DETROIT--I am on the BMW stand at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, and Ulrich Kranz is explaining all that's good about the Concept ActiveE, an all-new and electric version of the Series 1 Coupe.
Kranz is the director of Project i, a somewhat mysterious (no website) enterprise launched by the German carmaker to build vehicles for the world's emerging megacities. The first of its vehicles is the Mini E, an electric version of the popular Mini. Some 450 of those are currently on American roads (and Bill Nye the Science Guy has one).
"We believe in sustainability," said Kranz. "We take it very seriously at BMW." That's actually borne out by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, which named BMW the greenest automaker five years in a row. Toyota and Honda might take issue, but BMW's claim is based on increasing fuel efficiency, as well as reducing a factor most Americans haven't fixed on yet (grams per mile of carbon dioxide.)
"The Mini E was a two-seater, but in the ActiveE you do not have to sacrifice anything because it is a full five-seater," said Kranz. "The packaging gives even weight distribution."
What you need to know is that the ActiveE, which will be leased to consumers as the Mini E is, has a 32-kilowatt-hour battery pack (slightly smaller than the Mini E's). And the pack is different in other ways, too, being made by SB LiMotive, a joint venture between Samsung and Bosch.
OK, maybe you don't care about that. But with 170 horsepower from its 125-kilowatt motor, the car moves in "ultimate driving machine" fashion, reaching 60 from zero in 8.5 seconds, and can travel 100 miles before its lithium-ion pack runs out of steam. Batteries are heavy, so the car weighs 648 pounds more than a 2010 BMW 128i.
Neither the Mini E nor the ActiveE are likely to make it into volume production, but BMW's still-evolving Mega-City Vehicle will, sometime in the first half of the decade. Kranz explained to me that the automaker sent teams to the world's mega-cities, including Los Angeles, London, Tokyo and Shanghai, and spent time riding with them on their morning commutes. Since people say one thing and do another, the BMW crews wanted to find out how people actually behaved on the highway.
Project i is also studying trends, such as the movement to ban cars from the center of European cities, and London's "congestion charging." The research data will go into development of the Mega-City Vehicle. So far, Kranz says the evidence points to a four-door car with a trunk, but it's early days yet.
Photo: BMW's Concept ActiveE on stage in Detroit's Cobo Hall.
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