Increased urbanisation continues apace as millions of us head to cities worldwide in search of work and a better life. By 2030, over 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities, making efficient, environmentally-friendly transport options ever more important. Electric-powered vehicles will become a big part of the solution, so it's reassuring to know that BMW has a track record of more than four decades of model development. While we eagerly anticipate the arrival of the BMW C evolution in dealers, take a journey with us down the clean road to e-mobility...
It all began at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, where the BMW starting line-up included two electrically powered test vehicles. The converted BMW 1602 models served as a means of transport for the members of the organising committee, and were also deployed as support and camera cars in various long-distance events. However, there could be no questioning that lead batteries weighing 350 kilograms and a range of around 60 kilometres (37 miles) were hardly ideal for a production car. BMW therefore launched a series of research and development projects with the aim of bringing improved and, above all, more efficient technology for electric drive systems onto the road.
These projects included an experimental vehicle built on the platform of the BMW LS, the construction of a special test rig for electric drives, and concept vehicles based on the BMW 325iX, which proved their merit in inner-city use, for example as delivery vehicles for the German postal service.
The promising results of these research projects prompted BMW to start work on designing a pure electric vehicle, rather than experimental converted versions of standard production models. The first purpose-built solution was unveiled at the 1991 Frankfurt Motor Show: the BMW E1, an electrically propelled 'citymobile' for use in town centres and conurbations. Even back then, this prototype stood out for its low weight and high safety levels, and its performance capabilities also made impressive reading: an output of 32 kW, a peak torque of 150 Nm (111 lb-ft) and a range of around 160 kilometres (100 miles) made it a viable possibility for day-to-day use, too.
In addition to the E1 prototypes, the project also featured 25 converted production models based on the BMW 3 Series. Between 1992 and 1996, eight BMW 325 models were in service on the island of Rügen off Germany’s Baltic coast to test out various motors, transmissions and batteries under everyday conditions. The field trial produced large quantities of detailed data, which provided valuable insights for the further development of electric mobility.
Things really started taking off in 2007 when Project i was born within the BMW Group. This initiative was all about developing sustainable and pioneering mobility concepts.
In 2008, a fleet of around 600 all-electric MINI E models took to the roads. More than 16 million test kilometres were reeled off globally and the findings gleaned by the BMW Group from its pilot project were channelled straight into the development process for a production car. The potential of lithium-ion batteries in particular was taken to new heights in the MINI E.
In 2009, the C1-E CONCEPT was unveiled. Together with the European safety project eSUM, BMW Motorrad developed the C1-E with electric motor and the findings of this study influenced the advancement of two-wheeled safety and alternative drives.
The following year (2010) the first stage of development of an e-scooter concept began. This vehicle was conceived to serve as a technology pilot for drive components and energy storage devices for an e-scooter. This development focused on two requirements: performance values that would be similar to (or better than) maxi-scooters, and a respectable range.
Back on four wheels, the world premiere of the BMW Concept ActiveE in early 2010 saw the BMW Group push even further ahead with its research and development activities. Practical trials of over 1,000 units of this model got underway in 2011. As with the MINI E, the overriding objective was the creation of a ‘megacity’ vehicle. Powered solely by electricity, the BMW ActiveE was based on a BMW 1 Series Coupé and served as a technology pilot for the now famous – and multi award-winning – BMW i3 which is on sale worldwide.
During 2011, the second stage of development of the e-scooter story unfolded with the BMW Concept e design study that was premiered at the IAA in Frankfurt. While the ActiveE cars glided silently above the international motor show exhibition on a huge, raised roadway, the Concept e was ridden onto the BMW Group stage and paraded in front of the world's motoring press. Its colour and material concept embodied the dynamic performance, fascinating appeal and environmental compatibility of two-wheeled electric mobility.
Development stage 3 of the e-scooter took place in 2012 at the Olympic Games in London, when BMW Motorrad presented five near-production prototype versions of an e-scooter that was simply called the BMW C evolution. With a maximum power output of 35 kW (48 hp) and a top speed of 120 km/h, these vehicles promised a wealth of riding fun in road traffic. The lucky journalists who got to try these innovative maxi-scooters inside the English capital confirmed this to be exactly the case.
2013 was a landmark year. The first BMW i3 cars came off the production line at the BMW plant in Leipzig. With an output of 125 kW (170 hp) and a high torque figure of 250 Nm, the i3 has breathtaking acceleration from a standing start and boasts an impressive real-world range of up to 160 kilometres. Driven by its emission-free electric motor, it has a top speed of approximately 150 km/h.
Towards the end of 2013, and with serial production imminent, final field trials of the C evolution took place in the Italian city of Rome. This is the final stage in the innovative e-scooter's journey from early concept to finished product, which is expected to go on sale to the public in the second quarter this year.
While we await one of the most exciting powered two-wheelers to come to the market, what else have we got to look forward to from the BMW Group? If you care about sustainability, but also lust after high-performance, futuristic looks and sports car handling, then you'll certainly be interested in the innovative plug-in hybrid BMW i8 Concept.
This amazing machine combines an electric motor on the front axle with a three-cylinder combustion engine on the rear axle. Thus, it offers both the acceleration of a performance car with the fuel consumption of a small car. You'll need deep pockets though, as it is expected to retail for a six-figure price tag when it comes to the market.