This week he began a corporate communications duty with Holden NZ.

BMW Australia, which is taking the updated BEV, has explained the upgrade is not because customers were dissatisfied with the original electric range. However, that concern was expressed by BMW NZ, when it introduced the i3 – back then it decided customers here would prefer the REX purely because it alleviated the range anxiety that came with a pure electric car.

However, last month it explained the BEV now made sense, because its studies had shown many i3 owners here only travelled at average of 20kms per day, mainly at urban speed.

An exception to that might well be Air New Zealand, which became the country’s biggest i3 customer when announcing in May that it is taking 36 examples of the car as a push to promote its emergent energy efficiency practices. Back then BMW NZ said the deal would see the national carrier take the current i3 REX – even though the surrounding PR puffery went heavy on this being a deal to buy pure electric cars. Will Air NZ now prefer to have the updated BEV instead? It would seem a more comfortable fit for the image. As is, it’s only pure electric vehicles are 28 Renault Kangoo vans, also ordered as part of the initiative.

BMW has explained the upgrade is part of a technology development process and that BMW is continually refining systems such as alternative energy.

BMW Group Australia corporate communications general manager Lenore Fletcher, who has been nominated as the NZ market comments source until a local replacement is found, has told Australian media that technology is constantly developing within the low-emission vehicle forum.

“What BMW is doing is concentrating on the R and D, extracting the maximum usage out of the alternative power sources and bringing that to market as it becomes available. As we move forward we will see this continue to update along the way.

“The extension of range on this particular vehicle is merely the result of ongoing innovation.”

As customers continue to realise that a majority of their travel if not all could be under electric only power, Ms Fletcher said the pure electric version of the i3 could “quite possibly” become the more popular version, especially with an even greater range.

The 300km range resulted from the European NEDC testing but BMW says that even with unfavourable weather conditions and with either heating or air-conditioning switched on, the i3 will still manage a range of 200km in realistic day-to-day driving scenarios.

In Europe, existing i3 customers are being offered the option to have their original 60Ah cars retrofitted with the new battery, but the service is yet to be confirmed for our market.

Working with its technical partner Samsung SDI, BMW increased the battery capacity by optimising the 12 cells with more electrolyte and an adapted active material, boosting total battery energy to 33kWh.

A full charge time is unchanged at three hours when using a 7.4kW single-phase mains socket, but with a larger capacity, the amount of energy that can be loaded into the battery per hour is greater than the outgoing version.

When plugged in to a DC fast charger, the new i3 can take an 80 percent charge in just 40 minutes. That’s 4km of range per minute.

BEV acceleration from zero to 100kmh takes 7.3 seconds thanks to its 125kW/250Nm electric motor. Power consumption is rated at 12.6kWh per 100km – best in class says BMW – while the REX version takes a little longer at 8.1s due to the extra weight of its engine and fuel tank.

No structural or mechanical changes were necessary to incorporate the new battery, thanks to the i3’s future-proofed design, which predicted battery technology advancement within the model’s lifecycle.

In tune with the battery upgrade, BMW has refreshed the i3 with a range of new interior and exterior themes.

A metallic hue, Protonic Blue, previously only been available for the i8 flagship sportscar is now being offered for the i3 alongside two flat and three metallic colours.

On the inside, the updated i3 has four new interior themes in addition to the Atelier range of Loft, Lodge and Suite. Materials include a mix of naturally treated leather, wood and wool as well as other renewable raw materials.

The addition of Driving Assistant Plus completes the 2016 update with camera-based cruise control which works down to stop and start speeds, traffic jam assistant, speed limit information, pedestrian and collision warning with city brake function and proactive driving assistant.