Though a number of high-horsepower, rear-wheel-drive programs have been shelved as a result of the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy mandates, the electric-powered 2009 Mini E may be the first vehicle developed as a result of the draconian fuel economy standards.
Shortly after the new CAFE law was ratified, BMW Group established a team - deemed 'Project I' - to investigate producing smaller, eco-friendly city vehicles. Though many activities within the skunkworks group are held in top-secret, the Mini E - scheduled for an introduction at November's 2008 Los Angeles auto show - is the first to be publicly unveiled.
Each Mini E (there will be 500 in all) begins life on the same Oxford, England, assembly line as its Mini One, Cooper, and Clubman cousins. While those models are ultimately fitted with either a gas or diesel engine before leaving the factory, Mini E models roll off the line without any form of motive power whatsoever.
For that, they're then shipped to Munich, Germany, where scientists within the Project I labs install the electric powertrain. In place of the I-4 lies a 150 kW (204 hp) direct-current electric motor, mounted transversely in the Mini's engine bay, and powering the front wheels - after all, it is still a Mini...
The Mini's diminutive rear seats are then replaced with a giant wall of lithium-ion batteries. The three battery packs, rated at 35 kilowatt-hours, send a collective 380 volts to the DC motor in front. All three can be charged via 120 or 220-volt outlets, or with a specially-designed charger - aka the "WallBox" - which comes with each vehicle. Using the WallBox, a full-charge is accomplished in two-and-a-half hours, pulling as little as 28 kilowatt-hours from the electric grid.