BMW Builds EV Momentum with i3’s 114-Mile Range

By · September 02, 2016

BMW announced in May that 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, which is available now, catapults the model to first place in EV range among vehicles priced below $50,000. And yet, that position will be short-lived with 200-mile EVs, such as the Chevrolet Bolt, expected later this year.

The new 2017 BMW i3 carries a 33 kilowatt-hour battery on board. The EPA estimates driving range in city driving at 124 miles and highway driving at 102 miles. The increase in range also bumps up the price by $1,200 compared to the current version—pushing the starting price to $44,595. The price of a fully loaded i3 can climb as high as $54,000. The 2017 model offers new features such as an available sun roof, sustainable eucalyptus wood, and a new color: Protonic Blue Metallic. The new i3 remains a four-passenger car.

BMW promoted the new i3 electric hatchback in an advertising campaign that ran during the recent 2016 Summer Olympics. Perhaps the campaign was a factor in making August the second straight month that BMW sold more than 1,000 units of the i3. The model remains the fifth most popular battery-powered electric car on the market—behind the Tesla Model S, Chevrolet Volt, Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, Tesla Model X and Nissan LEAF. BMW had previously reported that global sales of the i3 jumped 34 percent in July.

The 2017 version of the extended-range BMW i3 Rex will continue to use the same two-cylinder gasoline engine, but the new model will utilize a larger 2.4-gallon tank—a jump from 1.9 gallons.

While the 40-percent increase in range will make the i3 more practical for commuters, the model might still be regarded as limited compared to upcoming 200-mile EVs from Chevrolet and Tesla. This begs the question: how will BMW enhance its future electric car offerings, especially when the i3 goes through a complete update in about five years?

According to various sources, BMW is evaluating three options for using lightweight materials: sticking with the current car’s carbon-fiber construction; going with all-aluminum construction; or utilizing a blend of multiple materials. The lightweight aerodynamic design of the current i3 was considered one BMW’s most innovative strategies in releasing its first mainstream electric car. And yet, the market seems to be primarily focused on all-electric range—rather than any specific underlying technology such as lightweight materials or better aerodynamics.

In yet another apparent wave of new technology development, makers of electric cars are increasingly emphasizing the autonomous driving features available with some EVs. BMW will reportedly use its i brand to emphasize self-driving—rather than making zero-emissions electric propulsion the primary focus.

In May, Harald Krueger, BMW’s chief executive, said a new model—currently dubbed iNext—will be “our new innovation driver, with autonomous driving, digital connectivity, intelligent lightweight design, a totally new interior, and ultimately bringing the next generation of electro-mobility to the road.” There’s no indication yet about the expected range of this next-generation BMW EV—expected about 2021.

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