Today I handed back the BMW i3 at the end of a three-year lease. I’m choosing not to replace it with an updated model or indeed any other car, electric or not. My massive ego thought it would be worth sharing why, as well as my general thoughts on life as an electric vehicle owner.
The BMW i3 itself
First, let me say that I enjoyed having the i3. It’s a great drive: surprisingly nippy, thanks to the single-gear torque you get with electric motors, and an agile little city car with a tight turning circle. I loved the single-pedal driving experience, which you soon learn, especially if you anticipate what’s happening in front of you. Hardly having to use the brakes makes for less stress on the right leg as well as meaning it takes a long time to wear down the brake pads. That said, if you’re a heavy-footed driver or someone who drives too close to cars in front so you’re always touching the brakes, you’ll have a travel sickness-inducing drive as you lurch around unable to cope with the heavy regenerative action that kicks in as you ease off the acceleration pedal. But the answer to that is to stop driving like a numpty and learn to be subtler in your use of the pedal.
It was also nice to be able to plug in the car to charge at home. I never realised how much I dislike visiting petrol stations until I got the i3.
On the debit side, the horrifically nicknamed ‘suicide doors’ aren’t the easiest to use in a tight spot if you’re trying to get out of the back. And boot space is tight. Don’t fall for the marketing extolling the virtues of the ‘frunk’ – the storage space under the bonnet that makes use of the space that would have been taken up by ye olde combustion engine – because that will probably be full with a charging cable and an electric pump.
BMW service 👎
A BMW-specific reason for not getting another i3, or any other BMW, is the service we received was inferior to that of the Honda dealership I used to use when I owned a Honda Accord. (God, that was a great car. I reckon it would still be going strong if it hadn’t been traded in – against my wishes.)
For a start, the dealership that I originally dealt with decided they didn’t need to bother returning calls or emails once they’d secured my signature and money. That was never going to endear me to them. Then, when things started to go wrong with the i3, the poor customer service received from the dealership down the road, means when I think of BMW, I just think of hassle. I could accept things going wrong with a first-gen i3 – as an early adopter, you put up with these things – but I was made to suffer extra unnecessary inconvenience to get things fixed. So BMW is way down the list when it comes to thinking about getting another car.
The one bright spot of the BMW service was from the central service centre, which sorted me out when I was stranded about 2 miles from home after I was overoptimistic about how many miles you could squeeze out of the reserve charge once the battery was showing 0%. They sorted out a pickup truck straight away and I got home without even having to sign any paperwork.
Apart from not wanting another BMW, there are four general factors about electric vehicles, all of which are related to each other, that mean I’m not even close to thinking about getting another i3 or indeed any other electric vehicle at this time: range, infrastructure, technology, price.
The maximum range of the current crop of i3s is quoted as 195 miles, with Autocar stating a ‘real world’ range of 120 miles. I’m very much inclined to believe Autocar’s estimate based on my own experience of the real world range of my first-gen i3, especially factoring in motorway driving which eats battery charge for breakfast (down to aerodynamics – you can’t buck the laws of physics).
The i3 is marketed as a city car, rather than for long journeys, which is fine but makes the i3 useless to us as the main family car. With that kind of range, it’s only ever destined to be the second car – the runaround – but as a family we’ve reached the stage where we can downsize to one car, so a car with the range of the i3 is always going to lose out.
We’ve considered, when the time comes to replace our other car, replacing it with a Tesla which has a range of 250-300 miles but even that feels a little low, especially for the price. (The model 3 might be an interesting bet but I doubt we’ll see those on UK shores until late 2018, or even 2019.)
Yeah, we could get a hybrid or even a range extender version, but I feel that misses the point of electric vehicles. For me, I want to be all in or not at all.
Range wouldn’t be so much of an issue if you could recharge your battery as easily as you can refill a fossil fuel dinocar, but we’re not quite there yet. The infrastructure’s definitely getting better, with more charging points appearing, but the fact remains that you still need to plan ahead to make sure there are charging points available when and where you need them if you’re planning a journey beyond your battery’s single-charge range.
There’s also the matter of how you’d charge your car if you don’t have a drive or a garage or even a designated parking space.
I’ve seen Shell are looking at adding charging points at their petrol stations, which is definitely a step in the right direction. They’ll need to make sure there are plenty of points available given how long it can take to charge electric vehicles, because those charging points can get hogged quite easily. Which brings me onto…
Even if you could reliably find recharging points, it’s still not as fast to recharge a battery as it is to refill a petrol tank. Even my i3, which was equipped with the ability to rapid charge – as long as I could find a compatible charger (not that easy) – would take 20 minutes to get to an 80% charge, at the quickest. The marketeers will try to tell you to turn this into a virtue, by telling you that it’s an opportunity to have a coffee or something to eat while you’re waiting, but it’s adding time and extra expense to a journey and making the electric vehicle-owning experience less convenient.
My view is there needs to be some way of radically reducing the time required to get the charge so that pulling in to recharge is as quick as it is to refill a car with petrol. I’ve read that Tesla are looking into swappable batteries, which might work. Another admittedly longer term vision might be to allow cars to pick up electric charge as they drive along the road via some wireless charging kind of technology (like a really futuristic life-size Scalextric) so they charge as they go along without needing to stop.
As mentioned above, one way of alleviating range anxiety – and therefore reducing the impact of poor infrastructure and charging technology – is to buy a Tesla, which has a range of about 250-300 miles. But get anything like a decent spec, and you’re easily looking at £80k at least. It doesn’t take much adding of options to get to the £100k mark. Yes, you’ll save on petrol costs but bloody hell, that’s still a lot of money for a car, especially compared to ye olde fossil fuel cars.
So I guess part of this is just timing. It just so happens that the lease on what is now our main and only family car runs out early next year, which is just too early for a Tesla model 3 or a similar car from one of the old legacy manufacturers. I do think electric vehicles are the future but equally I feel the barriers to adoption are slightly too high for the mainstream right now. I really hope they come down soon. It feels weird thinking of people getting electric cars now as still being early adopters, having had an electric for 3 years already.
I also think that in the longer term, the idea of owning your own vehicle will seem ridiculous. (Good to see John Harris thinks along the same lines as me.) With self-driving technology and technology in general, I can easily envision being able to summon a car from a central pool whenever I need it, rather than having a depreciating asset or monthly expense sitting on my drive. I wouldn’t even need a drive any more! Cars, when they’re not needed, could go and park themselves. Dynamic routing based on traffic conditions will reduce traffic jams and taking human drivers and their mistakes out of the equation will mean far fewer accidents, if any. As consumers we’d save money from not buying cars, not having to pay for insurance, not having to pay for the land required for parking at hour homes, and not having to buy car insurance. I imagine smart people at the car manufacturers and insurance companies are already thinking about how they deal with this inevitable disruption but I know the answer won’t be to try to stop the future from happening.