THE ELECTRIC CHALLENGE HAS LEFT FROM ROME
The BMW “i” Born Electric Tour, the world presentation of the new electric and hybrid cars made in Bavaria, has left from the capital
“ELECTRIC FEVER” has risen again to the point that it has also infected the German brand, which has entered the arena with two cars and, it must be said, they have great potential. They are the i3 and i8 concepts, two vehicles that seem to be poles apart but are, in fact, inspired by the same “holistic” approach. The profound reassessment of the “sustainable” concept applied to the entire production process is also obvious from the fact that it has created a specific sub brand: the BMW “i”, to be exact.
Modern and global is also the way in which the company chose to introduce the new products: the BMW “i” Born Electric Tour will include three continents, but the honour of the first dance went to Italy. The year-long tour will visit Dusseldorf, Tokyo, New York, London and Paris, ending in Shanghai in June 2013.
The inauguration in Rome was held at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in the heart of the city, a prestigious classical backdrop that was the perfect foil for these modern vehicles. The tour was presented at a press conference on 20 June and the following day a series of meetings dedicated to the binomials mobility & innovation and architecture & design were opened to the public until 24 June.
A new concept
The first to speak was Franz Jung, chairman and chief executive officer of BMW Italia, who stated that the car is an important asset for people and for society. Jung went on to emphasize that freedom of movement and sustainability are extremely important and crucial, but they must not be separate from services, connections, information and transport systems. Jung underlined that this is fully embraced by the holistic approach of the new i3 and i8 “i” brands that will be made in Leipzig. For the new factories – which will create 800 jobs – 400 million euros have been allocated and respect for the environment includes the production cycle to the extent that they are considering building a wind turbine next to the factory.
This integrated approach was also applied to the selection of the tour’s local partners. For Italy, they are W-eye, which makes eyewear in wood and aluminium, Etcetera-Design for furniture made from recycled materials, Alice Visin, a designer of “sustainable” jewellery, and lamp makers Catellani & Smith.
Mario Valducci, chairman of the Transport Commission, talked about the sustainable mobility bill, the financial support for which had at last been found – not an easy task at times like these - at the very same time as the BMW tour. Valducci thanked BMW for starting the tour in Rome and announced that a substantial slice of the funds will be dedicated to incentives for environmentally-friendly vehicles (electric, hybrids and those using CNG and LPG), with special attention to public and private fleets. Although something could change during the parliamentary procedure, the bill will remain the same and it is hoped that the unanimous vote by both commissions will bring the legislative procedure to a rapid conclusion. Next to talk was Marco Visconti, Rome’s councillor for the environment, who thanked BMW for its support of the city’s vision of sustainability. For about a year and a half Rome has been making considerable investments in sustainable mobility thanks also to contributions by the Ministry for the Environment. The acquisition of electric vehicles for city centre police and the launch of the ”Roma sceglie il sostenibile” (Rome chooses sustainability) campaign, which was tangibly acknowledged by 50 companies and multinationals based in the capital, are proof of this commitment, as is the project to quickly establish a network of 200 charging stations in the city, thanks to an agreement with Acea-Enel.
Car or loft?
BMW director of design, Benoit Jacob, said that he was proud to see the cars in Rome against such an imposing backdrop that encompasses two millennia of history. Jacob referred to the fact that in 20-25 years’ time the world will be populated by 8 billion people, half of whom will be living in metropolises and mega cities and it is probable that many will want to drive their own car in the city. The BMW “i” cars are the answer to this challenge of “possible” urban mobility, a challenge that the designer was happy to have accepted. Created specifically for big cities, the i3 has a new design and many things that make a driver’s life easier. Its technology is hidden and spaces have been distributed with passengers and cargo in mind: “We wanted to give passengers maximum space and save space in the city. Carbon fibre has been used for the first time in a BMW, which makes it very light, a lightness that is ‘visible’ in the shape of the body and extensive areas in glass. The large diameter wheels reduce friction and improve stability. In short, our aim was to design something new that was full of character and we had the idea of creating a small loft on four wheels”, the designer concluded. The last talk was by one of the organizers of the event, architect and designer Fabio Novembre, who began by saying that today’s technology can really help people. People feel that they are not to scale in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni because it was created to be imposing and convey absolute power, or almost. But the BMW i3 was moulded around passengers like a shell and, because it was made to be welcoming and roomy, the impression it conveys is almost the opposite of that of the Palazzo. It was born to put people at the centre, in the way that Leonardo da Vinci did with his Vitruvian Man.
Design, technique and services
Moving on to the two stars of the event. At first sight, the i3 conveys a reassuring feeling given by the big wheels at the corners of the body and an airiness given by the generous windows. The advanced design and very light composite materials promise not only high levels of autonomy and crash resistance, but also dynamic driving in true BMW style. The permanent magnet synchronous engine generates a good 125 kW / 170 HP and maximum torque is also high at 250 Nm at 0 revs. Performance is interesting in that the vehicle reaches 100 km/h in less than eight seconds and has a top speed of 150 km/h. It seats 4 people and has a cargo capacity of 200 litres; range is estimated at around 150 km, which can be optimized in the Eco Pro and Eco Pro+ modes. The optional Range Extender (a generator module powered by a small internal combustion engine) will increase range even more by charging the battery on the move.
The i8 has (apparently) a very different design. Its technical specs are dominated by an impressive combined power of 354 HP generated by a 96 kW/130 HP electric engine in the front and a 3-cylinder turbo petrol engine that only needs 1.5 litres of displacement to generate 220 HP to send to the rear wheels. Maximum torque generated by the two engines is 550 Nm while range in Zero Emissions mode is 35 km thanks to a lithium battery pack located in the centre that can be recharged – in 1.45 hours – from a normal electric socket, by regenerative braking, and also by a special high-voltage alternator connected to the petrol engine. Acceleration to 100 km/h takes less than 5 seconds, top speed is automatically limited at 250 km/h, declared weight is 1,480 kg and consumption in the EU cycle is only 2.7 l/100 km and could very well be more for everyday use: but even if it were double, it would still be good.
These concept cars (the definitive versions will be very similar) are also examples of a product/service concept because of the inbuilt integration of a large number of infomobility and intelligent navigation services, remote control by smartphone/tablet, and dedicated apps.
There is no lack of sophisticated active and passive safety systems and there are two “assistants”: one automatically parks the car in an available space and one automatically follows the traffic flow if it is moving at walking pace.
To ensure that passengers reach their destination safely, “Last Mile Navigation” mode transmits the last stretch of a journey – for example, from the car park to the theatre entrance – to a smartphone. The destination guide is integrated with the “Intermodal Journey Planner” for information about public transport, the availability of parking, and access to limited traffic zones and so on. Some mobility services will be developed in cooperation with partner companies or will imply shareholdings in sector companies. Examples of this are the agreements with MyCityWay (an app for mobile devices that provides information about public transport, parking and city entertainment) and ParkatmyHouse, an Internet platform by which individuals can rent their garage or car space temporarily. Another modern mobility service is DriveNow, a joint-venture between BMW Group and SIXT AG for “flexible” rentals with collection and drop-off points chosen by the client.
Sales channels, sources of customer information and packages will also be flexible and innovative to free owners from worries about recharging, battery management and maintenance.
Both these cars should be on sale between 2013 and 2014 and the first to arrive will be the i3 and will cost about 45,000 euros; the i8 will cost about 100,000 euros more.