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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

East Coast Meets West Coast at the LA Auto Show

The Electronaut crew at the LA Auto Show!
Ever since my MINI-E days, I have always wanted to go to a California MINI-E and now ActiveE event so that I could meet the people who I regularly converse with about our cars. There were opportunities, but the timing was just never right. Then I got the email form BMW inviting me to the Electronaut-only private event at the LA Auto show where a new BMW i concept car would be shown for the first time.

Jon, Mariel, myself & Angela
At first I didn't give it much thought, figuring it wouldn't be worth flying to LA just for the day. However I then attended the New York BMW i Born Electric event where over 100 ActiveE drivers came together and saw the concept i3 & i8 as well as had the chance to talk to some of the program managers. I had such a good time that while I was there I made up my mind to fly to LA for the Auto Show event. Not so much to see the new concept car, but really to see all the West Coast Electronauts in person and spend some time sharing our thoughts on the upcoming i3 as well as the current ActiveE program.

The concept i3 Coupe
The event was on Thursday, November 29th, from 2 to 4pm. I landed in LA late Wednesday night attended the event and flew out on the red eye that night, connecting in Chicago before landing in Newark at 9:00am the next day. It was a pretty crazy 24 hours, but well worth it. BMW introduced a new variation of the i3, a coupe. Before the show there were media outlets that speculated the new car they were unveiling was actually an entirely new model that was going to be called the i4. Many people (including me) fell for the misinformation, believing the websites that claimed that this indeed was a larger car, based on the i3 platform that would seat five.

Jacob Harb & Oliver Walter address the crowd
Presentations were made by Jacob Harb, the new Manager of Electric Vehicle Sales & Strategy for North America and Oliver Walter, Project Manager for BMW i. They spoke for about a half hour and then took questions from the Electronaut group. Many of the people I spoke to there were impressed with the i3 coupe and even said they prefer it over the Concept i3 four door. While I did like the new Coupe, I am definitely more interested in the four door. I also think some people that said they prefer the coupe did so because the coupe is closer to production ready than the four door i3 concept which was introduced over a year ago is. The Coupe has seemingly production ready doors that aren't made of glass like the four door i3 and the interior is very close to what I expect the production i3 to be. You could actually see yourself driving this car whereas the four door concept i3 is all glass and just a show car that looks a little too futuristic for some people's liking. Once the production version of it is out I think many of the people who said the prefer the coupe may change their mind. The accessibility to the back seating area is much better with the addition of the suicide-style doors, and I don't think they take away from the styling at all, especially without external door handles.

Murat and his ActiveE
I stayed at a hotel right outside the airport which was about an hour away from the show and I didn't arrange for transportation to and from the Convention Center before I got there. It wasn't a problem though. I posted on the ActiveE Facebook page that I needed to get back and forth and within minutes I has a few offers from fellow Electronauts. I ended up taking Murat Kazanci up on the offer and he took me to the show and dropped me back off. Murat works very close to the airport and was going also so it wasn't really much out of his way to swing by the hotel and pick me up. I got a bonus on the ride home and he took me to his office to check out the personal light sport aircraft his company is making. It was pretty awesome and you can see it yourself here. It was great meeting Murat and I really appreciated him taking the time to pick me up and take me back to my hotel. 

Listening to the presentation
There really wasn't much new information about the i3. Jacob did talk a little about the range extender option and also fielded some questions about the availability of DC quick charge on the i3, but BMW just isn't ready to give out much technical details yet. That's understandable because the car is still about 10 months from launch and BMW has a specific timeline on what and when the details will be divulged and there is plenty of time for that. I know some of us are anxious to get more information, but it's still early and there is no need to show your cards to the competition just yet. I suspect sometime in March or April we well get everything there is to know about the car. There were a few people that wanted to know what BMW has learned form the motor spline issue our cars have had and how that will guarantee there isn't a similar issue on the i3. I know Jacob spoke to some about this, but I wasn't close by and didn't hear the answer. That's a legitimate question. The ActiveEs have had this problem for a while now and while there is a fix being applied, some that haven't had the modification are still breaking down. I think it would benefit BMW if at some point they tell us what they learned and assured us that wouldn't be a problem going forward.

Todd, Oliver, Tom, me, Adam, Mariel & Jacob

Although it was a lot of traveling for basically one day it was well worth it. Meeting dozens of the West Coast MINI-E and ActiveE drivers in person after communicating with them online for a long time now was great, and I could have hung out all day if we were allowed to. I also had the chance to speak with Jacob Harb and Oliver Walter from BMW i for a while. Jacob and I have had previous conversations, but this was the first time I've met Oliver so it was a good opportunity to introduce myself and chat for a while. Just like the New York Born Electric Tour event, this was a great opportunity to meet the others in the program, talk to some program managers and learn a bit about what the i3 is going to be like. I really enjoyed myself and I hope BMW hosts more events like this for the ActiveE lessees as we approach the launch of the i brand. It really helps the people involved in these field trials feel appreciated.

George, Peder, Mariel & Tomoo
The absolutely fabulous dashboard layout of the concept i3 coupe. I hope BMW doesn't change much, it's perfect as is!
George Batek Snapped this cool picture of me talking to Todd Crook through the windshield of the car.


  1. That car looks great. I hope BMW makes both variants and maybe they give the coupe more power

  2. Thanks for the report on the LA Auto Show event, Tom. Sounds like everyone had a good time.

    I was glad to hear that a coupe version will be offered as well as the 4-door i3. I prefer the two-door; it's simpler. Since I'm tall and push the seat all the way back, a single wider door works better for entry and upper seatbelt anchor position. Granted, the suicide doors give easier access to the back seat, but I would rarely use the backseat for (human) passengers. Hopefully at some point BMW will take advantage of the i3's modular construction by also dropping a two-seat sports car body onto the i3 aluminum chassis; the cost should be the same if the motor and suspension components (and wheelbase) are unchanged. The more i3s they sell, the better, no matter what variant.

    I would prefer that there be a cleaner side window design in any production coupe than the meandering stream flow statement made by the concept stylists. If the sill line for the front side window was lowered a couple of inches, and then smoothly carried through to the back of the car, there would be no need for the jarring scoop in the rear side window, and the driver would also benefit from a larger side window up front. I photoshopped one of the i3 pictures in BMW's press release to illustrate this and put the result on a web page (

    I also prefer the lower-profile faux kidney grille and hood that seem to be lurking under the swirly blue on the camouflaged i3 test cars.

  3. Chris,

    The coupe hasn't received the green light for production yet. At this stage it's just a concept. BMW is still gauging interest and you can be sure your comments here are read by the powers to be. ;)

  4. Okay, thanks, Tom. Just goes to show that you can't believe everything you read in the popular press. But I'll be crossing my fingers (and for the two-seater as well).

  5. Great blog post, Tom, as always. It was nice to see you again at the event. I just wanted to leave a comment indicating that I too would prefer the coupe over the four-door version of the i3. If BMW could throw in a bone, and either allow slightly higher speed or ramped up the torque faster off the line, that would fantastic. Higher performance drivertrain would be even better. This would follow the same model Tesla has with the performance and standard version of the Model S.

  6. The new coupe looks nice. I think it's a great idea to offer the i3 in different configurations using the same drive platform.

    I'm jealous a bit though. You seem to be having too much fun with all these electric vehicle events!

  7. Thanks Tom for the update. I was ignorant of BMW's schedule and was expecting to see the production i3 unveiled at the LA Auto Show, so was disappointed when it was not. The coupe concept was a consolation. I am starting to think seriously about getting an i3 as my next car (as early as Dec 2012 when my Chevy Volt lease runs out) and so I really want to get a good look at the real thing ASAP.

    I am in complete agreement with everything Chris Llana said above on the design elements.

    Later this month, on the occasion of two years with my Volt and one year left on the lease, I will be writing an "open letter to EV makers" on what I want in my next EV. I hope BMW will take notice, because I've got a lot of experience now and there are a lot of subtleties ...

  8. Make sure you send me the link Chris. I'd like to read it also


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