The BMW i3 electric concept car marks 40 years of electric vehicles from the Bavarian automaker. Looking back on the history of BMW’s electric efforts is interesting for anyone who thinks the capabilities of today’s EVs would have been out of reach a generation ago.
I say that primarily because of the BMW E1. A 1991 prototype first shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the E1 was BMW’s first purpose-built electric car, featuring a lightweight construction that helped it obtain a range of about 100 miles– on 1991’s sodium-based battery technology. The motor made 32 kW (about 42 horsepower) and a thick, 111 lb-ft-sized dollop of torque. That’s nearly double the horsepower and four times the torque output of the first Volkswagen Beetles over a distance that even new EVs such as the Nissan Leaf seldom reach on a single charge. According to BMW literature, the E1 reached a terminal velocity of 78 mph– something a LEAF can do, but an early Beetle had no prayer of achieving.
From its first EVs, a small fleet of modified 1602 sedans used at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, BMW more recently developed an all-electric MINI before announcing the launch of its i3, which according to a BMW press release and EV retrospective is scheduled to roll off the assembly line starting in late 2013. It reportedly will reach 62 mph from a standstill in 8.2 seconds— respectable for what is intended as an urban runabout.