BMW’s i3 gets a more powerful battery to extend its range

Bigger battery for BMW’s lightweight electric car promises a real-world range of 260km

For the second time in its short life thus far, BMW is adding a bigger battery to its i3 electric car, which can stretch its one-charge range to real-world driving range of 260km. That's BMW's figure, calculated on average, normal, driving conditions, and is a significant step up from the current models' estimated 200km range. The official figure, under the new WLTP tests, is 285km.

The i3’s range has been stretched by the simple expedient of extra amps. The battery remains the same overall size as the current 94-amp battery, but its power output has now expanded to 120-amps, or 42.2kWh. When it was first introduced in 2013, the i3 had a mere 60-amp, or 22.6kWh battery.

Overall weight is ‘virtually unaltered’ according to BMW, but the retention of the same 170hp electric motor means performance isn’t changed either, although the standard model will accelerate to 100km/h in 7.3secs, while the slightly sportier i3S, with its 184hp motor, will dot he same sprint in 6.9secs.

From a low-voltage supply, you can charge the battery to 80 per cent in 15 hours, but BMW will supply you with an 11kW charging box that can stuff an 80 per cent charge into the battery in just 3.2 hours. The same charge takes 42-minutes from a 50kW fast charger. BMW has not yet confirmed whether it will continue to offer the small petrol-powered range-extender engine with this new, longer-range battery.

Given that i3 sales have been relatively modest to date, the introduction of this new model is unlikely to improve BMW’s financial situation. The Munich-based car maker has just issued its first profits warning in more than a decade, saying that end of year earnings are likely to be slightly below last year’s €10.7-billion earnings.

Clearly, ‘slightly below’ is open to interpretation, as shares in BMW fell by almost four per cent at the announcement. It’s less that BMW is going to be earning much less money (a slight fall in a €10-billion profit, after all, is still an impressive performance in general terms) but a view that the automotive segment as a whole is going through some painful times. Shares in Mercedes (which reported a 30 per cent call in second quarter profits) and others also fell.

BMW is blaming two things for its wobbly profits. Trump’s trade war, for a start, which will affect sales and profits of its SUV range, most of which are built in the US and shipped worldwide. The move to the WLTP fuel economy and emissions testing regime is also having an effect, claims BMW. Munich got its tests done earlier than most rival car makers, which made for good PR, but those rivals now have non-compliant models to sell off, cheaply, and those cheap deals are apparently eating into BMW’s margins.

Some analysts are worried at a deeper level about BMW, though, with concerns that following massive expansions of its sales, and those of Mini, since the early 2000s, that the market is now over-burdened with posh German metal, and buyers might start looking elsewhere. BMW's chief executive, Harald Kruger, remains bullish, though. Announcing the profits warning, he nevertheless said that: "The BMW Group stands by its ambition to lead the transformation of the industry."

It might take more than bigger batteries, mind.