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Europe: As BMW i3, i8 electric cars charge to market, more tech details emerge

BMW is taking the next step in the development of plug-in hybrids with its i3 electric car due out at the end of 2013. The i3 will be a city car made of carbon fiber that BMW plans to sell in big cities around the world.

Last year, BMW announced the i3 would come with an optional gasoline-powered range extender—an internal combustion engine that runs a generator to provide additional range once the batteries are depleted.

The Chevrolet Volt and the Fisker Karma have similar set-ups. Both use versions of General Motors’s Ecotec four-cylinder engine. The Volt uses an 84-hp, 1.4-liter version, while the Karma uses a 260-hp, turbocharged, 2.0-liter version. Intended as a city car, the i3 will use a much smaller gas engine.

This follows more in line with what Dr. Andy Frank—a mechanical engineering professor at the University of California who is considered the father of the plug-in hybrid—had in mind years ago. (A plug-in hybrid is another name for an extended-range electric vehicle.) His idea included reducing the size and capability of the gas powertrain to make up for the extra weight of the batteries.

At a BMW-hosted event in New York City yesterday, we had an opportunity to meet with key people on the i3 development team, to learn more about this intriguing car and the technology within it.
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