(Updated) BMWi- Range Extender a Limp Mode?

BMW_i3_RangeExtender_v04

Range anxiety; it ‘s what holds many back from buying an electric vehicle and why BMW has done some serious R&D into a range extender for the i3. Truth be told, this is the car we are interested in adding to the stable and not the pure electric model and its not because of range anxiety- it ‘s the being prepared mentality we religiously follow. You just never know when you may end up in a ditch avoiding oncoming traffic in a snow storm and might need that juice to stay warm a bit longer waiting for a flatbed or just have an unexpected detour. That is one of the plusses of a range extender.

The ReX, as it is often called, in the i3 is rumored to be a small 650cc two cylinder engine derived from BMW ‘s Motorad division that ‘s mounted under the rear floor to power a generator. The fuel supply will be a small gas tank (3 gallons) up front to provide an additional 80 miles of driving. Sounds great right? According to greencarreports, there may be a hitch. Herbert Diess, global R&D boss for BMW, explained the company ‘s point of view, reinforcing the viewpoint cited at the launch: The range extender is not intended for daily use. It ‘s for situations when the driver needs to extend the range of the vehicle to reach the next charging station. Therefore, the i3 probably won ‘t be the choice for customers with a need for an extended range.

This view of BMW basically shows their hand in terms of what the i3 will be in ReX mode without officially letting the cat out of the bag; it will be a “limp mode “. This is in stark contrast to the Chevy Volt that provides nearly identical performance in electric and ReX modes as needed.

Diess says that BMW doesn ‘t think the range extender will be needed by a “substantial share ” of i3 buyers:

It is more of an issue for those who have not yet had a chance to use an electric car. After a few days, they usually discover that a base range of [100 miles] is sufficient to limit recharging to about two times a week. In most cases where people first think they need a range extender, it actually never is used.

BMW is not expecting to sell many ReX models after the initial launch because people will begin to realize that they really do not require a vehicle with more than a 100 mile range all that often and when they do, BMW has them covered with loaner cars and a system already being established for car sharing. They may have a point there but that still doesn ‘t help the paranoid and skeptics so BMW may have a hard time pushing that stateside.

We shall see as this all unfolds- regardless of the outcome we are still believers in BMW ‘s commitment to BMWi and even if it falls on its face all that R&D into lightweight building techniques can be transferred over to combustion models. We ‘re waiting on official specs and seat time before we cast our vote on this but sound off in the comments with your take.

UPDATE: BMW has provided us with some additional information and it paints a better picture of the ReX. They have told us that the ReX will of course increase range and while the performance may not be identical to that of a fully charged battery it will not be limping along the interstate or autobahn at 30 mph when the range extender kicks in. You may not have the same power as with a fully-charged battery, but you would be able to drive normally.

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  • les

    Not to change the topic, but I would be more likely to buy a Hydrogen Full Cell car, than an Electric car. In Kentucky our power comes from coil, therefore the my car is actually running on some seriously dirty stuff. Hydrogen on the other hand, is very clean. If I’m going to spend the money on an alternate fuel type of car, then I want it to be as politically correct from every angle. Isn’t that why people drive these type or cars anyways? To make a point about something.

    Back to topic, I would buy the range extender even if it ran in Limp Mode.

    • BimmerFile_Michael

      The problem with hydrogen is that it is still needs energy to create it and then there is the issue of the infrastructure. That is a ways off yet. Put some panels on your roof and a turbine out back and you can offset your car 🙂

      The other thing to consider is that producing electricity is more efficient than combustion engines (saw this study somewhere on this) so you are still causing less pollution even if coal is dirty….

      Here we use natural gas- solar and wind.

      • R53tuning

        You know what really grinds my gears…electric cars. Electric cars are a waste of time and money. Everybody thinks drive an electric car is good for the environment however completely disregard the fact on how garbage is dumped into the atmosphere creating these batterys, not to mention the environment waste when these batteries are depleted. If all the auto makers/ governments/fuel companies take all the money spent on research and development and put it towards hydrogen fuel stations we would be in a much better position. You think car polution is bad? Did you know that the oil sand refinement plants in Alberta Canada generate more polution then every single bike and car in Canada??? Thats my rant of the day

        • BimmerFile_Michael

          I do not disagree with you at all…. but the problem is special interest groups and lobbys. BMW is trying to bring this car to market as eco as possible and they being the most sustainable auto brand will honestly try… but at the end of the day there is nothing we currently have that is truly green but this will be the closest if they can pull off what they have designed and planned from production to grave.

          • r53tuning

            I agree Michael. I’m happy to see BMW push forward with innovative solutions to the urban culture.

  • Dave Buchko, BMW of North Am.

    Suggesting that the BMW i3 Ranger Extender operates in a “limp mode” when the gasoline engine is generating the electric power implies that the power output is significantly reduced when compared to when the electric motor is getting its power from the battery. That implication is misleading. Based on the company’s extensive experience with the MINI E and BMW ActiveE we know that most drivers will find that they will be able to handle the vast majority of their daily driving needs on battery power alone. Again, based the company’s experience, we know that the times when the range extender will be needed will be few and far between. Use of the term “limp mode” creates a false impression.

    • BimmerFile_Michael

      Dave- from reports we have read and heard the range extender is not meant for daily driving and is a temporary extension of range (Dr. Diess even commented on this). Once the battery is depleted there is no way for the small engine to generate power equal to what the pack supplies unless the reports of the 650cc are inaccurate. I am not sure how that is then not a limp mode if it is not able to supply full on power at all times like the BEV mode would. Obviously I have not driven this car and they are not in final form and this is based on reports so that is why it is posed as a question. As I said in the piece I am still more than likely going to get one and I am very excited for it to come to market.

      I do not disagree with what you say about the range being adequate for the majority of people- having driven the Active E, I was more than impressed and dropping 700 lbs can do nothing but improve the experience in the i3.

      If the ReX can equal the power output and performance of the BEV mode then of course this story is false and we will edit as necessary but currently we have no evidence that is the case. I thank you for your comment and feel free to reach out via email if there is something I need to be made clear on. Thanks -M

      Q: BMW will offer a small engine to extend the i3 EV’s range. Isn’t this a contradiction for a “born electric” model?

      Diess: The optional range extender will almost double the range of the BMW i3. We do not think that a substantial share of customers will really need the range extender. It is more of an issue for those who have not yet had a chance to use an electric car. After a few days, they usually discover that a base range of [100 miles] is sufficient to limit recharging to about two times a week. In most cases where people first think they need a range extender it actually never is used.

      Q: BMW envisions i3 buyers using the battery power for urban daily commuting and the range extender just for occasional longer trips. What about those using the range extender on a daily basis?

      Diess: The range extender is not intended for daily use. It’s for situations when the driver needs to extend the range of the vehicle to reach the next charging station. Therefore, the i3 probably won’t be the choice for customers with a need for an extended range. A plug-in hybrid would be a more suitable solution.