Following a complete teardown and analysis of a BMW i3, Detroit-based Munro & Associates says it uncovered numerous unique assembly techniques and innovative systems inspiring the firm’s head to praise its sophistication as unrivaled.
“This is, without a question of a doubt, the most advanced vehicle on the planet,” said Munro, CEO of Munro & Associates, Inc. “It’s as revolutionary as the Model T was when it came out.”
Based out of a 100,000 square foot facility in Detroit, Munro & Associates often completes teardowns for car companies. By dismantling vehicles, the firm uses reverse engineering to better understand the design, identify suppliers, seek out innovative techniques and estimate production cost.
For this particular teardown, Munro & Associates purchased the BMW i3 at retail price and covered all of the costs to take apart and analyze the vehicle. Munro estimates that the entire project cost about $1 million. The company has assembled the details of its findings into a report, available for purchase for about $500,000.
The detailed information that could be used to build on BMW’s intellectual property and reverse engineer or develop another masterpiece is being held out to more than just carmakers, said Munro.
“We’re not just selling this to car companies. Airplane companies, high-speed rail companies, even people making furniture are interested in this car because it’s that revolutionary,” he said.
Munro said what he discovered when he disassembled the i3 was informative, with some surprises.
Carbon Fiber Structure
It was the i3’s structure that first inspired Munro to take a closer look at the SUV.
“What I wanted to do was analyze that product because of the carbon fiber,” Munro said. “This product right here is revolutionary. No one has a carbon fiber production rate car.”
The i3 marks the first time that a carmaker has built a mass produced vehicle with a carbon fiber structure. The body panels attach to the structure using glue, giving BMW the ability to quickly re-style the i3 with minimal cost.
A mold was used to form the structure, with water jets (not drill bits) to cut the holes.
“The carbon fiber body is perfect. You could never get this with steel or aluminum,” said Munro.
The small hook and metal serrations mounted to the front of the structure represent a new safety feature. These boost the i3’s crash protection by strategically crumpling the vehicle, especially during a small overlap-type collision.
BMW calls its passenger compartment the Life Module. It’s built from carbon fiber reinforced plastic that’s lightweight but quite resilient.
“This big frame is constructed of several smaller pieces that are oriented in specific directions to take advantage of the strength by the alignment of the fibers,” said Mark Ellis with Munro & Associates.
Munro explained that carbon fiber doesn’t like to be compressed. The way that BMW has constructed the structure enables it to maintain its shape – and therefore protect the passengers – during an impact or even a rollover.
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Lithium-ion battery pack
Innovations used by BMW to build its battery pack include an incredibly strong adhesive that secures the batteries firmly in place, unique connectors for the wiring and a simple (but extremely effective) heating and cooling system. The flat battery pack even provides structural support for the chassis working as a stressed member.
BMW’s battery design also allows for replacement that is easier and less expensive than some competitors’ models. The pack consists of eight modules, each one containing 12 cells. These are wired in a series to create a 360-volt battery pack.
Mounted to each module is a circuit board, explained Ellis, which is responsible for controlling all charge functions for the module.
Ellis demonstrated why BMW’s design is better by comparing it with a battery from the Ford C-Max. In the C-Max, several modules are mounted together into one unit. When one cell fails on any module, the entire unit must be replaced.
Because BMW mounts each module as a stand-alone unit, Ellis explained that when one cell fails, technicians can remove the singular faulty single module, plug a new one in and be on the road. Replacing a module will be cheaper and easier for the i3 than for a car like the C-Max, said Ellis.
As other carmakers learn more about the unique assembly techniques and other innovations used in the i3, it will be interesting to see which elements are mimicked in the competition. But regardless of how rivals view this SUV, Munro’s team certainly seem impressed.
“This is a very clever design. We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Associate Engineer Caitlin McCarthy.