With the addition of 100 BMW i3 electric cars, the city government of Los Angeles aimed not just to green its fleet but to realize operating-cost savings. Based on the observations and records obtained by CBS Los Angeles, it’s not nearly as firmly on the path to achieve either of those goals as the announcements might indicate.
That’s because, as the news report uncovered, most of the i3s in the city fleet have been driven remarkably little, and they might be seen more as a novelty than a functional replacement for models with internal-combustion engines. According to the report, citing undisclosed sources, many officers and staff members are reluctant to use the BMWs because of their driving range—an EPA-rated 81 miles with the base 22-kWh battery that most or all of these lease specials are likely to have.
The leased i3 fleet is part of a $10.2 million pilot program aiming to put EVs into service as daily city vehicles, not as patrol or pursuit vehicles. “The new EVs will be part of LAPD’s motor pool, which is largely used by the civilian work force for meetings or site visits, as well as by sworn officers on routine assignments,” said the LAPD in an April 2016 newsletter.
But it seems that many of these vehicles aren’t being driven much at all. A crew followed one of the i3 vehicles to a nail salon and another out to lunch. After obtaining mileage logs (shown below, as seen in the CBS Los Angeles report), the station found many i3s that had very low mileage—including one example that had accumulated only 400 miles over more than seven months in service.
The deal also included a $1.5 million commitment (and permission from the city) to buy and install 104 charging stations—yes, more than one for each vehicle placed in service. Four of those installed chargers are DC fast chargers capable of bringing the i3 back to an 80 percent charge in about 30 minutes.
Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti has been advocating serious spending on greening the city’s fleet, ordering everything from moving to all-electric buses to helping pull together a bulk buy, together with other cities, of well over 100,000 electric vehicles.
BMW declined to elaborate about the i3 fleet. The automaker’s commitment to the effort doesn’t stretch into how the vehicles are used, but it said that the LAPD had selected the i3 for its efficiency, reliability, and available fleet-management services, which the automaker delivered to Los Angeles to help keep track of all the vehicles, including to manage their state of charge. We reached out to both the LAPD and the mayor’s office repeatedly and received no official response—perhaps a sign in itself that such a program needs a little more on-the-ground guidance and accountability to get cops charged up about going electric.