i, electric

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i8 not only one of the best looking BMWs out there, it’s one of the best looking cars ever.

i8 not only one of the best looking BMWs out there, it’s one of the best looking cars ever.

BORN electric. That is how BMW bills the two present “bookend” cars belonging to its i sub-brand—the i3 city car and i8 hybrid sports car. This unique concept of electromobility is now in Asean as it lands in Singapore.

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At last weekend’s BMW World 2014 in the wealthy city state (BMW is known to outsell Toyota there) the carmaker showed off its latest models, concepts and techs. Also parked at the gig’s venue—the Sands convention center—were some new stuff from BMW’s Motorrad motorcycle division and Mini, which the carmaker also owns. But, clearly, it’s the unveil of the i pair that that brought out the most presentations, and so elicited the most noise.

Batteries included
Which, actually, is pleasantly ironic; the i3 makes very little of it. Electric motors simply hum (or whine when they spin vigorously), and that which resides beneath the i3’s structure is no different. It makes 170hp and 250Nm of torque, so it’s easy to tell this car is no slouch. Fact is, BMW reckons it can reach 60kph from a standstill in 3.7 seconds, and 100kph in 7.2 ticks. All that grunt is sent by a single-speed transmission to the rear wheels, identifying the car as a genuine BMW. No, wait. In one corner of the BMW World display floors sat the new BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, which has the distinction—or ignominy—as being the first Roundel-badged car ever to get front-wheel drive.

Anyway. The i3’s motor is juiced by a lithium-ion battery, which is normally enough for 150 kilometers of driving when it’s fully charged, and an extra 20 kilometers or so when the car is in Eco Pro+ mode. The i3 introduced in Singapore is fitted with a range extender; a 650cc, two-cylinder, 34hp gasoline engine that promises to raise the i3’s range to around 300 kilometers. BMW also backs the Singapore i3’s battery with an eight-year or 100,000-kilometer warranty.

To charge this battery, simply plug it into a household electrical socket, BMW’s special i Wallbox charger for the i models, or public charging stations.

Speaking of which, BMW Group Asia said it, together with Performance Motors Ltd., have jointly invested more than $4 million in Singapore for certain electromobility concerns that include setting up some of the infrastructure supporting EV use. BMW Group Asia also launched 360º Electric, which the company called an “all-rounded portfolio of services” for home charging, public charging, assistance services and flexible mobility.

Where the i models differ from other EVs or hybrids is that they were built to be as such from the get-go. All right, some other cars—the Toyota Prius, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S and the Fisker Karma come to mind—were also hatched in the same way. But BMW went some distance further with its i pair.

For starters, in the i3 the architecture propping it is itself designed to reduce the environmental impact of the car’s production. Building the car uses clean energy. Emissions from solvents used are kept low. The waste that comes out is treated for recycling. The i3’s Carbon-Fiber-Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) parts made in the US came into being because of hydroelectric power. In BMW’s Leipzig, Germany, plant, it’s wind power that makes the electricity for CFRP.

And just what is the significance of CFRP? It’s 50 percent lighter than steel but is five times stronger. And it’s the material from which the i3’s passenger compartment structure is made. A plastic skin then wraps over this. Which means the car is not only strong, safe and light, but can also be styled in a number of ways. We’re talking Formula One tech here.

On BMW World’s vast exhibition floors, an amusement-park ride in the i3 was too brief and slow to discern all the technology beneath the car. But it provided a glimpse at how much thought went behind it—from connectivity systems to premium materials and unique styling—and how little noise the i3 produces. If there’s any at all.

“Bookending” the i3 city car, according to BMW, is the i8 2+2 sports car, indicating there will be a range of “Born Electric” products that will slot between the first two i models. Both have landed in Singapore, although the i3 hits the showrooms ahead of the i8.

Where the i3 goes for geeky chic, the i8 is sci-fi awesome. Also propped by a CFRP structure, the i8 throws in together a conventional engine and an electric motor. The engine, a small 1.5-liter three-pot boosted by BMW’s TwinPower Turbo, amazingly puts out 231hp, all of which is sent to the car’s rear wheels. The lithium-ion-juiced electric motor, meanwhile, adds 131hp, sent to the front wheels. Not shabby for a car that, thanks to CFRP exotica and a skin made from pricey plastic polymers, tips the scales at just under 1,500 kilograms. Try a 4.4-second 0kph-to-100kph sprint time.

World of BMW
Forming BMW’s world at the show were the brand’s present M3 and M4, the new X4 and the 4 Series Gran Coupe, which was also recently introduced in the Philippines, and several more Roundels. The carmaker also previewed the 2 Series Active Tourer, and flaunted concepts like the Pinifarina Gran Lusso Coupe and Concept Roadster, as well as the Vision ConnectedDrive tech.

Minis were represented in a youthful, clubby corner of their own—a stark contrast to the minimalist treatment of the BMW stands. Put out on the floors were the One, which was joined around the venue by three original Minis in various paintjobs and trim. The show also marked the Asian debuts of the Clubman Concept and John Cooper Works Concept.

Another significant development at Mini, as far as the Philippines is concerned, is that Sunny Medalla, a Filipino who has had stints at BMW Phils. and BMW Indonesia, now heads Mini’s sales division in the region.

Besides Medalla, a former BMW Phils. and regional marketing executive, Lito German, bccomes the region’s new director for Motorrad.

And, yes. No BMW party is complete without the Motorrads—the company, after all, first built motorcycles before venturing into cars. So, expectedly, the iconic R1200 GS made it to the show. The R NineT also arrived, garbed in several costumes. But the Motorrad star, considering the hype surrounding the i couple, was the C Evolution maxi scooter—which also runs on battery power.

Clearly, we’re seeing electromobility’s coming of (volt)age.

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