Friday 24 October 2014

Learning More About The BMW i3 Repair Process


The BMW i3 is truly a revolutionary new car. 'Revolutionary', however its not exactly what the repair shop wants t hear when it comes to...

The new BMW i3 is truly a revolutionary car, however it wasn't exactly what the repair shop wants to hear when it comes to fixing a totally new car. Never before has any manufacture made such an extensive use of carbon fiber in a mass produced car. However one of the main benefits to the Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic used in the BMW i3's Life Module Passenger Compartment is that it weighs about 50 percent less than aluminum. The Drive Module houses a 22kWh battery, the chassis and the 170hp electric motor. Therefore, the new lightweight materials used in the i3 comes with totally new repair processes.

We had the opportunity to tour the BMW North America Training facility where technicians for U.S. dealerships come to repair the very unique lightweight i3. Most consumers won't really care about the details of how the i3 is repaired, however one thing they will car about it what the BMW i3 costs to insure. The more complex and expensive the repair, the higher the insurance premium will be. Therefore a more complicated and challenging service and repair process directly leads to a higher ownership costs which will ultimately impact sales.

However fortunately, BMW states that the cost of the repairs for the BMW i3 are similar to a BMW 1 series. Therefore this intriguing given that once a carbon fiber piece is broken, there just is no repairing of it. The whole entire part/body panel must be replaced. Nonetheless BMW knew that the implication of building a car of CFRP and thus designed specific cut away sections in the i3. These are defined segments that when cut will allow the technician to remove the damaged CFRP piece and then bond the new CFRP segment back in with glue.

BMW constructed the i3 in two segments, the Drive Module and the life Module. However the drive module contains the electric motor, suspension, lithium ion battery and is the backbone of the car. This module is made mostly of aluminum and its repair process is very similar to other aluminum chassis components that BMW has been producing and repairing for years.

The life module is the occupant cabin and its backbone is made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic. This frame and roof are all CFRP where as attached to the sides of the i3 are composite plastic panels. The panels are designed to absorb what would normally dent a metal car and pop back into shape. I guess its a added bonus: your i3 isn't going to rust.

Aluminum: BMW states that the standard "Cold" repair methods for the aluminum components will be used in the repair. However this includes bonding and riveting, these methods have been used by BMW workshops since 2003.

Panels: BMW have designed the panels to be replaced via the standard screw/clip on plastic plated parts, so there isn't much difference than a standard car.

Glass: The CFRP body which is surrounding and holding the glass can be damaged by a standard glass removal tool, there is a special tool required here. Overall the mechanism of removing and replacing is similar. The standard glass removal tool uses a strong metal wire that would damage the carbon fiber, so BMW's tool has something like a super strong fishing line.

Carbon Fiber Body: This is where the repair techniques change significantly from standard cars. Therefore there is no pounding out damaged CFRP. In order to repair the i3, the damaged section will need to be cut out at one of the predefined points. However these are located at the top of the A,B,C pillars as well as forward and aft of the floor pan.

The BMW requires a specialized cutting device that looks part bone saw on the business end and part Dr Who Villain, a Dalek, to vacuum up the carbon fiber particles. Therefore once the carbon fiber body has dis-articulated at the very specific points, the technician then places the new section on and bonds/glues it back together.

This is where my favorite part of the tour came. "This isn't very complicated but it needs to be very precise," says a BMW technician. Further added that the time it will take to repair i3 electric vehicles will actually be less than standard cars and thus decreased labor costs with auto repair.

I'm happy to report that the insurance cost of the BMW i3 is similar to a 1 series coupe. Adding a BMW i3 to my automobile insurance policy will only raise the monthly payment by £42. Therefore that with a grain of salt as car insurance policies range all over the place depending on driving history, use and location.

The BMW i3 has a 22kWh battery powering a 170hp electric motor good for an 80mile range. Its been tested as the most efficient electric car available on the market due to its low weight. with extensive use of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic: 124 MpGe. The Range Extended Version has a smaller generator in which never directly dives the vehicle's wheels but rather charges the battery while adding roughly 330ibs to the vehicle curb weight.

The pricing starts at £45,200 for the i3 Range Extender model and £41,350 for the pure electric i3.

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