BMW plugged into electric cars before Tesla's Elon Musk was born

BMW i3 electric car, charging on location.
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BMW i3 electric car, charging on location.

So you think that the traditional car manufacturers are scrambling to get on board this electric car thing that Tesla started a few years back?

Think again, because they have been doing it a wee bit longer than that.

Take BMW, for example: while the i3 may be a relatively new entrant, the German company has been experimenting with electric power and perfecting the EV since before Elon Musk was born.

Batteries in the engine bay of the BMW 1602 with electric drive.
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Batteries in the engine bay of the BMW 1602 with electric drive.

 

Here are five previous BMW EVs that paved the way for the latest pure-electric i3.

BMW 1602 Electric (1972)

The 1602 Electric of 1972 had massive batteries and a tiny range. Back to the drawing board.
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The 1602 Electric of 1972 had massive batteries and a tiny range. Back to the drawing board.

Back in 1969 BMW started investigating the idea of electric propulsion to see if it was suitable for the demands of daily driving.

While they were never actually produced for sale, BMW made several 1602 EVs for testing and evaluation. The cars packed a Bosch DC electric motor with a continuous output of just 12kW, a top speed of 100kmh and a range of 30km. The motor weighed 85kg, but the 12 lead-acid batteries in the engine bay weighed a massive 350kg, leading BMW to realise that serious advances in battery tech were needed before the electric car would become viable.

325iX (1987)

Electric 325iX of 1987 was actually front-drive. Move over Mini.
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Electric 325iX of 1987 was actually front-drive. Move over Mini.

After another experiment in 1975 with the BMW LS Electric that was in many ways similar to the 1602 Electric, BMW started looking at the then-new sodium-sulphur (NaS) batteries for the future of its EVs.

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The company converted a number of 325iX all-wheel drive wagons into front-drive EVs for the company's first ever external trials - supplying them to the German postal service between 1987 and 1990. The electric 325s had a range of 150km and it was also the first time BMW used advanced management software to monitor charging, energy flow between the motor and battery and to deal with the heat generated by it all.

325 Electric (1992)

When eight examples of the 325i Electric were tested in 1992, it was then the world's largest EV trial.
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When eight examples of the 325i Electric were tested in 1992, it was then the world's largest EV trial.

BMW continued playing around with the whole electric idea, showing the E1 and E2 concepts at shows between 1991 and 1993, but the next real world BMW EV came in 1992 with 25 electric 3-series sedans.

Eight of these cars took part in what was then the world's largest public EV trial, when six went to the Bavarian State government. With "rotating field" AC motors and using several different kinds of battery packs (sodium-sulphur, sodium-nickel and nickel-cadmium), the best of the 325 EVs had a range of 150km and a top speed of 135km/h.

Mini E (2008)

BMW leased 500 examples of the Mini E in 2008, learning a lot about how EVs cope in the real world.
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BMW leased 500 examples of the Mini E in 2008, learning a lot about how EVs cope in the real world.

BMW's first attempt at a truly large scale public trial of electric vehicles started in 2008 with the Mini E.

Based on and packing the same standard equipment as a Cooper hatchback, the Mini E packed a 150kW asynchronous AC electric motor and had a range of 250km, a top speed limited to 153kmh and would dash to 100kmh in eight seconds. BMW leased 500 Mini Es to businesses and private users across the USA, Europe and Asia over the next few years and learned that range anxiety was a huge issue, the amount of space the batteries took up made the cars impractical and that harsh British winters drastically reduced the claimed range.

Active E (2010)

Active E of 2010 picked up where the plug-in Mini left off.
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Active E of 2010 picked up where the plug-in Mini left off.

The next stage of BMW's march towards electrification happened in 2010 when the lessons learned from the Mini E trials were applied to the Active E - a RWD 1-series coupe.

Mini E trial participants were given priority for leasing an Active E and 1,100 were built.

The Active E had a 125kW synchronous electric motor integrated into the rear axle, powering the rear wheels - the same configuration as the i3 - and a 32kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

The Active E had a range of 160km and had a limited top speed of 140km/h.

The Active E trial ended in 2012 and the i3 started production in 2013.

 - Stuff

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