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Electric cars: SA one step closer

2013-05-23 13:05

NEW BEGINNINGS: They're on the way! Nissan SA will launch its electric vehicle, the Leaf, in September 2013 and BMW will bring the i8 in 2014. Image: Nissan SA

At least two automakers will launch battery cars into the local market by 2014, with the biggest obstacle to the success of the venture being more the agreement of a common charging infrastructure than the vehicles themselves.

This has been predicted for some time and I've publicly supported the electric car as a method of making life in our growingly congested cities more comfortable for occupants as well as playing a role in better using finite resources.

There have been many articles on ‘greening fleet vehicles’ and ‘greening companies’ over the last couple of years – and I need to reiterate my belief that the automobile is responsible for global warming.


It is a natural phenomenon that has come - and gone - countless times over the millennia and will continue to do so with or without humans on the planet – Mother Nature takes care of herself. What we do accept is that we can make life a lot more comfortable for ourselves while it is happening.

Predictions are more than 60% of Earth's growing population will – soon – be concentrated in urban environments and the sustainability of these metropolitan sprawls will be dictated by actions taken now, of which, the electric car is just a part.

With this as background, BMW recently hosted a series of workshops for media, government, transport and other stakeholders to both showcase its new generation hybrid cars and to provide a sneak preview of the all-electric i3 and i8 hybrid being launched locally in 2014.

Nissan SA, which will introduce the electric Leaf in September 2013, was also invited to be part of the discussions as the outcomes, concerns and suggestion of stakeholders will impact anyone going the electric route – not least of which, as mentioned, is a common charging system for public use.


With the world premiere of the BMW Concept ActiveE at the beginning of 2010, a year after presenting the Mini E, the BMW Group underscored the rapid and consistent continuation of its intensive research and development activities in the field of electric mobility. This concept has now become perceptible and tangible in the form of the ActiveE – and both these cars were available for guests to drive.

BMW i takes that concept to finality and is about the development of visionary vehicles and mobility services, inspiring design and a new understanding of premium that is strongly defined by sustainability. With BMW i, the BMW Group is adopting an all-embracing approach, redefining the understanding of personal mobility with purpose-built vehicle concepts, a focus on sustainability throughout the value chain and a range of complementary mobility services.

Previously known as the Megacity Vehicle, the BMW Group’s first series-produced all-electric car focuses squarely on the mobility challenges in urban areas and the BMW i8 Concept is a sports car of the most contemporary variety – forward-looking, intelligent and innovative. Its unique plug-in hybrid solution brings together a combustion engine and an electric drive to create an extraordinary driving experience complemented by extremely low fuel-consumption and emissions.


LifeDrive architecture renders the BMW i3 Concept light, safe, spacious and dynamic. Innovative use of materials and intelligent lightweight design enable the i3 Concept to travel long distances on a single charge and provide superb safety in the event of a collision.

The electric motor over the rear axle – which generates 125kW and  250Nm from standstill – and a small turning circle combine to deliver crisp driving characteristics. The use of renewable raw materials is another characteristic of the interior, with parts of the instrument panel and door panelling visibly made of natural fibres, while the body is made of carbon-fibre (like a Formula 1 car).

Connectivity functions create a seamless connection between the BMW i3 Concept and its customers’ lives outside the car. Remote functions accessible via a smartphone enable owners to find their vehicles, flag nearby charging stations, allow battery charging and preconditioning at the touch of a button, and supply information on the current status of the vehicle. Meanwhile, intelligent assistance systems ease the stress on drivers in monotonous city driving situations and allow them to arrive at their destination more safely and in a more relaxed state of mind.

The BMW i8 Concept plug-in hybrid combines the modified electric drive system from the BMW i3 Concept – fitted over its front axle – with a high-performance three-cylinder combustion engine producing 164kW/300Nm at the rear. Working in tandem, they allow the two drive systems to display their respective talents to the full, delivering the performance of a sports car but the fuel consumption of a small car.

Acceleration to 100km/h in less than five seconds combined with fuel consumption in the European cycle of less than three litres/100km are possible. Thanks to its large lithium-ion battery, which can be charged from a domestic power supply, the BMW i8 Concept can travel up to 35km on its battery pack. Added to which, the 2+2-seater offers enough space for four people, giving it a high level of everyday practicality.

BMW i SA manager Deena Govender says: "What we are seeing is a convergence of transport, energy and ‘IT’ that is very much network and data intensive."


This alludes to an additional range of mobility services – which can also be used independently of the cars – which will be an integral component of BMW i alongside the vehicles themselves. A totally new development in this area will be vehicle-independent mobility services. Here the focus is on solutions, which will improve usage of existing parking spaces, as well as intelligent navigation systems with local information, intermodal route planning and premium car-sharing.

In addition to service packages developed in-house, the BMW Group is pursuing co-operation with partner companies as well as strategic capital investments with providers of mobility services. BMW i Ventures was established with this purpose in mind. The company aims to expand the product portfolio of BMW i over the long term with stakes in highly innovative service providers, such as MyCityWay and ParkatmyHouse.

Sustainability has played a defining role in the BMW Group’s strategy and operations ever since the early 1970's. Since that time, many production processes have been optimised and many innovative technology packages incorporated into the company’s vehicles, which have significantly reduced emissions both during the manufacturing process and during the useful life of the vehicle.

However, sustainability is not confined solely to environmental issues. The BMW Group addresses all three dimensions of sustainability: environmental, economic and social.

For BMW i, sustainability is of vital importance, something to which it aspires throughout the value chain. From the earliest strategic and planning stages, therefore, clearly defined sustainability targets were set for the BMW i vehicles. All three sustainability aspects were addressed across the entire spectrum, from purchasing, development and production to sales and marketing.

The BMW i3 Concept proves beyond doubt how successfully these sustainability targets were achieved. The life-cycle global warming potential (CO2e) of the BMW i3 Concept, assuming a European electricity mix (EU 25), is at least a third lower than for a highly efficient combustion-engined vehicle in the same segment. If the vehicle is powered by renewable electricity, the improvement increases to well over 50%. Sustainability in the development process.

The BMW i3 Concept also has a high recycled material content: 25% of the thermoplastic components by weight have been replaced by recycled and renewable materials, while 10% of the CFRP in the Life module is likewise recycled.


The production plant for BMW i vehicles – Leipzig – will achieve additional 70% savings on water consumption and 50% savings on energy consumption per vehicle produced. Furthermore, 100% of the energy used in production of the BMW i will be renewable.

According to Fleet, further opportunity for reducing global warming potential across the entire product lifecycle can be achieved through a carefully focused purchasing strategy for the light materials aluminium and CFRP. Using aluminium produced from 100% renewable energy, also known as secondary aluminium, can achieve savings of 50 to 80% of CO2e compared with a conventional manufacturing process.

More than 80% of the aluminium used in the BMW i3 Concept is thus produced either using renewable energy or from secondary material. In CFRP manufacturing, too, BMW i always uses the most eco-friendly processes. The CFRP produced by joint-venture partner at the Moses Lake plant (USA) is made using electricity generated entirely from renewable hydroelectric power.

BMW i suppliers must likewise demonstrate their business practices are sustainable.

If mobility is geared to the demands of the future and to the needs of users, the Traffic Jam Assistant, on the i3, is the way to go. By letting the vehicle “go with the flow, it allows the driver to get to his destination in a more relaxed state of mind".

The Traffic Jam assistant maintains a specified following distance from the vehicle in front and in particularly heavy traffic can autonomously control the speed of the vehicle right down to a standstill while providing active steering input. This enables the vehicle to help the driver stay on course right up to a speed of 40 km/h – provided he keeps at least one hand on the steering wheel.

This, really, is the future of mobility.

Subscribe to Fleet Magazine. Email your details to colin@autonews.co.za. Subs: R250 pa

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