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BMW’s short, innovative road to the i3 electric car

On Monday, BMW shows off the production version of its all-new i3 electric car. CNET recounts the concepts and steps the company took to arrive at this milestone.
Wayne Cunningham
by Wayne Cunningham
July 26, 2013 5:00 AM PDT

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BMW i3 sketch

This sketch, released in 2010, was our first look at BMW’s ideas around the i3 electric vehicle.
(Credit: BMW)

Back in 2010, BMW began talking up what it called a Megacity Vehicle, a new electric car it would develop for the cities of the future. Not taking any half-measures, the company would run a test fleet of converted electric vehicles, come up with new carbon fiber manufacturing processes, launch a whole new brand, and design a car from a clean sheet.

The result of this intensive effort, the production version of the i3 electric car, will be unveiled Monday in New York, London, and Beijing.

BMW likely began plans for what would become the i3 electric car before 2010, the amount of time between concepts and prototype testing to the production release on Monday represents lightning speed for a new model launch in the automotive industry. Other automakers have shown relatively quick electric drivetrain development, but BMW also had to come up with a new design, innovate manufacturing processes, and ink deals for new carbon fiber factories along the way.

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BMW obviously put a lot of resources into its i3 effort.

The first public inklings of the new project came when BMW showed off its Concept ActiveE, an electric car based on the 1-series, at the 2010 Detroit auto show. The Concept ActiveE would lead to production versions, offered up by BMW on a lease basis, which provided the company crucial data on how its electric drivetrain worked in real-world conditions. The MiniE project, an electric version of the Mini Cooper, also served for BMW’s data-gathering.


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