Charge! BMW's Ultimate Driving Machine on Batteries

German automaker BMW is introducing its first all-electric sports sedan this week at the New York International Auto Show. The company that has long proclaimed itself to be "The Ultimate Driving Machine" is out to see if it can win hearts and wallets of buyers with batteries powering the car instead of gasoline. The BMW ActiveE electric vehicle is based on the BMW 1 Series Coupe, and will begin leasing to customers at $499 per month with $2,250 down later this year. Initially, the company will lease 700 cars to people in a handful of markets--New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco--in a pilot program to see how well it is accepted.

Going from 0-60 mph in nine seconds, it is a bit slower than a comparable gas powered Bimmer. But acceleration off the mark with electrics, including this one, is excellent and BMW believes it has created a driving experience that lives up to its reputation. "It is 100% electric and 100% BMW," says BMW North America president Jim O'Donnell.

O'Donnell says that the new BMW EV should not be confused with other EVs, specifically the Nissan Leaf, which has been selling to the public since last Fall. "There is absolutely no comparison between our EV, or the MINI-E EV and the Leaf in terms of performance," O'Donnell said.

Don't get the idea, though, that with all the company's enthusiasm about its EVs that it is giving up on gasoline. Even with all the hype around electric vehicles, O'Donnell says that 90% of new cars sold in 2020 are expected to be powered by gasoline, with the other ten percent accounted for by all hybrids and diesels.

It is not BMW's first experience with electric vehicles. The company's MINI has gone through a similar pilot program with the MINI-E, a MINI Cooper powered by batteries. During that program, BMW learned that consumers, especially women buyers, demand a 100-mile range on a charge to make an electric vehicle acceptable and useful to their driving lifestyle.

BMW ActiveE Smartphone applicationTo help consumers determine if an ActiveE is right for them, BMW has launched a free app on iTunes and Android Marketplace, called BMW Evolve, which will track daily driving habits to help determine of the driver is a good candidate for an EV.

Statistics show that 70% of Americans drive well under 40 miles a day. Still, U.S. consumers have proved reluctant to adopt electric vehicles because of the fear of running out of power far from home. There is still a lack of places to recharge an EV quickly. Recharging an EV from a standard 110-volt outlet can take many hours--more than 12 for some vehicles. That time is reduced by a 220-volt outlet that most EV owners would have installed in their garages. Some parking garages, shopping malls, big-box stores like Walmart and the like are installing re-charging stations, as well.

BMW, like all automakers, is having to dive into EV technology and vehicle production in order to meet toughening fuel economy regulations, as well as burnish its image for progressive and greener cars and SUVs.

The Bavarian automaker is launching a new sub-brand in 2013 called "i" that will feature EVs. The company says that the system in the ActiveE is the same that will debut in the i3 that will launch that year.

The i3 will be an original design that's been developed from a clean sheet of paper around the electric system. That differs from the ActiveE that has substituted the electric system for the gas-powered internal combustion engine in the 1 Series.

What is the key to BMW's system performing up to snuff for BMW fans? Electric motors can rev much higher than combustion engines, achieving revolutions-per-minute (RPMs) of more than 12,000 without any strain on the system. Thanks to its high torque, an electric vehicle actually accelerates faster than an internal-combustion vehicle with comparable horsepower at low RPMs. Still, it's overall 0-60 performance is not equal to gas-powered BMWs. The 0-60 for a BMW 135i is about 5 seconds, while the ActiveE is nine seconds.

The only thing really missing from the driving excitement in one of its gas-powered cars is the rev of the engine. And that will probably be addressed with a sound app that allows the driver to customize the sound of an EV to sound like whatever he or she wants--within reason.

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