2015 BMW i3: Profitable After Just 20,000 Cars, Says Engineer

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about an all-new family hatchback or a two seat coupe: bringing a brand-new car to market is an expensive business.

In addition to funding design and engineering prototyping, automakers have to underwrite the cost of tooling up production facilities for the new model, as well as fund the in-house development of any new pioneering technologies being used. Combined, these technologies can take years, or even decades to pay off, as illustrated with the ten years and three-generations it took Toyota’s Prius hybrid to become profitable.

Is the BMW i3 profitable for BMW after just 20,000 cars? Yes, says one specialist.

Is the BMW i3 profitable for BMW after just 20,000 cars? Yes, says one specialist.

But one engineering firm specialising in reverse-engineering cars says that BMW’s i3 electric car will become profitable after just 20,000 cars have been made, an impressive feat for a vehicle which is something of a first for the German automaker.

What’s more, the firm says that the BMW i3 will be as revolutionary as Ford’s iconic Model T, the first car to ever be mass-produced on a moving production line.

Enter Munro & Associates, a Michigan-based company whose speciality is providing automakers with real-world costings and manufacturing teardowns for competitor’s cars.

As Forbes reports (via GreenCarReports), the engineering firm purchased a brand-new BMW i3 back in August last year and has spent several months disassembling and reverse-engineering the car to figure out just how it was constructed — and most importantly for BMW’s competitors — how much it cost to build.

In the case of the BMW i3, its reinforced carbon-fibre plastic body shell, battery pack, and lightweight construction are both unique and game-changing.

Munro & Associates: The BMW i3 is as revolutionary as the Ford Model T.

Munro & Associates: The BMW i3 is as revolutionary as the Ford Model T.

“This is, without a question of a doubt, the most advanced vehicle on the planet,” said A. Sandy Munro, chief executive of Munro & Associates. “It’s as revolutionary as the Model T was when it came out.”

Usually, automakers approach Munro & Associates and ask them to reverse-engineer a car on their behalf. But when he saw the BMW i3 — the first production car to make use of CFRP as its main construction material — Munro decided his firm would invest around $1 million carrying out the teardown without commission.

The BMW i3 has already proven itself far more energy-efficient to build than a traditional steel-framed car, since there’s far less energy required to produce the CFRP ‘life module’ than required to cut, press and weld a steel chassis. But Munro & Associates’ engineers say the CFRP ‘life module’ of the BMW i3 is more than just an exercise in energy efficiency: the fibres of the CFRP are so carefully aligned to resist crushing that the super-lightweight frame really is the module which protects the occupants’ lives.

The BMW i3’s construction isn’t just revolutionary for the automotive world however, says Munro. In fact, his firm has received interest from a wide range of different industries keen to learn BMW’s CFRP secrets for a price.

The BMW i3 isn't to everyone's taste, but it's an exercise in incredible engineering.

The BMW i3 isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it’s an exercise in incredible engineering.

“We’re not just selling this to car companies,” he said. “Airplane companies, high-speed rail companies, even people making furniture are interested in this car because it’s that revolutionary.”

Revolutionary is one thing. But Munro says the BMW i3 is profitable too — or will be soon.

Despite the high cost of producing CFRP, the weight savings generated by using it as a primary construction material means that the BMW i3 is able to use smaller battery pack than many of its steel-bodied competitors. This further reduces costs.

Of the battery pack, Munro & Associates’ engineers said that the thin, eight-times-twelve cell modular pack design and under-body location make it easy to replace and repair individual cell modules at dealerships. That’s not possible with all electric cars on sale today.

CFRP and clever battery design means the BMW i3 saves money from cradle to grave.

CFRP and clever battery design means the BMW i3 saves money from cradle to grave.

Combine these clever design elements and weight-saving technologies together with lower construction costs, and Munro says he thinks the BMW i3 will be profitable after just 20,000 cars have been made. Or to put it another way based on current production volumes, a year or so after its first European launch.

If he’s right, that could make the BMW i3 revolutionary in more ways than one. And it could represent the kind of speedy return on investment unheard of in the green car world.

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