Blog: Dave LeggettElectric Mini

Dave Leggett | 27 October 2008

BMW has revealed some details of an electric Mini it will trial that surprised me a little. For one thing, I thought the considerable engineering challenges involved in electric vehicles point towards a ground-up approach to max out on designing in efficiency and lowest possible weight.

The 'Mini E' appears to be the result of shoehorning an electric powertrain into an existing model designed and built around a conventional ICE. I guess they decided the engineers could meet certain performance parameters and that there is a big opportunity to potentially go for market acceptability with an already successful vehicle design and brand.

And there is regenerative braking (part of BMW's 'Efficient Dynamics') to help boost efficiency and range. A 150-mile lithium-ion battery range certainly sounds impressive. Real world conditions will be interesting to test with a trial like this.

I do wonder about the mechanics of charging though, especially with respect to domestic household charging as opposed to dedicated charging stations. Aside from the potential for charging lead clutter in high population density urban areas (where these cars might actually make the most sense), can we really expect the domestic power supply that charges the battery in a cell phone to cope with a car battery able to put out 150kW (the equivalent of 204 horsepower)? BMW's lithium-ion battery bolts together over 5,000 cells. That's a lot of cell phones.

How much electricity are we really talking about (the electric Mini will be supplied with some sort of transformer box to up the charge) and what might the aggregate drain be? There's clearly a whole lot of work still to be done - by car companies, battery technology specialists and, most importantly, the power utilities and energy companies on infrastructure. There's also the thorny issue of how the electricity is generated by the power utilities in the first place.

But some progress is apparently being made.

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