BMW i3 Factory Tour

Click through the image for the full 360 degree experience

Click through the image for the full 360 degree experience

Monday, tour day, we were up bright and early and, after a quick trip to a local Aldi for cereals, we headed over to the hotel to meet up with the rest of the tour group and go on our way to the factory via tram and bus. Everyone was very excited.

I'm a member of the BMW i3 UK Facebook group. I've even posted on there once or twice. I joined the group when I got my BMW i3 and it is a fantastic resource for owners and anyone thinking of getting an electric car. The folks there are all lovely too. And they'd organised a trip to see the car being made.

When left the university I was determined not to do anything silly like buy a large expensive car. So, I bought a small expensive car instead. It's the nicest car I've ever owned. It's powered by a battery, and a tiny petrol generator that kicks in when the battery runs down. You can use it to go a lot further than your average electric vehicle. It has a carbon fibre passenger compartment and a metal chassis. Like a supercar.

There is only one company in the world who is mass-producing cars like this. And there is only one factory in the world where they're doing it. And at 11:30 today they are going to show us around it. Very excited. After a tram and bus ride (they do trams really well in Leipzig) we arrived at around 11:00 and pottered around the vast visitor's foyer waiting for our tour to start.

And then we were off. They showed us pretty much everything. From robots making the carbon fibre safety cell to the moment where they screwed the wheels on and drove the car off the production line. I can't show you any pictures, but BMW rather helpfully made a video that you can watch if you like.

The tour lasted around three hours, but I didn't actually notice this. I was too busy being impressed. Having seen how they make it, I now like my car even more. Very, very impressive. Some fun facts that I think I remembered correctly.

  • Each stage of the production of the i3 lasts around 7 minutes. The cars are on little robot vehicles that move along the production line. They also build the i8 (the proper supercar) here too. Production stages for this car are 30 minutes long. The folks who make the i8 must be very, very skilled. It takes a few hours to make each car.
  • The pace of production is set by the time it takes the glue to dry when they are assembling the structural elements. They do use bolts to hold things together, but these are used for alignment, not strength.  
  • Each car is built to a particular configuration for a specific customer. This extends to the wiring looms which are fitted to the car. Basically, if it isn't on the spec, there won't be a wire for it. 
  • They save a lot of paint because they only have to paint the outsides of the panels on the i3 because there is no need to protect the chassis or the body panels against rust.
  • All the carbon fibre that they cut away during manufacture is recycled to make other components in the car. 
  • The carbon fibre body shell is around a third of the weight of a metal one. 
  • They can't paint carbon fibre. Paint wont stick to it. The roof of the i3 is a carbon fibre panel and if you look closely you can see that it is covered with a form of varnish, you can see the fibres in the surface.
  • The point where they connect the car body to the metal chassis is called "the marriage". They have around five minutes to get the two elements aligned before the glue sets. Normally robots do this, but if the robots hit a snag they have a few minutes for humans to rush in and sort it out. 
  • They have some robots (they are coloured white) which can work alongside workers on the line, with no safety cage required. 

After the tour we got our bus and tram back to Leipzig, had a quick break at the flat and then headed out for a celebration dinner at Ratskeller, a place in the basement of Leipzig City Hall. 

It was great. Good food, great company, talk about cars and lots of other things. Thanks to the group for organising everything. We've got a few more days in Leipzig. Looking forward to seeing what the rest of the city has to offer.