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by John Cadogan

The BMW i8 will spearhead a lineup of cool-but-green new BMWs due in Australia in 2014. Apparently, ‘i’ is the new green for BMW, which has trademarked the names ‘i1’ through ‘i9’ inclusive, as possible future green cars. The i8, when it arrives in Australia, will slot in at the absolute top of the BMW product lineup – which means it’ll cost you more than $300,000.


Its detractors will doubtless point out that $300K-plus is a lot of hoot, to start saving money on fuel. It’s, like, $275,000 more than an Econetic Fiesta, which means you’d never break even … not even if you drove to Pluto and back in it, 57 times.

Of course, that’s not the point. BMW is demonstrating, with i8, that green need not be boring, that clean, efficient future cars can have more emotional engagement than a toaster or tumble drier (or a Prius … same thing). New tech always slots in at the top of the market, expensively, and then gets rapidly cheaper – remember when 40-inch TVs were $10 grand? Same thing here.

The i8 is the production version – and logical extension – of the Vision EfficientDynamics concept car, which graced the Australian International Motor Show recently.

Although an Mi8 isn’t officially on the drawing boards, BMW says that when the i8 uses all the squirt available from both the internal combustion engine and its twin electric motors (one at each end) it will have the same kind of acceleration and top speed as today’s M3 – which most people would agree is beyond adequate. Part of that performance is obviously a product of the car’s advanced materials and construction delivering light kerb weight.

The new i8 also proposes to deliver sub-Prius fuel economy (though probably not at the same time as it’s delivering M3-like acceleration – that would be some neat kind of trick, however much it violated the first law of thermodynamics).

Basically, the i8 uses a big bank of lithium-polymer batteries running down the spine in the floorpan to power the electric side of the driveline. These can be plugged in to recharge overnight or while you’re at the office, but the car also reclaims some kinetic energy from dynamic braking (the way a ‘beige’ hybrid does today) and also uses a thermoelectric generator to turn waste exhaust heat into electricity.

When you take off an i8 in the morning you can leave silently, without tailpipe emissions, on electric power alone.

The i8 has been spied cold-weather testing in Europe, there’s video vision circulating the web of a version of it on the Abu Dhabi F1 track, and a rumour the production car will feature a petrol engine, as opposed to the three-cylinder turbocharged diesel  proposed in the Vision EfficientDynamics concept car. BMW R&D boss Klaus Draeger explained the decision to shift from diesel to petrol was made so that the i8 had broader global appeal, opining that diesel was really only relevant, in particular, to Europe.

Back in February BMW launched its new marketing slogan to support the ‘i’ sub-brand: ‘Born Electric’. BMW corporate headquarters buildings in Munich were illuminated with the new tag, together with the Munich Opera House and on several squares throughout the city. The traditional BMW roundel is also slightly modified on upcoming ‘i’-branded cars.

The BMW i8 will be launched globally shortly after the debut of the i3 – the production version of the Megacity concept car. Both ‘i’-branded vehicles will be built in BMW’s Leipzig manufacturing plant.




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