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BMW works toward an electric future

BMW launches the Concept ActiveE at the 2010 Detroit auto show.

BMW ActiveE concept
The Concept ActiveE will serve as the basis for a test fleet of BMW electric cars. Sarah Tew/CNET

DETROIT--In search of what it calls a MegaCity vehicle, BMW launched a concept electric car at the 2010 Detroit auto show. The Concept ActiveE, an electric car built on the 1-series platform, will serve as the basis for a test fleet of electric cars that will further BMW's research toward its ultimate goal.

Currently, BMW is running a test fleet of 600 electric Minis, the MiniE, with vehicles in the hands of private users. The Concept ActiveE is the next car BMW intends to test, planning an even larger fleet.

Starting with the 1-series chassis and body, BMW fitted an electric motor onto the rear axle. A lithium ion battery pack is separated into two components, one near the motor and one under the hood, keeping the car balanced to a 50:50 weight distribution, preserving BMW's handling ethos.

With its current technology, the car has a range of about 100 miles, and the battery pack takes 4.5 hours to charge off a 32 amp source, according to BMW. Performance figures are not stunning, with acceleration to 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds.

The car is designed to drive very similar to the Tesla Roadster. Lifting the foot from the accelerator engages a generator, rapidly slowing the car and generating electricity for the battery pack. With this system, the friction brakes are rarely used, especially in urban areas.