BMW's Electric Family Tree


One major manufacturer that’s taking the bull by horns in terms of zero emissions vehicles is BMW. Not only has BMW built and streamlined three brilliant electric ‘i’ products over the last couple of years, but a $100 million plant specializing in carbon fibre production has been green-lighted in the US in order to produce them. We should see the fruits of this grand labour late next year when the i3 goes on sale to the public, and it will be a watershed moment. No more fancy concepts or speculation - a carbon fibre-tubbed all-electric hatchback from one of the world’s most prestigious makers will go on sale. BMW will either have achieved a jump on the competition the scope of which has possibly never been seen before, or it will be an expensive mistake. You know where we stand on that, in any case.

Forty-three years to be precise, the most recent car being the ActiveE 1-Series

What you may not know is that the BMW relationship with electric vehicles celebrated its ruby anniversary in 2009, and we’re not simply taking about some one-off prototype with a wire frame and a range of 6 miles. Not even close; BMW starting developing electric tech in 1969 and when the 1972 Olympics came around in 1972 they had three production-spec 1602s converted into EVs for members of the Olympic Organizing Committee. The range of 37 wasn’t exactly adequate for mass production, but it’s doubtful that any of the three cars prestigious passengers fully understood the significance of the humble saloon they sat in.

1969 1602 Electric

Since then there have been a couple of electric 3 Series models and notably the E1 Prototype – an abstract-styled four-seater that, although destined never to see a driveway, made waves in the automotive world with a range of 200km and a top speed of around 120kmh. Impressive, even by todays EV standards, and the i3 and E1 are clearly from the same stock.

E30 325iX Electric

1991 E1 Concept

E36 3-Series Electric

More recently, BMW has flexed its urban EV designs with a MINI E trial – a car that we tested and gave the thumbs up – and the ActiveE field trials using heavily modified 1-Series'. Over 1,000 test vehicles have been leased worldwide, each with a range of 99 miles. Now we're waiting for the i3, which should sit somewhere between £30,000 and £35,000, and then the i8. After that? Who knows, but it will be dependent on the success of the pioneering i-models.

ActiveE will pave the way for the latest i3 model due late 2013

You may also like...

BMW Art Cars Collection

BMW i Store Park Lane

Interview with Adrian van Hooydonk

Audi A2: BMW i3 Rival?

MINI E Driven