UPDATE: History Repeats Itself as BMW Openly Crushes ActiveE Electric Car

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.

A truck load of crushed BMW ActiveE EVs head off to be destroyed forever

A truck load of crushed BMW ActiveE EVs head off to be destroyed forever (Photo: Facebook)

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.”

The BMW ActiveE in happier times -- alongside its usurper, the BMW i3

The BMW ActiveE in happier times — alongside its usurper, the BMW i3

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.


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  • CDspeed

    No!!!!…………………………………………………….. : (

  • Airton Azevedo

    yikes! I think that may be ours on the bottom right without the decals 🙁

    • CDspeed

      Too bad the picture wasn’t taken a little more to the right, the spray painted numbers look like partial VIN numbers. It’s sad, and I feel bad for the Electronauts that have to see their ActiveEs end up like this.

  • Guest

    Shame. At least they could have waited a bit.

  • Dennis Pascual

    Intellectually I’ve always understood that this possibility was the Active E’s fate. I was glad to hear of the 80 or so Active Es that made it into the expansion of the DriveNow program, but to see this photo has given me a wave of sadness that I’ve only felt for the time we sold my first car… nnnI’d like to assume that my car was one of the ones that made it up the coast to San Francisco from Southern California and I may have to spend some money to visit the Bay Area and seek out my vehicle, alas, the odds are stacked against this.

  • cohenfive

    Blame it on moronic regulations. That’s the culprit here.

  • rarnedsoum

    Anyone who buys GM or BMW are fools. I used to be one and the same as well.nnnWhy bother when there is a customer oriented company named after a scientist that goes over and above to make sure the customer is rewarded for being a buyer of their brand? This is how you build loyalty.nnnJust read the elated customer stories of owners.nThen read all the repair and government recall stories of the two and three letter brands mentioned above.

    • CDspeed

      Unfortunately for the ActiveE it was technically an experimental car, so by law, because they were most likely not crash tested they have to be destroyed. It’s not an attempt to derail the rise of the electric car, at the end of the trial period BMW had applied for it had to do this. As for GM, I find the circumstances behind the demise of the EV1 to be similar but far more suspicious.

      • John_JP

        So how hard would it be to crash test a few of them rather than destroy all of them? Something doesn’t smell right here.

        • CDspeed

          Then the other problem arises, being a hand built prototype, there is no inventory of spare parts. Because it wasn’t meant to live on after the test program they didn’t produce a supply of parts like they would with a production car. The cars in the photo apparently were stripped of their parts to create a supply for the surviving 200 ActiveEs.

          • The parts stripping wasn’t particularly thorough. I see perfectly good headlights on the photo. Modern headlights sometimes fetch $800 a unit. It is a tragic waste.nnnWhile this may not only be legal for BMW to do this, and they maybe compelled by law to do this to a test fleet. The fact remains they ‘chose’ to make a test fleet rather than launch a vehicle like Nissan did with the LEAF. The crushing still reflects badly on the BMW brand, they went in knowing this would be the fate of the vehicles.

          • CDspeed

            Yes I notice that too, there are still a lot of good parts there, they really should have completely dismantled them and reused as much as possible.

          • Mo Za

            The parts I see , seem to be standard 1 series parts, if these were test vehicles , they would crush everything . They probably removed much of the electric drive train components . Standard 1 series parts are plentiful. That headlamp no matter the cost ( it probably cost bmw nothing to produce) probably wasn’t worth the trouble, where would they fit it? Into a petrol/diesel 1?

  • MEroller

    Who knows, maybe BMW actually sifted through their returnies to ensure only the most trouble-free and highest battery capacity cars went on to the Californian DriveNow scheme, and those with an ill servicing and repair record or worn-out battery pack were crushed? nnThe ActiveE 1 series not crash-tested? I would find that highly unbelievable, as it’s basis is a normal BMW 1series model that was fully crash-tested and certified, and part of this ActiveE development was surely to crash test this electric variant just as well to gain the necessary experience with all that high-voltage equipment on board.nnBut this is all speculation…

  • Tom B

    Electric cars are a waste of money and they always will be.

    • A_Extremist

      I own two model S Tesla’s and have to say they are the best cars I have owned in 45 years of owning cars. Absolutely amazing cars. Our P85+ replaced a special order BMW 760i. The BMW has not been driven in six months. Given the choice everyone in the family takes the Tesla’snnOur family has three Model X Tesla’s on reservation. One will replace a BMW X5 and one will replace a BMW 550i. We could not be happier with our Tesla’s. nnMade two 1200 mile trips last month and my fuel cost for each trip was ZERO. Super Charged and thoroughly enjoyed the trips. Arrived less tired due to the smooth quiet ride.nnIf you haven’t driven a Tesla schedule a test drive. You don’t know what you are missing.

      • John_JP

        You must me very rich

        • Edward Putt Jr.

          Well duh..

    • leptoquark

      I would like to get your opinion when gas hits $6 a gallon during the next crisis.

      • CDspeed

        Yeah they’re all happy with gasoline and think nothing is better or will ever replace it, until they can barely afford it.

    • Henry heard the same comments, many years ago, when gasoline was looking for a consumer. That is all reversed now.

  • This is sad and will influence which automaker our corporate fleets buy from in the future.

    • Mo Za

      Why would it influence which automaker your corporate fleet buys from? If your corporate fleet were in the same position (by law the cars had to be crushed or they would have had to probably pay a huge fine) what would you do? Crush the cars , or make a few happy and pay a huge fine?

  • Red Sage

    Reduce, Reuse, Recycle… A shame this happens to Electric Vehicles with far too much regularity.

  • “but with BMW unable to sell them on to private buyers”nnNo this should readnn”but with BMW unwilling to sell them on to private buyers”nnnnIf the car was legal to drive last week, its legal to drive this week. This has nothing to do with ability, everything to do with willingness. They simply don’t want to support a test vehicle with parts etc for many years or see their precious brand modified by enthusiasts. Let the enthusiasts have them.

    • CDspeed

      No, unable, these cars were submitted as an experimental test fleet, because of that they avoid certain mandatory certifications. That includes crash testing, so when the applied for test period ends they have to be scrapped by law because they are not allowed to be sold. Yes the car was legal but only for the trial period. Search it on the web, show cars, concept cars, press cars, preproduction test cars, they’re all scrapped. The biggest issue I’m starting to have with all this is the waste, all that work, money, and materials being crushed and thrown away is disgusting.

      • Thanks for education on test fleet legislation.nnnIt is rather ironic that an environmentally friendly vehicle creates such waste and the waste is enforced by law.nnnWas the ActiveE eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit?

        • CDspeed

          I wouldn’t think they’d get the tax credit, even if they did the dealer gets the tax credit for a leased EV. And yes the waste of a car that’s key feature is sustainability is the part that I think is most unsettling. I started searching it last night and could not believe all the cars that get scrapped, one of the most interesting was the 1963 Chrysler Ghia Turbine. They built a test fleet of them, they were powered by a turbine engine, and when they were done with them, they were destroyed. There is a short video of them being destroyed at a scrap yard, it’s like a very short horror movie.

        • Dennis Pascual

          No. Nor was it eligible for the state incentives in California.nnnEveryone pretty much paid the same amount if they were lucky enough to lease the vehicle for two years. Only differences would be the person’s insurance (had to get your own and depended on supplier and your insurability) and whether you had to replace tires. Everything else was covered for the maintenance. Some paid less because their cars were in the shop for at least a full month (at one time) or more, in which case BMW refunded the person’s monthly lease.nnnA little over $16,500 for the two years.

      • beardedman

        Except that it isn’t wasted at all. They use all the research they got from these cars. But you got to participate (and pay BMW for the privilege) in an opportunity few get. The materials will be recycled, no waste there. The money, well they made over $500 from 700 lucky drivers each month, us included. That certainly helped offset some R&D costs – which they would have had to spend anyway. And the work? They had to do the work anyway as a part of research with test mules. nnnI get it, people liked the cars. But now you can go like an i3, or a Tesla, or a Volt, or Spark EV… whatever you want. And you can actually own them and not let the leasing company pry them out of your hands if you want. We got a Spark EV to replace ours and it’s a blast (and a lot cheaper).

  • kw

    Those owner comments in the article are OTT & silly. The update helps to put it into proper perspective but rational people understood that already.

    • beardedman

      Sadly, I have to agree. I’ve been driving electric for three years and completely believe in EVs. I took good care of my leased car and then turned it in. I want to be sensitive to people’s feelings, but cars are cars, not heirlooms, not family pets. Development/non-production cars even less so. You bought your ticket and enjoyed the ride. Time to move on to the next ride.

  • Michael Thwaite

    It’s interesting that the BMW response is rather missing the point – this wasn’t about crushing the cars – that we always knew was their fate. This was about a bunch of people that have put in a great deal of time and effort to work with BMW, to support them and to promote the development of these vehicles. We, as owners looked after them, we took our time to make sure that they were always presented at their best and that they were returned in good order. What went wrong was that after BMW took them back, they flattened them, they scratched the paint that we polished, scuffed the seats we buffed, tore up the cool graphics that we prized and paraded them up the freeway for all to see.nnnAs an aside, I hope no onlookers are thinking that the BMW Electric car program was a flop “Look Martha, all those electric cars, I guess they didn’t work after all.”nnnAs irrational as it might sound, we were attached to them, we formed strong bonds with fellow drivers, now friends, through our shared ownership and support of them. This is no different to any group of enthusiast collectors.nnnWhat BMW should have said is “We’re sorry, we didn’t think.”nnWe’re just a bunch of enthusiasts and we’re kind of morning the loss of something great that we used to have, but can’t keep. Leave us to it, we’ll get over it but, at least when ‘Shep’ is taken away to live on the ‘farm’, it’s done with some compassion guys.

  • Giovanni

    BMW is crazy not to recycle the entire car.nA very bad reflection for wastefulness.

  • James1951

    It doesn’t matter which puppet or talking head is being manipulated by the oil industry, the fact is electric cars could have been mandated and carbon burners outlawed 50 years ago. Instead we spew ever more smog into the planets eco system knowing our loved ones are dying years earlier from related diseases and that in the not too distant future millions of people will die as coastal cities are flooded. Why are people still killing and allowing our countries eco system to die?

  • James1951

    People who drive gas guzzlers deserve to see their loved ones die an early death. Sorry but they are the ones who are knowingly killing their family and friends, cant sympathize with murderers.