Launch challenges leave 2014 BMW i3 owners inconvenienced, not discouraged
BMW i3 owners are a brave lot. Not only are they buying the first model year of a car, they are buying a car that is more advanced than pretty much any car in the world. Almost nothing on the electric i3 of importance is used on other cars, and thus it is relatively untested. Despite a long list of issues with the new vehicle, owners are keeping a stiff upper lip. Most are remaining positive about their experience, though some cracks are starting to appear in the veneer.
BMW did experiment with the electric MINIs and the ActiveE electric 1 Series cars it used as beta test vehicles. The drivers of those vehicles (on special leases from BMW that did not allow the vehicle to be bought at lease-end) knew they were helping BMW to develop an electric car. They expected trials and tribulations, and they were instrumental in BMW’s development of the new i3. Many of those same people are now the first owners of the electric i3, and from all accounts, they are dealing with launch issues that go beyond what many expected. Yet they remain upbeat.
BMW i3 Check Engine Light
We have already reported on the mysterious Check Engine Light (CEL) issue. This is the i3 dash warning light that is coming on for reasons unknown. It appears only in the Range Extended (REx) version of the i3, which has a small gas generator on board. BMW has indicated a fix is near, but after many weeks, one has not been brought forth. The cars are drivable, but some owners of these cars, which top out at $56,000, are applying black electrical tape over the light. Hardly the premium experience most would expect of a car in this price range.
i3 12 Volt Battery Issue
Other drivers have seen issues with the 12 volt battery (not the main power battery used to propel the vehicle). This is something that many Tesla owners also struggled with when the Model S launched. A BMW i3 owner recently commented that he brought his car in with the battery issue only to find that BMW did not have the special, low weight, 12 volt battery in stock. How can the company not stock a part custom to its vehicles?
i3 AC Issues
Problems with the air conditioning are now widely reported by i3 owners. This is not unique to i3s. Many electric vehicle owners learn that EVs sometimes struggle to provide enough cold air to cool the car. This is partly the automaker trying to preserve the battery’s life to provide range to the car, but also in the i3’s case may be due to simple under-sizing of the AC, or it could be a defect.
One of the i3’s biggest promoters, biggest fan (my opinion), and arguably the first private owner in the US, has had another issue that Torque News predicted after we drove the i3. His challenge has been flat tires. He has only owned the vehicle now for about 5 weeks, yet he has had 3 flat tires, requiring replacement of the tires. Two tire replacements were the result of a close encounter with a man-hole cover, and one was due to a screw in the tread near the sidewall. Although he gave his blessing for me to share this information, he does not think this is an i3 issue, but rather bad luck.
“How is that a BMW i3 specific issue?” you might ask. Well, the BMW i3 uses tires specific to it. To save fuel they are very tall and very narrow, almost like a bicycle tire or wagon wheel. They use higher inflation pressure than most cars’ tires do. There is no spare tire in the i3, and the special tires are not run-flat capable. Thus when an owner has a flat it requires a tow (as this owner did experience). One time the owner had a flat literally in front of a BMW dealership. The dealership did not have this custom part in stock.
Though he has spent $750 in just three months on replacement rubber, this particular owner is not unhappy. He did get a tire the same day he went in. One thing the owner has commented on in his writing about the i3 is that the tires are so narrow they seem to follow road imperfections, like ruts, more than most cars’ tires do. You can read more of his i3 likes and dislikes in his own words here.
Overall, most of the owners of the i3 are taking this type of bother in stride and love their new electric cars. They are keeping vehicle's benefits at top of mind and expected some growing pains. In no way am I implying that the group is dissatisfied, quite the contrary.
Some Owners Losing Hope
However there are exceptions. One former ActiveE lessee and new i3 owner recently wrote (and we asked her permission to reprint this)
“My i3's been in the shop 3 or 4 times in the past 5-6 weeks since we picked it up. And not for mere overnight software updates like many of you are reporting - this time it's been gone for 2 weeks and still no eta on when we will get it back. When service runs IRAP, they now say modules are failing. Last time it was the entertainment one that they replaced, today the security one crashed. It's going to be another 2-3 days before they can replace that one and try to rerun IRAP to see if anything else fails. And while service told me they have worked on other i3s with problems (AC, etc.), Clunker (as I have aptly named my lemon) is not cooperating. Am I the only one experiencing these issues??”
All Cars Have Launch Issues
To give some balance to this story I want to relay some personal information. Despite always advising my family and friends against buying the first year of any new car design I have done it often. I bought the first Civic SI with the VTEC engine. The sunroof never worked. I bought the first year of a Subaru 2.5GT. The engine failed at 11,000 miles and was replaced (yes the entire engine). My first Accord was a new model year and the transmission failed at 55,000 miles. I presently own a convertible Lexus which was the first model year of its design and the roof has been challenging to deal with. New-car challenges are not specific to the electric cars now entering the market.
The i3 Will Be Sorted And Will Succeed
Tesla Model S owners have reported more than once that they had to have the electric motor replaced on their Model S at the first service visit. One Chevy Volt owner we read posts from in a Volt club reported five changed transmissions (yes there is a “transmission” in most EVs). Like my internal combustion engine new-car experiences, these owners struggled through the new vehicle’s launch and they all report positive things about the ownership experience overall. We feel sure that the i3 group will also feel that way after the gremlins are sorted out.
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Photography by John Goreham