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A claimed 100 mile range to empty.

Conventional wisdom suggests that luxury automakers will have an especially tough time meeting ever-stricter emissions and fuel economy regulations.  BMW has made a history of bucking conventional wisdom, and if the ActiveE concept is any indication, it hopes to do that again.

Set to debut at the North American International Auto Show, in Detroit, this coming month, the  all-electric concept is based on the 1-Series Coupe that also will also take its bows at the Detroit Auto Show.   Following the strategy of the battery-powered Mini E, the ActiveE is the second model in Project-i, which was meant to explore the possibilities for bringing a zero-emissions vehicle to market before 2015.

Where the Mini E is a front-wheel-drive two-seater — the batteries occupying the place where conventional rear seats would go — the electric BMW offers space for four adults and even has a 7 cubic foot. truck, barely big enough for two golf bags. With a weight reduction similar to that of the standard Coupe, the EV should not only achieve emissions-free driving (if you neglect how the electricity is generated), but, the maker claims, deliver the sort of driver-oriented road manners BMW aficionados worship. 

The battery drivetrain makes 168 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque using a new electric motor integrated into the rear axle. Typical of electric drive, the torque is available as soon as the wheels start turning, so that generates the launch feel of a more powerful gasoline engine. BMW says that the ActiveE should accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in just 9 seconds. Top speed is limited to, ahem, 90 mph. (Maybe in the interest of better fuel economy and reduced emissions driving, BMW should use this speed limit on all its cars?)

A new single-motor electric drive system delivers instant torque and 0 to 60 times of about 9 seconds.

The lithium-ion batteries are placed where you would normally find the petrol or diesel engine, in the tunnel and under the rear seats, while taking up about 5 inches of the most forward part of the trunk. The battery modules have been developed together with SB Limotive, a Samsung-Bosch joint venture, and are considerably smaller than the package used in the Mini E. The ActiveE has 96 LIon modules, while the Mini E uses 5,088. For a more detailed discussion of  battery and range issues, see Ken Zino’s earlier analysis by clicking here.

Ulrich Kranz, project leader of Project-i said it was essential for the maker’s second battery model to be a proper four-seater.

Charging can be done via the standard socket at home, which takes a long time, or via a high-voltage outlet, the latter cutting charge times to 3 hours to provide a 100 mile range.  (As always, mileage will vary, depending on weather and driving conditions.  Lead-footed motorists and those driving with the electric heater blasting on a cold day could get considerably less.)

With the world population expected to grow to 8 billion people in 2025, BMW has to look into the possibilities of electric mobility, contends Klaus Draeger, BMW’s technology chief.  “All those people will go after the standard of living that we enjoy now, which means they will want to own a car, “Dr. Draeger said. “Not only the environment, but also our company and society will benefit if we can reduce CO2-emissions.”

During a media showing of the new ActiveE, Draeger stressed that there is not a single solution to the emissions and fuel consumption problems, but that one of them is electro-mobility. This from a social point of view is a debatable proposition, as multiple solutions cost billions upon billions of dollars to develop and might slow doe\wn the development of a superior technology.

The ActiveE does not look any different from the 1-Series Coupe – other than the special white metallic paint used on the concept vehicle, along with the notable absence of a tailpipe.

An iPhone app can be used to check the BMW ActiveE's battery status, or to remotely activate the battery car's climate control system.

The interior repeats the blue-and-white color scheme, but more interesting is the fact that a new ConnectedDrive system gives owners the ability to remotely link to the car using an iPhone.  A special app can be used to check the charge status of the car, and to activate pre-heating or the air conditioning from behind the breakfast table or the desk.

A limited-production version of the ActiveE should be ready for market in 2011 when selected drivers in mega-cities will be lined up for field tests. A similar test of the Mini E is underway, with nearly 650 of the 2-seaters roaming the streets of Los Angeles, New York, Berlin, London and Munich.  The data from these tests should help BMW transform the vehicles developed under Project-i into part of its mainstream offerings.

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