BMW i3 (2013-2022). A look back at the amazing premium electric city car

That’s the end of the BMW i3. After nearly nine years of good and loyal service, the first mass-produced electric BMW is coming out. Production of the city car, which was assembled in Leipzig, has recently ceased. BMW announced in early 2020 that it would be extended until 2024, but since then the coronavirus pandemic and semiconductor shortages have disrupted manufacturers’ industrial activities, while the electric car market has evolved very quickly. All factors that may have influenced the decision to end production of the i3 early. Experimental in more ways than one for BMWthe city car allowed the bavarian company to test electromobility solutions, define the way forward and discover the mistakes to be avoided.

The 2011 BMW i3 concept.

A design worthy of a supercar

The BMW i3 was publicly announced in September 2011 at the Frankfurt Motor Show, with the presentation of an eponymous concept car alongside the one that foreshadowed the i8, to launch the electrified BMW i range. The car was unveiled in its final version in July 2013 and marketed the following autumn. Playing the “car of the future” card, it surprised both for its appearance of a short-nosed minivan and complex lines and for its construction, which combined a CFRP (polymer/carbon composite) cell in an aluminum frame with a cabin partially lined with recycled materials. Its weight was therefore contained in 1,270 kg empty.

BMW i3 orange black
The BMW i3 as it was revealed in 2013.

This very avant-garde and expensive design for a small vehicle hasn’t caught on in the industry since and today can be seen as a gamble reminiscent of the aluminum Audi A2 a few years earlier; however, the i3 had a longer career than the city car with hoops, which was only in the catalog for five years.

BMW i3 hatchback
The styling of the BMW i3 was divided from the start.

Autonomy doubled from the start

Structure of the BMW i3
The BMW i3 is made of carbon and aluminum.

The BMW i3 was launched with a 170 hp rear electric motor powered by a 22.6 kWh lithium-ion battery housed under the floor, which gave it a maximum range of 160 km according to the old NEDC homologation cycle. . At the same time, a Renault Zoe claimed a maximum of 190 km.

Aware that this low capacity was all the more restrictive as the charging network was even less supplied than it is today, BMW quickly offered a range extender option dubbed REx (Range Extender). This 650 cc twin-cylinder petrol engine was used as a generator to increase the advertised range to 300 km. General Motors also used this device for a while on the Chevrolet Volt and Opel Ampera, and Mazda is getting ready to introduce it on the MX-30, but the extender hasn’t caught on in the industry either.

BMW i3 doors
The rigidity of carbon makes it possible to offer doors with antagonistic opening, very rare in mass production.

The REx left the BMW catalog at the end of 2018. Meanwhile, the i3 had received several battery changes improving its range, and a restyling in 2017 accompanied by the launch of the 184 hp i3s. In its latest version, the BMW i3 can travel 305 km on a WLTP cycle charge, thanks to a 42.2 kWh accumulator.

BMW i3 interior
Elegant cabin and digital instrumentation were not yet widespread in 2013.

TO READ. Shopping Guide. Which electric car to choose in 2022?

The BMW i3 on the sales side

In total, BMW produced around 250,000 i3s. The 100,000-unit mark was reached in autumn 2017. Of the model’s 237,595 worldwide sales, 172,488 copies were delivered in Europe, including 14,479 in France. German had a very gradual commercial start in our market, going from 592 units sold in 2014 to 1,347 in 2016 to reach a peak of 2,956 registrations in 2019, ranking 4th.º electric sales in France between the Nissan Leaf and the Kia e-Niro. Then came the decline for 2021 926 sales, relegating it to 19º national classification in the “zero emission” segment. The i3s accounted for just over 10% of French deliveries.

Blue Road BMW i3
The facelift of the BMW i3, launched in 2017.

The iX1 and Mini Cooper SE to replace the i3

BMW i3 factory
The BMW i3 was produced in Germany, in Leipzig.

The BMW group is now developing an electric range that spans multiple segments through its various brands, from Mini to Rolls-Royce. The i3 will not have a direct replacement, its clientele being divided between the BMW iX1 and the Mini Cooper SE whose renewal is imminent.

The Munich-based manufacturer says it supports this strategy in feedback from i3 owners and potential customers. According to him, some are looking for a more spacious vehicle while others want a city car with a more consensual style.

red bmw i3
The more dynamic BMW i3s enriched range during restyling.

In March 2020, Stefan Sielaff, then design director at Bentley (since moving to Geely), spoke of the i3 in these terms to British journalists from around the world.Coach : ” As a designer, I admire BMW for making the i3. But if you talk to customers, they say they think it’s ugly. While the supply of electric vehicles is gradually homogenizing and the development of the charging network is decreasing the restriction of autonomy, who knows? The atypical BMW i3 could one day make it one of the first collectors of the electric age.

BMW i3 range
BMW sold 237,595 i3s worldwide.

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