BMW Megacity EV

BMW and the German Chamber of Commerce invited me to a dinner about BMW’s electric future last month at Stanford University. BMW Group owns MiniCooper, BMW, and Rolls Royce. Although they didn’t lend me a Rolls Royce to take friends to dinner in Napa Valley, they did let me take the MiniE for a spin.

The MiniE electric car delivered the acceleration and handling that has made the MiniCooper popular. The regenerative braking was set high to capture energy and return it to the lithium batteries. Regen was so high that at 30 mph, I could lift my foot off the accelerator and come to a stop in about 100 feet. AC Propulsion did a good job in designing the electric drive system for this concept vehicle. In the USA, 450 have been leasing the MiniE; couple of hundred are also leased in Germany, UK, and now France. Valuable data has been collected from these drivers

UC Davis ITS, BMW and the California Air Resources Board have analyzed the data. Drivers found that the 100-mile electric range met 90 percent of their needs; a second car or transit covered the remaining 10 percent. Drivers enjoyed driving this BMW EV. They found the performance and handling smooth. The car is easy to drive. Seventy-three percent liked the aggressive regen.

What concerns did drivers have about buying an electric car? They worried about the uncertain future of EVs. What if their choice was like the Betamax they once owned as consumers moved on to new platforms. They worried about safety. They worried about batteries lasting years. They asked, “Will my friends think I’m stupid or smart?” Those paying to be in the trials are committed early adopters who think that our nation being 95 percent dependent on oil for transportation is stupid.

Drivers have told BMW that 100 km (60 miles) is not enough electric range but 200 km (120 miles) is enough. 250 km would be ideal for survey participants. This tells BMW to extend range with more batteries, or by reducing the weight of the vehicle, or by offering a plug-in hybrid, or by doing all of the above.

BMW will test its second-generation electric concept car in six cities, starting in Fall 2011. This Active E will be a Series 1 BMW converted to be an electric car. The Active E will be BMW’s first opportunity to test new electric drive system technology and SB LiMotive lithium batteries.

In two years, BMW will start selling two cars that deliver BMW “driving pleasure” – the new Megacity Vehicle and the new BMW Plug-in Hybrid Sports Coupe.

2013 BMW Megacity Vehicle (MCV)

The Megacity Vehicle will be designed from the wheels up to be a pure battery electric hatchback. It will be more aerodynamic than a MiniCooper, with four doors, and more room for 4 adults.

BMW will follow Tesla’s success in extending the range of an electric car by using lighter materials. The Megacity will use an aluminum chassis and a carbon fiber outer skin to save up to 600 pounds. BMW’s innovative use of materials is the result of its joint venture with SGL Group, a leader in carbon materials.

Use of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) allows BMW designers to give this hatchback a sleek design. BMW states, “The BMW Megacity light carbon 300x186 BMW Electric Cars – Megacity EV and New PHEVMegacity Vehicle…will be fully electric and the world’s first volume-produced vehicle with a passenger cell made of carbon – it will also be built using a completely different architecture to any vehicle seen before.”

Klaus Draeger, member of the Board of Management, responsible for Development states, “Drive trains are, and will continue to be, one of BMW’s core competencies. Electro-mobility and BMW’s hallmark driving pleasure go together extremely well – provided you do it right. That is why we are developing the power train for the Megacity Vehicle ourselves – including the electric engine, power electronics and the battery system.”

To fully exploit the potential of the new emission-free engine, BMW has also developed a totally new approach to the body for the Megacity Vehicle. Top priority was to offset the additional weight of the battery storage unit – creating not a micro car, but a concept that would offer urban drivers the best possible use of space. The Megacity Vehicle consists of two horizontally divided, independent modules: The “drive” module integrates battery and drive train, as well as structural and crash functions, in a single structure within the chassis. The complementary “life” module – the upper portion of the vehicle – consists primarily of a high-strength, extremely lightweight passenger cell made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP).”

Will BMW go for low cost or extended range? By using innovative materials to reduce weight, BMW could use only 16kWh lithium battery pack to deliver 100 mile electric range and keep the price below $30,000, the strategy of the Mitsubishi i. Or BMW could follow the strategy of the Tesla S and offer larger pack options to achieve 250 km (150 miles), the range considered ideal by survey participants.

The BMW Megacity will face electric car competition from many of the Top 10 Electric Cars including the Nissan LEAF, Honda Fit, and Mitsubishi i.