BMW ActiveE project starts in Beijing

Company testing waters of emerging electric car market

On June 18, 20 Beijing residents selected to participate in the BMW ActiveE Project received the keys to the all-electric car they will be driving over the next year.

BMW Group recently brought the program to China to prepare for the future commercialization of electric vehicles in the country.

The participants in the project are granted the right to use the ActiveE pure-electric cars over the course of a whole year for a monthly lease of 4,200 yuan.

Fifteen users in the southern city of Shenzhen will also get cars at the end of this month to give the company an idea of how the model operates in the city’s hot, humid climate, balancing the results from the test in the cooler, drier northern capital.

What’s more, BMW delivered an ActiveE to the German Embassy in Beijing on June 21.

Karsten Engel, president and CEO of BMW Group Region China, said at the handover that the BMW ActiveE Project opens a new chapter in the development of “e-mobility”.

“We will make concerted efforts with our partners and customers to push forward with the commercialization of electric vehicles, and get fully prepared for the era of e-mobility,” he said.

German Ambassador to China Michael Schaefer also lauded BMW’s efforts in developing the zero-emission vehicles, saying that since the MINI E China Field Trial Project, the German Embassy has participated in several e-mobility projects launched by the BMW Group and other German automotive companies.

“Sino-German cooperation in electric vehicles is very important for both countries. Germany will continue to actively exchange experience and technology in regenerative energy with China and further enhance close coordination in this future-oriented field,” said the ambassador.

The BMW ActiveE Project in China comes on the heels of the carmaker’s previous road trial of the MINI E.

In 2011, BMW brought its electric version of the MINI to China to study the car’s performance and customer acceptance and driving behavior in real life situations.

A total of 50 customers then, also from Beijing and Shenzhen, joined the 10-month MINI E trial.

Compared to the previous trial for the MINI E, in which participants were allowed to use the car for free, the BMW ActiveE Project could paint a better picture of the real potential for electric models to gain market acceptance, according to the company.

Also, unlike the two-seat MINI E, the BMW ActiveE has four seats and a bigger luggage area, making it more practical in daily use for families, according to the company.

The BMW ActiveE presents more practical inner space and greater functionality that accurately reflects the needs of everyday commuting.

It is a pure-electric vehicle based on the BMW 1 Series Coupe, and has retained all the characteristic comfort and dynamic driving performance of the BMW brand.

It is equipped with a 32-kilowatt-hour high-pressure lithium battery that takes only four to five hours to charge through a 220V/32A power charger. Its average range of 160 km is enough to satisfy needs of daily urban commuting and transportation.

Though it lacks a clutch or gearbox, the car can still achieve driving performance comparable to a conventional BMW with a combustion engine. Its peak power is 170 hp and its top torque is 250 Nm. It accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in just nine seconds.

When the foot is off the gas pedal, the car can automatically transform kinetic energy to electricity and charge the battery, potentially extending the range by up to 20 percent in an urban area.

The BMW ActiveE already demonstrated its advantages as a reliable vehicle with zero emissions when it cruised in the torch relay for the London Olympics last year and also during the Games, when it was used to shuttle media and athletes.

Like the MINI E, the BMW ActiveE will not be commercialized. They are both part of preparations for future mass-production models, including the all-electric BMW i3 and the plug-in hybrid BMW i8.

BMW plans to launch the BMW i3 later this year in Europe and bring it to China in the first half of 2014. The move will make BMW one of the first foreign automakers to sell imported electric cars in China.

It is generally believed that electric vehicles will not be widely used for some time because costs are high and there is a lack of infrastructure, but the Chinese government is strongly encouraging development in this field.

It has offered subsidies for local automakers and buyers to accelerate the process. The plan is to have accumulated production and sales of 5 million electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids by 2020.

The BMW ActiveE Project demonstrates BMW’s commitment to promoting e-mobility in China, said Wu Yanyan, vice-president for Corporate and Government Affairs of BMW Group Region China.

And it will help the company better prepare the business model as it gears up to launch the BMW i3, she said.

Participants in the BMW ActiveE Project will have charging poles installed at their fixed parking places by the State Grid Corp of China and China Southern Power Grid.

During the project, one BMW dealership in Beijing and one in Shenzhen will handle maintenance and repair.

Equipped with professional tools and technicians specially trained for electric vehicles, both dealerships are also BMW “5S” dealerships. In addition to providing the services of 4S outlets, they have certain requirements for sustainability, which is what the additional “S” represents.

“BMW has been in China for quite some years, so we understand the market and we have a realistic plan,” said Gunther Quest, head of E-Mobility and BMW i Region China

He said the fact that there were nearly 1,000 applicants for the BMW ActiveE is also encouraging and shows that the market here is becoming mature.

Julian Weber, head of Innovation Projects E-mobility at the BMW Group, said that the company is convinced there is a “huge market for e-mobility”.

“There will be a lot of people who will drive electric cars not only because they are zero-emission but because of the smooth driving,” Weber said.

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