BMW engineers "snow drift" the i3 MegaCity Vehicle

The second of BMW's first two electric "i" vehicles (the hatchy one, not the sporty one) was caught on video during cold-weather testing in Sweden, where it's sustaining usage cycles that could punch out an ice road trucker.


The BMW i3, and its aluminum chassis and carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger cell, gets power from BMW's 150hp electric drive system. That's juice enough for a top speed of 90 mph and a range BMW says will be approximately 124 miles on a charge. BMW has said it plans to sell 30,000 i3 models per year, starting in 2013. Reports indicate the company's planning a big reveal for the first two i's at the Frankfurt motor show this fall.


C'mon guys, where's the J-turn?

(Thanks Andrus!)

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You know what really pisses me off about this BMW move towards creating these city cars? It’s actually a truly brilliant idea, and coming from me, who typically hates everything BMW has done since the beginning of the Bangle era, that’s one hell of an admission.

This is why I wish I could be the product planning guy at GM (though I recognize that doing so is a lot harder than it sounds).

Why GM?

A couple of reasons, really. First off, my family have long been GM people. Secondly, GM is positioned just right to do this. The bailout has happened, and given them the chance to wipe the slate. Most of the negative perception as a result of the bailout has already been forgotten by the masses. They have a history of producing the first quasi-successful attempt at building a commercially viable electric vehicle, and they just produced one hell of an impressive piece of car with the Volt. Vintage and retro are in. Combine that with the fact that rooting for Detroit and "American institutions" (and yes, I do say that with some sarcasm at the proletarian concept of what it means to be ‘murican) is slowly starting to become the hip thing to do, GM has a little bit of momentum. Now they need to build on it.

There are several ways in which I would build on that momentum if I were GM, but I’ll stick with the one that’s relevant here: creating a sub-brand of hybrid/alternative fuel city cars.

Here’s what I would have done:

Step 1: Revive a vintage GM nameplate for the new brand, one that isn’t remembered by anyone alive as anything other than an old name that had cool old badges associated with it. In this instance, I would have chosen to revive the Oakland nameplate.

Step 2: Develop a common sub-compact platform for use across GM brands with the flexibility to support multiple forms of drivetrain, including pure ICE, hybrid, and pure electric, and the flexibility to use FWD or RWD. Think that’s too tall of an engineering/manufacturing order to be realistic? Check out the Ford Transit Connect, which, in Europe at least, can be had with RWD. It has also already demonstrated the ability to support an all-electric powertrain. And it’s compact.

Step 3: Take that platform, and base three Oakland-specific vehicles on it: a small car, a small trucklet, and a small van. Use vintage design themes, taking particular inspiration from 30s/40s designs, both stock and hot rod, as those are mysteriously starting to become cool to hipsters (the target audience, which will be discussed more shortly). Make those cars basic and inexpensive. As in, these cars don’t need things like iDrive, Sync, OnStar, MyGig, seat warmers, twelve-way power-adjustable mirrors, automatic butt wipers, or crap like that. They need seats, seatbelts, steering wheels, pedals, traditional instrumentation, and AC. That’s about it. They don’t need fancy infotainment options like high-end sound set ups. Let’s face it: kids who are serious about that sort of thing will generally rip out the factory system and replace it anyways. They only need the ability to support them should their prospective owners decide to install them.

Step 4: As I’ve already alluded to, young hipsters are the target audience here. They want to be cool, but they also want to look like they are being green. They have an aversion to the obnoxious levels of luxury toys that their parents have, and prefer simplicity. They don’t know the first goddamn thing about fixing a car, so if you keep the car simple, they’ll have a lot less to worry about. Make the cars affordable, as the hipster generation is being hit the hardest by this whole unemployment thing. Give them the cars that fit their needs and their self-image.

Then give them the ownership experience that does the same. Don’t create dealerships that showcase a whole crapload of cars on the lot; it just confuses customers and adds a lot of overhead cost for the dealers. Instead, have a dealership that has a few representative examples on premises available for basic evaluations like seat comfort, test drives, etc., then have a bunch of "Customization Centers" where a kid that’s a potential buyer can sit down at in front of an iMac or something, configure a car, compare it to competitors, and buy it on the spot. Sound unrealistic? Ducati already proved that it can be done quite effectively.

Create separate dealerships that are infinitely more than just dealerships: they’re hang out places. They’re cafés. They’re coffee shops. They’re venues for young, aspiring indy musicians and artists on weekends. They’re wi-fi hot spots. They’re study areas. They’re meeting places for book clubs or poetry clubs. And if the people that hang out there happen to be owners of one of these theoretical new Oakland cars, they get some other little perks as well; like, say, charging stations with a discount on the electricity versus what they would have to pay for the electricity at home. Make the electricity a commodity, and then show them how you can benefit they’re demand for that commodity. Maybe they also get discounts on the coffee/food at the café, or free wi-fi. Little things like that don’t cost a whole lot to the dealer, but mean a lot to the kids.

Open dealerships in urban areas where there is a large population of the target audience. Think cities like Seattle, Oakland (No pun intended), San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Bethesda, New York, Las Vegas, etc. Cities like that have a large population of well-educated youth, have a premium on space, and have plenty of infrastructure options.

Step 5: Profit. Fucking profit.

You’ve reached a target audience, given them a product that suits their lifestyle and self-image, and an ownership experience to match.

It also just so happens that you’ve created a common sub-compact platform that can be used by multiple other brands very effectively, lowered your overhead costs, boosted the market for hybrid/alternative fuel vehicles, increased pressure on cities to build greater infrastructure to support hybrid/alternative fuel vehicles (thus allowing you to make even more of them), invited a whole new generation of car buyers into the fold, boosted your green credentials, offset the negative impact of cars like the Corvette and Camaro to CAFÉ standards, grown your customer base, and come out of it all looking like a smart, lean company with an eye towards the future.

Make no mistake, that’s exactly the image that BMW is going for right now. They may be going about it a slightly different way, but that’s what they’re after. The bitch of it is that GM could absolutely, positively school them at it. Like the Romans that had everything they needed to make a steam engine sitting in front of their faces, GM has everything it needs to create and utterly dominate an all-new market niche. But like the Romans, I doubt they’ll figure it out.