2017 BMW i3 To Get 94 Ah Samsung Cells & 125-Mile EPA Range Rating?

NOV 30 2015 BY TOM MOLOUGHNEY 58

About a month ago BMW CEO Harold Krueger surprised the EV world by casually mentioning in an interview with Die Zeit that in 2016 the i3 would have increased range. That of course sparked a lot of online speculation as to how would BMW accomplish this. Did they figure out a way to squeeze in more of the same 60 Ah Samsung battery cells that the i3 currently uses? Might they have sourced higher energy density battery cells from another supplier? Could Samsung have made the new 94 Ah cells available to BMW now?

According to Samsung’s Battery Technology Roadmap it didn’t look like they would have those cells available for at least another year.

From the Samsung SDI website. The 94 Ah cells aren't even listed as available (click to enlarge)

From the Samsung SDI website. The 94 Ah cells aren’t even listed as available (click to enlarge)

According to some well connected insiders, it is beginning to look like BMW will indeed use Samsung’s now 94 Ah battery cells in the 2017 i3 which will begin production in July of 2016. Furthermore, one insider even believes BMW will offer a battery upgrade option for current i3 owners that want the new, higher energy dense battery cells.

Personally I just don’t see how BMW can accomplish this without charging more money for the upgrade than most i3 owners would be willing to pay. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to get the battery upgrade myself. However, even if BMW discounted the new battery pack by giving owners a credit on the battery pack they returned, what would the upgrade price have to be for current i3 owners to bite?

Samsung SDI Battery Technology Roadmap

Samsung SDI Battery Technology Roadmap

Personally, I think I would go for it if BMW could do the upgrade for under $5,000. That would also be contingent on the rumors being correct, and the new battery pack would be the same physical size – 96 battery cells packaged in 8 modules, containing 12 cells each. Using the new 94 Ah cells, BMW would increase the i3’s total battery pack size from 21.6 kWh to 33.4 kWh without increasing weight significantly, if at all. Assuming BMW continued allowing approximately 90% of the total pack as usable energy, that would mean that the new i3 will have approximately 30kWh accessible to use. 30kWh usable would increase the i3 BEV’s range to approximately 125 miles per charge and the i3 REx to about 115 mpc.

With 115 EPA rated miles of range, my i3 REx would almost never fire up the range extender, which is fine by me. I’d still need it for the 240-mile trips to Vermont I take every couple months, but not for much more than that. If the i3 had 125 miles of range when it initially launched, I definitely wouldn’t have ordered mine with the REx.

*Editor’s Note: This post appears on Tom’s blog. Check it out here.

The battery tray removed from my i3 for service. This contains 8 modules, each holding twelve 60 Ah Samsung SDI battery cells. The new 94 Ah cells are the same size and can simply replace the current cells, in the same modules and fit nicely into the existing battery tray.

The battery tray removed from my i3 for service. This contains 8 modules, each holding twelve 60 Ah Samsung SDI battery cells. The new 94 Ah cells are the same size and can simply replace the current cells, in the same modules and fit nicely into the existing battery tray.

However, I’m still not convinced BMW will offer an option for current i3 owners to upgrade, and I’m even less convinced that they could offer it at a price point which would make it a reasonable purchase for someone who has only owned their car for a couple years or less. If they had 100,000 miles on the car, and the battery had already degraded to 75% or 80% or so of what it was when it was new, then the owner might be able to justify the cost of a new replacement pack. Of course, this is all speculation at this point.

Nonetheless, we’ll be talking a lot about these questions until BMW finally releases the details. Which, by the way, I don’t expect them to do for at least 4 or 5 months. Rumors of an upgrade to an EV’s battery pack can really hurt sales of the current vehicle. The only thing that will hurts sales even more is when the manufacturer admits it, gives the specifications and the expected launch date for the new model. If anyone out there is i3 bargain hunting, and can live with the i3’s current range, you can expect some killer deals this spring as BMW clears out the remaining 2016 inventory to make room for the 2017s with the new battery.

One i3 battery module. As you can see there are twelve cells in each module, and there are eight modules in the pack.

One i3 battery module. As you can see there are twelve cells in each module, and there are eight modules in the pack.

A battery upgrade would seemingly solve another issue that has bothered some i3 REx owners, that being the size of the gas tank – or really how much of it they have access to. All i3’s come with a 2.4 gallon gas tank. However, for the US market, BMW had to restrict the amount of gas available to use to 1.9 gallons. The reason was to satisfy the California Air Resource Board’s criteria for a BEVx vehicle.

One of the criteria for an extended range electric vehicle to be classified as a BEVx is that the range of the car while being driven on battery needs to exceed the range it can drive on gasoline. If BMW allowed the full 2.4 gallons to be available for use, the gas range would be slightly greater than the electric range, and the i3 REx wouldn’t qualify as a BEVx. BMW would lose some of the highly valuable ZEV credits they get for every i3 REx sold in “CARB states“.

If the i3’s electric range is increased more than 20 additional miles, then the full 2.4 gallon tank could be accessed without a BEVx violation. Therefore, I fully expect the 2017 i3 REx to have use of the entire 2.4 gallon gas tank as it does with the European i3s. Actually, if the new batteries do extend the i3 REx’s battery range to the possible 115 MPC, then BMW could increase the gas tank to a little over 3 gallons if they wanted to. The i3 REx would then offer over 200 miles of driving range without needing to plug in or fill up.

Might the 2017 i3 REx have a larger gas tank?

Might the 2017 i3 REx have a larger gas tank?

Whether or not BMW will indeed use the new 94 Ah cells from Samsung is yet to be known. According to CEO Krueger, we do know BMW will be upgrading the i3’s battery pack, and the most obvious and easiest way to do so would be with higher density battery cells. Samsung’s new 94 Ah cells are the same physical size as the 60 Ah cells used in the current i3, so upgrading to the new cells couldn’t be any easier – as along as they are indeed ready and available.

As for the battery upgrade for existing i3 owners, it’s a tempting proposition, and one that I hope BMW fully explores to see if there is a way that they can do it at a reasonable cost (I say that’s under $5,000). However I’m just not convinced that they can offer an upgrade without losing a lot of money on every pack they sell. Time will tell, and I’m sure there will be a lot of discussions about his before we actually get all the facts from BMW.

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58 Comments on "2017 BMW i3 To Get 94 Ah Samsung Cells & 125-Mile EPA Range Rating?"

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Alan

It’s nice to see Nissan & BMW (or should I say the battery manufacturers) nudging the EV mileage range up in light of Bolt’s arrival !

Keep it going everyone !

David Murray

This is welcome news. I think the larger battery in the Rex version is not really needed. At least for me. Heck, My volt only fires up its ICE maybe once every month or two, and then it is just for a few miles. But the BEV version of the i3 has always been the one that puzzled me. They offer a high-end EV with no more range than a Leaf, and starting this month actually has considerably less.

In fact.. I’ll go as far as to say I might actually consider an i3 BEV if it had 125 miles of range. As it is with the current version, I wouldn’t buy an i3 unless it was the Rex version.

Alan

It’s handy to have the gas tank, my Outlander PHEV’s tank kicks in on cold days when I need the heater on or to de-mist the windscreen + it helps on longer trips.

I’d much rather do without it but it’s a couple of years away before battery tech is good enough at affordable cost to be able to cope without a gas tank for me personally.

pjwood1

i3 has no coolant loop, for engine assist heat. That’s why seasonal range dips.

Josh Bryant

I think the a 115 AER + 110 mile gas range would make the i3 a reasonable road trip vehicle.

I could drive from Houston to Austin without stopping (like I do with an ICE). 4 hours is as far as I would ever drive without a stop, and this would pretty much hit that mark.

I think this would be an meaningful upgrade in usability, that should translate to more sales.

James

How long would that stopover be? – Is also a good question. BMW will have to make pretty significant changes for the 2017 and 2018 model year to keep up. in that – just how much will they charge the customer for these improvements?

Hacking the i3, thus voiding the warranty, is risky business in my mind. The added 20 miles would definitely be welcomed by current owners, that’s for sure. Except if that bonus costs them the $3,000-$5,000 Tom mentions here. With 200-mile BEVs coming fast, BMW needs to find a solution. Filling the gap now reserved for the range-extender with more energy dense cells makes sense here.

James

*20-45 miles. πŸ™‚ Temperature dependent

Josh Bryant

The Austin stopover is typical 2 or 3 nights, then return to Houston. I would just find a hotel with charging. Would be plenty of time to charge/refuel.

mr. M

Full Rex capability without hacking the US-Version certainly would be fine. A increased tank would be even better! πŸ™‚

miggy

Nice if the report was quoted in Metric as well, then the rest of the world could understand it.

Dan

The rest of the world really needs to get with the times and start typing in “how many km is 125 miles” into Google instead of whining. So many of the great EV test drives are in German. I have to pause the videos every 10 seconds to figure out what they’re saying. That’s part of the adventure of living in a multi-cultural world!

PureElectricPower

How much is the real highway range at 60-62mph /100km/h/ of BMW i3 non REx version?
i3 is rated with 111mpge on highway or 18,86kWh/62miles. i3 has 22kWh battery pack with 18,7kWh usable energy. Looks like that car can’t pass 62miles mark at 62mph average.

Mike

The EPA highway test protocol has a lot of speed variability. You can’t use it to determine range at a fixed speed.

Warren M

Darn, they are building my 2016 BEV right now for January completion πŸ™
Nissan offered to extend my LEAF lease one more year. I think if I had the choice, I would extend it one more year and wait for the LCI i3.

jelloslug

A range bump to 125 (115 REX) would allow BMW to market the REX version as a “200 mile” car. This would help it stay relevant in competition with the upcoming 200 mile BEV cars.

3laine

Bingo. With ~120 miles AER, the vast majority of people would drive virtually all their miles on electricity and the REx would almost exclusively be used during long trips. All-electric commuting and the convenience of gas on trips. It seems pretty attractive, especially for those who haven’t owned an EV who have range anxiety.

Anonymous Comment

All this talk of owner’s upgrading misses the point. More than half of all i3’s delivered to customers were leased, the majority of them on short term leases (under 3 years).

Drivers of leased i3s won’t have to upgrade, they’ll simply need to turn in their current (and soon-to-be-out-of-date) i3s and if they want to, go ahead and lease a new one with the improved range.

Priusmaniac

I am not convinced that having a rex in the car isn’t interesting if the battery range increase, it simply adds an additional availability just like spare tires, a tow hook or fog lamps. Even if you don’t use it often it is still good to have them. For one, I would like to have a Rex in the Model S90 since that would allow the car to run even in the case of a blackout or a trip to Ushuaia. It would also make available off site power for longer than just the battery content. The rex would need to be more compact of course so that it doesn’t really take more space than a shoebox. Recently there was an article on winter time cabin heating in very low temperature. Well that is of course a case where cogeneration of heat and electricity would be interesting. I remember on of those thermophotovoltaic burners that was able to power a car at Washington university. If such a system can be useful to heat and give extra electricity on the run, especially on ethanol, I would find it a nice device to have as an extra availability.

jelloslug

Having fog lights does not lower the range of the car or adversely effect the performance of the car. The REX does.

David Murray

I find it hard to agree. Especially with the part about the Rex lowering the range. I suspect you meant that it lowers the all-electric range. And sure, it does by a hair. But the benefit to the total range far outweighs that. Also, in regards to the performance, I would also say that is negligible. It amounts to a fraction of a second in 0-60. I’d much prefer to have the Rex and live with that fraction of a second less speed.

jelloslug

The all electric range in the REX is 11% less (81 in the BEV, 72 in the REX). The REX is almost a full second slower to 60 MPH than the BEV version and the handling is off since the weight distribution is uneven in the REX. I would much rather have an all around better BEV than a REX that I might possibly use 1% of the time.

Priusmaniac

You do realise that some people are against large batteries for similar reason and have demanded to trik to bellow 100 miles since in their point of view there is no need for further range. That is of course 180ΒΊ from what I think, but it just shows that there is not a single point of view out there and therefore, the best option is exactly that, to propose many options so as to suit the many differing demands.

Foob

This is a totally reasonable point assuming no other changes to the vehicle, but BEVs are usually power limited by the size (and C rate) of the battery. Increasing the capacity of the pack should allow a manufacturer to proportionally increase power output with only small changes to the rest of the drivetrain. Adding a range extender doesn’t do that.

Rolf

Very good thoughts in your post: Even if you run out of electricity and after that out of gas on your REX – be it in a traffic jam, a snow storm, or in the middle of nowhere it will currently be easier to get help by someone who supplies you with some spare gasoline vs asking “Can you please give me 10kWh at 400V DC with a CHAdeMO plug ?” So far, I missed those points in our discussion: Donation of electric power to fellow cars. In my case above 10kWh would be 12% for a Tesla Mod S to donate, but 50% for an i3 to receive. Problems are different plug standards and Voltages (Porsche is now experimenting with 800V DC). Another issue: Can a powerless BEV be towed safely over a longer distance ? What about power steering and power braking, does it run on the onboard 12V battery ? Can the towed BEV use recuperation in order to charge its battery a bit and have power for ac or heating ? I am looking forward into an interesting future.

Anthony Fiti

That would be quick – only a few years and its about to get a non-trivial pack upgrade?

I wouldn’t be surprised if Samsung will be ready in 2016 for the new cells – it seems everyone and their mother have figured out how to get to 200-250Wh/kg. The trickier parts are how to get the volumetric density up as well as supporting fast charging. But I think we’ll have those figured out by 2020.

Lad

Seems to me that somewhere in my reading I remember BMW saying they are building battery packs to a standard which will allow them to offer upgraded packs to older cars across their entire line of EVs.

This is in contrast to Nissan which obsoletes their older cars based on MY battery pack range limitations and technical changes. Pretty dumb policy if they want to retain customers.

Speculawyer

That is quite an ambitious roadmap. I hope they can keep on schedule.

Get Real

I have been saying all along that the ability to upgrade EVs to newer, better, cheaper battery packs is a hugely understate advantage of EVs over ICE.

With this upgrade the I3 (especially the REX version) actually becomes a lot more competitive with the upcoming 200 mile range EVs like the Bolt. Now if BMW would just add in the heat pump to the REX version I would actually consider an I3.

SJC

Each EV has thousands of cells, with millions of EVs that is billions of cells each year. All have to be perfect and last more than a decade. Quite a challenge if EV sales are to increase rapidly.

jelloslug

Each EV does not have thousands of cells. The i3, for example, has 96 cells.

SJC

There are packs, modules and cells. The module shown has several cells inside, it takes many modules. If you have 200 Wh per module, you tell me how many modules for 40,000 Wh.

jelloslug

The i3 pack consists of 8 modules with 12 cells per module.

SJC

What you are calling “cells” are multiple cells in parallel. A prismatic CELL is very thin, the module they show you is VERY thick.

jelloslug

Have you watched the manufacturing video of the batteries? There are no smaller cells inside the i3 battery cell.

Warren

Only Tesla packs (some in other maker’s cars) have thousands of cells. Cells are available in hundreds of Ah capacity already. Forty cells gets you to very reasonable voltages, with today’s electronics. Even current OEM offerings could get by with no more than 100 cells.

For example, 100 of the Samsung 3.7 volt nominal, 94 Ah cells yields a 370 volt, 34.8 kWh pack, good for 150 miles in something as aero as the proposed Tesla Model 3.

SJC

The module shown has many cells in parallel.

Pedro

Nope, all in series.

Robert Weekley

And on a historical step back, I wonder how well these 94 Ah cells would do in a fit/swap for the Lead Acid or NiMH batteries in th EV1?

Wothout digging it up, I seem to remember the NiMH version of the EV1 got in some 140 miles range! So at first glance it would seem that these 94 Ah cells could take that up to about 200 miles Now!

Mike

The NiMH version of the EV-1 had “100-140 miles of range” with a 26.4 kWh pack but there’s no way to correlate that to modern testing standards. A base Leaf can break 130 miles in perfect conditions but the EPA rating is 84.

jelloslug

I can do 100 miles in just about any weather in my i3 if I try.

James
It’s great when we can milk miles or MPG out of an electric or electric-assist vehicle. Hypermiling can be fun and is always challenging. Thing is – we’re geeks. Most of our wives and the general driving public are not. This is why, if we dream of having a world where the majority of vehicles on the road are powered by electricity, we need to stop making those kinds of statements ( apologies ). The, “I can get…” stuff is great for us guys around a beer and a roundtable discussion ( or brag session )- but what we are waiting patiently for is that evolution of the EV breed that enables John Q. Public who is not interested in hypermiling – who doesn’t understand temperature, traffic, momentum and such…to just get in an EV and do his/her travelling without using gas. We can’t brag about our EV range or MPGs in a hybrid – because the person reading that may be in the middle of a subzero winter, or live in a city like mine filled with hills and valleys, mountains and gridlock traffic. Spontaneity is huge. Emergencies loom. Those sweaty, nervous times when that longed-for charging station ends… Read more »
Warren

Yup. If we end up with a 200 mile EPA Bolt, my wife will be running heat and defrost this time of the year, and lucky to get 100 miles range in our hills. There are zero CCS chargers in our state, and only one CHADEMO within range, assuming an adapter was available. She will be worried anytime she drives it. She is only willing to consider it for our kid’s sake. Does that sound “mainstream” to anybody?

Chip

Tom,
Samsung’s ‘next technology roadmap’ on its web site oddly shows the same 130Wh/kg energy density for 2013 & 2016 followed by a big jump to 250Wh/kg in 2019.
The various photographs I have seen so far of the Samsung cells indicate that the 60Ah & 94Ah cells have the same height & width.

However, I have not seen a photo or specification which shows whether the 94Ah cell is thicker.
Do you have any confirmation from either Samsung or BMW that the 94Ah cell is actually the same size as the 60Ah cell?

Alan Campbell

With the new 2017 Bolt coming in 2016 with at least 200 EV miles, the 2017 i3 needs to also offer over 200 EV miles, or the Bolt will eat it’s lunch in sales.

200 EV miles at about $30k after incentives, or at at $199 – $249/mo lease, will be the EV to LEASE.

Seriously, I don’t understand the idea of BUYING $35k iPhones on wheels, and being upset when they are made redundant when the next cheaper/longer range model comes out 2-3 years later.

Brian

Frankly, I don’t understand constantly renting the latest and greatest “iPhone on wheels” when the last year’s model works perfectly for you. My 2012 Leaf works very well as one car of two, but a 200 mile BEV + QC network could work for the other car. Personally, I hope that in 2020, someone comes out with an affordable 300-mile BEV. Then maybe I can pick up an old 200-mile BEV that “nobody wants” when the lease is up.

JohanQwerty

A lot of us will never buy a Bolt/Volt/Leaf because they are not pleasing to look at, and are entry level vehicles. I would rather have a 120 mile range i3 than a 200 mile Bolt. Everyone has different priorities for what they spend their money on, there is no right answer.

Bob Lucas

I wonder if the larger density batteries would require more cooling than the current pack can supply. That would put the “nichts” on just replacing the batteries.

PS. My 2014 i3 Rex has taken us ten thousand miles. Starting with a full fuel tank, I’ve only added 2.5 gallons and still have 3/4 tank available. With a little extra range, I would probably still have the original fuel in the car!

Thanks for your interesting contributions.

Phr3d

Humbly offer, Tom, this IS BMW we’re talking about — if No customer will pay $10k, they will work Down from that, my guess will be $8k, if offered, heheh (and if it Is a ten-year car -as it appears to be- that is a fair price, in BMW-speak).
How’s the wrap holding up, by the way..

Mike

The i3 is the most obvious compliance car – its fuel tank is limited specifically to meet CARB requirements.
The CARB requirements have nothing to do with how customers will use the car and EVERYTHING to do with earning ZEV credits.