Bye Bye, i3 Range Extender

Wow, BMW must be pretty confident about those new batteries.
By Wallace Castillo
Cover photo: via BMW.

Just after announcing the i3 will be getting new, bigger batteries next month, BMW has decided to drop the range extender version entirely. That's the majority of i3s sold to date, so it's a bold move.

Despite the new i3 batteries increasing all-electric range by around 40%, they still look like falling short of the the 180 miles BMW advertises for its current range extender version. So even though the range of the all-electric version is increasing, the highest possible range you could get out of an i3 is actually going to be around 20 miles lower than it was before. Anybody hoping that the new battery alongside the range extender might have pushed the range past 200 miles is going to be disappointed.

BMW claims that, despite the larger capacity, their new batteries have the same dimensions as the old ones, so this shouldn't be a matter of sacrificing the range extender to make space for a bigger battery. It's unlikely BMW is launching a redesigned chassis without telling anybody, either, so it seems the range extender space between the rear wheels is just going to be left empty (like it is on the current all-electric versions).

A more likely explanation, though, is that the range extender just isn't up to scratch any more

The explanation from Munich is that "customer demand is shifting to a pure-electric model", something the improved battery and the increasing availability of charging facilities has made more realistic than it was when the i3 was launched five years ago. Of course that doesn't force BMW to do away with the range extender for customers who still demand that, but it's still an explanation, so we'll take it.

A more likely explanation, though, is that the range extender just isn't up to scratch any more. The class action lawsuit against BMW came about from the anemic range extender's inability to provide enough power to charge the battery in more taxing situations, like long uphill climbs. Vehicles would then go into a speed-limited limp mode, to give the battery a break. After the latest battery upgrade, BMW may have found that the range extender was having an even tougher time maintaining performance.

There could be an upside to all this, though; like all companies active in Europe, BMW has got fleet average emissions targets to contend with. Scrapping the range extender forces all i3 buyers into zero-emissions vehicles, ever so slightly decreasing the emissions average across all cars sold. That might just give the company enough flex to squeeze a little bit more out of the niche cars at the other end of its range. You know, the G80 M3, things like that.

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