Frankfurt 2011: BMW Debuts i3, i8 Concepts; Talks Green Manufacturing, Laser Headlights

It seemed like every carmaker present at the Frankfurt Motor Show was focused on demonstrating its commitment to saving the world by the grace of small electric or hybrid city cars. BMW was no different, taking the opportunity to publicly unveil the i3 electric city car and i8 plug-in hybrid sports car concepts.

BMW chairman Norbert Reithofer prefaced the cars’ arrival by showing off a BMW 1602e, which was specifically converted to electric drive for the 1972 Olympics. The battery-powered 1602e was used to accompany marathon runners during that year’s Olympic Games in Munich.

The i3 and i8, though, are far more modern. Their chassis are made from aluminum, and their passenger compartments from carbon fiber. By saving weight with these materials, BMW has managed to counteract the additional weight of batteries that usually makes electric cars so heavy.

While the cars themselves will be  very energy efficient, producing the carbon fiber needed for them requires lots of energy. To offset that, all the carbon fiber for the i3 and i8 will be made at a Moses Lake, Washington, factory that is powered exclusively by a zero-emissions hydroelectric plant.

“With the BMW i family, we’re heading in a totally new direction — emission-free driving, cutting-edge materials, and sustainable production,” Reithofer said.

One other neat trick to cut power usage: the i8 concept is the first application of BMW’s new laser headlight system. The diode laser-based headlights apparently use just half the energy of modern LED headlights. They also allow light to be focused on specific areas as needed by the driver.

Though they are just concept cars for now, the BMW i3 and i8 will go on sale in late 2013 or early 2014.

For more on the 2011 Frankfurt show, including videos, the latest photos, and more information, please CLICK HERE to visit our Frankfurt show home page.