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BMW Builds Electric 1-Series, Could go Commercial With Small EV by Mid-Teens

On Wednesday, BMW announced that it would introduce a plug-in battery car, the ActiveE, to complement the 100-mile-per-charge Mini E (converted by AC Propulsion from stock Mini Coopers). The cars hit the road in 2011.

Some 450 Mini Es are scattered around the east and west coasts as part of a 600-vehicle international test fleet, and the ActiveE (based on the 1-Series Coupe) will be tested in a similar program. The first ActiveE will be shown off at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next month.

Richard Steinberg, manager of EV operations and strategy for BMW of North America, said that the contours of the ActiveE program (where it will be sold, how many will be made) are yet to be decided.

It's safe to say that BMW won't make a profit on these two EVs. The Mini E is leased to customers (a list that includes Bill Nye the Science Guy) at $800 a month in a one-year program that could be extended, said Steinberg, who noted that many leasees want to keep their cars for a longer period. "That's been discussed," he said. "We're looking at that."

Steinberg noted that the costs of limited-production-run EVs like the Mini E and ActiveE are "extremely high." The value, he said, is acquiring knowledge the company can apply toward building its first commercially available EV, code-named Megacity Vehicle. Some of the ActiveE's components "may be developed further for later integration into the Megacity Vehicle," BMW said in a press release.

All the EV programs are part of the Project i initiative, but the megacity car--a very small (some say three-door, but that's not confirmed) vehicle designed for large, crowded cities around the world. Steinberg predicted that we will see that car, to be produced "in significant volumes," sometime in the "early teens." It's expected to be a 50-state car in the U.S., and be in other markets as well.

The ActiveE has many of the attributes of the Mini E, but with a different battery supplier, SB LiMotive (a Korean-based collaboration between Bosch and Samsung). With a 170-horsepower electric motor (125- kilowatts) and a 32-kilowatt-hour battery pack, it can reach 60 mph in 8.5. seconds, close to the Mini E. Cruising range is the same 100 miles. Although it's a BMW, speed is electronically limited to 90 mph. It won't kill the competition on the autobahn, but it could do well on I-95. Charge time from 220 volts is said to be 4.5 hours.

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