Skip to main content

BMW’s i3 CARB-compliant Range Extender Lands It In Legal Trouble

The gasoline generator in the BMW electric car has always had its detractors. Now it is the subject of a lawsuit.

The BMW i3 electric vehicle comes in two forms. One is a battery electric vehicle. The second uses a gasoline motor as a generator to help charge the battery pack when it drops below 6%. This device doubles the range of the i3 according to BMW. The range extender version of the BMW i3 with the range extender, which fans call the REx, is now the subject of a lawsuit.

The range extender has been controversial from the start. Battery electric vehicle proponents don't like it because it uses gasoline, which they deem a problem to society. Some who purchased the REx for its more practical range also dislike the device because it hobbles their vehicle. When it is running, the vehicle is not able to perform at the same level of acceleration as when it is not. This is not a mechanical deign issue that BMW was unable to solve. It was built in purposely so that the REx version of the i3 would receive the blessings of the California Air Resources Board.

Tom Moloughney knows more about the BMW i3 and electric vehicles than perhaps any other expert. Not only is he a proponent of EVs, he was an original i3 owner. In his June 2014 overview of the then-new BMW i3, Moloughney explained how the BMW range extender worked, saying “Unlike the European version, the operator cannot manually turn on the engine to maintain a higher level of charge. In Europe, once the state of charge drops below 75 percent, the range extender can be turned on manually.” He went on to explain how the odd device came to be found on the BMW i3, saying, “BMW eliminated this feature on U.S. models, so the i3 would qualify for the California Air Resources Board’s BEVx designation. While BMW never announced why they chose to eliminate the hold feature in favor of getting the BEVx designation, observers believe BMW took the step in order to get more ZEV credits per REx vehicle sold.”

On popular forums, the range extender has been the frequent subject of sometimes heated debates. Many have listed their bad experiences with it. Now one owner, Edo Tsoar, has filed suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The suit claims that when the gasoline generator is in use, it doesn't produce sufficient power to prevent a dangerous decrease in the vehicle's performance. The suit says that if the car is as going up a hill, or fully loaded with passengers, the speed of the i3 can dramatically decrease, something that the i3 does not do when using just its battery and electric drive. The lawsuit claims that this can result in the i3 dropping to speeds of 45 miles per hour on the highway.

Jonathan Michaels, founding member of MLG Automotive Law, the attorney group representing Edo Tsoar issued a statement, saying, "The BMW i3 Range Extender feature is a dangerous instrumentality to the owners of the vehicles and to other motorists on the road. Having a sudden and unexpected loss of power in a motor vehicle can result in a catastrophic situation for all those on the road. These cars are dangerous and should not be driven."

The requested remedy is that the vehicles be “repaired.” However, they are not defective, but behaving exactly as BMW and CARB intended they should. The idea is that an electric vehicle may not also have a fully- functioning gasoline engine that produces emissions – and still be afforded the many benefits the state offers buyers of EVs. For example, access to high occupancy vehicle lanes, state-funded payments to EV buyers at time of purchase, and similar such EV incentives.

Mr. Moloughney has experienced the range extender’s behavior first-hand. He wrote of the effects, “The power is slightly muted.” And added, “If you exceed the range extender’s capability, it will slow down to 40 mph.” Please read the full text of that story here. We do not wish to take any parts of it out of context.

Edmunds Autos Editor, James Riswick also tested the REx. He said he also felt the reduced performance while climbing a hill on the highway. He described it, saying, "...the little engine had trouble keeping up with the increased electricity demands. No matter what I did with the accelerator, my speed gradually dropped from 74 mph down to 56 mph by the time I reached the summit."

It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit is resolved. On the one hand, we have a vehicle that does have performance limitations that are tied to the BMW “Doubles the range” claim. On the other hand, we have collaboration between BMW and the state government in which the suit is filed.

Source note: Torque News has reached out to some of the sources quoted in this story. Due to short deadlines we have not heard back (we did not give them reasonable time), but will update this story if we do.

Related Stories:
BMW i3 REx has a potentially dangerous flaw, but a fix is on the way
BMW i3 REx vs. Chevrolet Volt: two different approaches to plug-in hybrids