If you live in California — especially in densely-populated areas like the San Francisco Bay, Los Angeles or San Diego — you’ll know about the state’s High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes. You probably also know that any pure electric car on sale in California can drive in those lanes, even if there is only one person in the car, provided it’s wearing one of the all-white Clean Air Vehicle exemption decals, which any purely electric EV owner in the state can apply for. Most plug-in hybrid and range-extended EV owners can apply for a similar green-colored decal, although unlike the white stickers which whose number is unlimited, only 40,000 green HOV CAL decals will be produced on a first-come, first served basis.
To date, no plug-in car with a range-extending engine has been eligible for the white CAV decal, prompting BMW to work for several years with the Californian Air Resources Board (ARB) to define a new vehicle standard that would mean even owners of its i3 REx range-extended EV would obtain white CAV decal eligibility. A new class of vehicle — Federal Inherently Low Emission Vehicles (ILEVs) — was even proposed to grant electric vehicles with a portable gas generator on board access to the white CAV stickersFor
But after years of lobbying, it seems that BMW’s attempts to get its gas-sipping i3 variant accepted onto the list of qualifying white CAV decal vehicles has ultimately failed. Anyone buying an i3 REx will find that the state will classify their new car as a plug-in hybrid, which means it will only be eligible to wear a green — not white — HOV lane sticker. Fortunately however, those buying the i3 or i3 REx in California will still be able to claim the full $2,500 state rebate for buying a plug-in.
The news is a slap in the face for BMW, which as BMWBlog reports, likely kept the size of the gasoline tank on its i3 REx at just 2.4 U.S. gallons in order to try and sneak the i3 REx onto the white-decal list. Unlike European versions of the i3 — which give the driver full control of when the range-extending engine operates — the U.S. version has been designed to only operate in range-extended mode when the on-board battery pack is depleted, partly to help it sneak into California’s white HOV lane sticker program.
In other words, BMW removed a key feature of the European i3 for no good reason. Since we now know it isn’t on the white HOV-lane list, we’re curious to see if BMW will enable the feature to give its owners more control over their car’s operational modes.
If you’re a Californian i3 fan, you now have to make a tough decision: opt to ditch the range-extending engine in preference for the all-electric i3 in order to be sure your car will get HOV lane access; or order the i3 REx knowing that there’s a risk by the time your car arrives that the state of California will have issued all of the 40,000 green HOV-lane stickers that your car is eligible to display.
Given the fact that the state of California announced in November that more than 25,000 of the 40,000 green HOV lane stickers — which six other 2014 model year cars are also eligible for — have already been taken, you’ll have to act pretty quickly if you opt for the second. Or be content to quietly sit behind everyone else in the non HOV lane.
If you’re an i3 reservation holder and live in California, we’d like to know what you’re planning to do. Are you hoping the state will roll out enough combined quick charge stations to render the REx unnecessary, or are you planning to risk it in the green HOV lane sticker lottery?
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