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September 02, 2013

BMW i3: Sustainability Can Be Sexy

Alternative transportation
BMW i3: The new reality

BMW chose New York City for the world debut of their visionary vehicle, the i3. With 8,175,13 citizens, NYC fits the profile of a densely populated urban metropolis where electric cars are ideal for short commutes.

Worldwide studies carried out as part of BMW’s Project i involved more than a thousand participants travelling by car over 12.5 million miles. Results showed that the average daily distance covered was around 30 miles.

“In 2025, 8 billion people will live on the planet; 4.5 billion will live in cities. There will be 1.8 billion cars on the roads.  In order to address the personal mobility needs of people living within the world’s most densely populated urban city centers, BMW created BMW i – the sustainable new sub-brand whose mission is to develop visionary vehicles and mobility services.” 
~ BMW Project i


The Drivetrain:

BMW projects the i3 will be able to travel 80 to 100 miles on a single charge. This can be increased by up to 12% in ECO PRO mode and doubled in ECO PRO+ mode. The EV can recharge in 3 hours with the use of a 220V Level 2 32-amp charger. The optional Fast Charging energizes the BMW i3 up to 80% in 20 minutes and 100% in 30 minutes. Drivers with longer commutes can opt for the 34 horsepower, two-cylinder, gasoline-powered Range Extender generator that roughly doubles the vehicle’s range. When the battery gets to a certain level, the Range Extender kicks in while maintaining the battery’s current state of charge.

It's electric and it's hip!
BMW i3 moves to NYC

The Design:

When you’re discussing sustainable, the electric drivetrain is key. But that goes hand in hand with the eco-friendly design. In a panel led by Adrian van Hooydonk, Global Head of BMW Group Design and Neri Oxman, Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, we learned about the greening of the BMW i3 from the inside out.

The LifeDrive architecture concept was created for the BMW i3. It is comprised of two modules: Life and Drive.   The "Life Module" is the passenger cabin, or greenhouse, and it is significantly produced from Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP), which is equally as strong as steel and lighter than aluminum. The result is an eDrive that weighs around 2,700 pounds, a notably lighter weight than its competitors.

LifeDrive architecture also eliminates the transmission tunnel running through the center of the car, thereby giving the BMW i3 the interior space of the BMW 3 Series, with the footprint of the smaller BMW 1 Series.


i3 is sustainable inside and out
The i3 has a key made from castor oil seeds.
“We took a quiet, radical approach,” explained Hooydonk. “This is the next combination of sustainable and premium offering, but not with traditional elements.”

Those non-traditional elements include high-quality recycled materials that promise to have the same feel as the BMW 5 Series sedan.

The BMW i3 Basics: 

According to BMW, 25% of the plastics within the interior and 25% of the exterior’s thermoplastic parts are made from recycled materials or renewable sources. For example, the instrument panel surround and door trim use fibers from the kenaf plant; olive-leaf extract is used to tan interior leather surfaces; and the dashboard’s wood trim is crafted from responsibly forested eucalyptus. Even the owner’s manual is created from renewable products; the key is composed of pressed castor oil seeds.

Additionally, the BMW i3 is produced in "quiet" factories. Several components of the car are manufactured in Moses Lake, Washington, a factory that uses hydroelectric power. The Leipzig, Germany assembly plant uses wind-generated electricity. In addition to its CO2-free electricity supply, the plant also uses 50% less energy and 70% less water than the average in the production process.

A Look at the Future of Design: 

Neri Oxman, Founder of the Mediated Matter design research group at the MIT Media Lab, noted, “At MIT we focus on fabric technologies of the future.  We attempt to learn from nature. In the future we will be printing with DNA.”

The future of design
BMW i3: A test pad for the future
To bring home the point, she tossed a fist-sized, feather-light ball of silk into the assembled group. Next, Oxman unraveled a small silk cocoon to cover several feet of space. She said, “Silk can be as strong as steel.  Using it will be a biological revolution.”

BMW has already crossed into new territory with their implementation of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic in the architecture of the i3. Can silk be far behind?

“The BMW i3 is a test pad for all of our new ideas,” offered Hooydonk. “We are not taking the design cues from this into our main brand. However, perception of quality is pervasive in all of our products.”

Conclusion?  Sustainability is the new normal.


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