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Mini Brand From BMW Unveils an Electric Car

image Mini E electric carThe bandwagon for zero-emission, battery powered electric vehicles is starting to roll, as now the Mini brand from BMW is the latest to join a growing number of automakers that say they will have so-called EVs ready for private individuals to buy, much sooner than had been expected.

Before this year, mainstream automakers were pretty vague about when they would have EVs ready for anything bigger than a tiny test fleet. Even then, EVs were typically restricted to corporate fleets -- often electric-utility companies.

BMW announced Oct. 18 it will build 500 units of the Mini E model by the end of 2008, for a U.S. pilot program. (A password may be required for BMW's media web site.) The car will have its auto show debut at the Los Angeles auto show next month, which probably means the battery powered Minis will start to hit the streets in early 2009. It will be sold to both corporate customers and some private individuals, BMW said.

The Mini E pilot program will be in California, New York and New Jersey only. BMW's U.S. headquarters are in Woodcliff Lake, N.J.

Chrysler unveiled a Dodge EV sports car on Sept. 23, based on the Lotus Europa model from Britain, but Chrysler is coy about just when, or even whether, it will be mass-produced. Lotus also builds the Tesla Roadster EV, for California-based Tesla Motors.

Meanwhile, Nissan has also said it will have large numbers of EVs on the road by 2010, with mass production slated for 2012. Every major automaker is working on EVs, including Toyota, Ford and Honda.

All modern EVs run on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, like laptops use only bigger. BMW says that the Mini E can be recharged in only two-and-a-half hours, using a special "wallbox" outlet.

One obvious drawback is that the batteries are bulky, even though they're a big improvement over earlier generations of batteries. The conventional Mini Cooper is a four-seater, but the Mini E is only a two-seater, with the rear seat taken up by batteries.

The Mini E's electric motor generates 204 hp. BMW says the car has a range of up to 150 miles. Top speed is 95 mph, but driving that fast cuts the range.

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