Monday newsbriefs

August 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

OK, I’m playing catch-up here with this one; it’s been well-covered already, so for the full low-down on the BMW i3 and i8, I’d suggest going to source. However, the most interesting nugget of info yet that I can pick out from the blurb is about these cars’ LifeDrive architecture: it’s a body-on-frame structure. This construction method harks back to the earliest days of car-making, when cars were often sold as basic rolling chassis for the coachbuilders to then bolt on a bespoke body. In recent years, it’s survived only in a handful of very old-school 4x4s and pick-ups (even the Range Rover’s ‘monococque’ or ‘unibody’ these days), or in heavy-duty vans and lorries, as though body-on-frame is generally simple and robust, on-road refinement can be a problem.

The i3 and i8 feature an aluminium chassis with CFRP (carbonfibre reinforced plastic) bodies, allowing for a tough passenger cell (‘Life Module’) and easy modification (different bodystyles) around the basic chassis structure. The different electric powertrains are then slotted in. BMW’s saying that this is a ground-up, purpose-built approach to making alt-powertrain vehicles, rather than simply converting existing cars, and that modern techniques and weight-saving materials allow for both energy-saving and good crash safety. Guess we can take road manners and refinement as a given, too. Body-on-frame: rebranded as ‘modular’ and born again in EVs. What next, the revival of the rotary engine? Oh, wait…

Besides the i3 (a four-seat, all-electric city car; 170hp, 0-62mph in under eight seconds) and i8 (big 2+2 coupe, i3’s electric powertrain plus a three-cylinder petrol engine acting as a range-extender; 220hp, 0-62mph in under five seconds, a combined 94mpg and 20 miles in all-electric mode) there’ll be other models to follow in the iRange (as BMW is probably not calling it; Apple, and perhaps Land Rover, might have something to say about that). Autocar’s suggesting an ‘i5’ five-door hatchback and Chevy Volt rival, for a start.

In other news:

  • Fuel cells “probably won’t be practical” till at least 2020, says GM CEO (Detroit News). Still, Pike Research is predicting 5,200 hydrogen fuel stations operational worldwide by 2020 (Autoblog Green) – though many of these will be powering forklift trucks and power machinery, not cars.
  • However, GM has just invested $7.5million into solar tech firm Sunlogic, and is to install solar canopies at its US plants and at Chevy dealerships, to promote the Volt (Edmunds AutoObserver).
  • A start-up called Emerald Automotive intends to start building range-extended electric vans in Hazlewood, Missouri. Lightweight compact delivery vans with a Lotus-supplied aluminium chassis and diesel range-extender engine giving a 475-mile range, apparently (Autoblog Green).
  • The super-sized Ford F-Series Super Duty pick-up truck will be available in the US from 2013 with an aftermarket plug-in hybrid conversion from Azure Dynamics (press release posted at Autoblog Green).
  • Good fun all round, it seems, at the 2011 Bridgestone Eco-Rally. Participants in the jollities included HRH Prince Charles, whose wine-powered Aston made an appearance. Pictures & stories should appear at the Eco-Rally blog (not much up there yet apart from a pic of ol’ Charlie on an electric bike).
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