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L.A. debut for all-electric Mini E

Rafay Ansar

The trademark look remains the same, but don't underestimate the significance of Mini's latest model, the E.

As the name suggests, this is Mini's long-rumored all-electric model. It relies on the latest plug-in-electric and lithium-ion-battery technology to provide zero emissions capability.

The public unveiling will come, appropriately, at next month's Los Angeles auto show, where Mini will announce that the two-seater will be produced in limited numbers and leased to select customers in Los Angeles, New York and New Jersey beginning next year. The pilot program is part of parent company BMW's heavily cloaked "Project I" initiative to develop mobility concepts suitable for large metropolitan areas.

Initial plans call for building 500 Es, although insiders indicate that BMW is already considering widening its sales net to include other cities, such as London and Munich. If that happens, total production would rise to a total of about 1,000.

In creating its first electric model, Mini has retained the body shell and basic underpinnings of more conventional Cooper and Cooper S models. A specially adapted electric plug in the fuel-filler hole is used to connect the car to the electricity grid to recharge its batteries.

Propelling the E is an electric motor mounted under the hood, delivering 204 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. It drives the front wheels via a single-stage helical gearbox with energy drawn from a lithium-ion battery pack mounted in the space usually reserved for the Mini's rear seats. The battery pack boasts a capacity of 35 kilowatt-hours and transfers electricity as direct current at 380 volts. The battery also stores energy generated under braking.

With a curb weight of 3,223 pounds, some 572 pounds of which is the battery pack alone, the E will accelerate to 62 mph in 8.5 seconds, Mini claims. With much of the new car's emphasis being on city running, Mini has limited top speed to 95 mph to conserve energy. The car is expected to travel 4.4 miles per kilowatt-hour, enough to provide a range of 150 miles between recharging, according to Mini officials.

To cope with the added weight of the bulky battery pack and other associated hardware, the E rides on a reworked suspension boasting unique spring, damper and bushing rates. Mini claims that the new car retains the agile handling traits of its conventional siblings.

Mini also has subjected the E to a series of crash tests, including nine front, five side and four rear tests, to ensure that it meets all relevant U.S. safety regulations.

The Mini E will be leased for one year, with an extension option. The lease will cover all servicing, maintenance and replacement parts. At the end of the lease, the cars will return to BMW's engineering fleet, where they will undergo comparative tests.
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