One of the more interesting electric cars in the early 1990s was the German-designed BMW E1 and then the U.S.-designed E2, innovative yet mainstream looking vehicles that illustrated BMW electric vehicle aspirations. The E2 was slightly more compact than the futuristic-leaning BMW i3 ‘megacity’ electric car that was to come some 25 years later. It was 8 inches shorter, 6 inches narrower, and 5 inches lower than the i3, plus 700 pounds lighter. The E2’s ‘hot’ sodium-sulfur battery was projected to deliver a 161 mile driving range, about 8 miles farther than the i3. To enlighten readers on BMW’s early electric vehicle development efforts, we’re sharing the following article from the Green Car Journal archives as it originally appeared in the January 1992 issue.
Excerpted from January 1992 issue: BMW’s E1, an electric concept vehicle now undergoing road testing in Europe, has just been joined by a new U.S. variant. Introduced at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show, BMW’s new E2 prototype appears mainstream enough to be a mid-‘90s model. Its appearance is somewhat reminiscent of both a downsized minivan and sedan, leaning toward the look of Mitsubishi’s new 1992 Expo and LRV, and the Mitsu-built Eagle Summit.
E2: A Coming BMW Electric Vehicle?
Is this the precursor of a production model? We asked Robert Mitchel, product information manager of BMW of North America. “It’s a concept car,” Mitchell shares, “although it is fairly close to what a production car could be. Rather than taking a current 3 Series and modifying it as we have in the past, we’ve built this solely with the intent of designing a car that would satisfy consumer needs and potential legislation.”
Among the important consumer needs to be served is a handsome package, and the E2 does provide that. Lower ground effects panels, distinctive BMW grillework, and an aero exterior are distinct design features. While the initial E1 was designed in Germany by BMW Technik GmbH, the automaker turned to California-based Designworks/USA (which is 50 percent owned by BMW AG) for the U.S. version.
Designing the BMW E2
According to Designworks/USA president Chuck Pelly, the studio’s intent was to give the E2 a formidable stance, with strong wheel flares and tires moved outboard as much as possible. A more substantial hood and bumper system were also integrated. “It’s a totally new body,” adds Pelly, “that’s more traditionally BMW styled, with less reversals” than the original E1. It’s also longer, wider, and lower with a smoother overall shape.
Inside the E2 variant is seating for four with storage behind the rear seat. A rounded dash integrates driver and passenger side airbags and a speedometer, range indicator, and clock. Forward/reverse controls and an electric handbrake are also provided. Designworks/USA is currently working on a completely new and more luxurious interior for the E2.
Efficient But Not BMW Quick
Both rear drive models use a new Unique Mobility [UQM Technologies] brushless DC motor mounted at the rear axle. The 45 hp, motor is efficient, offering very respectable power by EV standards. But the E2’s acceleration numbers point to fairly sedate performance when compared to internal combustion vehicles.
Bottom line: Could the E2 sell if it were produced as a mid-‘90s model? Green Car Journal editors believe so, with a few caveats. Acceleration is passable for an EV utilizing current state-of-the-art technology. But a projected 15.6 second 0-50 mpg (80 kph) time may not be acceptable to the mainstream BMW buyer who expects sporting performance from his driving machine – even if the E2 does exhibit a typically upscale BMW image.
BMW-style performance is possible by combining more potent electric propulsion with the E2’s advantageous curb weight. Perhaps integrating twin UQM motors would do the job (90 hp total), or using an advanced generation motor available closer to the time the E2 could make it to market. The LRV’s 1.8-liter engine supplies 113 hp total, 1 hp less than the GM Impact prototype’s twin electric motors … so electric propulsion can offer the level of highway performance driver’s have come to expect. It doesn’t seem such a stretch to conjure visions of contemporary BMW performance from an ideally configured E2.