BMW i3 REx Won’t Get White Californian HOV Lane Sticker After All

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.

Only the all-electric i3 will be guaranteed HOV-lane access. Lucky i3 REX owners may be able to nab one of a limited number of green HOV lane decals.

Only the all-electric i3 will be guaranteed HOV-lane access. Lucky i3 REX owners may be able to nab one of a limited number of green HOV lane decals.

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.

Want to know more about the i3? Check out our official first-look report here


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.

If you want an i3 REx in California and want HOV-lane access, you'll need to be quick.

If you want an i3 REx in California and want HOV-lane access, you’ll need to be quick.

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?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • Dennis Pascual

    Thanks TE folks for asking the question… I am not yet a BMW i3 Reservation Holder, but I do have seven days left to make that decision. BMW Active E Electronauts have been given until Friday, January 17 to lock in reservations that would allow us to take deliveries of our i3s earlier than other reservation holders (not against other Active E folks, however.) I have been a big fan of the i3 and have been leaning toward an i3 with REX to give me the extra range for my often 102 mile days.nnI actually tried to answer the question in my blog post – And to make a long story shorter… I don’t know. I’m not even sure if I will get an i3. It would be fun to have, but it is definitely not a necessity.

  • Scott Cronce

    I learned at CES that the US i3 is set to turn on the REX when the battery gets to 6% SOC, no user control. This was to get the white EV California stickers. It’s shame that after compromising they still did not get CARB approval. I wonder if they will change back to the EU rex user control (hold SOC) and put in the larger tank now.

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  • Mike

    I’ve put a deposit down on the i3 BEV. I simply want a car to putt around town. Charger in my home already. Don’t want or need to lug around a gas engine. I’ve driven a Volt for 3 years, great car but ready to try a pure EV. White sticker is nice but not important as I’m retired. I have other cars if I want to travel a longer distance.

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