BMW used the data it gathered from the E30-based 325iX Elektric test mules to develop a total of 25 battery-powered E36 prototypes from 1991 to 1997. The cars were still finicky and not considered candidates for mass production, but they represented a significant step forward in the field of electric mobility.
Built in 1991, eight E-mobil prototypes based on the two-door 325i (E36) participated in an ambitious state-sponsored pilot program designed to find out whether or not electric vehicles could be used as a viable form of transportation by every day folks. Several automakers participated in the program which took place on a small island called Rügen, located in the Baltic Sea not far from Germany’s northern coast.
Six additional prototypes were sent to the Bavarian state government where they were used to run miscellaneous everyday errands. Drivers carefully jotted down driving impressions, problems encountered and charging times and sent the data back to BMW’s engineers.
The test programs helped BMW fine-tune its electric vehicles. In 1993, the sodium-sulphur battery packs were replaced by sodium-nickel chloride units borrowed from the E1 concept. It should be noted that one of the prototypes sent to Rügen featured a nickel-cadmium battery pack but the tests were inconclusive and BMW abandoned it to focus on other forms of storing energy.
Engineers also made managed to greatly improve the cars’ charging times, to the point where a 75-percent charge was available in just 40 minutes.
E-mobil production went on until 1996 but BMW started building a second-generation of E36-based EVs in 1995. Again based on the two-door 325i, ten vehicles finished in an eye-catching shade of yellow were built over a two-year span. BMW eschewed public pilot programs and decided to test the vehicles in-house.
Called simply BMW Electric, the cars’ most powerful engine was a 45-kilowatt unit that got power from a high-energy sodium-nickel chloride battery pack. The 771-pound (350-kilo) drivetrain propelled the car from zero to 31 mph (50 km/h) in six seconds and on to top speed of 84 mph (135 km/h). The maximum driving range was rated at 93 miles (150 km).
The 325 Electric was the last battery-powered 3-Series ever built. Following the end of its test program, BMW put electric mobility on the backburner for several years and focused on re-launching the Mini brand that it had acquired by purchasing MG and Rover.
Photos courtesy of BMW’s archives department.