Situated in the large halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center and running through Dec. 1, the 2013 LA Auto Show includes tastefully presented new car ‘showrooms,’ special exhibits, a large hall dedicated to the aftermarket and vendors, and more. It features world and North American introductions of new automobiles, with an emphasis on ‘green’ vehicles. AutoMatters previewed the show during Press Days.
Of the ‘green’ vehicles, one in particular stood out. Hailed as representing a new age of electric mobility, the soon-to-be-available BMW i3 is not so much a groundbreaking automobile as it is a state-of-the-art, ultra-efficient evolution of the electric car technology pioneered by such cars as the Chevrolet Volt.
Essentially the i3 is a plug-in electric car with an optional range extender gasoline engine. So is the Volt, except that its range extender gasoline engine is standard equipment and its range is much greater. The range extender in the i3 is a motorcycle engine with a two-gallon fuel tank. If it performs like the one in the Volt, it should generate sufficient electricity to keep the i3 going until you can plug it in and recharge it, thus eliminating the range anxiety that many drivers feel when driving an electric car. As long as gas stations are nearby (remember, the fuel tank is small), you should not find yourself stranded on the road due to having used up all of your vehicle’s initial electric charge.
Frankly, I think that until electric vehicles offer the driving range and energy replenishment (recharging) times comparable to those of gasoline-fueled automobiles, they should all come standard with some sort of range extender engine to eliminate range anxiety.
Powertrains aside, the four-passenger BMW i3 is quite different from that of the Chevrolet Volt. From its radical styling that includes doors that open outwards from the center of the vehicle to provide easy access to the interior, to the very efficient utilization of the space within, the I3 takes full advantage of its modest footprint.
BMW calls the i3 a premium car. It uses “carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic” for its passenger compartment. This material, as was demonstrated in an off-site experience center to showcase the i3, is at once very strong and very light. It is also, no doubt, quite expensive.
I took the opportunity to drive an i3 in Los Angeles. The fleet of German-market i3 demo vehicles, modified so that they could be driven on American roads, did not include one with the range extender gasoline engine.
Like other electric vehicles, it offers instant torque and plenty of it. That gives it great acceleration from a standing start.
Driving an i3 will probably require a change in one’s driving style, due to its pronounced regenerative braking that helps to replenish the car’s electric charge. If you sharply lift off of the accelerator pedal, the i3 slows abrubtly. The effect is almost as if you pressed hard on the brake pedal, so when driving the i3 you will need to learn to lift off the accelerator pedal more gradually. It is easy to do that – it just takes a little bit of practice.