BMW made a big splash in the electric vehicle market earlier this month, when word leaked out that the company’s new i3 EV might come with the offer of conventional loaner cars for i3 EV owners who need to go on long trips outside of their battery range. That’s a pretty tempting enticement for potential buyers who are comfortable with new EV technology, but who still have EV range anxiety because they aren’t confident about the charging station network outside of their immediate area.
The idea of a loaner car is a pretty simple solution, but it’s just one of several long-range options that car manufacturers can offer to potential EV buyers, to help overcome battery range anxiety. So the real question is, why would BMW think that it’s necessary to offer the additional cushion of a loaner car?
Is BMW really offering loaner cars to i3 buyers?
One thing to keep in mind is that while the idea of a loaner car program for i3 buyers is apparently under discussion at BMW, as of this writing the company has not formally announced that a loaner car program is definitely forthcoming (though Edmunds seems to have the inside track on that one). It’s also not clear yet whether the customer would be expected to pay a fee for the service, or if it would be complimentary.
This is what BMW said in its March 8 press release announcing the introduction of the i3 EV at the 83rd International Motor Show in Geneva:
“If it is likely that, even using all the measures listed above, it will not be possible to reach an intended destination in the BMW i3, BMW i also offers additional mobility modules which allow even longer distances to be covered – for example a conventional BMW vehicle can be provided on a given number of days per year.”
That all sounds rather vague in terms of who’s going to pick up the tab, but if you take a closer look at the potential market for an i3, that’s really a moot point.
Commuters and range anxiety
Referring to the Geneva Motor Show press release again, BMW has been analyzing EV driving patterns intensively since 2008, toting up 12.5 million miles among more than 1,000 pilot customers in the USA, Europe and Asia.
BMW found that in terms of typical daily commutes, EV drivers came in about the same as other drivers, at about 25 miles per day. BMW also found that more than 90 percent of all charging occurred at home or at the workplace, rather than at public stations.
Based on its findings, BMW engineered the i3 with a range of 80 to 100 miles. At that mark, the i3 can easily accommodate a typical daily commute, and it can accommodate a longer daily commute (within reason) if home and workplace charging are available. The i3 can also handle fairly long out-of-town trips with ease, as long as a public charging station is available at the far end of the drive.
In other words, for the typical “megacities” commuter who lives in an urban, suburban or exurban area, range anxiety is not going to be an issue at all.
When you take into account the many commuting households that own at least two cars, the range issue fades out even faster. Assuming that most households would keep one of their gas-powered cars after they buy an EV, there’s no need to go through the hassle, however minor, of getting a gas-powered loaner car for long trips.
An EV-based solution to range anxiety
What BMW really seems to be banking on is knowing what potential i3 customers need, and making sure their needs match the i3′s capabilities for sustainable urban commuting. To that end, BMW has covered all the bases in terms of delivering the range that it promises for the i3.
One key strategy is to ensure that the car’s other systems do not create unanticipated drags on the life of the charge. To that end, BMW designed an advanced temperature control system that keeps the battery operating with optimal efficiency, regardless of the outside temperature. Other electrical systems, such as the headlights, and the cabin heating and cooling system, are also designed to reduce draw on the battery.
Another important element is built in, Internet-enabled mobile connectivity that enables drivers to plan their trips, especially longer trips, around the availability of home, workplace and public charging stations.
The sophisticated system predicts the range of a charge by taking into account a driver’s habits, the local topography, and real-time conditions such as stop-and-go traffic or traffic jams.
More solutions to range anxiety
To our way of thinking, BMW has already solved the range anxiety issue, but there are still other options to extend the range of an electric-drive vehicle.
One approach is illustrated by BMW’s i8 concept sports car, which is a gas-electric hybrid plug-in that uses the i3 electric drive as a platform.
Another option is by now an American classic, GM’s gas-electric Chevy Volt. The difference is that the i8 uses both gas and electric drive, while the Volt always runs on an electric drive that can be powered by either the car’s battery or the gas tank.
Speaking of U.S. car manufacturers, Ford has taken up an interconnected approach for its new C-Max Energi that mirrors BMW’s and goes one step beyond, to treat the EV as a mobile appliance that uses, stores and even contributes energy to the household power supply.