The elec­tric i3 sells more and more each year

Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin - - MOTORING - JOHN CAREY

BMW’s i3 elec­tric ve­hi­cle isn’t pop­u­lar in Aus­tralia. Fewer than 500 have been sold here since it went on sale in 2014. De­spite this, the in­no­va­tive lit­tle bat­tery-pow­ered fourseater seems headed for cult clas­sic sta­tus.

It will stay in pro­duc­tion well into the next decade, prom­ises Klaus Froelich, BMW’s devel­op­ment chief, in an in­ter­view at the re­cent Paris mo­tor show.

Global sales of the i3 have grown ev­ery year since it was in­tro­duced in 2013.

Cars pro­duced for a long time, such as the orig­i­nal Bee­tle and Mini, of­ten end up be­com­ing time­less clas­sics. More re­cently, Land Rover’s De­fender was built from 1983 to 2016 with­out its ex­te­rior de­sign be­ing changed.

“Ev­ery year we have a new sales record in the i3,” Froelich says.

“Be­cause the (EV) seg­ment is grow­ing, the i3 is grow­ing with the seg­ment. So last year we had the high­est sales vol­umes, this year we will have the high­est sales vol­umes; with a four, fiveyear-old car.”

In its first full year on sale, 2014, about 16,000 ex­am­ples of the i3 were bought glob­ally. Last year, BMW sold more than 31,000 around the world.

The i3 will re­main in pro­duc­tion as long as the cus­tomer de­mand is grow­ing, says Froelich. “Of course I have to up­date things but this car will have the high­est sales fig­ures beyond 2020.”

The up­dates to the i3 are reg­u­lar. The com­pany re­cently an­nounced an im­proved bat­tery pack for the EV. It will go on sale in Aus­tralia next year.

Ex­actly the same size as the orig­i­nal 22kWh pack in the orig­i­nal i3, the new one can store 42kWh of elec­tri­cal en­ergy, dou­bling the EV’s driv­ing range to more than 200km in the real world.

The i3 is man­u­fac­tured in a spe­cial sec­tion of BMW’s Leipzig fac­tory, ad­ja­cent to lines where the small 1 Series and 2 Series are built.

It has an alu­minium lad­der chas­sis box­ing its un­der­floor bat­tery pack and plas­tic-pan­elled car­bon-fi­bre body struc­ture, so build­ing the rear-drive i3 isn’t like build­ing a steel-bod­ied car. As it re­quires a dif­fer­ent as­sem­bly line, keep­ing the i3 in pro­duc­tion doesn’t block any new model planned by BMW, Froelich says.

But what will guar­an­tee the i3’s fu­ture sta­tus is the fact that BMW will not build an­other car like it. Its in­no­va­tive con­struc­tion, es­pe­cially the car­bon-fi­bre struc­ture, won’t be used for any fu­ture affordable EV.

“We learned a lot on the i3, dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies,” the devel­op­ment boss says. “But to make a shell out of car­bon-fi­bre in the city­car seg­ment, this is not fi­nan­cially vi­able.”

BMW has a bunch more EVs in the pipe­line. The iX3, an SUV that’s also an EV, is due in 2020. A year later the com­pany will launch the i4, a four-door coupe EV, and its top-tech EV, cur­rently known only as the iNext.

And the en­dur­ing i3 will be there to keep them com­pany in show­rooms ...

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