It was in 1991 when BMW revealed its first cutting-edge electric vehicle: the E1.

E1

E1

The E1 was remarkable in several ways, first and foremost being that it took only 10 months to develop.

BMW had released several other electric concepts prior to the E1, but none were purpose-built machines.  In the same way that the i3 is a dedicated electric, so too was the E1.

For the E1, an aluminum spaceframe made up the bones of the vehicle.  Plastic panels were its body.  The i3 one ups this with its use of carbon fiber, but the similarities here are striking.

In most ways, the E1 was and still is far more advanced than the i3.  Though that's likely due to the E1 remaining a concept.  Whereas the i3 will be a true production vehicle.

The E1 seated four (so too does the i3) and featured a 32-kW electric motor that spun the rear wheels (i3 is rear-wheel-drive, too).

i3

i3

BMW claimed that the E1 had a 93-mile range (in city traffic), an exaggerated figure for sure.  It's 19-kWh, 400-plus pound sodium-sulphur battery was light years ahead of its time and still is today.  In 1993, BMW revealed a modified E1 with a sodium-nickel-chloride battery.

Top speed for the E1 was listed at 75 mph and 0 to 30 mph was accomplished in a slow 6 seconds.

The E1 was believed to have been killed off when California's "threat to force car makers to build electric vehicles never came to fruition," says Autocar.

What this E1 to i3 shows us is that BMW's work actually began 21 (or maybe even 40) years ago.  The i3 is a result of more than two decades of research and development at BMW.  It is not a concept-turned-production in record time.  Rather, it's been in the making for what seems like an eternity now.

Thanks to George B, we've got some video to add in!!!

Source: Autocar