BMW's concept for "sustainable" urban driving took a couple of steps closer toward reality earlier this month, when the Bavarian automaker offered up more details for its all-electric Megacity car during a technology conference in Munich. The four-passenger MCV is still in development but sketches released by BMW's chief designer, Adrian van Hooydonk, show a knife-like shape with very short overhangs and a windshield raked nearly to the headlamps. It's reminiscent of the horizontal lines of VW's current European Scirocco or a squashed Honda Fit. The upright wedge shape of the E1 is no longer. "The perception of an electric vehicle is not very favorable," van Hooydonk told a group of reporters in Germany. "People are worried about the range. Is it safe? Why does it look so weird? This is what we're up against."

The green adventure that will eventually lead to the MCV -- which, if you believe BMW's estimates, will come to market some time in 2013 -- was begun about three years ago under the moniker of "Project I." It has been the focus of significant investment by the company, both in terms of powertrain development and the use of new production methods.

The MCV, if it indeed makes it into production with all of the breakthroughs discussed during the two-day conference in Munich, will be an advanced form of electric car. The engine I saw on display is compact and is said to make about 135 horsepower, and the "transmission," such as it is, is a single gear. The MCV is designed to be rear-wheel-drive, with the engine mounted in the rear (exactly at the E1 had been laid out, by the way). Initially, a three-door version is planned, and may eventually lead to a five-door as well.

BMW claims the MCV will have a range of about 100-120 miles on a single charge. This isn't exactly earth shattering, as the current BMW electric experiment, the Mini E, has a similar range. But the MCV will be built from the ground up as a dedicated electric, unlike the Mini-E and an electric version of the 1 Series the company has in the works, both which are pre-existing platforms converted to electric vehicles. This means no back seats full of hot batteries like the Mini E -- the 96 lithium-ion cells of the MCV's power pack are packed into a centrally mounted platform beneath the cockpit.

While the MCV uses aluminum in front and behind the cockpit shell -- a pair of extruded rails also run the four-meter length of the car – the body will be made of a lightweight, carbon fiber-reinforced plastic. This material is as strong as steel but only half the weight of aluminum. In partnership with another German firm, SGL Carbon, BMW has just broken ground in the state of Washington on a plant to produce the material. Taken as a whole, the platform has been dubbed "LifeDrive." BMW says this design will allow the MCV to be 250 to 350 kilograms (551-772 pounds) lighter than a comparable conventionally built vehicle.

When the MCV comes to market, BMW says it will be sold worldwide under a new brand. Price has yet to be set, but the vehicle will be aimed at upscale drivers in urban areas. Tax credits and lower maintenance costs will likely help to sell the cars. Then there's the BMW brand identity: BMW assures us the MCV will still be fun to drive.

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