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MINI E First Lithium-Ion Electric Vehicle to Market

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BMW/MINI media photos

BMW/MINI media photos

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On Saturday, BMW Group announced it will be the first auto manufacturer to market with the vaunted lithium-ion battery technology. We knew that BMW was announcing an all-electric MINI at the L.A. Auto Show this November, but were unaware it would be powered by lithium-ion technology.

Currently, lithium-ion batteries allow extended performance in products ranging from laptop computers to mobile phones. But the heat generated by these batteries has posed a challenge in automotive applications--one that BMW has apparently solved.

The MINI E, identical in profile (if subtly different in style, paint and details) to its popular Cooper model, will enjoy its world premiere at the Los Angeles Auto Show this November 19 and 20. Range is a claimed 150 miles--not road trip material, but more than adequate for most American commuters. For charging purposes, the vehicle can be plugged into any standard household outlet. Quicker charging (roughly 2.5 hours) is guaranteed with installation of the high-amperage wallbox included with every MINI. The wallbox can be installed into owner's garages.

Five hundred MINI Es will hit the road in the hands of private and corporate customers in the pilot project taking place in urban centers of New York, New Jersey, and California. The limited run of this batch of 500 will be produced prior to the end of 2008.

This is huge news for BMW, and likely distressing news for beleaguered domestic automakers. BMW has long been a leader in the technology realm, and its deft guidance of the MINI brand has grown it into a small empire very much in tune with sudden U.S. market shifts toward small, economical transportation.

Along with its less-is-more attitude, MINI E continues the brand's mantra of sprightly performance and athletic responses. In this realm, the MINI E promises to deliver, with a claimed 0-60 mph time of 8.5 seconds from its 204-hp electric motor backed by a single-speed gearbox.

While not as fleet as some of the company's high-performance models in all-out acceleration (i.e., MINI Cooper S), what drivers will notice is the neck-snapping torque available immediately. From 0-30 mph, the realm of commuters and city drivers, the MINI E will likely feel like a hotrod, perhaps even eclipsing its gasoline brethren off the line. Those gasoline MINIs must spin their engines to significantly higher engine speeds to reach peak torque (the shove in the back you feel on quick acceleration). And of course, being all-electric, the benefit to air quality is absolutely zero emissions.

MINI E will ride on a suspension slightly retuned to account for a different weight distribution due to its front-mounted, transversely oriented electric motor.

Many automakers, in the race for electric-vehicle dominance, have pursued perfection of the vaunted lithium-ion battery technology to lengthen electric vehicle range and performance. GM's recent Volt E-REV vehicle relies on their own pending lithium-ion battery development, as do Chrysler's trio of E-REV/all-electric vehicles (which might be stillborn, depending upon resolution of the Pentastar's tenuous financial situation at present).--Colin Mathews

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Comments (5)
  1. Sorry, but I gotta call a 'technical' (among other things) on this one.
    1. A limited-run, hand-assembled near-prototype that's being given--not sold or leased--to a handful of people for a one-year trial is not "on the market" (and thus subject to market forces like supply and demand). Honda's FCX Clarity--which is being leased to buyers--is "on the market". The lithium-ion-equipped Mercedes S400 will be on the market next year, and the Chevy Volt the year after that.
    1A. I'm assuming the nifty wallbox is free, too. Again raises the question, how much does it cost, and how much would consumers pay?
    2. I didn't notice any reference to the lack of a rear seat, which drivers will notice even before that neck-snapping torque--making this as functional as Honda's ill-fated first-generation Insight.
    3. Holy biased media, Batman! Why is this only distressing news to the domestic automakers? Why wouldn't Toyota (whose Prius was delayed six months when they went back to nickel metal hydride batteries) or Nissan (who plans a for-real market launch of a lithium-ion-powered EV in 2010) be worried?
    Is it a newsworthy achievement? Yes. 'Distressing' news for competitors? Perhaps an exaggeration.

  2. All right--I stand corrected. I have read elsewhere that "the cars will change hands based on a one-year lease with an extension option. Monthly lease installments will cover any required technical service including all necessary maintenance and the replacement of wearing parts. At the end of the lease, all of the automobiles belonging to the project will be returned to the BMW Group's engineering fleet where they will be subjected to comparative tests." Although it's quite interesting that they don't quote an actual figure even though 'sales' are only a few months away.
    I still stand by the rear seat and media bias comments, though...

  3. pdbw - biased, eh? Here's my take: GM makes a big splash with its Volt announcement, which hinges on lithium-ion battery technology. Their claims, range, etc. require the success of lithium-ions to validate the Volt's reality. While GM is boiling away in their labs perfecting the battery technology, BMW/Mini casually stroll in, first to market with a lithium-ion electric car. We're used to auto advancement and achievement (primacy, if you will) from Japan and Germany. But recall a day not so long ago when Cadillac was the Standard of the World. GM's Charles Kettering invented the starter motor way back when, and Mazda's engineers have now figured out how to do without that same invention (Mazda's SISS). GM got enormous attention with the announcement of its impending Volt, and rightfully so. The public and the market need that vehicle. I just find it telling that a German brand is first to market with the lithium-ion battery. What a great story it would have been for GM to announce that news. If you worked for GM/Ford/Chrysler, would you not be a bit distressed that your competitors always seemed to be first to market with advancements and technology? I know I would. So, yes, I am biased: biased towards innovation, great technology, and progress. I'm waiting for the next Charles Kettering to astound us, and he may be among the ranks at GM, frustrated that his brilliant ideas aren't given time, attention, or funding.

  4. Colin: Sorry, but I gotta agree (mostly) with PDBW. It's not a production car. And, equally importantly, it's not the first.
    (1) The "first auto manufacturer to market with the vaunted lithium-ion battery technology" was Toyota, and it was 5 years ago. The car was a low production Vitz (Echo/Yaris to us) CVT4 model (JDM only) with idle-stop (not a full hybrid) and the pack was tiny, with only 4 cells.
    (2) The first vehicle to go on SALE with a Li-ion pack will probably be the Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid shown at various Euro shows this year, which I believe goes into production late this year as a 2009 model.
    Now, these examples aren't full electric cars, as the Mini E and the Volt are. Will there be an electric Mini out there for SALE? Maybe, and maybe even sooner rather than later.
    But these cars will join the Chrysler Turbine, the EV1, the Honda FCV (first series), the Chevrolet Equinox FC, and various other limited-production "test fleets" that civilians get to use for awhile--whether or not they pay--to act as real-world guinea pigs for the manufacturers. Think of 'em as beta-test cars. They'll be taken back and dismantled once BMW learns what it needs to.
    You're entirely right that the Volt has mopped up the lion's share of the Li-ion e-drive publicity. If it delivers on its promise, that's appropriate. If it doesn't, score one for GM's very effective 3 years of PR.
    But the Mini E is not a production vehicle by any means. So your article is overstated, perhaps by quite a lot.

  5. Colin,
    If the headline read, "GM [or Ford, or Chrysler] LAUNCHES PRODUCTION VOLT--TWO SEATS, 500 UNITS", you would be raking them over the coals for those compromises. Don't get me wrong--I love the Mini, and it's nice to see the Europeans getting in on the EV thing, as it will create competition and ultimately create better cars for customers. What disturbs me is the biased praise I see here--especially in view of the fact that BMW hasn't even announced a price. With a $600/mo price tag for the Honda Clarity, what's "fair" for a Mini E?
    And, yes, I do agree with John's assessment--GM has yet to put an actual, fully-functioning, production Volt on the market. But don't discount them--or other automakers (including Toyota and their plug-in Prius and Nissan's upcoming four-passenger EV) because they're not willing to set up a compromised beta-test.

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