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bmw-i3-front-2Green Car Journal editors previously experienced 10,000 miles of driving in BMW’s i3, with those miles behind the wheel of a 2015 i3 REx several years ago. We were convinced then, as we are now, that BMW’s i3 is an indispensable, right-sized urban car that’s not only super-efficient to drive around crowded city environs but loads of fun as well.

Chalk that up to its easy maneuverability, great handling, and lightweight construction using a carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) body over an aluminum and CFRP passenger cell. Plus, of course, there’s the instant torque and surprisingly quick launch provided by the i3’s 170 horsepower electric motor. The i3 became our go-to vehicle for everyday drives.

bmw-i3-rearNow, two years later, we’re 7,500 miles into a long-term test of a 2017 BMW i3 REx and experiencing even more satisfying results. While driving range in the earlier i3 was limited to 81 miles on the model’s 22 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, or 72 miles on batteries with an overall range of 150 miles using electricity from its REx gasoline engine-generator, those numbers substantially increased in the 2017 model year i3 we’ve been driving.

We knew from the start that BMW hit upon something extraordinary with its range-extended REx i3 variant. Simply, BMW recognized that range is a big issue with drivers considering an electric vehicle, and while the i3’s electric range is suitable for a great many drivers, the confidence of extending range with a small engine-generator is real. With the REx variant, most driving can be done exclusively on battery power for convenient, efficient, and zero-emission transport. Occasional trips beyond the i3’s battery range are possible with electricity produced by the REx system.

bmw-i3-displaysWhile a 22 kWh battery pack still powers the 2017 base model, BMW reengineered the 2017 i3 with an optionally available 94 kWh battery pack for greater battery electric range, plus an available REx variant with a slightly larger 2.4 gallon gas tank. The result is notable. The 2017 i3 with the larger battery offers an EPA estimated 114 miles on battery power. Opting for the 2017 i3 REx variant delivers an EPA estimated 97 miles of battery range (somewhat less than the electric-only model due to the REx system’s additional weight), and 180 miles of overall driving with the range extender.

We did find that the shorter 72 mile battery range of our 2015 i3 REx found us using the range extender somewhat regularly. With the longer 97 mile range we’ve only been into the range extender a few times, other than those times the range extender was required to automatically run for service since we hadn't been using it. Yes, it’s only a difference of 15 additional battery electric miles, but with our everyday routes and driving habits those additional miles have made a difference.

bmw-i3-interior-1The i3 is a kick to drive and we tend to smile a lot as our off-the-line acceleration regularly surprises others between traffic lights. The twin displays offer easy-to-reference information and controls are intuitive. For such a small car, the i3 provides a surprising amount of headroom and overall passenger comfort. The trunk is small but adequate for our everyday needs. Charging with our wall-mounted 240-volt charger is a breeze. It's also economical since we set the i3 to charge at off-peak times and enjoy a discounted electric vehicle rate from our local electric utility.

Green Car Journal editors continue to find our 2017 BMW i3 tester a favored go-to vehicle for daily drives because it’s fun and easy to drive in addition to being clean and economical. We expect that will continue to be the case in the months ahead because it's a combination that’s just hard to beat.

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bmw-i3-sideThe BMW i8, the second milestone model to emerge as part of BMW’s innovative ‘i’ sub-brand, earned the distinction as Green Car Journal’s 2015 Luxury Green Car of the Year™ at the recent Washington Auto Show in the nation’s capital. There are compelling reasons for this.

BMW’s flagship i8 not only breaks new ground in defining how a high performance vehicle can achieve environmental goals, but it does so in ways that do not impose limitations on the driving experience. Importantly, this car fits BMW's ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ image while providing levels of environmental performance increasingly appealing to those buying aspirational vehicles.

bmw-i8-gull-wing-doors-upBMW i8 LIFEDRIVE ARCHITECTURE

Beneath its stunning, gull-winged body is BMW’s innovative LifeDrive modular architecture. The Life module is essentially the i8's 2+2 passenger compartment constructed primarily of strong and lightweight carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP), created with carbon fiber manufactured at a dedicated SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers LLC facility in the State of Washington. The result of a joint venture between SGL Group and BMW Group, this manufacturing plant strengthens the i8’s environmental credentials further by producing carbon fiber using renewable hydroelectric energy.

The i8’s aluminum Drive module contains the gasoline engine, lithium-ion battery pack, electric motor, and associated electronic components. It uses a 228 horsepower, 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine to power the rear wheels through a six-speed direct shift transmission. Front wheels are driven by a 129 horsepower electric motor and two-stage automatic gearbox. Energy is supplied by a 7.1-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack located within a tunnel between the two front seats. It can be fully charged in just an hour and a half.

i8-rolling-chassisPower can be provided solely by the electric motor for about 22 miles of zero-emission driving at speeds up to 75 mph. Together, the rear-mounted engine and front electric motor deliver all-wheel drive performance with a combined maximum power of 357 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. Drivers are afforded the latest in advanced on-board electronics and safety systems expected in this class of vehicle.

Driving the i8 at speed provides a clear understanding of just what BMW has accomplished with its lightweight, high-tech luxury sports coupe. Green Car Journal editors found the i8’s handling superb and performance exhilarating. BMW’s Driving Dynamics Control allows choices of eDRIVE, ECO PRO, SPORT, and COMFORT drive settings. In Sport mode, the i8 can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and deliver a top speed of 155 mph. Driving range is 310 miles under normal driving conditions. Engine overrun and regenerative braking are used to charge the battery pack and a start-stop feature helps conserve energy.

bmw-i8-cabinThe BMW i8 blends thrilling performance, innovative design, and environmental achievement in an exceptional luxury sports coupe, while offering a combined EPA city/highway battery electric efficiency rating of 76 MPGe (miles-per-gallon equivalent). Its DNA is 'green' by nature and design, making it a natural selection for 2015 Luxury Green Car of the Year™.

PrintFor a decade, Green Car Journal has been recognizing vehicles that significantly raise the bar in environmental performance. With automakers stepping up to offer ever-more efficient and ‘greener’ vehicles in all classes, the magazine’s awards program has naturally expanded to include a greater number of awards for recognizing deserving vehicles.

This prompted the recent suite of Green Car Awards presented during Policy Day at the Washington Auto Show in the nation’s capital – the 2015 Green SUV of the Year™, 2015 Green Car Technology Award™, and 2015 Luxury Green Car of the Year™.

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BMW’s gull-wing i8 earned the distinction as the 2015 Luxury Green Car of the Year, outshining competitors Audi A8 L TDI, Cadillac ELR, Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, and Tesla Model S. Aimed at aspirational buyers who value superb styling and exceptional performance combined with the efficiency of plug-in hybrid drive, the i8 is unique among its peers with an advanced carbon fiber passenger body shell. It also features a lightweight aluminum drive module with a gasoline engine, lithium-ion batteries, and electric motor. The i8 can drive on battery power for 22 miles and up to 310 miles on hybrid power.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel rose to the top as the magazine’s 2015 Green SUV of the Year, besting finalists Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, Lexus NX 300h, and Mazda CX-5. Offering excellent fuel efficiency for an SUV of its size, the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel’s 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 offers up to 30 highway mpg and is approved for B20 biodiesel use. An Eco Mode optimizes the 8-speed transmission’s shift schedule, cuts fuel feed while coasting, and directs the air suspension system to lower the vehicle at speed for aerodynamic efficiency.

jeep-grand-cherokee-ecodiesel-winnerThe Ford F-150 was honored with the 2015 Green Car Technology Award for its milestone use of an all-aluminum body. Competing for the award were advanced powertrains in the BMW i3, BMW i8, Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel, Ford F-150, Honda Fit, Kia Soul EV, Tesla Model S, VW e-Golf, and Volvo Drive-E models. The F-150’s aluminum body enables the all-new 2015 pickup model to shed up to 700 pounds for greater efficiency and performance.

While the Green Car Technology Award has a history at the Washington Auto Show, the first-time Green SUV of the Year and Luxury Green Car of the Year awards could not have existed just a short time ago. Simply, SUVs and luxury vehicles were seldom considered ‘green,’ and for good reason. An SUV/crossover’s mission was to provide family transport and recreational capabilities, while aspirational/luxury vehicles were expected to deliver the finest driving experience combined with high-end appointments and exceptional design. Both categories held few environmental champions and ‘green’ was hardly an afterthought.

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The evolving nature of ‘green’ cars has brought about a fundamental shift in which environmental performance is now important in SUVs and luxury vehicles. Even so, not all models in these classes are created equal. The challenge has been finding the right balance – the ‘sweet spot’ – that finds SUVs and luxury vehicles delivering the efficiency and environmental qualities desired without sacrificing the conventional touchstones – quality, safety, luxury, value, performance and functionality – that consumers demand. This year’s winners of the 2015 Green Car Awards clearly achieve this balance.

Presenting these important awards at the Washington Auto Show is compelling considering its reputation as the ‘Policy Show,’ a result of the show’s proximity to Capitol Hill and the influence that Washington DC has in driving a more efficient generation of vehicles to market. The 2015 Washington Auto Show has also expanded in recent years, receiving accreditation from the Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs d'Automobiles (OICA) as one of the five top tier auto shows in America. This year’s Washington Auto Show featured more than 700 vehicles from over 42 domestic and import auto manufacturers, plus a Green Car Awards exhibit showcasing 15 finalist vehicles within the show’s Advanced Technology Superhighway exhibit area.

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3d-printed-carThe evolving world of 3D printing is nothing less than astonishing. Today, 3D printing is being used to help create everything from body parts to car parts. As demonstrated at last year’s SEMA Show, an entire car can also be created in real time and driven off under its own power. Now students at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have built the first solar electric car with a 3D-printed body shell that has 150 individually 3D printed parts.

Mounted on a carbon fiber chassis and designed from scratch by NTU undergraduates, the solar NV8 and companion NV9 three-wheeled racer were built within a year at the Innovation Lab housed at the School of Mechanical and Aerospace engineering. The team’s 16 students and mentor Associate Professor Ng Heong Wah collaborated with various NTU schools and research centers, plus sponsors and institutions including Stratasys, Creatz3D, and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART).

The cars will race in the Shell Eco-Marathon Asia hosted in Manilla at the end of this month. According to the mechanical engineering students Kam Sen Hao and Ng Jun Wen who designed the NV8, the solar car was originally envisioned to feature a supercar design but the competition’s dimensional requirements resulted in a more sensible micro-car with vertical opening doors.

2015-green-car-of-the-year-logoOver the 10 year history of Green Car Journal’s Green Car of the Year award program, there has never been a battery electric car that has been compelling enough to be recognized as the best-of-the-best in an ever-expanding field of ‘green’ cars. That has changed with the groundbreaking BMW i3, Green Car Journal’s 2015 Green Car of the Year®.

The BMW i3 came out on top of a field of finalists that included the Audi A3 TDI, Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel, Honda Fit, and VW Golf. The array of technologies and fuels represented included high efficiency gasoline, electric drive, clean diesel, and natural gas.

bmw-13-action-rightBMW’s i3 stands out as one of the most innovative vehicles ever to be introduced by any major automaker. It breaks the mold – literally – with a strong and lightweight body using materials and technology at home on the race track, and now used for the first time to construct a mainstream production car. It is a milestone, forward-thinking approach.

Meeting both near-term and far-reaching goals is no easy thing. The challenge is to design and build cars that offer meaningful environmental achievement while delivering the traditional touchstones desired by new car buyers, among them comfort, safety, convenience, connectivity, performance, and value. Also important in the world of advanced vehicles like battery electric cars is a significant commitment to the manufacturing and sale of these vehicles that goes beyond a few thousand units sold in select geographical areas. BMW’s commitment with the i3 is focused not only nationally in the U.S., but globally as well.

bmw-i3-cutawayOffering a lightweight carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) body on an aluminum space frame, BMW’s innovative i3 brings environment-conscious drivers all-electric drive with an optional internal combustion range extender. The most unique aspect of the i3 is the car’s body structure, which incorporates the first-ever use of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) to form the body and passenger cabin of a mass-production vehicle. CFRP is as strong as steel and 50 percent lighter. It is also 30 percent lighter than aluminum.

This BMW’s drive module includes an electric drivetrain, 5-link rear suspension, and an aluminum structure. Its lithium-ion battery pack is mounted mid-ship beneath the floor. Strategic placement of the 450 pound battery pack and drive components provides a very balanced 50-50 weight distribution to enhance handling and performance.

bmw-i3-dashAcceleration is crisp, with a 0-60 elapsed time of 7.2 seconds provided by an electric motor producing 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft torque. With a curb weight of just 2,700 pounds, the i3 has is sprightly even at highway speeds. Strong regenerative braking characteristics often allow the i3 to be driven with just the accelerator pedal in city driving. When a driver lets off the accelerator, regen slows the car quickly and allows it to come to a complete stop without touching the brake pedal.

Charging at home with an available 220 volt charger delivers a full charge in about three hours. Where available, public DC fast charging can bring an i3 to 80 percent state-of-charge in 20 minutes and a full charge in 30 minutes. The i3 BEV features an 81 mile EPA estimated range on batteries. The i3 REx, equipped with an internal combustion range extender that creates on-board electricity as needed to help keep batteries charged, features a 72 mile battery driving range and 150 miles total with the range extender.

bmw-i3-chargingEfficiency is a given. EPA rates the i3’s city fuel economy at 137 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) and 111 MPGe on the highway, with a combined 124 MPGe. For the REx-equipped model, EPA rates mileage at 117 MPGe combined.

The 2015 Green Car of the Year® is selected by a majority vote of an award jury comprised of Green Car Journal staff and invited jurors, including TV personality and car aficionado Jay Leno plus leaders of the nation’s most high-profile environmental and efficiency organizations. These jurors include Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of Ocean Futures Society; Matt Petersen, board member of Global Green USA; Mindy Lubber, President of CERES; Kateri Callahan, President of the Alliance to Save Energy; and Dr. Alan Lloyd, President emeritus of the International Council on Clean Transportation.

bmw-i3-side-doorsThe diversity of new car models at showrooms today reflects an evolving and sophisticated market in which a growing number of new car buyers have decided that environmental performance must meet their needs and expectations, on their terms. As it happens, 2015 Green Car of the Year jurors have clearly decided that this year, the electric BMW i3 does it best.

 

It is an exciting time to be involved with the auto industry, or to be in the market for a new car. The auto industry has responded splendidly to the challenge of new emission, fuel economy, and safety standards. The public is offered a greater than ever selection of vehicles with different powertrains, lightweight materials, hybrids, and electric drive vehicles across many platforms. We see increasing numbers of clean diesel vehicles and natural gas is making a resurgence, especially in the heavy-duty sector.

alan-lloydThe positive response by the auto industry to the ever-tightening pollutant emission and fuel economy standards includes tactics such as the use of aluminum in the Ford F-150 and the increased use of carbon fiber by BMW, among many innovations introduced across many models and drivetrains. These evolutionary changes are a major tribute to the automobile engineers who are wringing out the most they can in efficiency and reduced emissions from gasoline and diesel engines. I view this evolutionary change as necessary, but not sufficient to meet our greenhouse gas goals by 2050.

New car ownership is currently down in Europe and is leveling off in the U.S. For global automotive manufacturers, however, this trend is offset by the dramatic growth in places like China and India. The potential for dramatic growth in the developing world is clearly evident: In the U.S., there are about 500 cars per thousand people, compared to about 60 and 20 in China and India, respectively.

How can these trends be reconciled with the environmental and health concerns due to climate change and adverse air quality in the developing world? The evidence for climate change accumulates by the day. Hazardous air quality in many major cities in China has drawn global attention, providing a visual reminder of how far the developed world has come and how much environmental protection needs to be accelerated in the developing world. Damaging air pollution is increasingly seen as a regional and even worldwide challenge. Dramatic economic growth in many developing countries is generating pollution that knows no boundaries. Air pollution from China, for example, fumigates Korea and Japan and is even transported across the Pacific to impact air quality in California and other Western states.

It will take a revolutionary change to provide personal mobility without unacceptable energy and environmental consequences. As a recent National Academy of Sciences (NAS) document states, it is likely that a major shift to electric drive vehicles would be required in the next 20 to 30 years. Electric drive vehicles, coupled with renewable energy, can achieve essentially zero carbon and conventional pollutant emissions. The NAS report also predicted that the costs of both battery and fuel-cell electric vehicles would be less than advanced conventional vehicles in the 2035-2040 timeframe.

This transition will not occur overnight and we will be driving advanced conventional vehicles for many years to come. In a study for the International Council on Clean Transportation, Dr. David Greene calculated that the transition could take 10 to 15 years, requiring sustained investment in infrastructure and incentives in order to achieve sustained penetration. While this investment is not inexpensive, it is projected that the benefits of this investment will be 10 times greater than the costs.

So where do we stand today on electric vehicles? We are seeing an unprecedented number of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric vehicles across many drivetrains and models. There were about 96,000 plug-in electric vehicles sold or leased in the U.S. last year and more than 10 new PEV models are expected this year. While the sales fall short of some optimistic projections, it is an encouraging start after many years of more hope than delivery. The FC EV is expected to see significant growth after the initial limited introduction of fuel cells in the 2015-2017 timeframe by five major automobile companies.

It will take many years of sustained increasing penetration into new car sales to make this revolution a success. It is indeed a marathon and not a sprint. The challenge is how to ensure sustained sales of electric drive vehicles in the face of the many attributes of advanced technology conventional vehicles.  Electric drive vehicle drivetrains have an affinity with the increasing amount of electronics on board the vehicle, which might ultimately yield very interesting, capable, and competitive vehicles.

I have little doubt that if we are serious about our energy, environmental, and greenhouse gas goals the revolution in technology will occur. All the major automobile companies seem to recognize this in their technology roadmap, which includes advanced conventional vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles, battery and fuel cell electric vehicles.

In conclusion, the next 20 years promise to be equally as challenging and exciting as the last 20 years. I have little doubt that the automobile engineers are up to the task ahead, but whether we have the political fortitude to stay the course to achieve the necessary air pollution and GHG reductions is far less certain.

Dr. Alan Lloyd is President Emeritus of the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). He formerly served as Secretary of CalEPA and Chairman of the California Air Resources Board.

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audi-laserlightIlluminating the road ahead is a crucial element in driving. It’s also one that has long benefitted from technological innovation. To this end, Audi celebrates the evolution of automotive lighting with its Sport quattro laserlight concept car. The high performance, two-door, Plasma Red coupe harkens back to the iconic 1983 Sport quattro even as it’s abundant advanced technology and design cues point to the future.

The laserlight concept is named for its future lighting technologies. Two low-profile trapezoidal elements are visible within the headlights. An outer one generates low beam light using matrix LEDs and an aperture mask, while an inner element produces laser light for the high-beam.

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Laser diodes are significantly smaller than LED diodes, only a few microns in diameter. They can illuminate the road for a distance of nearly 1,640 feet, approximately twice the lighting range with three times the luminosity of LED high beam lights. This technology is finding use in the 2014 R18 e-tron quattro for track duty.

Motivating the laserlight concept is a 4.0-liter, bi-turbo V-8 TSFI (turbo stratified fuel injection) engine and a disc-shaped electric motor located between the engine and transmission. The V-8 produces 560 horsepower and 516 pound-feet torque, with the electric motor contributing an additional 148 horsepower and 295 pound-feet torque. A modified eight-speed Tiptronic transmission is mated to the quattro drivetrain with a sport differential at the rear axle.

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Electrical energy is stored in a 14.1 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery, sufficient for 31 miles of all-electric driving. When the V-8 and electric motor are working together, the Audi Sport quattro laserlight concept can accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in 3.7 seconds. Top speed is 189 mph. This impressive performance comes with an equally impressive 94 US mpg fuel economy. This is achieved in part through its electric plug-in operation in addition to a cylinder on demand system that deactivates four cylinders of the V-8 under partial load. Also helping is a start-stop system and several levels of regen braking to enhance driving dynamics.

Drivers can switch between three different modes. In EV mode, just the electric motor operates with sufficient high torque power, even outside the city. The active accelerator pedal indicates the transition by a change in pedal resistance so a driver can intentionally influence the mode selection. The Hybrid mode provides optimal interplay between the V-8 and the electric motor for best fuel-savings, and additionally incorporates environmental and route data. A driver can choose the Hold and Charge modes to ensure sufficient electrical energy is available for electric-only driving at their destination. There are different levels of regenerative braking to enhance the driving experience.

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The laserlight’s multifunction sport steering wheel has buttons to control the hybrid drive, start-stop function, vehicle handling system, and the car’s virtual cockpit. Key information is shown on the large Audi TFT display in high-resolution 3D graphics. A cutting-edge Nvidia Tegra 30 processor handles the graphics.

Nearly all functions can be controlled from the further-developed MMI mounted on the center console. Its large rotary pushbutton, which also serves as a touchpad, can be pushed in four directions. It’s surrounded on three sides by four buttons that control the main menu, submenus, options, and a back function. The intuitive layout is similar to a smart phone with all frequently used functions accessed lightning fast.

Lightweight design plays a major role in the Audi laserlight concept’s dynamic performance. A combination of ultra high-strength steel sheet and structural elements of cast aluminum is used in the occupant cell. The doors and fenders are made of aluminum, with the roof, engine hood, and rear hatch and other components made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP). Thus, the concept weighs 4,079 pounds including the weight of the large battery pack.

 

bmw-i3-production-aRace car designers go to extreme measures to make competition vehicles as light as possible. Lighter is faster. It’s simple physics; less horsepower is required to accelerate a light vehicle compared to a heavy one. So on a given amount of horsepower, a lighter race car will be faster than one that weighs even a few pounds more. It also takes less energy to slow the car, providing better braking performance. A lighter car will generally handle better, too, since there is less mass working on the chassis through the corners.

Lighter vehicles are also more environmentally friendly since they require less energy to move from point A to point B. Shaving a few hundred pounds off a car design can yield major improvements in fuel economy. In addition to improved mileage, electric vehicles will see longer range between charges if they can be made lighter.

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Trimming pounds off a production car is not as easy as it seems, however. Today’s road worthy vehicles must feature hundreds of pounds of federally mandated safety equipment that wasn’t required or available a few decades ago. Equipment like antilock brake systems, multiple airbags, advanced computer controls, and crash mitigating high-strength body structures all add weight to a vehicle design. Pile on the comfort and convenience equipment that most new car buyers expect in a modern car or light truck and the extra bulk adds up fast.

That’s why vehicle designs like the new BMW i3 and i8 are so intriguing. These models are revolutionary for mass production vehicles, featuring clean sheet designs that found BMW designers throwing traditional materials and production methods out the window, resulting in lightweight electric-drive cars with maximum strength for safety.

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For example, the i3’s primary body and chassis structure are composed of two separate units that form what BMW calls the LifeDrive architecture. The primary body structure is the Life module and the Drive module incorporates the powertrain components. The passenger cell module is made from Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic, or CFRP. This is the first ever use of CFRP in a mass production vehicle. Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic is every bit as strong as steel yet is 50 percent lighter. When you can trim half the weight off something as large as a body structure, you are talking major weight savings.

Aluminum has been used as a lightweight material in the transportation industry for many years. The i3’s rear Drive module that houses the electric drive motor, rear suspension, and optional range extending gasoline engine is made of aluminum. While both are light and strong, Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic is even 30 percent lighter than aluminum. Materials throughout the i3 were selected for their weight saving properties and for their sustainability characteristics.

bmw-i3-doors-openBeneath the flat floor (there is no transmission tunnel) of the i3 is a space-saving 22-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that tips the scales at 450 pounds. Power is delivered by a hybrid synchronous electric motor. The motor produces 170 horsepower with 184 lb-ft torque and can spin up to 11,400 rpm. The compact electric motor offers immediate torque and weighs just 110 pounds. With a curb weight of just 2,700 pounds, the i3 is nimble and great fun to drive. As in racing, automakers strive to save weight because it gives them a competitive edge. Sometimes, less is more.

carbon-fiberCan cost-efficient carbon fiber be created from renewable, non-food-based feedstocks like agricultural residues and woody biomass? The Department of Energy believes so and is now putting up $12 million in funding to help make it happen. The agency says that carbon fiber created from biomass offers greater environmental benefits than traditional carbon fiber produced from natural gas or petroleum, and also believes it may be less costly to manufacture.

Lightweighting is a growing trend in auto manufacturing as one of many strategies to help create more efficient vehicles. Advanced materials like carbon fiber may play an important role if this material can be created more sustainably and, importantly, more affordably. DOE points out that reducing vehicle weight just 10% can improve fuel economy by 6% to 8%. More information is available at DOE’s Funding Opportunity Exchange website.

Lightweighting vehicles is a big deal. The lighter the car, the less relative energy required to move it down the road. This thinking has been influencing car design and manufacturing for some time now as automakers strive to make models with higher fuel efficiency, but the momentum has increased because of the much higher mpg that will be required from automakers in the years ahead. Now, each and every part of a car is examined for lightweighting potential and new answers are emerging all the time.

Take the new ultra lightweight car door solution devised by ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel and mining company and supplier to many auto manufacturers. In a world where lightweight aluminum, plastics, and other materials vie for roles once exclusively played by steel, it’s no wonder that steel companies have a vested interest in illustrating how advanced steel can continue to dominate.

ArcelorMittal’s lightweight car door example demonstrates that using steels and technology currently available, a 27 percent weight and cost saving can be achieved without compromising safety and structural requirements. But it gets better. The company also points out that its global research and development team has identified that even greater door weight savings of up to 34 percent is achievable with new advanced high strength steels and technology that will emerge during the next few years.

How important is this? The current 27 percent weight reduction of a baseline C-segment door using high strength steels and ultra-high strength steels decreases weight from about 40 pounds to 29 pounds. Considering that automotive weight savings is typically measured in grams, this is a significant weight reduction for a single automotive application.