The popular BMW i3 BEV electric car might currently be the most energy-efficient plug-in car you can buy today, but it’s certainly not the longest range per charge, achieving an EPA-approved 81 miles of range per charge. These days, that accolade is now held in the mid-priced segment by the 2016 NIssan LEAF SL and SV, both of which manage a total of 107 miles per charge thanks to an all-new, larger-capacity 30 kilowatt-hour battery pack offered as standard on both models.
Next year however, GM will up the game with the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, a car which it says will hit the $35,000 price point after incentives as well as travel some 200 miles per charge. Similar in size and style to the BMW i3, it will become the luxury brand’s natural competitor.
So it’s no surprise that BMW is working hard to ensure its BMW i3 remains attractive to buyers next year, with a planned battery pack upgrade that will let it travel further per charge.
That’s according to BMW CEO Harald Krüger, who told German publication Zeit (Via GreenCarReports, Handelsblatt) that BMW will give the i3 electric car — and presumably its sibling, the range-extended BMW i3 REx — a longer range for the 2017 model year.
In addition he confirmed, BMW would launch a brand-new i-branded model shortly thereafter, bringing the total number of BMW i-branded vehicles to three.
While Krüger wouldn’t discuss the specifics of either the upgraded range for the i3 or the upcoming third i-branded vehicle, previous coverage of both topics means neither is a surprise to us, especially given the relentless drive by some of BMW’s competitors to extend the range of plug-in cars well beyond the sub-100 miles offered by first-generation affordable electric cars.
Indeed, the first we heard of a potential increase in battery pack capacity for the BMW i3 and BMW i8 was a rumor back in May 2014, when German language website Focus Online cited sources at BMW who said it was working on a longer-range, battery pack for the i-series cars. While we were unable to confirm that rumor at the time, it now seems as if the rumor was indeed true.
Earlier this year, further confirmation to that rumor was proffered when BMW Group head of research and development Klaus Froehlich told Automotive News Europe that BMW was researching and developing a range of improvements for the BMW i3 and BMW i8. Among them, a commitment to improving the energy density (and thus range) of the BMW i3 and i8’s battery pack by a minimum of 20 percent every three years.
As for a new model for the i-brand lineup? That possibility, most likely a larger 5-series size plug-in wearing the i5 badge, has been discussed for a very long time. First put on the table before the BMW i3 had even launched, we told you about a rumor back in 2013, almost two years ago, when British motoring magazine AutoCar claimed that BMW was working on a family-friendly plug-in based on a stretched BMW i3 chassis. At the time, the magazine said that the car would add an additional 100 mm of legroom and an additional 150mm of rear overhang, resulting in an overall stretching of 250 mm — or just under ten inches.
Other rumors have suggested that the BMW i5 will be a plug-in hybrid based on the Power eDrive platform demonstrated by BMW earlier this year in a 5-Series GT plug-in hybrid concept. But as our friends at GreenCarReports note, that vehicle — most likely due to be sold under the BMW brand rather than the BMW i subbrand — would use traditional construction methods, not the carbon fiber-reinforced plastic body shell and aluminum chassis used in both the BMW i3 and BMW i8.
Given those lightweight construction methods are not only a signature of the BMW i-brand but also a great way to achieve unbelievably good fuel economy, the i5 would likely follow in the same construction materials as the rest of the i-brand lineup.
What does this tell us? At the moment very little. If we had to guess however, we’d say that BMW is starting to feel some pressure to increase its electric car offerings — or loose out to the upcoming longer-range Nissan LEAF (due in 2018), the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, and of course, Tesla’s long-awaited ‘affordable’ Model 3.
Would you like a longer BMW i3 range? Would you welcome a larger, more family-friendly model? And what features would you like to see in both?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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