With a host of electric vehicles already on sale in the UK, BMW is late to the game with regard to offering pure-electric solutions to its fleet and retail customers.

But the arrival of the i3 supermini by the end of this year, as a pure EV or as a range-extender EV, will change this. The i8, a plug-in hybrid sports car, will follow shortly after.

The i3 hosts a 125kW 250Nm electric motor, which should provide more than enough power. Range is impressive, with 80-99 miles for city use, or up to 49 miles at motorway speeds.

And while battery longevity remains a major concern for the EV market in the UK, fuelling doubts over RVs, BMW says its battery is designed to last for at least 1500 charging cycles, equating to 150,000 miles, or 10 years. After this time, efficiency will reduce to 80% – still a respectable figure, and one that will only improve with more research and time.

Carbon fibre future

Due to be built at BMW’s Leipzig plant, which produces the 1-series and its variants, wind energy from turbines on site will be harnessed to build the i3 because the company claims they are more effective than solar energy thanks to “stable wind” in the region. A quarter of the car’s materials are recycled or from renewable sources and, overall, the i project is using 50% less energy and 70% less water than the BMW average. At the end of its lifecycle, 95% of the i3 is recyclable, including the battery, which can be used secondarily as stationary energy storage.


The i3, BMW claims, is revolutionising vehicle production, using a modular design, likened to a Lego system that makes it far easier to assemble and, in turn, to repair sections of the car separately – for example, a door panel. That door panel will be made out of carbon-fibre plastic, which largely replaces steel and aluminium as the material of choice for the outer body, a move that will be extended to other BMW models in the future. Proving its worth with its light weight and safety potential in the competitive world of Formula One, carbon fibre does not suffer from corrosion, making rust a thing of the past. It’s also very resistant, hence its popular use in the aviation industry, and “offers freedom in terms of design and tailor-made characteristics”, says BMW. Finally, its lightness means it counters the heavy battery in the i3, helping to reduce the overall weight of the car, which is vital for BMW to keep its reputation for driving dynamics throughout the electric range.

As the modular design is simple to assemble, the same applies for repair, helping to quell companies’ concerns over the SMR costs of electric vehicles.

“With very little effort, you can change a door sheet, making it cost-effective,” says a spokesman. This means overall reduced costs of 10-20% compared with the brand’s popular lower-medium 1-series; the repair method is more cost-effective as it takes up to 50% less working time in comparison, although spare parts are more expensive.

If any problems with the battery occurred, it would also enter “a regular repair process”. 

“The battery is very repair-friendly, and depending on what breaks, discovered by using sophisticated diagnostics, the repair time will not be more than a few days,” according to the carmaker.


BMW has recently announced that there will be around 46 i dealers in the UK, approximately a third of its overall network, with a “good geographic spread”. Owners will be able to take their electric car to any of these i dealerships for servicing and repair.

Meanwhile, maintenance costs are expected to be a fifth cheaper than the 1-series, as oil does not need to be changed and the brakes do not suffer the same level of wear. Add to this a focus on safety, which means levels matching the conventional BMW range, and insurance classifications are also expected to be similar to the 1-series in the UK. Numerous crash tests have shown that the structure lives up to expected safety standards, while the German fire brigade has said that rescuing passengers from a crashed BMW i3 is similar to a conventional vehicle, despite the different components. The high-voltage battery is housed in the underfloor area, where statistically the vehicle has the least deformation through crashes; however, upon impact, the high-voltage element disengages, protecting occupants further.

Mobility for all­

BMW wants to make its electric vehicle viable to use as a primary vehicle, and is addressing this under the tag line ‘360° Electric’.

At home, customers can use a normal electric supply to charge the i3, which will take eight hours – the norm with electric cars. There’s also an option for a wall box, which will reduce this time to three hours.

“We wanted to turn charging into a really easy procedure – there’s no hassle with cables,” says a spokesman. Prices for the wall box are not yet confirmed.

The public infrastructure means the car can also be charged on-the-go. Partnering with car park operators and public charging infrastructure, BMW hopes to offer users features such as displaying available charging stations on smartphones, although admits this is some way down the line. However, charging cards will be available from launch, giving access to charging stations with cashless payment. General manager of BMW i, Suzanne Gray, says that more than 5000 public charging points would be available to use a ChargeNow card, with a number of membership options such as monthly for frequent users or pay-as-you-go for infrequent use. Access to the charging station occurs via a standardised QR (quick response) code, which starts and ends the charging process by scan function and smartphone app.


Another major issue with EVs is range anxiety, which BMW is addressing with its Flexible Mobility package. Customers will be offered the temporary use of a conventional combustion engine or hybrid engine car, with time frames set on an individual basis annually. The idea intends to remove the problem of long journeys for occasional business trip or family holidays. This offer will be tempered by the i3 range-extender vehicle, which, unsurprisingly, is expected to be more popular in the corporate sector, and certainly makes sense for those regularly exceeding distances of 100 miles. However, Gray says there will be a “portfolio aimed specifically at businesses” that will encompass all options, as well as the range-extender i3.

The carmaker also has a joint venture with a rental firm, as yet unannounced, in the UK for its DriveNow car-sharing service for the i3, which has run successful trials in both Munich and San Francisco. Charged by the minute, and costing less if the car is parked, the move is “a response to city driving trends, where there has been quite a steep decline in car ownership,” says BMW.

“The i3 is our solution to emission-free driving in urban areas,” says Harald Krueger, member of the BMW board, production. “The 360° Electric full-service package will offer a complete range of products and services to enable our customers.” He added: “We want them to enjoy all the benefits of everyday electro-mobility in the most reliable, convenient and flexible way – for example, through easy access to public charging infrastructure.”


Active eerie silence

BMW has been running a fleet of ActiveE models around the world since 2011 to study usage of electric vehicles and to test their viability. With around 50 cars being tested in the UK, the research has found that 90% of journeys are less than 49km per day, proving that the BMW’s battery range will be more than sufficient once it arrives in the production i3.

As an adapted 1-series, the ActiveE will not be mass produced, with the carmaker adamant that its electric vehicles have been developed independently of its conventional range. But the ActiveE does provide a decent impression of what the i3 will be like to drive when it arrives in the UK at the end of this year.

With the electric car market rapidly expanding, a few characteristics are commonplace when driving an EV. These include the eerie silence and instant torque, thanks to the lack of an internal combustion engine. In the ActiveE, that translates to relatively rapid acceleration – 0-62mph in nine seconds with a top speed of 90mph. The other notable difference is three distinct reactions from the throttle. The first is the instant torque already mentioned. The second, when you press your foot down further, is when the car goes into ‘coasting’ mode using very little energy. And, most dramatically, the third happens when you come off the accelerator. As the car goes into regenerative braking mode, the driver can feel the pull of the car slowing down – harder than on traditional cars. It feels vaguely similar to advanced braking safety systems, which slow the car down if, for example, you are too close to the vehicle in front. Still, it quickly becomes the norm, and means that in city scenarios the brake pedal will be redundant 90% of the time.

Dynamically, the ActiveE is excellent, happy to be chucked around corners and with responsive steering. It’s also 300kg heavier than the i3, so early indications for BMW’s incoming EV are extremely promising.