1991 BMW E1: The Concept We Almost Forgot – video


The BMW i3 of the early 1990s had a more than decent range of 124 miles*.

Name: BMW E1

Debuted: 1991

Specs: Fully electric, 124 miles (200 kilometers) range, 75 mph (120 kph) top speed, aluminum and plastic body, four seats.  (A note on range, this 124 miles wasn’t the EPA/real world rating of today – which likely would translate to about 80 miles/130 km).

Why We Remember It Now:

As the BMW i3 gets an update for 2018 model year, and has also spawned the i3s (details), we figured it would be a good opportunity to look back at its ancestor.


BMW dipped its toes into EV development way back in 1972 when the company introduced the 1602 Elektro-Antrieb (Electric-Drive) at the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.

Almost two decades later, the research team at subsidiary BMW Technik GmbH introduced a small electric vehicle tailored mostly to city use. Think of it as the i3 of the 1990s, but without the futuristic exterior and avant-garde interior (but maybe with the same tires?).

Like today’s i3, the BMW E1 was small on the outside and fairly large on the inside by being able to accommodate up to four people and some luggage. In order to offset the weight of the batteries, the engineers decided to develop a lightweight body making use of extrusion-pressed aluminum profiles while the outer skin was a combination between plastic and aluminum.

A fully functional concept (see driving footage above), the 1991 BMW E1 featured an unspecified battery pack that had enough juice to get you just about wherever you needed to go around town or short trips to the country (up to 200 km/124 miles in the most optimistic of situations). Not too shabby for an EV built a quarter of a century ago, right? The charging port necessary to “refill” the batteries was neatly integrated behind one of the kidney grilles.

It wasn’t painfully slow either, as the E1 had enough electric punch to reach a top speed of 75 mph (120 kph), which would have been more than enough for city use, even by today’s standards. It’s not like the current i3 is exactly a top speed burner, given its top speed is electronically capped at just 93 mph (150 kph).

The E1 wasn’t developed by BMW with production in mind as it was created purely to showcase the company’s progress regarding electric vehicles. Like many projects from BMW Technik, it had a substantially different exterior design than the road-going models of those days. The interior cabin was quite simple, but roomy for a pint-sized commuter tailored primarily to tackle the urban jungle.

Categories: BMW


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25 Comments on "1991 BMW E1: The Concept We Almost Forgot – video"

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Looks like an old Nissan Micra with a BMW badge.

Still a HUGE improvement over the i3…BMW Is Clearly Going A*ss Backwards .


Agreed. I much prefer the looks of this car over the i3.

Batteries were Bulky & Heavy Back Then..Throw in some good Lithium Batteries & you got a decent little city car & More!

LMAOta, you do realize the i3 is immensely more safe by today’s standards than the 1991 concept. Also, FYI, I just went over the Grapevine 4100ft, cruise control set at 70mph from Valencia to Bakersfield. 72 miles. Arrived in Bakersfield with 52 mI range remaining. So averaged 4.Omi/kWh, with 4 people in the car and cruise control set at 70mph. And this is all with only about 29kWh usable. Not too shabby to blow away EPA estimayes with this kind of highway driving. And it was such a joy to drive one of the most advanced cars on the planet on this trip. Now please go back to your anti-BMW hole.

I’m as anti BMW as anyone but I do like that little i3 quite a lot.

Very Nice!

Can you say, “Golf Cart” L M A O MOTA

Well just to bring you back to reality a little, Valencia CA is about 610′ higher in elevation than Bakersfield CA, so you basically got the benefit of coasting down a 610′ hill. I’m pretty sure the EPA doesn’t do this.

Well it did so well, I figured I would try and make it all
the way back home in Ventura County without even stopping in Valencia. So all the way back up the Grapevine this time with cruise set at 65mph (speed limit). Made it back the 110 miles, with 19 to spare. And that was with a 4.2mi/kWh average efficiency. So like I said, the i3 does remarkably well even at highway speeds and 4 occupants. Also, realize, regeneration is nowhere close to 100% efficiency. And I can’t tell you what a blast the i3 is running through Grime’s Canyon , simply amazing.

The Safety -card is always pulled out in order to justify the “need” to have the latest and greatest. It’s the typical car manufacturer and dealership propaganda.

Majority of accidents could simply be avoided with safer driving. And it has been shown that SUV drivers are more likely to die in a car crash


I was curious about your statement … the article you linked says the opposite: drivers in SUVs are LESS likely to die in a crash. Which makes sense, they’re in a taller/heavier vehicle compared to the average car. (The article mentions that the rollover problem SUVs had in the ’80s and ’90s has been essentially fixed.)

The Safety -card is always pulled out in order to justify the “need” to have the latest and greatest. It’s the typical car manufacturer and dealership propaganda.

Majority of accidents could simply be avoided with safer driving.

Both the article and the video are incomplete. What battery did they use in 1991 that got 121 miles / 200 km. Lithium battery’s first application was camcorder and there is no way lithium battery could have been used.

So nickel battery was the only choice and there is no way a nickel battery can power the car for 121 miles. So all the calculation were based on some slow driving at 30 MPH / 50 km/h with 1 passenger and without any AC/Heater running on. In reality it may have a range of only 40 miles / 65 km/h.

The BMW E1 used a sodium-nickel chloride battery. This is apparently a high temperature battery.

I believe this is not for practical usage, otherwise every automaker would have embraced it.

That leaves Lithium as the only viable battery element.

Anyway BMW made an effort and then discontinued until Tesla raced ahead of them.

They were developed before NiMH batteries, and a hot prospect at the time. Too hot, actually.

“I believe this is not for practical usage, otherwise every automaker would have embraced it.”

That’s right. Molten salt batteries are quite expensive, and have never been used in a production car. I think they are very unlikely to ever be.

This is the problem with comparing a concept car to production cars, which is exactly what this article does. Auto makers are free to use any fancy, horribly expensive or completely impractical design or technology in a concept car. That’s a big part of why mass produced cars are often so very different than the concept car they were supposedly based on.

Think used them. They are also known as Zebra batteries.

You assume. For all we know the battery weighed 2000 pounds.

20kwh battery weighing 200kg…seems advanced for its time with car weighing only 900kg empty


the MINI-E made for BMW by ACPropulsion was and is my favorite. Over 500 were made and sold. The owners all seemed to love them. They are still on the road at the University Of Delaware being used for a V2G Vehicle to GRID study.

Wow, pretty cool video. Amazing these were running around before the LEAFs, and Volts.