BMW Expects Most Buyers of 2014 i3 To Opt for Backup Gasoline Engine


  • BMW i3 Concept Picture

    BMW i3 Concept Picture

    BMW is betting that buyers of the electric 2014 BMW i3 won't hesitate to shell out extra money for the optional gas engine. | April 05, 2013

Just the Facts:
  • BMW figures most U.S customers for the electric 2014 BMW i3 subcompact will opt for the range-extending gasoline engine.
  • The optional gasoline engine is expected to ease range anxiety, but BMW said the i3's driving performance likely will be affected when the gasoline engine kicks in.
  • Pricing for the 2014 BMW i3 or its optional gas engine has not been announced.

NEW YORK — BMW is betting that most U.S. buyers of the 2014 BMW i3 electric vehicle will opt for the backup gasoline engine that can extend the vehicle's driving range.

The optional gas engine is expected to ease range anxiety, but BMW said the 2014 i3's driving performance likely will be impacted when the gasoline engine kicks in.

Pricing has not been announced for the 2014 BMW i3 or its optional gas engine.

The i3 is a five-passenger, five-door, rear-wheel-drive hatchback that will go on sale here in the first half of 2014. Sales in Europe will begin earlier, at the end of this year.

The vehicle has an 80- to 100-mile range strictly on battery power and another 80 to 100 miles when the optional gasoline engine kicks in, acting as a generator to charge the batteries. The batteries are located beneath the passenger compartment, the optional engine behind the rear seat and the electric motor is positioned between the engine and the rear bumper to drive the rear wheels.

U.S. buyers are concerned about "range anxiety" for purely electric vehicles, Ludwig Willisch, CEO of BMW of North America, told Edmunds.

"The range extender is an auxiliary generator than can charge the battery if it has been discharged to such a level that you won't make it home," Willisch said during an interview at the 2013 New York Auto Show. But BMW also has another backup plan: loaning conventional cars to i3 owners for longer-distance trips.

The i3's optional range extender is a 650cc two-cylinder engine currently used in BMW's C650 motor scooter. The gasoline engine is not connected to the i3's rear wheels.

Willisch said the gasoline engine "will do away with range anxiety even though we know from our two (electric car) projects, both the Mini E and ActiveE, that the average range of a U.S. customer in daily usage is 30 miles, round trip. That is what they use from dusk to dawn."

The ActiveE is an electric-powered car BMW has been testing for the past year in several U.S. cities. BMW has leased about 700 cars to selected people. Those leases expire next year for the 1 Series-based ActiveE. BMW's Mini small-car unit tested 450 electric-powered Mini Coopers here in 2010 and 2011.

Dave Buchko, a BMW spokesman, said the i3's driving performance likely will be impacted when the gasoline engine kicks in.

"It is possible that there would be some reduced power. Even with the ActiveE, once the battery gets below about 20 percent of charge, the system starts to dial back a little in order to conserve energy," Buchko said.

For example, 0-60 mph acceleration would be moderately affected.

"There is some reduction in output, but I also have seen some people speculating that it would be some kind of limp-home mode, but that is not the case," Buchko said.

The operation of the air-conditioning system might be reduced to save energy, too.

BMW will release i3 pricing closer to the sale date and Buchko said the gasoline engine could add about 10 percent to the retail price of the i3.

"It would probably be in that realm. But again, that is an educated guess on my part. That is not based on any knowledge that I have," Buchko said.

Edmunds says: 2014 BMW i3 buyers are expected to pay extra — in terms of performance and price — for the car's optional range-extender engine.

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