BMW debuts i8 plug-in hybrid and i3 all-electric cars

There’s a lot of redefining going on at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show, particularly among performance- and luxury-oriented auto makers as they fold fuel efficiency and sustainability into their designs.

The new direction BMW showcased Wednesday with the North American debut of its i8 plug-in hybrid and i3 all-electric concept cars combines the efficiency of a ho-hum commuter with the exhilaration of a sports car.

Both concepts will be going into production. The i3 will have the distinction of being the first premium electric vehicle to come to market in 2013. The i8 is scheduled to follow one year later.


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Both cars use something called LifeDrive architecture, which divides the car into two so-called modules. One piece is the aluminum chassis, or Drive module, which holds the battery, drive system and crash devices in a lightweight, high-strength compartment. Packaging the heaviest part of the car -- the battery -- as part the vehicle’s structure helps lower the car’s center of gravity and improve handling.

The second piece of the puzzle is the Life module made from lightweight and strong carbon fiber, which holds the driver and passengers. Carbon fiber is as strong as steel but 50% lighter.

The all-wheel-drive i8, a version of which can be seen speeding and skidding in the new “Mission Impossible” film, is skinned in carbon fiber. A twin-turbocharged, 3-cylinder 220-horsepower gas engine is positioned over the front axle and coupled with a 170-horsepower electric motor in the rear. The car can travel about 20 miles on electric power alone. Together, the engine and motor can reach a top speed of 155 miles per hour and make 390 horsepower. BMW anticipates the car will get 78 miles per gallon.

The i3, also wrapped in carbon fiber, uses a drivetrain that’s currently being proved in BMW’s soon-to-be-available-for-lease Active E electric car. The i3 will be able to travel up to 100 miles on a charge and reaches a top speed of 93 miles per hour. Its electric motor is positioned above the rear axle and makes 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque.

BMW will make both cars at its plant in Leipzig, Germany, which is powered with renewable energy, the company says.