BMW Will Boost Electric Range of i3 to 114 Miles

By · May 04, 2016

BMW announced this week that a version of its 2017 i3 electric car will offer an all-electric range of 114 miles—a big jump from the current model's 81 miles. The new longer-range i3 will immediately catapult the model to first place in EV range among vehicles priced below $50,000.

Pricing for the 2017 BMW i3 will be released closer to its launch. The current model starts at $43,395, before state and federal credits. The more affordable Nissan LEAF, which starts around $34,000 for the version with 107 miles of range, has nearly as much range. Yet, a new breed of long-range electric cars—such as the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3—are expected to offer 200 or more miles of range for about the same cost.

The 2017 i3’s boost comes from a battery pack with a capacity of 33 kilowatt-hours—a 50 percent increase from the current 22 kWh pack. The dimensions of the pack will remain unchanged, even as the range significantly increases. According to BMW Blog, the 33-kWh pack will only increase the range over the current model by 40 percent—despite having a battery with 50 percent more total capacity—because BMW engineers decided to use less of the battery’s potential capability and thereby extend the length of its useful life.

The bigger battery pack will add more weight to car—about 100 pounds. One of BMW’s chief efficiency strategies with the i3 was to keep down its weight. The car’s chassis is made of aluminum and the passenger cell is carbon fiber. Even with the increase in weight, the all-electric version of the i3 is expected to remain quite sporty—with a 0 to 60 mph sprint expected at around seven seconds.

In addition to a larger battery pack, BMW said that the Range Extender version of the 2017 i3—which uses a small internal combustion engine to provide additional range—would bump up the size of its gas tank from 1.9 gallons to 2.4 gallons. If driven efficiently, the new larger tank could allow for about 100 miles of additional range after the batteries are depleted—pushing total range beyond 200 miles.

When PluginCars.com spoke earlier this year with Jose Guerrero, head product manager of electric vehicles, for BMW of North America, he said, “I question the race to the 200-mile electric car.” He cited statistics that the average American commuter drives about 36 miles a day, well within the range of the BMW i3.

He believes that consumers wanting more range for occasional longer trips can choose the i3 with the range-extending gasoline engine. “We don't see exponentially increasing sales with a 200-mile battery," Guerrero said. In 2015, the BMW sold more than 11,000 units of the i3—only surpassed by the more affordable LEAF and Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, as well as the sleeker and more expensive Tesla Model S.

“Putting a 60 kilowatt-hour battery in an i3 would kill the dynamism of the car,” said Guerrero. Apparently, the move to a 33-kWh battery—adding a relatively small amount of weight—is BMW’s answer to striking the right balance between adequate range, cost and lively driving manners. If Guerrero’s statements are taken at face value, then we probably shouldn’t expect future versions of the i3 to compete on purely electric range with the Bolt or i3. Instead, we might see incremental increases in battery size—while offering consumers who want more total range flexibility the model with a range-extending gas engine. The functional benefits are about the same, although some amount of gasoline used, resulting in some emissions (although quite low).

With the redesign of the electric powertrain architecture in the upcoming 2017 model, BMW is also looking to future-proof—that is, to allow service technicians to more easily service and possibly entirely upgrade to larger new battery packs.

New bells and whistles for 2017 include a new exterior color, Protonic Blue, which had previously only be available in the i8 plug-in hybrid supercar. The i3’s previous signature color, Solar Orange, is being discontinued. And due to popular demand from its luxury buyers, the 2017 i3 for the first time will be available with a moonroof.

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