Aug 042011
 


German automaker BMW has stunned the world with the launch of a pair of incredible concept vehicles that very firmly mark the company’s investment in a future of eco-minded motoring that doesn’t totally forsake style, performance and covetability. BMW has done more than produce a couple of concept cars, however.

BMW used the announcement to reveal its proposal to produce a sub-brand. Called ‘i’, the new BMW sub-brand will be responsible for delivering a range of technologically-advanced vehicles aimed at supporting the accelerating trend towards plug-in hybrid cars.

BMW has not simply grabbed one of its existing car designs and hacked it about to work with some off-the-shelf components, a supplier-designed battery pack and an electric motor. BMW i, rather, represents an attempt to totally re-invent the way car companies approach the job of conceptualising, engineering, designing and manufacturing green vehicles.

BMW ActivE - based on Series 1 - Electric Car

BMW ActivE - based on Series 1 - Electric Car

Last week, BMW revealed a city-car concept called the i3 and a plug-in hybrid concept called the i8. What’s more, the two are scheduled to go into production.

The i3 is due late in 2012. When it goes on sale, the i3 will be the first car ever produced by BMW to carry an ‘i’ badge as well as a blue circle around the company’s legendary blue, white and black Roundel.

BMW i3 - Concept Electric Hybrid Car

BMW i3 - Concept Electric Hybrid Car

The idea of putting these two incredible cars into production is by no means far-fetched. Though the i3 and i8 revealed to the public are concept cars, BMW spokespeople say that crash and safety tests have already been carried out on production versions.

The i3 is a smart little four-door city car. The concept carries some incredible styling but we would be amazed if everything makes it into production.

Things like huge, swoopy glass areas, ‘floating’ seats and highly-futuristic consoles have always been the domain of the concept car but rarely do such advanced (and, typically, expensive-to-produce) aspects of a concept car make it into mass production.

BMW’s designers have already confirmed that the i3 concept’s huge glass roof will be replaced by a carbon-fibre part when it goes into construction. And, though the lower glass in the doors is also not planned for production, the design team is reportedly keen to find ways to introduce similar levels of light inside the cars.

We may well be quite surprised by other aspects of the i3’s interior when it appears on the streets, though. BMW is keen to use plenty of carbon fibre and other light, strong materials in order to minimise both the visual weight and the actual mass of the cabin. Maybe we will enjoy centrally-mounted, wafer-thin seats that seem to float above the floor, after all.

The rear seats are accessed via rear-hinged ‘suicide’ doors. The resultant pillar-less construction makes it much easier to get into the back of the car and the door is nicely dove-tailed into the front doors, in a manner seen on the Mazda RX-8 (where it was very effective).

This aspect of the i3 could very well show up in the production version. BMW made a big deal of showing off the carbon-fibre shells at the core of the i cars.

Called ‘Life’ by BMW, these light and very-strong structures require no B-pillars. As a result, BMW could well produce the i3 with those natty rear doors.

BMW i8 Concept Electric Hybrid Car Side View

BMW i8 Concept Electric Hybrid Car Side View

The i8, on the other hand, features ‘scissor’ doors (just two – this is a swoopy coupé) that swivel up and out, in an effect not totally unlike a large insect stretching its wings. The i8 heralds another special development, as well.

When it goes into production, the i8 is due to be BMW’s first mid-engined car in almost three decades. Marrying 402 lb-ft of torque to a sophisticated thrust-vectoring system that ensures the four wheels get power down as efficiently as possible, the i8 is slated to be quite a performer, too.

And just where does the i8 get all that power? Well, it is due to come with a relatively-small (for a performance car) three-cylinder engine burning petrol in the back and an electric motor in the front.

Thanks to the torque characteristics of electric motors and the car’s low weight of just 3,300 pounds, the i8 is supposed to manage the all-important 0-100kph dash in an impressive 4.6 seconds.

The i8 will likely manage a top speed in the region of 250kph, all while delivering fuel economy of 2.7 litres per 100kms. What’s more, in all-electric car mode, the i8 has a range of 35kms.


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