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How to Engineer the BMW i3

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The thing that people from BMW emphasize most about the i3 is not that it is an electric vehicle (EV), not that it has a carbon fiber passenger cabin (“Life Module”), not that it has a 100% aluminum chassis (“Drive Module”), not that most of its exterior body panels are thermoplastic.


None of that.

Not that they’re not important, because they are fundamental to the i3.

No, the thing that they really emphasize is that the i3 IS A BMW.

Although it is an upright vehicle that is propelled by an electric motor that generates 170 hp and that is powered by a 22-kWh lithium-ion battery, the development objective, explains John G. Kelly, was, from the start, to create a car that has the performance and attributes of what BMW owners have come to expect from the brand.


Kelly, who was a product engineer in the BMW Hybrid & Electric Vehicles activity, is now a product manager. So he has first-hand and continuing involvement with the i3.

And he talks about it in this edition of “Autoline After Hours”—with an i3 nearby in the studio.


Kelly explains that while there were forerunner programs—like the BMW Active E, which is based on a 1 Series Coupe, and the MINI E—when they went to work on the i3 they wanted to create a car that is sustainable in almost every way—they’re using wind-generated electricity at the assembly plant in Leipzig; some carbon fiber components are made from recycled materials and hydroelectric power is used at the carbon fiber production plant to make the material; the interior uses Kenaf fibers, eucalyptus, and leather that’s tanned with olive-leaf extract.


Kelly describes the car to host John McElroy, freelancer and former GM engineer who worked on the electric EV1 program Gary Witzenburg, and me.

In addition to which, McElroy, Witzenburg and I discuss various other subjects, ranging from the new front-end design for the Chevrolet Silverado to the data intensity of autonomy.

And you can see it all here: