The Autopian just had a great Trivia Night, during which an Autopian member named Aaron divulged that he — like me — once owned a 2014 BMW i3 (I still have mine). “Oh yeah, you don’t own it anymore?” I asked. “Oh, it got wrecked. I have a video if you want to see.” Aaron handed over that video, and I was so shocked by how violent it is that I shared it with everyone on the Trivia call. Here’s a look at how an i3 holds up to a big box truck.
One of the things that makes the i3 so interesting is its unique construction. Built of plastic panels glued to a carbon-fiber passenger cell, all mounted atop a largely-aluminum skateboard (which contains batteries), the i3 is all about keeping weight down to maximize range with the small 60 Ah battery available back in 2013 for the 2014 model year. At 3,000 pounds, the early i3 is a damn lightweight electric car, especially given its rather large cabin volume.
“The carbon fiber body is perfect. You could never get this with steel or aluminum,” Sandy Munro says in the Autoline video above, which shows the carbon fiber “Life Module” and the aluminum “frame.” The carbon fiber body is moulded, and the holes are all cut by waterjets; it’s a precision-built structure, and it’s insanely light — so light that two people can pick up the whole body. The “Life Module” is said to weigh only about 350 pounds.
And if that makes you wonder whether this thing can withstand a beating, check out the car’s safety scores. They’re good everywhere —not amazing, but good, even on IIHS’s tough Small Overlap test:
Anyway, it’s a small carbon fiber reenforced plastic car that I daily-drive, and it’s something that I’ve always assumed — based on crash test results — was quite safe. And Aaron’s crash video reinforces that assumption. Look at how well the i3 holds up!:
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Aaron’s a great guy, so while many of y’all may want to talk about how veering into the left lane wasn’t the move, I’d say just let that be. Aaron knows! In retrospect, it clearly wasn’t the move (though I likely would have done the same!), but Aaron said he was almost certain that left lane was open. Alas, it wasn’t, and the box truck slammed into the little electric car, which held up surprisingly well!
You can see some plastic panels broken and missing, and you can see the aluminum skin in the doors all mangled; the carbon fiber body structure appears to be mostly in decent shape. And in fact if you look inside the carbon fiber “life module,” you’ll see a cabin that looks mostly unscathed!:
Obviously, this is just a single accident, and you can’t glean a whole lot from it, other than “Wow, that accident looked violent and the little BMW held up well!” (Aaron is OK, btw).
The i3 was totaled in that crash, though before you say “Well, that’s because if you damage a carbon fiber structure, you’re done” you should read this older piece from CNET that describes how BMW recommended fixing compromised bits of the carbon fiber Life Module. From CNET:
BMW has segmented the Life Module into five “sectioning points,” basically telling technicians where to cut. A special carbon milling tool has been developed. It attaches to a vacuum to collect the carbon dust, giving a clean cut with no mess. If, for example, the A pillar is damaged (the forward structure that holds the windshield), that section of the composite shell will be cut starting at the front of the roof and again down at the footwell. That entire portion will be removed from the damaged car and a replacement section glued into place. (Yes, BMW techs will use glue, but don’t worry: much of the car is held together with the stuff in the first place.)
That all sounds simple enough, but there’s one major catch: you can’t buy just a small portion of the carbon frame. BMW will offer only the entire left or right side of the Life Cell, which will then be sliced and diced as needed. It remains to be seen whether insurance companies will be required to pay for the entire portion, or if dealers will cut them up and sell the individual segments. It also isn’t known what those components will cost.
Man I love my BMW i3. It’s safe, roomy, efficient, reasonably luxurious, feature-laded and just downright comfortable.