Many automakers have run electric vehicles out on the market by fitting stock platforms with alternative powertrains. This method brought us the Ford Focus Electric, Volkswagen e-Golf, and Smart Electric Drive (among others), but BMW took a ground-up approach to electric vehicles with the all-electric i3 and the i8 hybrid supercar. Auto journalists and environmental advocates agreed it was worth it: The BMW i3 won Green Journal’s 2015 Green Car of the Year, while the i8 won Autoblog’s Technology of the Year award in November. These two cars represent a different breed when comparing other electric vehicles on the market.
BMW’s advanced approach to sustainability
Looking to improve vehicle efficiency is on every automaker’s to-do list. If corporate responsibility and general concern for the environment are not enough to push a car company in this direction, then stricter regulations ought to do the trick. In the case of BMW, the automaker pushed its approach to sustainability far beyond the commonplace when developing its i Series cars.
Efficient electric motors and lightweight materials are the starting points, and the BMW i3 is now the benchmark for vehicles sold in the U.S. with 124 combined miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe). The i8 plug-in hybrid is no slouch, either, at 76 miles per gallon equivalent and an electric range of 15 miles. (By comparison, the Tesla Model S checks in with 89 miles per gallon equivalent.) Through the use of carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) and aluminium components, BMW was able to reduce the weights in both vehicles substantially.
Carbon fiber components are notoriously expensive, which is why they typically end up on supercars in the vein of the i8. BMW decided to invest bigger in the materials and open its own carbon fiber production plant (running on renewable energy) in Washington State as a step toward reducing costs of CFRP components for future vehicles. Meanwhile, the sustainable cycle from construction to post-consumer part recycling has no equivalent among large automakers.
As one Sanford C. Bernstein analyst told Bloomberg in 2013, the “more focused” and “more long-term strategy” of BMW with respect to carbon fiber could be an industry game-changer in the coming years. For now, it has provided the basis for two award-winning cars that have become popular among electric vehicle consumers.
2015 Green Car of the Year and Technology of the Year
Green Car Journal assembles a panel of automotive enthusiasts, transportation administrators, and advocates for environmental protection to serve as the jury for the annual Green Car of the Year award. This year’s panel included Jay Leno as well as Jean-Michel Cousteau, President of the Ocean Futures Society, and Dr. Alan Lloyd, President Emeritus of the International Council on Clean Transportation.
BMW’s i3 beat out the Audi A3 TDI, the Chevy Impala bi-fuel vehicle, the Honda Fit, and the Volkswagen Golf to win 2015 Green Car of the Year. Judges praised the i3’s landmark efficiency while saluting the automaker’s commitment to sustainability throughout the production process in offering the little electric car the prize.
As for the i8 plug-in hybrid, it reeled in the Autoblog Technology of the Year award by beating the performance data recorder in the new Corvette as well as the 1.0-liter Ecoboost engine Ford has devised. In a change of pace, the interplay of technology in the i8 led to the entire car being nominated for the award rather than a single component. Between its 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine, its carbon fiber body, a gorgeous exhaust note, and the head-turning qualities in the i8’s frame and scissor doors, the judges were overwhelmed by BMW’s entry for the 2014 award.
Stuffing an electric motor into a combustion vehicle has offered automakers an improvement over efficiency benchmarks in the past. By creating electric vehicles from scratch with sustainable components, BMW has hinted of the bright future for mass EV production. These two awards show how well the approach is working.