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13 JULY 2012

Posted in Carsguide 13 July 2012:

BMW ActiveE: first drive review

By Paul Gover
• 10 July 2012

The electric car is not dead and, in fact, it's accelerating rapidly towards a driveway near you.

Electric cars are nothing in Australia.

Less than a handful are in showrooms, and not much more than a handful have been sold, although that's going to change.

Eventually it will change fast as governments force the pace of plug-in development in a push for greener motoring, a switch that is already happening in Europe and gathering momentum in the USA.

Some forecasters predict electric cars will account for 10 per cent of global sales in 2020 and others are even more aggressive, with Tesla Motors chief Elon Musk predicting a 50 per cent share as he pushes for acceptance of his new Model S luxury electric limousine.

But Europe is still the focus of electric car development and no-one is pushing harder than BMW, which is even creating an electric sub-brand - BMW i - to house its plug-in and range-extender electric models in coming years.

The first of the sparky newcomers, the i3, is just around the corner and testing is currently focussed on a fleet of 900 very special BMW 1-Series cars that carry the power pack that will be transplanted next year into the back of the i3.

I am driving the ActiveE in an Australian exclusive, searching for answers around BMW HQ in Munich but also keen to see if electric cars - following my drive time with the Nissan Leaf and, more recently, the Smart ED - really can be a workable and enjoyable future.


How do you put a price on the future? You cannot actually buy an ActiveE but, if you could, it would probably have a showroom sticker somewhere around $250,000.

Why? Because the basics of the car are a BMW 1 Series coupe and, in Australia, that means at least $47,400. By the time the engineers and assembly line workers have done their regular jobs, and then the boffins have completed the switch to sparks, the price has soared into the labratory-on-wheels range where cost is not a major worry.

"It would be expensive still, clearly, because it's prototype development," admits Ian Robertson, who heads worldwide sales and marketing for BMW Group.

But the ActiveE morphs into the i3 next year and, even though Carsguide would much prefer a pricetag in the affordable $35,000 range, it's likely to be around $60,000.

That's still a lot for a car you cannot drive from Sydney to Melbourne, but it shapes up pretty well against the Mitsubishi iMiEV at $48,800, the Nissan Leaf at $51,500 and the upcoming Holden Volt at $59,990 - particularly with the regular strengths that come with a BMW badge.


The ActiveE is developed from BMW Group's original electric testbed, the MiniE - the most impressive electric car I drove until the Leaf - and builds on that package. For a start, there is a back seat . . .

The ActiveE is a totally battery-powered electric car that is powered by a permanent-magnet, hybrid synchronous motor rated at 125 kiloWatts and 250 Newton-metres. The battery has a 32 kiloWatt-hour capacity and weighs 450 kilograms, complete with liquid cooling.

BMW says the ActiveE will zap to 100km/h in 9.0 seconds with a top speed of 145km/h, performance that's way better than the Smart ED electric runabout I drove in Stuttgart last month and compared to my first car, a 1959 Volkswagen Beetle.

The range is 145 kilometres, something I don't get to seriously test but which seems realistic. BMW says the car's new power pack weighs less than 100 kilos, which is good news for the i3. The ActiveE has a total weight of 1800kg but BMW is aiming for about 1200 for the showroom i3, which will retain the company's traditional rear-wheel drive.

The ActiveE package includes a bunch of other tricky stuff, from a 'coast' mode that allows you to save energy when you lift off the accelerator at highway speeds, very impressive regenerative braking - it's so powerful that it trips the brake lights because of the deceleration at city speeds - and even stability and traction control adapted for the electric world.


The ActiveE almost look like every other 1 Series coupe. The big giveaway is not the special graphics package on the sides but the 'power' bulge in the bonnet. Traditionally, this sort of thing is used to help ram air into a combustion engine, or clear space for giant fuel injection inlets, but in the ActiveE the bigger bonnet - like the one on BMW's X6 hybrid - is to clear the complex engine control system where the engine once lived.

Inside, it's all 1-Series. The only visible change is a dashboard readout of battery life and instant energy use - and regenerative recovery. "The ActiveE has proven that you don't have to have the compromises that most of the vehicles have out there at the moment. It has a proper back seat and a boot," says Robertson.


It's impossible to rate the safety of the ActiveE, because none has been publicly crash tested. But it has the airbags, stability controls and ABS brakes of the regular 1 Series coupe, although stability is not as good with 1800kg to stop and heft around obstacles.

The real safety test will come with the arrival of the i3 next year, and BMW is - not surprisingly - promising a five-star NCAP result.


I could easily live with a BMW ActiveE. It's not as rorty or responsive as an M3, or as luxurious as a 7 Series, but it really gets the job done and is a genuine BMW with an electric twist. As I hit the stop-start commuter snarl on the road into Munich I'm surprised at how well the ActiveE copes. Actually, it's easier to handle than an internal combustion car, as there is no clutch to worry about, no driveline shunt or grumble, and a relaxing absence of noise.

The ActiveE easily keeps pace with stop-start city traffic, jumps to 80km/h, and easily holds a 140km/h cruise on a section of unrestricted autobahn. No-one picks it as an electric car and I have to keep reminding myself that I'm driving on battery power alone.

There are some giveaways, such as the incredibly low noise levels. There is a buzzing whir from the driveline - it must be like tinnitus - but mostly there is the sound of near-silence until the wind noise builds up around 100km/h. There is also the regenerative braking. Basically, unless you're at highway speeds - when the car goes into the impressive, energy saving 'coast' mode - the ActiveE harvests energy from braking to recharge the battery.

Except you don't actually have to apply the brakes. It's all done with electronics and, after about an hour of driving, I find I can roll easily to a predictable traffic-light stop without braking at all.

I drive more than 140 kilometres over a day-and-a-half in all sorts of conditions and I find I really, really like the ActiveE. Alright, the 1800kg works heavily against it in corners - where it misses the usual BMW fun factor - but otherwise it's great to drive and a wonderful pointer to the i3.

But. There are two big buts. The first is the inevitable 'range anxiety', as I'm never really sure how far I can run without access to a battery top-up. BMW plans to answer this one with a Volt-style range-extender combustion engine to top-up the battery, although it's not clear yet if this will be in the i3 or only the larger and sportier i8 that follows.

The other is the source of the power. Munich is relatively green, with lots of wind generators about, but in Australia there is no such thing as 'zero emission' cars if they're plugging into a coal-fired grid. So there are still questions and doubts, but the ActiveE is a ripper car and has me really excited to jump into the production i3 in 2013.


AL Gore and his friends got it wrong. The electric car is not dead and, in fact, it's accelerating rapidly towards a driveway near you.

BMW ActiveE
Score: 8/10
Price: Not for sale
Body: BMW 1 Series coupe
Engine: hybrid synchronous motor, 125kW/250Nm
Battery: 32kWh
Range: 160km
Performance: 0-100km/h, 9.0s; top speed 145km/h
Consumption: 0.12kWh/km

Nissan Leaf - compare this car
Price: from $51,500
Engine: 4-stroke electric
Transmission: single-speed CVT, front-wheel drive
Weight: 1795kg
Smart ED - compare this car
Price: estimated $32-35,000
Engine: AC permanent magnet synchronous electric
Transmission: single speed, RWD
Weight: 975kg
Holden Volt - compare this car
Price: from $59,990
Engine: electric motor 111kW/370Nm + 1.4-litre petrol engine
Transmission: automatic – electronic ratio select
Weight: 1715 kg

12 JULY 2012

Article kindly forwarded from RACV:


Electric Cars due a Revamp as Governments Push for Lower Carbon Emissions

LONDON, UK (GlobalData), 12 July 2012 - Governments across the globe are encouraging the use of electric vehicles to reduce Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and their impact on the environment, says a new report by energy experts GlobalData.

The new report* states that growing environmental concerns and the urge to reduce dependency on fossil fuels has called for changes in existing energy generation technologies, and particularly in the transportation sector.

According to the International Transport Forum, 98% of the transportation sector is dependent on fossil fuels for its energy, and the sector represents a major source of GHG, contributing about 23% of global CO2 emissions.

Currently, significant effort is being made by policy makers, governments and automakers across the globe to promote EV adoption among consumers. Incentives are provided by governments to customers willing to purchase EVs in many countries, and the market has a wide range of models suitable for commuting around cities. EVs are available at reasonable prices, and research shows that electric vehicles are more economical over their lifetimes than conventional vehicles which run on Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) technology. Increasing consumer awareness, the positive impact of EVs on the climate, and policies and incentives put forward by governments are all driving EV adoption.

However, the electric vehicles currently available operate on batteries that have limited power density and energy density, which restricts their use. Due to the limitations of current battery technology and the lack of widespread charging infrastructure, electric vehicles are largely used for commuting within city limits, but aren’t used for long journeys - a fear of running out of charge is holding EV drivers back.

To overcome this problem, manufacturers are developing new EVs which can travel longer distances on a single charge. Some manufacturers have developed a system to switch to gasoline to power the vehicle when the charge in the battery gets depleted, while Toyota is installing solar panels on the roof of a hybrid EV to power the vehicle with renewable energy when the battery is exhausted. Other manufacturers are developing new EV models which will charge more quickly. These efforts to manufacture extended range EVs are likely to increase the vehicles’ acceptance levels among consumers.

Upcoming improved battery systems with high power density, energy density and enhanced energy efficiency will also reduce anxiety among EV drivers. Approximately 97% of the HEVs available on the road are currently using NiMH batteries as their source of energy, but these are likely to be replaced by advanced Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery technologies. The range offered by electric vehicles with NiMH batteries is 200km per charge, whereas advanced battery technologies such as Li-ion batteries offer 300-500km per charge. The forthcoming extended range EV models, which are likely to use enhanced battery technologies or other supporting technologies, will therefore improve the outlook for EV vehicles. Alternatively, EV charging infrastructure manufacturer Better Place plans to offer a network of battery switch stations, which facilitate the swapping of depleted EV batteries with fully charged batteries, enabling EV drivers to recharge their vehicle immediately.

*Technological Developments Reducing Range Anxiety for Electric Vehicles

This report provides an analysis on how technology developments in electric vehicle industry are helping owners of electric vehicles to reduce their range anxiety, namely the fear of running out of battery power.

This report was built using data and information sourced from proprietary databases, primary and secondary research, and in-house analysis conducted by GlobalData’s team of industry experts.

JULY 2012

Article from ROYALAUTO

Motoring: Low-emission vehicles
Renault Fluence Z.E. leads an EV infrastructure revolution.


From being merely a footnote to the re-evolution of motoring, electric cars are writing their own chapter, with four likely to be on sale in Australia by year’s end. Report: Ged Bulmer

If any one part of the economy stands to be most affected by any decline in the availability of oil, it’s the automotive industry. So the issue is being tackled by every car maker on every continent. Their approaches differ, but under the broad umbrella of low-emission vehicles – LEVs – a representative sample of their progress has been displayed to the industry and other stakeholders in Australia.

A selection of some of the alternatives available, or soon-to-be-available, were on show at the recent LEV Automotive Partnerships Forum and Drive Day at Mel­bourne’s Sandown International Race­way – just up the road from the headquarters of RACV, a key member of the partnership.

Among the impressive line-up of 28 hybrids and fuel-efficient petrol and diesels, were five electric vehicles or EVs.

Of the five, Mitsubishi i-MiEV is on sale, and three more are due in showrooms over the next six months, including Holden Volt, Nissan LEAF and Renault Fluence Z.E. The fifth was a locally developed electric Commodore vehicle not available to the public. Of course, EV ownership raises many questions for consumers, precisely what the day’s Q&A sessions sought to address.

Infrastructure, for instance. The means to refuel conventional cars is on every second main road intersection, so how will electric begin to match it? That’s a challenge that EV infrastructure specialist Better Place is aiming to meet.

“We’ll provide whatever charging an electric vehicle requires, whether it be slow charge, quick charge or battery switch,” Anthony Joseph, head of sales at Better Place, told the forum.

“We make it convenient to adopt electric vehicles … we provide the charging infrastructure and services that include green energy and metering for green energy. In addition, we’re providing batteries for battery-swappable cars. The Renault Fluence is the first commercially available battery-switchable car, and it benefits from a five-minute battery swap which gives it that range extension.”

Another car with battery-swap technology is the electric Commodore developed by EV Engineering. Ian McCleave, the company’s CEO, said it was building seven ‘proof-of-concept’ vehicles to gauge the car’s viability.

It has a range of about 160km and takes roughly six hours to charge via mains power. Its battery-switch technology allows an expended battery to be swapped for a charged one in about five minutes, easing concerns owners might have about running out of power.

Holden’s more immediate offering in the EV space is the Volt, which goes on sale “late this year”. Described on the day by Holden as “arguably one of the most technologically advanced cars in the world today”, Volt differs from EVs which rely exclusively on battery power. It supplements the 80km pure electric range of its lithium-ion battery and electric drive unit, with a 1.4L petrol engine that extends its range to more than 600km.

Volt differs from a hybrid in that the petrol engine never drives the wheels; it only ever charges the battery.

Nissan LEAF and Renault Fluence Z.E. take different approaches to the challenge of electrification. LEAF is the world’s first, built-from-the-ground-up EV, while Fluence is an electrified version of an existing car.

Renault sales director Mark Palavestra said the French company had invested four billion Euros in EVs and has “a firm commitment that we can see 1.5 million EVs sold in the global market by 2015”.

Fluence Z.E. arrives later this year promising sub-$40k pricing. That’s because it will effectively be sold without a battery, one of the most expensive parts of any EV. Instead, Fluence owners will lease the car’s switchable battery from Better Place. The benefits of this are clear once you realise this allows owners to upgrade the battery at no penalty whenever new battery technology arrives.

The other advantage of battery swap technology is range extension, with Better Place planning a phased roll-out of change stations across the country.

Mitsubishi is already in the EV market, having launched i-MiEV here in late 2009. The four-seater was at first available only to fleet and government users, but in the past year it’s been on sale to the public for $48,800. And it’s just been joined in that space by LEAF, which is $51,500.

Of course, the initial supply of these vehicles is limited, but that still leaves a fair chunk of the LEV stable open to conventional established models. And that includes the expanding range of hybrids. Toyota, the recognised leader, has sold four million hybrids, but Honda has been in the game just as long and has a range of offerings including Civic, Insight and CR-Z. As the early models in their hybrid fleet start to age, both companies should therefore be ready to make a call on the unanswered question of battery longevity and replacement cost.

“The (Civic) battery has a design life of 15 years and we warrant it for eight years/ unlimited kilometres,” Honda’s Lindsay Smalley told the forum, adding that “if you do need to buy a new battery in the future, they cost about $2000 and one hour’s fitting time”.

Hamdi Hussein from Toyota said the Prius range has an eight-year/160,000km battery warranty, and a changeover price of “about $3000”.

Mr Hussein said a number of Priuses have done 500,000km without requiring a battery change­over, including a Tasmanian car that has done more than 950,000km on its first battery, and a taxi in Queensland that had done 1.1 million. That’s exceptional durability by any standard and bodes well for the future uptake of EVs and hybrids.

RACV's Simon Mikedis tries an EV recharging unit at Sandown, and Forum participants take a look into the future.

LEV forum

The LEV forum and drive day was an initiative of the Low Emission Vehicles Automotive Partnership, which involves RACV and the non-profit organisation Future Climate Australia. It is supported by many major vehicles companies and promotes the use of ‘greener’, more economical vehicles. The LEV website has a comprehensive buyers’ guide, see

Article as printed in RoyalAuto July 2012 (, author Greg Bulmer.
by GlobalData’s team of industry experts.

23 NOVEMBER 2012

Article from Herald Sun:

Sparks fly at Holden with Barina

by: Joshua Dowling
The Holden Barina Spark is exciting for the electric car market. Picture: Supplied

MEET the cheapest mass-produced electric car on the road today - the US version of the Holden Barina Spark.

When it goes on sale next year, it's expected to cost less than $30,000.

But with the US government's $7500 incentive for electric vehicles and the Californian government's $3500 rebate, the price will probably dip under $20,000. That's the equivalent of Toyota Corolla money here.

The Spark EV's nose is covered in chequered camouflage because we had a sneak-preview drive before its unveiling at next week's Los Angeles motor show.

But if you imagine the shiny grille treatment of the Holden Volt grafted on to the front of this hatchback, you'll have a pretty good mental picture of how it will look.

This is General Motors' first all-electric car since the ill-fated EV1 was axed in 1999 - the company accused in a 2006 documentary of killing the electric car has reinvented it.

The Spark EV might have cutesy looks but it is the fastest electric hatch on the road.

Engineers have also given it sports suspension and wider tyres - a major departure from the skinny rubber previously used on eco cars.

It will be built in South Korea and sold in North America at first but Australia is on the distribution "wish list". "With the Volt, we've introduced the notion of electric Holdens (to the Australian public). We're well positioned to take advantage of other GM global EV projects should the right level of market demand become apparent," Holden director of external communications, Craig Cheetham said.


Electric cars still don't make economic sense but the Spark EV puts the technology within reach of mass-market buyers for the first time.

The petrol Holden Barina Spark starts at $13,990 so it would take decades to recoup the $15,000 or so price difference in fuel savings from the $30,000 fully electric model.

But that's still a much lower price premium compared to other electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which each cost about $50,000, or about $30,000 more than similarly sized petrol cars.

The cost of electric cars is not expected to take another large reduction for five years, when the industry anticipated the next development in battery technology.


The Spark EV has an electric motor under the bonnet and a 255kg lithium-ion battery pack under the rear seats, straddled over the rear wheels. Both are elegant installations.

The technologies are borrowed from the Holden Volt plug-in hybrid but are different in design and capacity.

The Spark EV's electric motor has about 100kW of power and a phenomenal 542Nm of torque - just 8Nm less than the V8 in the Holden Special Vehicles GTS sports sedan. And all this in a car that weighs 1346kg, or 500kg less than the HSV.

By comparison, the bigger and heavier Volt has a 111kW and 500Nm electric motor, which makes the Spark EV quicker from 0-100km/h (less than eight seconds).

Press the power button to start the car and the computer does 1400 diagnostics checks in the time it takes the instruments to light up.

Recharging time is eight hours from empty but a fast charger can bring the battery pack to 80 per cent full in 20 minutes. General Motors won't reveal driving range until next week (it says the battery has a capacity of "at least 20kWh").

If it had a 24kWh battery pack, a driving range of 160km would be possible. Most motorists drive fewer than 80km to and from work daily.


Below the shiny Volt-like grille and hidden behind the bumper are "shutters" that close at high speeds to improve airflow around the car and open at low speeds to improve cooling.

The underbody is almost completely flat to allow it to better slip through the air. Even the rear spoiler and side moulds have subtle curves to make a clean break with the air and reduce turbulence.

The interior is largely unchanged from the regular Spark but the instrument cluster is replaced by the digital display from the Volt. It looks small (the Spark competes in the city-car segment) and has seat belts for five but it can fit four adults in relative comfort.

It is yet to be independently tested but there's no reason to suggest the Spark EV would not get the same four-star ANCAP safety rating as the petrol-powered model. Six airbags are standard.

Last year, a Volt battery pack caught fire weeks after a US government crash test because it was not drained properly.

But before and since that incident, the Volt battery packs have been tested in severe impacts mounted in cars as well as stand-alone in laboratory conditions and none have caught fire on impact.

Emergency services are also trained to deal with electric car battery packs after a crash.

Following Cyclone Sandy in New York, 16 electric sedans made by Fisker caught fire after one became submerged in salt floodwaters for hours - then wind carried flames to 15 others parked alongside on the shipping dock.

But the company says it was the Fisker's 12V battery that caused the initial spark, not the lithium-ion battery pack, when it fed power into the circuit.

But a Fisker car's lithium-ion battery pack did catch fire earlier in the year after the supplier installed faulty cells.


Here's the big surprise. The Spark EV is awesome to drive.

It shouldn't be a surprise, though. This little car has more torque than a Commodore V8 and - just to reiterate - nearly matches the 550Nm of the almighty HSV GTS sports sedan.

General Motors has tweaked the gearing of the electric motor slightly to make peak power arrive at 65km/h - the speed at which most other electric cars tend to taper off - on the way to a top-speed in excess of the speed limit.

The EV also steers well and handles bumps much better than the regular petrol-powered Spark.

Engineers gave the Spark EV a wider "footprint", by pushing the wheels further out to the corners of the car.

And then they fitted wider rubber (15 x 6-inch up front and 15 x 6.5-inch at the rear).

You read that right.

The rear has wider rubber than the front (just like HSV performance cars do) to handle the weight of the big battery pack in the rear floor.

Now, if only Holden could make the regular Spark handle like this.


Less than a month after the world's biggest car makers all but wrote off electric cars - at the Paris motor show Toyota, GM and Volkswagen declared their preference for plug-in hybrids - the Spark EV breathes new hope into the potential for fun, affordable petrol-free driving.

-- Holden Barina Spark EV
- Three and a half stars
From $30,000 (estimate)
3 years/100,000km
8 years/160,000km
- SAFETY 6 airbags
- ENGINE Electric motor (100kW/542Nm)
Single-ratio electric drive motor, max 4800rpm
- THIRST 0L/100km
- RANGE 160km (estimated)
- DIMENSIONS 3.6m (L), 1.6m (W), 1.5m (H)
- WEIGHT 1346kg
- Holden Volt
- Three and a half stars
ENGINE 1.4-litre 4-cyl, 63kW. Powers 55kW generator to recharge onboard battery pack
MAXIMUM RANGE 600km (88km on battery)
-- The electric car that keeps on going - thanks to a back-up petrol engine
-- $51,500+
- Nissan Leaf
- Three and a half stars
ENGINE 80kW/280Nm electric motor, lithium-ion battery pack
-- Easily the most complete electric car on the road today
-- $48,800+
- Mitsubishi i-MiEV
- Two stars
ENGINE 49kW/180Nm electric motor, lithium-ion battery pack
-- The first electric car on sale in Australia is showing its age

Electric Vehicles Part 1

Electric Vehicles Part 2

Electric Vehicles Part 3

DVD: "Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006)

Available in Australia


Australian Electric Vehicle Association

Blade Electric Vehicles

Ceres Community Environment Park - Electric Vehicle Conversions Project

Contact me at: red-jos_at_red-jos_net



Mannie's blogs may be accessed by clicking on to the following links:

MannieBlog (from 1 August 2003 to 31 December 2005)

Activist Kicks Backs - Blognow archive re-housed - 2005-2009

RED JOS BLOGSPOT (from January 2009 onwards)

This page was created on 4 JULY 2012 and updated on 11 FEBRUARY 2013