Recently, fellow BMWBLOG writer, Hugo Becker, wrote about the six most important cars he’s ever driven. One of these cars was the BMW i3 and I couldn’t agree more. I too, was speechless when I first drove the i3. Its performance, range and unparalleled innovation blew me away. There’s no doubt in my mind that the i3, thanks largely to BMW’s innovative use of CFRP (carbon fiber reinforced plastic), is the most important car of my generation.
The only downfall with the i3, if you can even call it that, is the range. At an estimated 81 miles per charge, the i3 is perfectly acceptable for non-commuters, but a few i3 detractors will compare its range to the Tesla Model S’ estimated range of up to 265 miles, with its 85 kWh motor.
As good as the Tesla’s range is, it requires massive battery packs which, not only add more weight (which seems redundant to do to an electric car) but take longer to charge and cost significantly more money. The aforementioned Tesla costs $82,570, before federal tax credits, to start. That’s compared to the i3’s $42,400 to start before tax incentives.
Yes the Tesla costs more, but it can go much further than the i3 and range seems to be the biggest fear amongst customers unsure of making the switch to electric. And while the Tesla does cost almost double what the i3 does to start, it has more than double the range. So, as fantastic as the i3 is, BMW must continue to improve and the next logical step seems to be an i5.
As time passes and more i3s and i8s get pumped out of their factories, BMW will continue to learn about the uses of CFRP and lightweight materials in general. This, in time, will make development of lightweight, CFRP intensive cars cheaper, faster and ultimately lighter. A lighter construction means BMW can create a bigger, more powerful, faster, more luxurious car with a much farther range.
A BMW i5.
A BMW i5 would take the Tesla Model S head on at its own game. The real edge an i5 would have over the Tesla, granted it uses a CFRP body structure, would be weight. The Model S still uses a conventional car chassis with big, massive, hulking batteries underneath. An i5 would be significantly lighter, allowing it to have bigger batteries and motor(s) than the i3 yet have a range and performance similar to the Model S.
Range and speed aren’t the only area where the weight savings would help though. A lighter car will handle better as well having a more comfortable ride. An i5 would feel more nimble and light on its feet, as opposed to the Tesla which, while still a very good handling car, can feel as if the tires are going to break free from the wheels when cornering hard. The i5 could also have normal tires as opposed to the almost bicycle sized tires on the i3. Larger tires would increase performance and ride comfort which could give i5 drivers the more conventional feel they’re used to.
Making an i5 could also introduce current BMW customers to a new style of driving. At the moment, many current BMW drivers aren’t willing to switch from the conventional BMW they’re used to (3 Series and 5 Series customers) to something foreign and different like the i3. If priced and sized similarly to the standard 5er, and if it were to have a range nearing the Tesla’s, the i5 could easily be an alternative to current 5 Series customers.
An i5 would be a fantastic jumping off point for BMW to recruit new and old customers over to electric motoring. The i3, as fantastic as it is, is a bit too different and lacks enough range to convert the masses from their gasoline cars. The i3 was a great introduction to the new technology. It showcases what is possible with the use of CFRP. And its quirky and refreshing style cause optimism for the future of the i Division.
But I think the future must start with the i5.