While the BMW brand is better known for its luxury performance sedans than for its emissions-saving technologies, 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the first all-electric BMW. To celebrate, BMW has put out a brief primer on its EV efforts, starting way back in 1972 at the Munich Olympics.
The Munich Olympics was BMW’s chance to show to the world their response to the ongoing oil crisis in the Middle East. To wit, BMW’s engineers developed the 1602 Electric using a 43 horsepower Bosch electric motor and 12 lead-acid batteries. Alas, with just 19 miles of range, even their limited use during the Olympics pushed the boundaries of the very limited range. Yet the battery pack was designed to be swapped out for a fresh one, an idea that is still on the table thanks to Project Better Place.
BMW followed up their efforts in 1981 with an all-electric rendition of the 3-series sedan. BMW built eight of these 325iX cars using sodium-sulphur batteries that had three times the energy density as lead-acid batteries. BMW even went so far as to convert these experimental sedans to all-wheel, or even front-wheel drive, an idea that has recently resurfaced in the BMW Touring concept.
In 2008 BMW launched the MINI-E project, leasing a small number of electrified MINI Coopers in a massive field test. Output was up to 200 horsepower and range was estimated at around 200 miles, though the high lease cost meant just a relative few could afford them.
Nonetheless, this test has helped BMW develop a new generation of EVs, including the BMW ActiveE, the latest BMW public test fleet. With 1,000 test vehicles, 167 horsepower, and a real-world range of 100 miles, this is arguably BMW’s best EV effort yet. With BMW launching an entire sub-brand dedicated to EVs, there is no doubt that the past 40 years of trial and error is paying dividends for the German automaker.