BMW ActiveE Electronauts Turn Their Back on BMW, Say i3 Is Too Expensive

Right now, ActiveE drivers across the U.S. are preparing to hand back the all-electric BMW 1-Series ActiveE prototypes they’ve been driving for the past few years under what must be one of the biggest electric vehicle test fleets the world has ever seen. A continuation of the electric vehicle test program started by BMW in the U.S. in 2009 with the MINI E, many of those preparing to tearfully hand their ActiveEs back after many years of memories and zero emissions motoring as a BMW Electronaut.

BMW's i3 might be loved by some, but not all the ActiveE 'Electronauts'

BMW’s i3 might be loved by some, but not all the ActiveE ‘Electronauts’

As prototype test vehicles, BMW’s ActiveE fleet can’t be sold on, and everyone who is currently leasing one must return it. Naturally, it’s BMW’s hope that those customers will exchange their ActiveE for the just-launched all-electric i3 BEV, BMW’s first mass-produced, publicly available electric car, or its range-extended sibling, the i3 BEVx.

Yet a survey we’ve carried out over the past few weeks suggest that many BMW ActiveE drivers are deserting the BMW brand after deciding that the BMW i3 isn’t for them.  Their reasons for leaving the brand are many and varied, but talking to various ActiveE drivers who aren’t staying with the brand, there’s a distinct sense that BMW has deserted the very pioneers who helped it bring the i3 to market.

Below are some of the responses we received to our survey. While many we’ve included can be found publicly written in the responses to our original Facebook survey, some drivers contacted Transport Evolved directly to give their thoughts on the i3, and asked that they remain anonymous. This was for the most part because many have tentatively shown a public interest in the i3 in order to extend their ActiveE lease as long as possible.

Many ActiveE drivers say the i3 is just too expensive to consider.

Many ActiveE drivers say the i3 is just too expensive to consider.

Speaking out publicly, we were told, would probably result in their ActiveEs being withdrawn sooner rather than later. With so many owners behaving in this fashion, we think this is a clear indication that many simply want to continue leasing their ActiveE.

Too Expensive

Admittedly, our survey wasn’t all that scientific, but of the people who responded, there were several clear trends on display.  While twenty three of those who responded said they planned on trading their ActiveE in for a BMW i3 BEV or BMW i3 BEVx  — either immediately or after a brief intermission– nineteen of those who responded said that overly-expensive lease quotes from their BMW dealer meant they were looking elsewhere for their next car. Many said they were doing this despite really liking the i3.

” [I was] happy to pay $925/mo for MINI E when only option was $1,800/mo Tesla roadster.,” said one owner. “[There are now] lots of BEV choices now in CA with more on the way. So i3 price is floating up into “no factor” territory on my radar. Happy with Fit EV, but can’t keep it. If in a year the i3 has proven reliable, I may still consider it”

Others say the i3 isn't practical enough for everyday life.

Others say the i3 isn’t practical enough for everyday life.

One respondent who contacted us directly said he liked the BMW i3 a lot, but felt that BMW was asking over the odds for the badge.

“Since I pay $500 per month now for the ActiveE, I am looking for roughly the same payment on a two or three year lease,” he said. “It is very difficult to justify anything higher than that when I can get a LEAF for 300 or less. Paying double + for the BMW logo is a lot to ask.”

A third owner, who again asked to remain anonymous, said he was cancelling his i3 order because he and his wife felt BMW’s lease deal wasn’t attractive enough. Moreover, he said, they had concerns the i3 wouldn’t hold its value.

“I’m bummed because I love the ActiveE and would really love to keep it,” he said. “It’s better than the i3 and the Volt in many respects.”

Disliked Design

It appears much like Marmite, the famous yeast-extract spread people put on toast, the i3 is a love-it or hate-it car.

At least six of the people who responded to our survey said the BMW i3 simply didn’t fit their needs as well as the ActiveE, or they didn’t like the car’s design and handling.

When we dug a little further, some said they felt the design was too futuristic and impractical for everyday life, citing the small luggage area in the rear and the futuristic, swept dash. Others said they felt the narrow tyres and high seating position made the i3 feel more like a minivan than a luxury car, commenting that it felt far more top-heavy in corners than the ActiveE.

“I’ve not decided to go for the i3,” said one owner. “It’s just not a MINI E or even an ActiveE.”

BMW has insisted that it has built the perfect car for everyone by using data gathered from its MINI E and ActiveE test fleets to justify its design decisions.  “But if feels like BMW has made a car for BMW, not for me,” said one.

Poor Communication

Interestingly, some of the people who responded to our survey said they love the BMW i3 but still won’t be getting one.

BMW's poor communication to ActiveE drivers has left some feeling unsure about continued brand loyalty.

BMW’s poor communication to ActiveE drivers has left some feeling unsure about continued brand loyalty.

That’s because many drivers feel that BMW has left them in the dark concerning its i3 launch, holding off until the last minute to release specifications before order deadlines for the Electronaut edition, a lack of availability of cars for extensive test drives, and little clarity on lease pricing.

“Too many ifs, ands or buts about the car, (pricing, CA decal, EPA range),” one owner said. “I don’t feel comfortable pulling the trigger on a car i’ve not yet driven or experienced for more than 30 minutes (only driven BEV, but want rex),” while another commented with shock at how disenchanted some of the biggest proponents of the ActiveE program have become.

Better Alternatives

When BMW’s MINI E and ActiveE drivers first signed up to the program, many did so as a bit of an experiment in owning an electric car.

Some were already EV converts keen to drive one of the first electric cars to become available, others became electric car advocates on the program. But while they acknowledge that the MINI E and ActiveE offered them a chance to do something that was otherwise impossible, many now believe BMW isn’t the best option for them.

That’s partly due to the specifications of the BMW i3, which has a range no better than that of the ActiveE. With cars like the Toyota RAV 4 EV and of course the Tesla model S offering a far better mix of practicality, style, performance and range, the BMW i3 range feels lacklustre.

For them, it’s almost as if BMW didn’t even try.

Confusion over Californian HOV-lane access hasn't helped ActiveE drivers make their minds up, either.

Confusion over Californian HOV-lane access hasn’t helped ActiveE drivers make their minds up, either.


“While I loved the ActiveE and can’t go back to an ICE, the size and looks of i3 didn’t quite work for me, esp combining that with some of the preliminary reporting on the lease costs,” one wrote. “As much as I love BMWs, I pulled the trigger on a Model S.”

“It is more so the value,” another owner told us via private message. “For the same price as the i3 lease, I can add a few more dollars and get a Tesla Model S with more than double the range, incredible cargo space and no gas whatsoever.”

Let Down

Leased from BMW as a continuation of the electric vehicle test fleet that started with the MiniE back in 2009, many of the ActiveE drivers have been with BMW’s exclusive program for more than six years. Many will continue to be loyal BMW customers with the purchase of a new i3, but a massive proportion will leave the brand they’ve loved for years for the charms of better specced, more affordable and longer-range vehicles, primarily (in no particular order) the Tesla Model S, Toyota RAV4 EV and Nissan LEAF. 

We’ve reached out to BMW on more than one occasion for its opinion on our findings, but at the time of writing have been given no official response.

Has BMW dropped the ball? Are customers really being let down? Or is this just the natural ebb and flow of customers from one brand to another as one product ends and another one starts?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.





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