The Electric Slide: Nissan Leaf and BMW i3

The Electric Slide: Nissan Leaf and BMW i3

Timing is everything. BMW has chosen to release its latest pair of electric/hybrid vehicles during a time in South Africa, where the power utility is in dire straits. The launch of the BMW i3 means that South Africa now has two fully electric production cars on the market, as well as an ever-growing list of plug-in hybrids.

The Nissan Leaf was introduced to South Africa in November 2013 making history as the first all-electric car to go on sale locally. It represented the birth of over $5 billion in R&D funding over a period of 20 years.  It’s a zippy hatchback to say the least and the 254Nm of torque is delivered the moment you put your foot down. The ride is very comfortable thanks to a lack of engine noise and a classy, futuristic and roomy cabin. The Leaf can seat 5 adults reasonably well with bootspace to match a similar class of vehicle and 60/40 split rear seats. Added to the features list are heated seats all around, Bluetooth, SatNav and even a reversing camera.

Due to the limited range of Nissan’s claimed 195km, the Leaf is a city-car first and foremost. Living with it requires a bit more planning than we’ve become used to and I found myself keeping a much closer eye on the digital readout that displays among other things, my driving mode, regeneration and range. Other than this limitation, it’s a joy to live with and drive. With the battery packs placed quite low under the car, the low centre of gravity makes for a stunning drive between plug-ins.

On that note, the practicalities of charging the Nissan Leaf are not as simple as charging your iPhone. Unfortunately you cannot (at this stage) simply plug the Leaf into a normal wall socket. All Nissan Leaf owners are required to purchase a home charging unit that will fully recharge the car in seven hours. Together with this mandatory charging unit, the Nissan Leaf retails for R480 600.

So let’s introduce the BMW i3 that has just been launched in South Africa. There are two options of i3 available for purchase: The fully-electric i3 costs R525 000 and the i3 REX (Range Extender) that includes a small 28kW 650CC BMW petrol engine that cuts in when the battery pack runs out, costs R595 000.

Like the Leaf, the i3 enjoys a large and airy cabin. Without a chunky engine at the front, or a bulky transmission, the i3 has been designed without those constraints. The rear doors open rearwards leaving a lot more room to negotiate getting in and out of the vehicle.

The lack of an engine means a whole new world for designers. Certain design limitations have been opened up and hence the somewhat ‘odd’ styling of both these cars. They have been created to be as light and as aerodynamically efficient as possible. They are both made up of a mix of recyclable interior material. The BMW chassis is entirely aluminium and the body shell is made of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic. These cars represent a whole new wave of design and manufacturing processes.

So what we have here are two cars that drive normally with the added silence and immediate torque. They have wireless connectivity and SatNav. They have seating for 5 and boot space. They are comfortable and practical in the same way that a Volkswagen Golf is. The only difference is that they plug into an electricity point and can’t go as far as we’re used to. So what’s all the fuss about then? There are a few other considerations.

The depreciative value of electric cars is a question. Early adopters of this technology will need to know that because of the very small supply and demand of these cars, their value will drop significantly in a short space of time.

American and European markets are rewarding these early adopters with tax incentives and reduced congestion charges, not to mention zero penalties for driving zero emission cars. It’s still to be confirmed if African markets will do the same for owners of these cars but it’s not too prudent to think the same will happen.

BMW’s entry into the electric market will no doubt be beneficial for both Nissan and BMW as consumers have more reason to show an interest. Prominent businessman Nicky Oppenheimer has recently taken delivery of a BMW i3 REX and it is these early adopters that should be saluted as much as BMW and Nissan, for pushing the boundaries and questioning the norm of what us consumers consider to be normal.

Whilst the electricity crisis in Southern Africa is a concern, our diminishing natural resources are even more concerning. What these cars represent for us Africans, is possibility and hope for the future.

The BMW i8 – snippet

The BMW i8 is a hybrid sports car that joins the i3 in BMW’s local range of mobile sustainability vehicles. BMW describe it as the most progressive sports car they’ve ever made with the emissions and consumption of a compact car, but the dynamics and performance of a sportscar. The i8, on paper at least seems to deliver on this promise by way of a 96kW electric motor on the front axle, and a 170kW three cylinder petrol motor at the rear. The combination means an-wheel drive 50:50 weight distribution and incredible performance figures when you consider the claimed emissions of 49 g/km and 2.1 litres/100km in fuel consumption. *

The BMW i8 represents the future of the sportscar and is an awesome testament to the future of motoring. I have not driven it as yet but it’ an opportunity I am too excited about.

*Performance figures are 0-100km/h in 4.4 seconds and a top speed of 250km/h. *

*BMW claimed figures*



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