When the revised, 2017 BMW i3 electric vehicle ships this fall, its range jumps from 81 miles to 114 miles. The carbon fiber Bimmer is using a denser, more productive lithium-ion battery rated at 33 kWh, up from 22 kWh. It’s starting to look like 100 miles is the minimum acceptable range for new or revised electric-only vehicles going forward. That’s if they don’t get 200-plus miles of range. The days of EVs getting 80 miles of EPA-rated range on a good day are coming to a close.
The 2018 Nissan Leaf shipping in 2017 is expected to jump from 84 miles range to more than 200. The Tesla Model 3, with an announced late-2017 delivery, is projected at 215 miles. Similarly, plug-in hybrids such as the 2017 Chevrolet Volt are increasing their range on battery to more than 50 miles before the combustion engine kicks in.
According to BMW, the dimensions of the battery pack remain unchanged, but it’s now putting out half-again as many kilowatt hours as the initial i3. It is rated at 94 Ah (maximum draw). BMW says, “Even in everyday conditions, the new Battery Electric BMW i3, in varying weather conditions and with the air conditioning or heating turned on, a range of up to 114 miles combined (hwy/city) is possible as shown by independent BMW testing cycles.” Using the EPA’s ratings, the current 81-mile i3 is rated at 137 MPGe (137 MPGe city, 111 MPG3 highway), equal to consuming 27 kWh of electricity over 100 miles, or about $3 worth of electricity.
BMW is also unique in offering a tiny two-cylinder range extender (REx) gasoline engine addition to the i3, with a 25% larger 2.4-gallon gasoline tank that kicks in when the battery drops to 6.5% of charge. BMW says the range-extender i3 is meant to do just that — extend your range — and not be a long-distance propulsion source as on the Chevrolet Volt. Based on the current model’s 39 mpg gasoline rating, the combination would provide about 166 miles of range, based on an added 94 miles on gasoline plus 72 miles (not 81) on battery with the REx version that weighs about 300 pounds more.
BMW said the price will be set closer to product launch in the fall. The current i3 is $43,395 (including $995 freight), while the i3 Range Extender adds $3,850. BMW also said the battery can be removed and replaced by a dealer, but it’s not meant to be a quick-swap power module. It will be interesting to see if owners top BMW’s range projections. With the battery packing 50% more energy, simple math suggests the car would be capable of at least 122 miles.
About 120,000 electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids were sold in the US in 2015, led by the Tesla Model S with more than 25,000 sales. It gets 240-294 miles per charge, far better than any other EV currently sold, but it also costs twice as much as the other EVs. The Nissan Leaf (photo above) was second with 17,269 sales and its range was 84 miles pre-2016, 107 miles for the 2016 model, and a projected 200-plus miles for the 2018 model. The Chevrolet Volt PHEV was third with 15,393 sales, the BMW i3 fourth with 11,024, and the Ford fusion Energi PHEV fifth with 9,750.
The electric-only Fiat 500e, seventh overall in EV/PHEV sales, is rated at 87 miles of range. The Volkswagen e-Golf (photo inset), eighth overall, is rated at 83 miles. The Chevrolet Spark EV, 10th overall, has a rated range of 82 miles.
The EV-only 2017 Chevrolet Bolt, due at the end of this year, targets 200-plus miles of range.
The challenge for EVs with ranges around 80 miles is that there’s less leeway if something goes wrong: a detour, waiting in traffic with the heater or air conditioning on, plus wanting to have 10-20 miles of range in reserve. The limit of an out-and-back trip might restrict the car to a radius of 25 miles.
It will be interesting to see if producers of electric vehicles create two variants of their EVs: one with a range of around 100 miles and a second, costlier, version with a range of 200-plus miles. It’s possible there will be few, if any, takers for the 100-mile variants. Automakers say range anxiety is overblown, but buyers still aren’t sure. When the i3 first shipped, BMW said the lighter, nimbler EV-only i3 made more sense, and that anticipated sales of the EV and REx versions would be equally split. Now sales are running 80-20 in favor of the range-extender i3. Even as BMW tops 100 miles of range, it may feel heat from the 200-mile EVs.
With the 215-mile Tesla Model 3 slated to list at about $35,000, a 100-mile, electric-only competitor vehicle would have to sell for at least $7,500 less — perhaps $10,000 less — to garner much market share.