BMW i3 is company's first all-electric car

BMW recently unveiled the i3, the company's all-electric BMW recently unveiled the i3, the company's all-electric four-door sedan, which is made of a combination of aluminum, carbon fiber, plastic, and an instrument panel made of a dried grass composite. Photo Credit: BMW

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Among other things, the all-new electric car from BMW is made of dried grass.

It's a small item in the total scheme of things, but it is representative of the approach that the Bavarian vehicle manufacturer took in the five years it has been developing the world's newest electric automobile, which had its world introduction here, and in London and Beijing, on Monday.

 It's called the i3, and it is what BMW's engineers and designers call a holistic approach to what eventually may become the dominant fuel for automobiles -- but not likely in the lifetimes of older Americans.

Distinguishing the new i3 is its construction, largely of aluminum but with substantial amounts of plastic cladding and carbon fiber, a lightweight and strong material that has been used in race cars and now in Boeing's new state-of-the art 787 Dreamliner airliner.

The dried-grass composite forms the top of the instrument panel. It's exposed in its raw form for all to see.

It's all part of the environmentally friendly statement BMW is making that customers can buy a premium car with all the modern gewgaws that runs exclusively on electricity, though it also can be ordered with a $3,000 onboard, 34-horsepower two-cylinder engine that recharges the batteries on a long trip.

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The system is similar to that used on the Chevrolet Volt and is designed to alleviate so-called "range anxiety" -- the worry among some prospective owners that they will be stranded somewhere when the batteries run down.

However, BMW is confident that most buyers will opt for the electric-only models. There are three, with a starting price of $41,275. The base car is called the Mega World, followed by the better-equipped, and more expensive, Giga and Terra World models, for which prices were not announced.

The i3 is a four-passenger, four-door car with the rear doors hinged at the back and a hatchback over the small cargo area, which has just 8 cubic feet of space. There's no spare wheel and the tires are not of the run-flat variety. The owner gets a pump that shoots an adhesive that can temporarily plug a leak. It doesn't work with a blowout.

Classified as a compact, the i3 is slightly more than 13 feet long, with passenger space similar to that of BMW's compact 3 Series sedan.
Like other BMWs, it has rear-wheel drive. With its 170-horsepower electric motor, it can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in about seven seconds, with a top speed of about 93 mph.

Because it is electric, maximum torque -- or twisting force -- happens the instant the driver steps on the accelerator pedal. That produces a quick jump off the line. The i3 hits 37 mph in 3.7 seconds, according to BMW.
It has a range, under normal circumstances, of 80 to 99 miles, with up to 200 if the driver feather-foots the throttle. Charging from an ordinary household 110 volt outlet takes about 20 hours.

However, BMW expects that most buyers will also order the company's custom 240-volt charger, which will cost about $3,000 plus installation and can recharge the under-floor battery pack in three hours. A fast 480-volt charger -- available initially only at public charging stations -- can do an 80 percent charge in about 20 minutes. But extensive use of the quick charger can cause battery deterioration. 

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