Monday, April 1, 2013

2014 BMW i8 Future Car

Consumer Guide’s Take on the 2014 BMW i8
BMW enters the growing "eco supercar" field with a retail version of its wild Vision EfficientDynamics Concept coupe. The i8 is a range-extender hybrid like the Chevrolet Volt, but it promises to totally redefine the "ultimate driving machine" experience.

What It Is
The 2014 BMW i8 is a "green performance" sports coupe with a range-extender plug-in hybrid powertrain. Previewed by the 2009 Vision EfficientDynamics experimental and a 2011 update of that concept, the i8 joins the i3 city car in launching BMW's "i" sub-brand that is planned to host a broader lineup of advanced-technology electric vehicles (EVs), hybrids, and range-extender hybrids, all specially designed for electric propulsion instead of being adapted from conventional designs. And indeed, a third model, called i5 and sharing the i8's powertrain, is said to be in the works for a calendar-2016 introduction.

BMW says the first two i-cars will go on sale sometime in 2013, which likely means 2014-model U.S. debuts. The pair has so far been seen only in concept form, but the production versions are expected to be quite similar in general appearance, dimensions, and technical makeup. Pricing, options, sales targets, and other details won't be announced until closer to the launch dates.

The 2014 BMW i8 and i3 are the latest fruits of Project i, which began soon after the BMW board decided in 2000 to adopt "sustainable mobility" as a long-term corporate strategy. Earlier results of the multifaceted development effort included the gas/electric "ActiveHybrid" options for the X6 premium-midsize SUV and 7-Series premium-large sedan, an all-electric Mini E based on BMW's small British-built 2-door hatchback, and a more-advanced "Active E" version of the company’s 1-Series premium-compact coupe. Mini Es and Active Es have been leased over the past few years to consumers in the U.S. and several other countries, providing real-world feedback on batteries and drive systems that has influenced i-car powertrain engineering.

What To Expect: Dimensions and Construction

Though it bears little resemblance to a current 3-Series coupe, the 2014 BMW i8 will have about the same length and width as that premium-compact car, but will stride a slightly longer wheelbase and stand some 3.5 inches lower--just a little over 4-feet tall. It should also be some 100 pounds lighter, based on the concept's quoted curb weight of just under 3,270 pounds. Though the i8 will launch as a 2+2 coupe, with adult-size front seating and two smallish rear seats, Britain’s Autocar magazine reports that BMW is mulling a companion convertible with a lightweight fabric top.

The 2014 BMW i8 is claimed to have a 50/50 front/rear weight distribution, ever a must for this brand, along with rear-wheel drive and handling-oriented chassis tuning. The i8 maintains the tradition, thanks in part to a powertrain format unlike that of most any other hybrid seen to date. It involves a small aft-mounted gasoline engine, which drives the rear wheels through an automatic transmission (type not yet disclosed), and an electric motor in the nose, which provides front-wheel drive via a single-speed reduction gearbox. A plug-in lithium-ion battery pack nestles in a longitudinal cabin tunnel to spin the motor, an arrangement also used for the compact Chevrolet Volt range-extender hybrid sedan. Though the two i8 powerteams aren’t mechanically connected and function independently, they can be electronically deployed in tandem to provide de facto "through the road" all-wheel drive. A similar powertrain, but with key component differences, will highlight the Porsche 918 Spyder, a small 2-seat roadster expected for model-year 2014. Britain's Jaguar is prepping its own eco supercar based on the 2010 C-X75 Concept coupe; we expect it to materialize as the 2014 Jaguar XK200.

Like baby brother i3, the 2014 BMW i8 employs the automaker’s new weight-efficient construction concept called LifeDrive. This involves an upper "Life" module--meaning the passenger cell--and a lower "Drive" module or chassis that carries the two powertrains, battery array, suspension, steering and brakes. The sections are joined by just a few bolts and industrial-grade adhesives.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the 2014 BMW i8 is making the Life module almost entirely of light-but-strong carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, a first for a "mass market" vehicle. This particular CFRP was specially formulated in conjunction with the U.S. firm SGL Carbon, which will also supply the raw material from a new dedicated plant in Moses Lake, Washington that runs mostly on clean hydroelectric power.

Each i8 body is made up of several CFRP sections that are formed by a new low-cost BMW process. As Motor Trend describes it, the procedure employs "six or eight layers of uni-directional carbon fiber that are stacked in a heated female mold; then the male mold closes, resin is injected, and the part cures in a couple minutes. This process is similar to the one used to produce the Lamborghini Aventador passenger tub" and the main structures of several other new exotic sports cars, "but the cycle times are quicker. Crash repair is said to be a simple matter of sawing out the damaged section and gluing in a [replacement]. Non-structural parts...are made using the short-fiber uncured trimmings left over from other operations, combed for some directional strength and cured to provide a class-A paintable finish." MT also notes that the car’s "unstressed outer body panels are thermoplastic, but because they’re mounted to a carbon-fiber structure with similar thermal expansion characteristics, the [i8]
should never suffer the wide panel gaps a steel-structured Saturn displays in the heat of summer."

What To Expect: Powertrain and Chassis
Bearing in mind the usual caveat of "specifications subject to change," the 2014 BMW i8 powertrain should be similar, if not identical to that of the 2011 concept. On the electrical side, the up-front motor is an in-house design that’s rated for the concept at 129 horsepower and 184-pound-feet peak torque. The lithium-ion battery pack is smaller than that of the little i3 and uses different chemistry that’s "biased toward delivering power quickly," according to Motor Trend. However, the i8 array is also liquid-cooled (as is the Chevrolet Volt's) because Li-ion cells must operate within a specific, fairly narrow temperature range for reliability and maximum energy storage. BMW hasn’t yet disclosed battery capacity for the i8, but Car and Driver estimates around 8 kWh, about half that of the Volt and the battery-powered Nissan Leaf. By itself, the electric drive is claimed to provide 20 miles of driving before the range-extender engine kicks in.

That powerplant is expected to be a 1.5-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder with direct fuel injection and a vibration-quelling balancer shaft. Essentially one half of BMW's latest 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder, the all-aluminum engine will also be used for next-generation Mini Cooper models, which begin rolling out in 2013, and for the first front-drive BMWs, a new line of compact cars due late in the decade. The i8 engine is tuned to produce 220 horsepower and 221 pound-feet, impressive outputs for a road-car engine so small. On the other side of the equation, the engine boasts fuel-saving features such as automatic stop-start and BMW's sophisticated Valvetronic variable-valve-control system.

Performance claims for the 2014 BMW i8 Concept suggest the production model will be quick as well as low on tailpipe emissions, thanks to the lightweight architecture and all the muscle onboard--a total of 349 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque. For example, quoted acceleration from 0 to 62 mph (0 to 100 km/h) is just 4.6 seconds, which Autocar notes is a significant 0.3-second faster than BMW’s vaunted high-performance M3 compact cars. The critical 50-75 mph passing time is given as a brisk 4 seconds flat. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph per longtime German-industry custom, though that also presumably benefits driving range and battery life. BMW hasn’t yet said anything about total driving range, but Autocar quotes company insiders as claiming at least 400 miles. Motor Trend reports that "combined fuel economy [by U.S. test methods] is said to be as high as 80 mpg--not bad for a slinky, low-slung supercar."

When it’s time to plug-in, the i8 can be fully juiced in an hour and 45 minutes from a 220V socket, or so BMW says. The battery can also be charged during coasting and braking, in the usual hybrid way. However, BMW has developed a "multistage" energy-recuperation system that uses both the motor and a separate high-voltage alternator driven by the range-extender engine, this so the driver can vary the degree of on-the-move recharging to suit different conditions. We suspect this feature will be as useful for sluicing along twisty canyon roads as for stretching battery charge in less-aggressive driving. Speaking of which, the i8 should also include an "Eco Pro" mode that reduces the rate of battery drain by dulling response of the electronically controlled accelerator and by limiting power to the climate system and other electrical accessories. The Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf have similar battery-life preservers, as does the pure-electric i3.

As for the rest of the 2014 BMW i8 chassis, it's made of largely of aluminum and incorporates energy-absorbing front and rear sections as crash-protection supplements to the inherently strong CFRP body. The suspension employs double wishbones in front and a multilink arrangement in back. Of necessity, electric assist is used for the steering and brakes; the latter will almost certainly be 4-wheel discs with ABS and an integrated BMW Dynamic Stability Control system with traction control. AutoWeek notes yet another fuel-saver/driving-range enhancer in automatic "on-demand operation of functions such as the electric steering, water pump, and air conditioning." Low-roll-resistance tires should be standard, as on most EVs and hybrids; they're another means to maximize zero-emissions driving range. Lightweight alloy wheels should be included too, though they may not be as large as the concept's rims.

Like most other electrified vehicles, the 2014 BMW i8 chassis positions the weightiest powertrain components--namely the motor, engine, and battery pack--as close to the ground as practical to achieve the lowest possible center of gravity, something that benefits dynamic agility at least as much as the 50/50 weight balance. Those 

factors and packaging considerations partly explain the front-mounted propulsion motor, but the main reason that it's in the nose is to take advantage of the forward weight transfer that occurs under braking, thus maximizing the motor’s contribution to total electric-power regen.

What to Expect: Styling and Features
BMW says i-models are "born electric." To emphasize that and provide visual separation with its conventional vehicles, BMW devised a new design language called “stream flow.” The name stems from the use of body-side lines that start far apart at the front and sweep rearward to become closer together. This treatment is meant to represent how the vehicle passes through the air, which is typically visualized in wind-tunnel tests by a directing a stream of smoke over various surfaces. Though stream-flow incorporates familiar BMW cues like the "kidney" grille, it relies on smooth contours--including wind-cheating underbody covers--and a literal “layering” of various body panels over adjacent sections, each in different colors. The layering is claimed to improve aerodynamic efficiency, meaning less energy-sapping wind resistance to shorten driving range. Though the company hasn’t yet cited drag coefficients for either i-model, the 2009 Vision EfficientDynamics concept was claimed to test at a slippery 0.22, so we’d guess the production model will be close to that, if not superior. Another visual flourish is liberal use of electric-blue accents inside and out. The color even encircles the famous roundel badge as another exclusive i-brand marker.

As noted, the 2014 BMW i8 is expected to look much like its concept predecessors. That means a strikingly low and wide stance, complex surface sculpting, and--the big attention-getter--"beetlewing" doors that pivot skyward from the windshield posts and are long enough to allow access to both front and rear seats. Novel strut-mounted roof rails should also carry over and perhaps a full-length transparent roof panel with structural bracing beneath, but the showcars' see-through lower door panels are sure to become opaque. The production i8 will also likely retain much of the futuristic concept interior design, including heavily bolstered individual seats; a wide, full-length center console; ultra-clean dashboard with two display screens, and configurable, high-def multi-color instrumentation intended to encourage more-energy-efficient driving. By the way, BMW claims 5.3 cubic-feet of cargo volume for the 2011 i8 concept, and the production model is likely to have the same--not much for extended trips, even if the car is designed to cover long distances.

A genuine sci-fi feature of the 2011 i8 concept is--wait for it--laser headlamps. These "laser-cut lights," as AutoWeek calls them, are claimed to be a thousand times brighter than LEDs, yet consume half as much electrical energy. Audi and other brands already use LEDs for tail lights and daytime running lamps, as they can be arranged in most any shape as designer chooses and are eye-catching with it. But full-LED headlamps are still quite costly compared to conventional halogens, which is why they're currently offered only on a few high-end vehicles. BMW's laser lamps will probably cost even more, as new technology usually does, assuming they're actually ready for production and that government regulators approve them. With all this, we think the laser beams have only a 50/50 chance of transferring to the 2014 BMW i8; even then, they’d probably be a pricey option. Incidentally, AutoWeek quotes BMW as saying these lights pose no risk to carbon-based lifeforms, as "the light will not be emitted directly but go through a conversion to make it benign." Ah well, maybe someone else will come up with a legal real-life "Batray."

Other unique features also remain to be seen, but the 2014 BMW i8 will be the brand's new technology flagship, so expect most of the same standard and optional equipment listed for today's top-line Bimmers. Workmanship should also be typical BMW. Both i-cars will be built in their own section of the company's Leipzig plant that turns out 1- and 3-Series premium-compact cars and the X1 premium-compact SUV, all of which earn high quality ratings in Europe. Like Chevrolet with the Volt and Nissan with the Leaf, BMW is going all out to ensure the i8 and i3 are glitch-free and dead-reliable from day one. How else to convince consumers that all this new technology adds up 
to realistic and worthy alternatives to conventional cars?

Why It’s Being Built
Like Nissan, BMW has decided that EVs are important to its business future, given the fast-growing number of eco-conscious consumers around the world. More immediately, the i-cars will help the brand as a whole to meet escalating global standards for fuel economy and CO2 emissions. And, of course, the new tech-heavy electrics will contribute to BMW’s desired image as a socially responsible "green" automaker and technical innovator. As one company executive declared back in 2009, "In the future, leadership in the premium segment will belong to whichever manufacturer builds its products in the most efficient and resource-friendly way--and offers its customers the most advanced and exciting solutions for eco-friendly personal mobility." Rivals like Audi and Mercedes-Benz have reached the same conclusion and plan to market their own advanced-tech electric vehicles in the next few years.

But there’s always been more to Project i than electric cars alone. As Britain's Autocar magazine observes, "BMW is using the i brand as the basis for a network of personal mobility and car-sharing-based activities. These include a new location-based information portal and a joint venture with the German rental-car giant Sixt, through which the i3 and i8 will be offered." In the U.S., BMW is working with partners in cities like New York on a rent-here/leave-there scheme called DriveNow. As sales chief Ian Robertson explained to Autocar, "People in big cities are feeling less able to own a car outright [but] still want personal mobility. Most under-25s in Tokyo don't have a driving license, because they can't own a car, because all the parking spaces are already spoken for." BMW is also eyeing a service that will steer i-car drivers to suitable parking near various public facilities via GPS and onboard Internet links. The company even envisions an eventual infrastructure that allows cars to "talk" with each other so as to reduce the chances of accidents and to help drivers avoid traffic slowdowns.

Project i also seeks to promote "sustainable mobility" by reducing the environmental impact of vehicle manufacturing, not just the vehicle itself. The i3 concept is one example. As Motor Trend notes, "Between the use of 50 percent recycled aluminum in the chassis and making interior panels and seats out of hemp fibers, recycled water bottles, and the like, the lifetime global warming potential of the fully electric i3 is [claimed] to be a third less than that of a similar [clean diesel] 1-Series hatchback. That drops to half if recharged using renewable energy. The Leipzig plant…will also consume 70 percent less water per vehicle and run on 100 percent renewable energy." All very laudable, though none of these ideas is new, and other automakers have launched similar initiatives involving recycled materials, renewable energy, and other green manufacturing measures.

Still, the i program is notable because BMW regards it as a useful "science project" with potential future benefits for its regular vehicles. As sales boss Robertson told Autocar, "Project i will be developing new technology that is applicable to the whole company. It is the environmental [line], so it bookends one end of the company, with the M [performance] division at the other. We'll also use its intellectual capabilities to push the envelope. It'll be a hothouse and an incubator."

What It Might Cost
BMW has not said how much it's spent on Project i, how much of a return it expects on that investment, or how development costs for various innovations will be spread among the different i-models. We're also still in the dark about how many i8s BMW thinks it can sell each year. On the other hand, we know the i8 will be the company's new technology flagship, and that suggests production will be deliberately limited for reasons of quality control, resale values, and, of course, image. With all that in mind, and considering that the top-line 2012 version of the big 7-series sedan starts at $140,000, we think Munich's eco-supercar will go for at least $175,000 and perhaps closer to $200,000. Though that's a daunting price for folks like us, Porsche hints that its range-extender-hybrid 918 
Spyder will run around $500,000, and Jaguar suggests its similarly conceived "XK200" will be a cool million-plus. Another illustration of why "value" is a relative term.

CG Says:
The 2014 BMW i8 may not be the first range-extender hybrid on the market, but it's just as much a "moonshot" for the Bavarian powerhouse as the Chevrolet Volt has been for General Motors--an image-boosting "proof of concept," but also a real-life test-bed for technologies that could influence future mainstream Bimmers. No less important, it’s a new "ultimate driving machine," albeit a radically different one, so it will be expected to deliver all the performance, agility, and class that have made BMW the auto world's top-selling premium brand. Anything less is not an option, as we’re sure the magicians of Munich know all too well.

So the bottom-line issue here is whether the i8 can successfully redefine BMW's celebrated brand virtues to fit the brave new eco-world order now unfolding. We can't wait to find out.

2014 BMW i8 Preliminary Specifications:
The Basics

Vehicle Type: Exotic Car
Drivetrain (i8 concept, manufacturer data)
Drive Wheels: front, rear, all
Engine: rear-mounted 1.5-liter 3-cylinder gasoline engine; front-mounted electric motor with lithium-ion battery pack
Horsepower: 220 (gas engine), 120 (electric motor)
Torque: 221 pound-feet (gas engine), 184 (electric motor)
Transmission: rear-mounted dual-clutch automatic, front-mounted single-speed reduction gearbox
Dimensions (i8 concept, manufacturer data)
Wheelbase: 110.2 inches
Length: 182.4 inches
Width: 77.0 inches
Height: 50.4 inches
Base Curb Weight: 3,263 pounds

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