BMW i3 LAPD

When you think of California’s inner-city landscapes, chances are that a thick blanket of smog comes to mind, followed by an image of gridlocked commuters—a film trope that isn’t entirely Hollywood wizardry. While efforts have been made other the past few years (and decades) to revitalize and overhaul the greater Los Angeles area into a more Eco-friendly urban environment, not all were successful—nor as self-sustaining or influential as the city had hoped, despite their promising initiatives.

The first step to a greener tomorrow was to deal with the metropolis’ problematic levels of air pollution, of which electric transportation could be a possible remedy. As mayor in 2014, Eric Garcetti proposed a transformation of all of its government transportation into either all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles, in a bid to reduce emissions.

When the Los Angeles Police Department decided to take up the bid for electrification in 2015, BMW entered into the ring (along with Tesla) to compete for the contract to supply the department’s new non-emergency administrative fleet. The all-electric, carbon-bodied hatchback that is the i3 won out over the Tesla Model S, and 100 i3s were loaned to the force starting in 2016, promptly wrapped in traditional black-and-white police liveries to match LA’s finest. But the $10,267,699 taxpayer price tag, which covered the cost of the 100 electric Bimmers and their charging stations, didn’t seem to pay off as an investment like the city’s officials had hoped.

Odometer logs from a few of the i3s in LA’s administrative fleet.

For starters, there were complaints about the lack of range, and namely, administrative personnel’s fear of being stranded in the greater Los Angeles area without anywhere to charge. The i3s which were initially loaned out in 2016 were specc’ed exclusively with the 22kWh battery pack, granting drivers only 81 miles of range, without the safety net of the optional BMW gasoline range extender—that’s roughly a 72-mile difference when compared to a similarly-specc’ed 2020 model.

An investigation launched in 2018 by CBS found that almost all of the BMWs showed minimal signs of use, with the majority showing odometer readings of only three or four digits. Even in 2017, when a larger battery pack granted 114 miles of travel, the story was the same. Those that did rack up what one would consider “normal” mileage appeared to be used for non-professional purposes, such as personal errands. Whether or not this was the real reason why some of the cars never were plugged in or driven regularly, however, remains a mystery.

Though the program’s hurdles prevented it from reaching its full potential as a successful green initiative, that doesn’t mean that enthusiasts can’t benefit. The initial home of these i3s, New Century BMW, has re-acquired some of LAPD’s administrative fleet, now listing them for sale as former government vehicles under a certified pre-owned status, meaning that they aren’t too far removed from their original four-year/50,000-mile warranty.

If you have been in the market for a barely-used luxury electric vehicle, there is no better deal. With Deka World interiors and nineteen-inch aluminum wheels, many of these low-mileage hatchbacks are priced well under $20,000, with a handful currently sitting in the $15,000–$18,000 range. Though there were more than 23 i3s listed originally on New Century’s online CPO inventory, there are only a handful left—proving that they are indeed priced to sell. Los Angeles County (and the taxpayer) already took the depreciation hit, so BMW enthusiasts may not want to let this bargain pass.—Malia Murphy

[Photos courtesy BMW AG, CBS Channel 2 Los Angeles.]

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