Charg­ing into the fu­ture

The tip­ping point into mass pro­duc­tion of the elec­tric car may be less than a decade away

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - PAUL GOVER Chief Re­porter in Mu­nich paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

ELEC­TRIC cars are noth­ing in Aus­tralia.

Less than a hand­ful are in show­rooms, and not much more have been sold, al­though that’s go­ing to change.

Even­tu­ally it will change fast as gov­ern­ments en­cour­age plugin de­vel­op­ment in a push for greener mo­tor­ing, a switch al­ready hap­pen­ing in Europe and gath­er­ing pace in the US.

Some pre­dict elec­tric cars will ac­count for 10 per cent of global sales in 2020 and oth­ers are even more ag­gres­sive. Tesla Mo­tors chief Elon Musk pre­dicts a 50 per cent share as he pushes for ac­cep­tance of his new Model S lux­ury elec­tric limou­sine.

But Europe is still the fo­cus of elec­tric car de­vel­op­ment and no one is push­ing harder than BMW, which is even cre­at­ing an elec­tric sub-brand— BMW I — to house its plug-in and range-ex­ten­der elec­tric mod­els.

The first of the sparky new­com­ers, the i3, is just around the cor­ner and test­ing is fo­cused on a fleet of 900 spe­cial bmw1-se­ries cars that carry the power pack that will be trans­planted next year into the back of the i3.

I am driv­ing the Ac­tivee in an Aus­tralian ex­clu­sive, search­ing for an­swers around BMW HQ IN Mu­nich but also keen to see if elec­tric cars— fol­low­ing my drive time with the Nis­san Leaf and, more re­cently, the Smart ED— re­ally can be a work­able and en­joy­able fu­ture.

VALUE

How do you put a price on the fu­ture? You can’t ac­tu­ally buy an Ac­tivee but, if you could, it would prob­a­bly cost $250,000.

Why? Be­cause the ba­sics of the car are A BMW1 Se­ries coupe and, in Aus­tralia, that means at least $47,400. By the time the en­gi­neers and assem­bly line work­ers have done their reg­u­lar jobs, and then the boffins have com­pleted the switch to sparks, the price has soared into the lab­o­ra­tory-on-wheels range where cost is not a ma­jor worry.

‘‘ It would be ex­pen­sive still, clearly, be­cause it’s pro­to­type de­vel­op­ment,’’ says Ian Robert­son, Bmw group’s head of world­wide sales and mar­ket­ing.

But the Ac­tivee morphs into the i3 next year and, even though Cars­guide would much pre­fer a pric­etag in the af­ford­able $35,000 range, it’s likely to be about $60,000. That’s still a lot for a car you can’t drive from Sydney to Mel­bourne, but it shapes up well against the Mit­subishi IMIEV at $48,800, the Nis­san Leaf ($51,500) and the up­com­ing Holden Volt ($59,990).

TECH­NOL­OGY

The Ac­tivee is de­vel­oped from Bmw group’s orig­i­nal elec­tric test­bed, the Minie— the most im­pres­sive elec­tric car I drove un­til the Leaf— and builds on that pack­age. For a start, there is a back seat.

The Ac­tivee is a to­tally bat­tery-pow­ered elec­tric car pow­ered by a per­ma­nent-mag­net, hy­brid syn­chro­nous mo­tor rated at 125kw and 250Nm. The bat­tery has a 32kw-hour ca­pac­ity and weighs 450kg, com­plete with liq­uid cool­ing.

Bmw says the Ac­tivee will zap to 100km/h in 9sec­onds with a top speed of 145km/h, per­for­mance that’s way bet­ter than the Smart ED elec­tric run­about I drove in Stuttgart last month.

The range is 145kilo­me­tres, some­thing I don’t get to se­ri­ously test but which seems re­al­is­tic.

Bmw says the car’s new power pack weighs less than 100kg, which is good news for the i3. The Ac­tivee has a to­tal weight of 1800kg but bmw is aim­ing for about 1200 for the show­room i3, which will re­tain the com­pany’s tra­di­tional rear-wheel drive.

The Ac­tivee pack­age in­cludes a bunch of other tricky stuff, from a ‘ coast’ mode that al­lows you to save en­ergy when you lift off the ac­cel­er­a­tor at high­way speeds, very im­pres­sive re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing— it’s so pow­er­ful that it trips the brake lights be­cause of the de­cel­er­a­tion at city speeds— and even sta­bil­ity and trac­tion con­trol adapted for the elec­tric world.

DE­SIGN

The Ac­tivee al­most looks like ev­ery other 1 Se­ries coupe. The big give­away is not the graph­ics pack­age on the sides but the ‘ power’ bulge in the bon­net.

Tra­di­tion­ally, this sort of thing is used to help ram air into a com­bus­tion engine, or clear space for gi­ant fuel in­jec­tion in­lets, but in the Ac­tivee the big­ger bon­net— like the one on bmw’s X6 hy­brid— is to clear the com­plex engine con­trol sys­tem where the engine once lived.

Inside, it’s all 1Series. The only vis­i­ble change is a dash­board read­out of bat­tery life and in­stant en­ergy use— and re­gen­er­a­tive re­cov­ery.

Robert­son says: ‘‘ The Ac­tivee has proven you don’t have to have the com­pro­mises that most of the ve­hi­cles have out there at the mo­ment. It has a proper back seat and a boot.’’

SAFETY

It’s im­pos­si­ble to rate the safety of the Ac­tiveE, be­cause none has been pub­licly crash tested.

But it has the airbags, sta­bil­ity con­trols and ABS brakes of the reg­u­lar 1Series coupe, al­though sta­bil­ity is not as good with 1800kg to stop and heft around ob­sta­cles.

The real safety test will come with the ar­rival of the i3 next year, and bmw is promis­ing a five-star NCAP re­sult.

DRIV­ING

I could eas­ily live with A BMW Ac­tivee. It’s not as rorty or re­spon­sive as an M3, or as lux­u­ri­ous as a 7Series, but it gets the job done and is a gen­uine Bmw with an elec­tric twist.

As I hit the stop-start com­muter snarl on the road

Cut­ting edge: The bat­tery

pow­ered Ac­tiveE is an ex­cit­ing prospect

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