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bmw-13-chargingA movement to reduce air pollution and encourage alternative fuel transportation to National Parks has been launched by the National Park Foundation, National Park Service, Department of Energy, and BMW of North America. The first of up to 100 electric vehicle charging stations in national parks and nearby communities has just been launched at Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, New Jersey.

An integrated team from the public-private partnership is identifying park locations for more charging stations, taking into consideration distance from nearby charging locations, natural and cultural landscape considerations, and proximity and strength of EV markets. Already, dozens of parks are exploring site options. This partnership supports the National Park Foundation’s Centennial Campaign for America’s National Parks.

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.

What does Silicon Valley, California have in common with Leipzig, Germany?  They are both home to the most innovative, technically advanced, and possibly the most significant cars of the 21st century. The Tesla Model S and the BMW i3 are the cars that have defied experts who said they couldn't be built. While the key innovations for each of these cars are different, the innovative spirit is the same.

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With the Model S, Tesla created a breakout electric car out of mostly existing technology. What Tesla did better than other new entrant was put it together, what Silicon Valley calls ‘systems integration,’ into a remarkable package. With obsessive attention to detail and high standards for performance and styling, Elon Musk has emerged as the Steve Jobs of the auto industry and proven countless naysayers wrong.

With the i3, BMW created an affordable car out of an innovative material, carbon fiber, or technically speaking, ‘carbon fiber reinforced plastic.’ BMW has found a way to apply its manufacturing know-how to bring what was once an exotic material for supercars and fighter jets to an everyday car. Driven to not make just a ‘me too’ electric car, Ulrich Kranz, the father of the i3, has created a breakthrough car that, like the Model S, is receiving enthusiastic reviews from auto critics for its performance.

In the 20th century, the automobile shaped the world. In the 21st century, the world will shape the automobile. Today’s cars are a major source of urban air pollution, global warming emissions, and oil dependency.

Fortunately, there are those in the auto industry – like Mr. Musk and Dr. Kranz – who understand it doesn’t have to be this way. Technology innovation combined with visionary leadership can reinvent the automobile. Tesla’s Model S and BMW’s i3 prove that being more in balance with today’s global realities does not mean sacrificing what makes the auto industry great.

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BMW is planning to offer the i series of electric, plug-in hybrid, and range-extended electric vehicles beginning in late 2013. This entirely new model line will offer BMW’s usual focus on premium engineering and style, but critically, it will also feature a consistent focus on eco sustainability and urban living. BMW is serious enough about this to have worked with New York University to develop a report, ‘Urban Mobility in the 21st Century.’ The report finds that 80 percent of us drive less than 50 miles per day, and that by 2050 the world’s urban population will grow by 80 percent, from 3.5 billion to 6.3 billion. In short, BMW thinks we need cars that work in megacities and also don’t pollute.

The large volume, five-door i3 hatchback will be constructed of lightweight carbon-fiber reinforced plastic containing the i series ‘life’ passenger cell and ‘drive’ electric propulsion cell, powered by a 170 hp electric motor driving the rear wheels. A range-extender engine will be optional. In a departure for BMW, the i3 will have rear ‘coach doors’ hinged at the rear of the doors rather than the front, plus bench seats to make city living (and parking) easier.

The seductive, two seat i8 coupe/cabriolet combines the same lightweight engineering with a 131 hp electric motor driving the front wheels and a 223 hp, 1.5-liter 3-cylinder turbo gas engine at the rear. These powerplants can be used together or separately. The car’s combined 354 horsepower accelerates the i8 from 0 to 60 mph in under six seconds. The i8 also features an electric-only range of 20 miles, a top speed of 155 mph, and up to 80 mpg.

BMW’s long-term mobility plan seems a good one. It integrates lessons learned from data gleaned from its extensive Mini-E and ActiveE electric vehicle field trials and focuses on sustainable manufacturing, practicality, and pollution reduction in an entirely new series of vehicles. BMW’s new i series could be poised to make a huge impact on how electric vehicles are designed and built.