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Charge of the electric brigade





24 May 2016


Over the last decade, alternative energy cars have progressed from cool theories to more practical, real-world vehicles that are now actually sold to customers.
Still, in our minds, the electric car is cool on paper, but we hardly considered it a technology that would make a pronounced impact on our lives any time soon.
That was until an electric BMW i3 eDrvie arrived at our offices.

The i3 eDrive has an electric motor with 125kW and 250Nm of torque. That torque though, is available from 1r/min, so it blasts out of the blocks like a bat out of hell. It will reach 100km/h in just seven seconds! But that’s only part of the story. Unlike the all-electric Nissan Leaf, which is just a run-of-the-mill hatch that happens to be electric, the i3 pushes design and style norms. The chassis is made entirely from carbon fibre, the rear doors are of the suicide variety (with the hinge at the back), and the seats and interior look like they come out of a science fiction movie.

So this car looks the future of motoring part too. With a range of 120km, the long haul between Johannesburg and Cape Town is obviously not a good idea. But around town, as a daily city runaround, it really is a revelation. However, the big question was how much the R550 000 i3 eDrive really costs to run. You have two recharge options: you can head to BMW outlets in main centres where you can hook up your karretjie to a special charging station that will fully charge the batteries in one hour. This service is provided for free.

The more realistic option is charging the BMW at home or work, through a normal 220V outlet. It will take about eight hours to fully replenish the batteries if they are empty. We estimate the cost of such a charge to be about R20.
So that’s around R20 per 120km, or 60 cents per kilometre. It’s not all sunshine and roses, and we had a few moments with it too.

One day we left the office with a range of 25km, for a 12km trip. By the time we reached our destination, the range was zero, so we got there running on the smell of… er, volts. And 250Nm of instant torque, skinny tyres and a Highveld
thunderstorm (and water-logged roads) require some deft modulation of the energy pedal.

But we were all thoroughly enthralled by the little BMW. If this is the future of the car, it’s really not half bad. BMW will soon introduce its first plug-in SUV in the SA
market too. The X5 40eDrive features a two-litre turbopetrol engine as well as an electric drivetrain that can be recharged at home, just like the little i3. So you have an electric, luxury SUV to negotiate the city traffic, and an economical petrol-engined 4×4 SUV for longer distances, and some rough-road excursions.

Several other manufacturers also feature such alternative propulsion SUVs and 4x4s in their inventory, and there are many new models on the horizon. We reckon American electric car innovators Tesla, owned by South African Elon Musk, has a great solution for the recharging ‘inconvenience’ – when you pull into a Teslasupported service station, the attendant simply swaps your vehicle’s depleted battery pack with a fully charged one. And off you go in a minute or three. Alternative energy vehicles are an inevitable evolution of the 4×4 market, it seems, and it’s no longer just a vision.

It’s here.

By Danie Botha