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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: March 5, 2013 @ 9:24 am

    Geneva LiveBlog: BMW keeps plugging electric cars

    Neil Briscoe

    Over the past few months, it seemed that the world was moving somewhat away from electric cars. Toyota came out publicly and said that hybrids and, eventually, fuel cells, were the way forward – not battery cars. Even Nissan, which had put so much investment and faith into the Leaf, quietly admitted that it was turning its attentions more to hybrids.

    BMW though still reckons that pure electric cars have a role to play and the company’s Chairman of the borad, Dr Norbert Reithofer, today unveiled the coupe concept version of the upcoming BMW i3 electric car. And he was quite firm that pure battery cars still have a future:

    “We believe that customers will decide to buy an e-car if they receive compelling offers. Still, success is not guaranteed. But I am an engineer, and as such I know that technical progress and pioneering work require a daring approach. At the BMW Group, we have tackled the issue of e-mobility from a holistic perspective, and let me add: more so than any other automaker” Dr Reithofer said as he presented the i3 Coupe to the waiting press.

    It’s not so much the batteries that BMW is putting its faith in (indeed, the i3 will also be available as a range-extender, with a compact petrol engine on board to keep the batteries topped up) but in the i3′s structure. It’s made almost entirely of carbon-fibre (actually carbon-fibre-reinforced-plastic, or CFRP), a material which hitherto has been considered too expensive for a mass-market car. BMW reckons it has cracked the cost factor of carbon though, and while the i3 sure as heck won’t be cheap, it will be the most affordable all-carbon car yet launched.

    That carbon structure, and the incredibly light weight it brings, is what BMW thinks will give the i3 and electric edge. It’s the first car to be designed as an electric car from the ground up, and it’s that low weight that will allow it to stretch the range of the batteries as far as possible. And of course to provide proper BMW-esque performance from its 170bhp drivetrain.

    Certainly, Herr Reithofer is excited about his new baby, saying that “I have already driven it quite a few times, and let me tell you: Cruising the city in this agile and noiseless sprinter is, without a doubt, sheer driving pleasure. Unfortunately, our stage is too small; otherwise, I would be happy to give you a little demonstration on the spot.”

    BMW also whipped the covers off the new 3 Series GT quasi-estate-hatchback, but it’s the i3 concept that will scoop all the headlines. Can BMW make the electric car work, and click with customers, where others have failed so far?

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