MINI E First Lithium-Ion Electric Vehicle to Market

October 20, 2008
BMW/MINI media photos

BMW/MINI media photos

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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