It’s like every EV advocate’s personal idea of hell: a truck load of crushed electric cars making their way down the freeway to meet their metal-clad maker. After the untimely crushing of hundreds of perfectly functioning GM EV1, Honda EV Plus many other first-generation electric cars just over ten years ago, it’s also something we had all hoped was relegated to the history books.
Yet yesterday, history repeated itself. And this time, it wasn’t GM, Toyota, Honda or Ford sentencing perfectly functioning electric cars to death: it was German automaker.
Just as BMW was celebrating the delivery of its first BMW i3 REx range-extended EV to BMW electronaut Tom Moloughney it was simultaneously in the process of sending its much-loved ActiveE lease vehicle to an early grave.
Leased to hundreds of BMW ‘electronauts’ across the U.S. as part of a two-year test fleet program to develop and test the drivetrain used in the i3, the 1-series derived ActiveE combined the style of BMW’s popular sedan with the zero emissions of an electric car. While BMW had always planned to take back the ActiveEs when it started U.S. deliveries of the BMW i3 EV and BMW i3 REx, many had hoped that somehow these important cars would avoid the crusher.
A second life for the BMW ActiveE was even something BMW promoted itself, with the news earlier this month that a large number of ActiveEs would be sent to California to join its DriveNow car share program. The addition of the electric cars into the DriveNow fleet proved so popular that BMW has been sending more cars to its DriveNow fleet than it originally intended.
Yesterday’s photograph proves not all ActiveEs have been that lucky — and it’s left many BMW electric car fans devastated, despite the prior knowledge that due to strict laws regarding the resale and reuse of ‘pre-production test vehicles,’ the crusher was likely the only place they would end up.
“We knew this was the fate of these cars but, cars are closer to pets or even family than just appliances,” said our very own Michael Thwaite, who has lived with a BMW ActiveE for the past two years. “We looked after them, took pride in them, they helped define us and presented us to the outside world. This is just insensitive, thoughtless and ultimately brand destructive.”
Having picked up his brand-new BMW i3 EV earlier this month, Michael and his wife Pamela — whose entire family fleet of cars are electric — are in shock.
“After 193 washes and endless care and attention, I’m too sad to say anymore,” Pamela Thwaite told us this morning.
Like the previous generation of crushed electric cars before it, the BMW ActiveE cars being openly crushed by BMW preclude the fate of other limited-run and ‘pre-production test fleet’ vehicles.
It isn’t just test-bed cars either. If you lease rather than own a so-called compliance car like the Honda Fit EV or Toyota RAV4 EV, we’d guess your car will end up with a similar fate at the end of your lease.
“Anyone remember Alexandra Paul getting arrested over the very same thing with GM? How well did that reflect on GM?,” asked Michael. “Come on guys, throw a tarp over them at least.”
It’s unclear how many BMW ActiveE cars are headed for the same fate, but with BMW unable to sell them on to private buyers and only a limited number of cars destined for a second life in car sharing schemes, we’d guess this isn’t the last truck load of perfectly functioning ActiveE cars you’ll see heading off to be destroyed.
[UPDATE: We’ve just received the following update from BMW’s Dave Buchko, regarding the cars spotted earlier this week. According to Buchko, BMW Active E battery packs are being recycled in ‘second life projects,’ while strict law regarding prototypes prevents the ActiveE cars themselves from being sold on. The quote is duplicated below in its entirety.
Anyone who has watched BMW’s ongoing development in the electric vehicle space and observed our investment in BMW i, has seen clear evidence of the company’s commitment to sustainable mobility.
BMW has always been clear that the ActiveEs were prototype vehicles and that the program would have a limited timeframe, which is now drawing to a close. Our time with the ActiveE and our Electronauts has been a great learning experience which has prepared us well for the arrival of the BMW i3 electric vehicle which is now in US showrooms at authorized BMW i Centers. As enthusiasts, we understand and appreciate the emotional connection that individuals can make with their cars. The enthusiasm that the Electronauts brought to the BMW ActiveE test program was truly remarkable.
The learning begun with the ActiveE will transition to the next phase with all of the lithium-ion batteries being repurposed for Battery Second Life research projects.
As prototypes, the BMW ActiveEs may not be resold. Based on increasing demand, the most well cared for cars have been deployed to bolster the fleet of Drive Now, BMW’s car sharing service in the San Francisco Bay Area, for a limited period. The total number of BMW ActiveEs in the Drive Now Fleet totals 150. Some have also been returned to Munich for additional research markets.
Legal requirements make it impossible to keep these cars on the road in the US indefinitely. Recycling of the vehicles locally is the most sustainably responsible means of handling the cars that are being taken out of service.