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Should you buy the full electric version (BEV) BMW i3 or the range extended version (REx)?

BMW i | May 8th, 2014 by 38
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Many people considering a BMW i3 are a bit torn between the full electric version (BEV), and the range extended version (REx). What they may …

Many people considering a BMW i3 are a bit torn between the full electric version (BEV), and the range extended version (REx). What they may not know is their decision will indeed help BMW decide what electric range their future EV offerings have.

Now that the EPA range rating for the BEV i3 has been announced at 81 miles per charge customers can finally decide if they BEV i3’s range will suit their needs. If it doesn’t and they still want an i3, their only choice is to fork over the extra $3,850, and get the range extender. There are electric vehicle enthusiasts that consider this unacceptable because they don’t ever want to put gasoline in their electric vehicle, it just seems wrong to them. Others don’t mind, since they will be driving on electric the vast majority of time and using a little gas is OK with them.

Should you buy the full electric version (BEV) BMW i3 or the range extended version (REx)?

Basically there are four groups of perspective i3 purchasers:

  1.  They are interested in the i3 but the 81 mile EPA rating is just too low for them and the range extender is out of the question. They walk away from the car and consider their other electric vehicle offerings.
  2. The 81 mile range works for them. They select the BEV and understand its limitations.
  3. They really wanted the BEV i3 but the range rating was too low for their comfort so they reluctantly ordered the i3 REx. (I fit in this box)
  4. They really liked the idea of the range extender from the start and wouldn’t have bought an i3 without it. The ability to drive primarily on electric but have the range extender there for the few times they need more range is perfect for them. Not ever worrying about getting stuck on the road because they ran out of charge or a public charger was broken or blocked is paramount for these people.

SEE ALSO: BMW i3 Full Details

It will be interesting what the percentage of BEV buyers to REx buyers are, and don’t think BMW isn’t watching that very closely. I have personally spoken to BMW mangers that have said the breakdown of BEV to REx sales will give BMW a clear indication of what range people are comfortable with. If BEV sales dominate, BMW will take that as verification that the range they gave the i3 was right for this vehicle. Conversely if the majority of i3s sold are range extended versions, or if sales in general don’t meet expectations they have a clear message: The potential customers didn’t believe 81 miles per charge was enough, especially for premium brand EV. In other words, your purchase is your vote. Buying a BEV i3 is telling BMW that 81 miles is fine, and buying a REx i3 is telling them it’s not.

SEE ALSO: BMW i3 Test Drive

Hopefully BMW will break out the sales of the BEV i3s and the REx i3s in their monthly sales reporting instead of just including them in one group. That may just help to give us a better idea of what to expect next from the i brand.

  • danwat1234

    I wonder how the MPGe is impacted with the REX version and how much MPG the little engine gets. Mid 30s I’ve heard but curious what the EPA says. Also NHTSA and IIHS safety scores

  • CDspeed

    Actually if the REx sells better won’t that say to BMW that people want backup generators. Would they build there next electric car with more range or, basically build a Volt like range extended car?

    • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

      They will def build longer ranges. Battery tech has a lot to do with it and that technology is moving forward.

      • CDspeed

        So I’m sending the wrong message by getting the electric only version? What kind of weird experiment is this?

        • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

          I see Rex as an intermediate step to full EV mobility.

          • CDspeed

            But what kind of logic is this, the i3 has less range then the ActiveE, and the ActiveE has less range then the Mini-E. Isn’t that progress in reverse? Instead of getting closer to the Tesla Model S they’ve moved towards the Nissan Leaf.

          • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

            Yeah but the mini e and active E had HUGE batteries. And the active e is not really the ideal EV

          • CDspeed

            Yes but everyone knows that electric cars need a bit more range, why do test fleets if your going to ignore the participants? Did they spend too much on the CFRP?

          • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

            I don’t know their full strategy but I guess active e gave them good data, they designed the i3 prolly 3-4 yrs ago and technology has been advancing since. So maybe they don’t yet have the best range but no doubt it will improve a lot. Prolly next step in the i5.

          • CDspeed

            The i5 is going to have to be pretty good, if the rumor turned out to be true that it’ll be just a bigger i3 I’m going to be very disappointed. Especially if they keep putting little gasoline engines in them.

          • Tommolog

            Agreed. I expect a 150 mile i5 by 2017

          • CDspeed

            So less range then the i3 REx?

          • Tommolog

            150 mi all electric range with optional REx would be my guess

          • CDspeed

            Seriously…..three years from now we’ll see something that functions in exactly the same way with only a bump up in range?

          • Tommolog

            That would be my guess. I believe the range extender model will be popular with many OEM’s for the next decade or so until we have dramatic reductions in battery costs and energy density improvements.

          • CDspeed

            It’ll literally be like watching paint dry, Tesla is going to be raking in the dough, they will go unchallenged.

  • cohenfive

    I fall into the camp of not wanting a range extender, but waiting for the i3 range to be a bit longer in a few years…Also I’ve heard the rex sounds like a lawn mower when the engine is engaged…

    • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

      Not the best sound, true.

  • TiNE_ENi

    Guys, current battery tech has its limitations yet the development is going on.

    Why Tesla S is able to achieve such great mileage? Because:
    a) the car big and therefore there’s enough room for a lot of batteries
    b) the car is expensive therefore more condense / powerful (more expensive) batteries are used
    c) it’s a large premium family all-purpose sedan, aimed @ US PREMIUM market primarily

    Mind a (sub)compact car or a mid-sized SUV by Tesla would have same mileage issues as other current non-Tesla (sub)compact EVs are having. Musk is aware of that – and therefore a large premium sedan was offered & an SUV / crossover is following … no compact sized car by Tesla as of yet. Due to limited battery tech (sure there are superpowerful / supercondensed batteries available but they are still too expensive to be used in high-volume moderately priced cars). And Tesla is delaying its compact sedan EV for a reason – until powerful batteries are cheap enough to be used in such a price segment (therefore Tesla’s plan to produce batteries on its own – in a giga mass-volume plant: to achieve economies of scale).

    Small(er) EVs have physical limitations – the room for batteries is too small to utilize more batteries & so achieve better mileage. Especially in the cars with conventional architecture – with batteries in the trunk etc. And even EVs with EV-specific architecture have their limitations: especially the size. Since most of such cars are small – otherwise their mass would be just too big (unless materials like CFRP, magnesium, aluminum etc are used extensively).

    BMW i3 … a mileage of ~80 miles is enough for such a (sub)-compact car. Mind its length is comparable to sub-compact (B-segment) hatches! So, it’s definitely not a family car – but more a city car , a second car in a household. It’s not planned for long commuting – but for city driving, within city limits. And for such driving 80-mile mileage is more than enough. The ActiveE testing program proved that! Also you can & SHOULD charge the car every time it’s possible (even for only 10 or 15 minutes or so) – not only when the battery is almost empty, or only over night @ home.

    Sure the charging infrastructure is still very much underdeveloped in many areas but we’re getting there …

    Also … I’m seeing people comparing eg. i3’s mileage with Leaf’s mileage etc and commenting on i3’s poorer mileage – but forgetting the performance figures: i3 is faster, and can be driven more aggressively – and that comes at a cost. More performance usually means less mileage (at same battery power / capacity).

    I5 … BMW are waiting for a EV market to mature. Just like everybody else. And by the end of decade I’m sure there will be tons of affordable family-sized EV Sedans & SUVs & Crossovers etc in the market. But until then the offer is (and will be) rather limited: so you’ll either have to pick an affordable compact car EV (with rather limited mileage), or an expensive car like Tesla S or Tesla X to get ICEV-like mileage.

    I find it funny when people compare all kinds of EVs to each other – despite being of different size, price, tech etc. Mind EVs are just like ICEVs – you can’t eg compare Fiat 500 to BMW 550i. Different mileage, different size, different price, different performance figures etc etc.

    Sure EV offer is limited today – but that can’t be the reason for stupid & unreasonable comparisons. If eg. you need a large car with plenty of mileage, then i3 is not a right car for you. So, you’ll either have to shop elsewhere or wait for a proper EV car for you by BMW i. Sure i3 & i8 customer pool is limited by the both cars’ aims & characteristics – they are not cars with very broad appeal. BMW have decided to go with such initial BMW i product offering … and that’s it. If neither of both two cars satisfy your needs properly then those two cars are not for you.

    BEV vs BEVx … Mind that REx is definitely more like a limp-mode feature … just to reduce your range anxiety. But for commuting within (and near) city limits it’s OK – although IMHO ~80-mile range is more than enough till the next charging. For a city car – and that’s what i3 is.

    • Tommolog

      I agree with a lot of what you say, and I wouldn’t expect a small car like the i3 to have Tesla Model S range, but it definitely could have easily had 100 to 125 mile range which would have drastically reduced the need for the REx

      Plus all the “city car” talk is amusing to me. Electric cars are not good city cars at the moment, despite what the manufacturers will try to sell you. In cities the vast majority of people live in apartments and don’t have a garage to charge their vehicle. It is a daunting (and expensive) task to get a reserved parking spot for city dwellers to charge publicly on a regular basis. AN EV is much better suites fr someone that lives in a private home and can install the charging equipment on their property.

      The best use for an EV today is for people that live just outside of a city in the suburbs and commute to the city for work, to shop, for entertainment, etc. With a 80 mile EV like the i3, that may not be enough for the round trip and to still have that safety margin of 10 miles or so because most people won’t fell comfortable pushing the car to near zero just to make it home. Plus, if the owner lives in an area that gets cold in the winter, the range then reduces to 55 to 60 miles per charge meaning you only have about a 25 mile radius from your home to be comfortable with.

      Of course if public charging stations were ubiquitous this wouldn’t matter nearly as much, but today you really can’t rely on public charging because there aren’t nearly enough chargers, they are frequently blocked by gas cars or already in use by another EV, or in many instances they are not in service. This will change in time and the proliferation of public charging station will indeed make EV’s a great choice for people living in large cities, but the i3 is on sale now, and a 60 to 90 mile range is short of the mark in my opinion. The i3 didn’t need to have a 250 mile range like a Tesla, but it should have been a real 100 mile EV.

      • cohenfive

        This…well said. I am not looking for Tesla range as the car would need to be too big, heavy and expensive, but something a little longer would have made a big difference to me. I’m hoping in a couple of years they will have a real 100 mile range ev i3 out for about the same price..

      • CDspeed

        Tom, what do you think of the Mercedes-Benz B-class electric drive? There are a few features on it I wish the i3 had, a bigger trunk, power seats, and some option called “range plus” that takes the battery up to 31kWh. This range plus I’m reading adds anywhere from 8 miles as claimed by Green Car Reports, to 18 miles as claimed by Mercedes. When added to the B-class’s rumored 85 mile range that could mean anywhere from 93 to 103 miles of range.

        • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

          The B-Class is not bad at all.

          Trying to get a review of that.

        • Tommolog

          I like the B-Class EV. The range mode is interesting but I’m thinking it will only add about 10 miles to the 80-85 mile EPA range I expect to see. It would have been great if it added 20 or 25 miles, and I think people would have gladly paid for it.

          However the B-Class didn’t separate itself from the current ~80 mile EV’s either, as I had hoped the i3 would. I’s a little perplexing why nobody will just add a little more battery and give their EV a leg up on the rest of the pack (Besides Tesla).

          I really believe if the LEAF, i3, or B-Class EV offered a 120 mile all-electric version of the same car they could easily sell it for $5K More and people would flock to it.

          • CDspeed

            Yes it is odd that none of the auto makers are trying to one up each other, every time one of them comes out with a bit more horsepower their competitor usually ups theirs shortly afterward. But not EV range, I’m disappointed that the i3 doesn’t equal or beat the ActiveE, electric cars are supposed to evolve and add range not loose it.

    • Alex

      I agree, very well written piece. The battery technology the jet here, and even there, it is more about the power density vs weight and also being able to cool the battery. A bigger battery needs more cooling and cooling needs r energy too. As for the range vs the Nissan Leaf, The range on paper seems close but that is for a more powerful motor and also I am not sure how much SOC the Leaf holds in reserve. Talking of SOC, if on the BEV one will get below the 6% then battery life and performance can take a hit.

    • cohenfive

      Also note that the upcoming suv will be based on the model s so the large chassis will have room for the same battery capacity as the sedan…Also, and this is a disappointment, the price will be higher than the sedan, not lower as many had thought. The economics are tough for ev’s even with massive federal/state subsidies. Battery costs are the main culprit, and Tesla is making a very large bet on bringing costs down by building a massive battery plant somewhere…hopefully in Reno.

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  • John

    83 miles is not a sufficient range. Because you have to get home again, 83 miles only lets you travel 40 out, saving 40 for return. Now factor in cold or hot weather, terrain, and highway driving and that drops even further.

    • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

      It’s borderline for some people, no doubt.

  • OCULUS

    I am ready for the Rex, and choose that for its sophistication and resultant range; but more important, for RESALE VALUE down the road. In several years, it will be competing with more sophisticated models with greater range, etc., so I believe it is prudent to build in as much range as one can and reap the benefits now and the investment later.

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