Click the MINI E for more shots of the car

This afternoon BMW representatives took the wraps off the first "production" MINI E, #1 of a run of 500 that will be leased to customers in the southern California and metro New York areas starting in January. Dr. Friederich Eichiner presented the electric car to the press on the roof top terrace at the Beverly Wilshire hotel explaining the purpose of the program. BMW has built these cars as the first stage of "Project I" where I stands for either ideas or innovation. Eichiner told the media that "individual mobility will still play a key role" going forward and with increased urbanization electrically driven vehicles like this one will be increasingly important. BMW and other manufacturers have to learn how to reconcile that need for mobility with environmental concerns and plug-in vehicles are just one element of that. BMW is using the MINI E as a means to learn how these vehicles are used and how they work in the real world. Learn more about the MINI E program after the jump.

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Eichiner emphasized that "driving pleasure and sustainable mobility are not mutually exclusive." Thus the MINI E was designed to ensure the basic go-kart characteristics of the MINI E were preserved with zero emissions capability. The development program was launched in September 2007. BMW contracted California's AC Propulsion to provide the electric drive system and battery pack for the MINI E. The 35 kWh battery pack consists of 5,088 lithium ion cells arranged in 48 modules.

The 16850 cells are the same laptop format cell used by Tesla for the Roadster although BMW officials were not able to tell us specifically what chemistry is being used. This format was used over some of the large format cells being developed for automotive use because the cells are a known quantity and they are in series production already.

The pack is able to be charged in as little as two hours if the high current wall box is used for charging. BMW will provide the box for the customers who lease the MINI E and do the installation. The box requires a 240V/50A circuit for that fast charging capability. If the customer does not have a 50A circuit to their garage the customer will have to have an electrician install one.

The MINI E uses a single speed gearbox with its 150 kW motor from AC Propulsion. Part of BMW's reputation is built on its engines and ultimately it wants to learn from this program and bring the electric motor knowledge in-house. The short time frame of this program is what led the company to go outside to get the program finished on time. That motor is enough to push the 3,230 lb MINI to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds.

The electric version weighs in at 660 lbs more than the gasoline fueled Cooper. When we asked about using hub motors instead of a single motor, it was explained that the electronics still take up enough space under hood that the battery could not have been installed there anyway.

The next step in Project I after the 12 month MINI program is completed is to build up ground up electric vehicle. At this point BMW is not ready to reveal timing for when that will happen. They also could not say which of BMW's brands would appear on such a car, leaving open the possibility for the rumored revival of the Isetta brand. We'll be going for a drive in the MINI E Thursday morning and we'll let you know how good it is.

You can read the full press release here.

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