BMW i3: “The most advanced vehicle on the planet” taken apart and reverse-engineered

The BMW i3 incorporates several extremely innovative features (as we noted in our August 2013 cover story), from its carbon fiber “life module” to its bottom-mounted battery pack to its unique optional range extender.

In a recent Forbes article and accompanying video, Sandy Munro calls it “the most advanced vehicle on the planet…as revolutionary as the Model T was when it came out.” 

Munro knows whereof he speaks. His company, Munro & Associates, specializes in reverse engineering for the auto industry. He has taken apart a new i3 and examined every nut and bolt, and is offering (for about $500,000) a detailed analysis of its engineering, including the costs and manufacturing processes involved. “This is Grandma’s real cookbook,” says Munro. “Everything is exposed; there is absolutely nothing left to the imagination with this kind of costing.”

Carmakers often perform such tear-downs to get an inside look at their competition (Ford CEO Mark Fields recently explained how his company took apart and reassembled a Tesla Model S), and some hire Munro’s firm to do so for them.

In the highly entertaining video, Munro shows Forbes some of the i3’s key innovations, including the carbon fiber assembly that gives the little car superior crash protection, and the modular battery pack that allows any of the eight independently controlled modules to be replaced if a cell goes bad.

While engineers drool over these goodies, the suits in the corner office will take note of this fascinating discovery: Munro is convinced that the i3 will be profitable at a volume of about 20,000 vehicles a year. Considering that BMW has sold just over 6,000 units in the US in the i3’s first eight months on the market, that goal seems quite attainable.


Source: Forbes

  • live and let live

    Am quite happy to see what BMW has done, but not all of that fantastic tech is in-house developed. Tesla was the first to develop what CEO Musk calls “an electric skateboard”, a battery pack built into the floor of the vehicle that allows a flat, stiff form factor with no transmission, or drive shaft hump, and the most capacious cargo space ever in such an otherwise average-size sedan.

    Perhaps BMW also borrowed a bit from Tesla’s carbon fiber cage as well. But even if they did, it was with Musk’s blessings, given that he opened thousands of Tesla’s patents to Public Domain, at least in part to help kick-start an EV renaissance… but perhaps for a positive public image as well.

    Regardless of how it came to be, we’re all better off for having another great EV to choose from in our showrooms, and it hastens the day when only the occasional oddball who is married to a throaty exhaust note stubbornly insists on driving old-school, noisy hardware.

    • Caffined

      Well, even Tesla were only copying the construction layout ( flat chassis pan , battery, rear transverse mounted motor with single reduction DDrive, etc, etc ) of millions of model RC Cars !
      Many of those were CF construction also .

  • Phil Tuttobene

    great but must it be SOOOO UGLY?

    • live and let live

      Ugly?! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder… and as it happens, when form follows function as in this case, where the shape is foremost to protect occupants, the human tendency is to become more accustomed. I might not be thrilled with this car’s shape today, but a lot of us could eventually learn to like it especially if other car makers copy the styling to protect passengers better.

      When chrome and fins ruled the showroom, and semisoft bumpers started to appear in an effort to make accidents more survivable for pedestrians and to reduce body shop repair bills, there was a huge backlash. Today most people see all that chrome and metal as anachronistic and tired. I prefer the newer designs and think we’ll see more that follow BMW’s lead in this regard. We need safer cars.

      I’m a huge fan of Tesla, for a variety of reasons, and BMW has borrowed heavily from Tesla’s designs to produce the i3. But it would not surprise me if Tesla turns around and incorporates a roll cage design similar to the i3’s if it proves to be safer. Musk is very keen on safety.

    • Zephyr

      I don’t like it in pics, but weirdly, I think it looks pretty cool in person.
      And it’s fun as h#ll to drive.
      It’s on our short list to replace our hybrid when we go all-EV.

  • pokerbroker

    The Tesla Model S was the first to have a bottom mounted battery pack and the carbon fiber cabin, while amazing, still fell short of the Model S’s performance in crash testing. The Tesla Roadster had a modular battery in which single modules can be replaced if a cell goes bad. Pretty much all points in this article were not actually innovative.

    That being said, I’m very excited to have a major manufacturer like BMW start to take electric vehicles seriously. Hopefully there will be competition for the Model S soon!

    • ned_plimpton

      I had a similar reaction to the points made at first. It’s hard to argue that the Model S (not to mention the P85D) is NOT the most advanced car on the planet.

      However, the carbon fiber cabin is a huge deal. Cheap, lightwieht and really strong. Tesla’s frame is expensive and heavy. At roughly three times the cost, the Model S should preform better than the i3 in crash tests!

      So, this guy might have a point…

    • MorinMoss

      The Renault Fluence had a bottom-mounted, swappable battery pack before the Model S.