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Remember the BMW E1?

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BMW concept electric car, the E1

Twenty-one years ago, auto giant BMW showed the world its first all-electric car, the E1, which of course is no longer around but gets credit within company ranks as being the forerunner to the entire BMW i-series, which is currently in production. For its day, the E1 was truly ahead of the game, with advanced aerodynamic design and unheard of, at the time, ergonomic flourishes, plus a range that to this day is in dispute. Experts in 1991 called the car the most advanced of the century, which is not much of an exaggeration, considering that it was BMW’s first workable, realistic shot at an emission-free auto up to that time.

The rear-mounted 37 kW motor was part of a daring design, which included aluminum and plastic in the car’s body and components, and boasted a maximum speed of 72 mph and a range of 125 miles. While those numbers sound impressive, consider that they came at great cost, which meant that the car was out of the price range of most consumers. The cutting-edge car used sodium-sulfur batteries, while its successors, the Z15 and the E2, upgraded to sodium nickel-chloride packs.

The scientists and engineers who worked on the project for a number of years came to the conclusion that electric cars were definitely in the future for BMW, and could eventually be manufactured and sold to the public for reasonable prices. The study’s overall conclusion was prescient, namely that the biggest obstacle to the development of electric vehicles was the storage of energy. BMW’s efforts in the area of alternative fuel power are based directly on what their engineers learned from the E1 project, which goes to show that no lesson in the world of science is wasted.

For information about what’s going on at BMW, see the company’s website, at

Larry Bell writes about cars, gadgets, business, and history. He has been a professional writer and editor for over 20 years and enjoys all car-related topics, especially electric and hybrid vehicle news. Larry covers the auto industry for MPA and often reports live from the floor of major shows in Detroit, LA, San Francisco, Phoenix, Las Vegas and elsewhere.

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