By on May 22, 2016

2015 BMW i3 Range Extender, Image: © 2015 Alex L. Dykes/The Truth About Cars

Owners of BMW i3s equipped with optional range extenders — read: two-cylinder engine that generates electricity — are suing the automaker for an issue that could leave those drivers going slow in the fast lane.

According to Green Car Reports, the BMW i3 REx will drop down to 45 miles per hour under certain conditions, which some owners believe is a safety issue.

The class-action lawsuit alleges the small range extender isn’t strong enough keep up with motivational demand at highway speeds when the battery is nearly depleted. Engine and battery management software steps in and reduces the BMW i3’s speed to 45 mph so that battery charge can catch up with demand.

“The BMW i3 Range Extender feature is a dangerous instrumentality to the owners of the vehicles and to other motorists on the road,” said Jonathan Michaels of MLG Automotive Law, the firm handling the class-action suit. “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.”

Green Car Reports notes three of its editors have experienced the issue in addition to its many owners.

The outlet spoke with electric-car advocate Tom Moloughney, who is also a BMW i3 owner. He stated the issue mostly comes down to a lack of knowledge of how the range extender works, and refrained from blaming the i3 for a quirk that doesn’t affect any other vehicle on sale today.

“The biggest problem is the lack of information on how the REx works at the dealership level. I think if people understood how the range-extender system works, then there would be fewer problems,” Moloughney said.

A representative for BMW said the company can’t comment on pending litigation.

The BMW i3 REx stickers, without options, for $47,245, including destination.

[Image: © 2015 Alex L. Dykes/The Truth About Cars]

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33 Comments on “BMW Facing Lawsuit Over i3 REx Power Loss...”


  • avatar
    Truckducken

    Just in time for the aforementioned brouhaha, BMW revealed a stunning concept today that is just magnificent. Unlike the i8, the automaker chose in the i3 to blend retro and contemporary powertrain cues to give every kidney grille fan a real treat. Many people felt that BMW had lost its way, but this time BMW hit back, knocking it out of the park with a concept known simply as the Deux Chevaux Hommage.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Truckducken,
      I agree this little BMW is not that good.

      As for the range extender lawsuit I don’t think it will fare well.

      • 0 avatar
        Thinkin...

        I thought this problem had been fixed ages ago with a software update. Perhaps now – I know thta the i3 had a lot of growing pains when it first hit the road, but nowadays the only problems I’ve heard from current owners are that they’re “concerned” that next year’s model will have twice the range available, and their leases won’t be up for another year!

  • avatar
    Lack Thereof

    So basically, people want to drive their 60 hp i3 like a 100 hp Chevy Volt. Put the pedal to the floor and cruise at 85-90 without caring about unimportant things like “maintaining charge”.

    I bet that cut to 45 MPH could be prevented by blending in with a patch of speed-limit traffic in the right lane for a few miles, instead. Put a big blinking “Hey knucklehead, watch your charge meter” light on the dashboard when somebody starts getting close to the cut-off point.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      I own a Chevy Volt, and I know that a Volt’s power will reduce noticeably if the traction battery is at “0 miles” range, and one attempts to climb steep hills that requires more than 80 HP (the output of the ICE generator).

      The Volt offers “Mountain Mode”, which will run the generator to maintain an extra 10 miles or so “buffer” in the battery so there is no power loss in hilly terrain – but the driver has to engage this mode in anticipation of the hilly part of the trip.

      I don’t think that the volt would drop to 45mph except on very steep hills, however (I’ve not tested this).

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        I drove a Volt that had just been driven a couple hundred miles without a charge. As you describe, it was down on power compared to pretty much any other car. Basically, a Volt without a battery charge is like an Impala powered by a Geo Metro engine. I will achieve highway speeds eventually, but you’re in for a shock if you need to merge onto the freeway from an uphill entry ramp, and passengers only make things worse. Driving it was an excellent reminder not to buy another 240D Mercedes and try to use it in modern traffic.

        • 0 avatar
          shaker

          “Impala powered by a Geo Metro engine. I will achieve highway speeds eventually”

          It’s not *that* bad.

          Basically, if you’re demanding >80 HP on a depleted battery, then the power will be reduced (as the built-in battery buffer of 20% is drained down sufficiently), but this would be from a very long uphill grade at highway speed. That’s why you can engage “Mountain Mode” so that the engine will work to keep that battery buffer @ 40% charge which will allow full power on even the longest ascents.

          You just have to know how to get the best out of the car.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I’d bet most of these vehicles will never be on the open road. Why would you drive one on the open road, you’d rent.

    So, around inner city/urbanised regions this should do fine at 45mph.

    I really don’t see this as an issue.

    Welcome to the future of hybrids and EVs.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      @BigAlFromOz: The experience here in the US may differ. Even in urban commuting jumping on an interstate for an exit or two is common so on-ramp performance matters.

      The i3 seems to be more of a showcase for BMW carbon fiber manufacturing than a practical daily driver – for that the Volt and Prius still rule.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        carguy,
        I also think the range extender might be for another use. What about the person who forgets to recharge or the person who doesn’t have a recharging station readily available?

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          My car sends me an email or a text if I forget to plug it in at designated locations. For workplace charging, a 120v 20 amp outlet is more than adequate. I usually skip the 240v / 50 amp outlet and plug into the lower output socket because it’s about 100 feet closer to my office door. Eight hours to charge after a 50 mile freeway drive is fine at 2.2 kW.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      As usual and as expected you totally miss the point of the REx option and that is to make it suitable for longer trips, the type that you use the highway for.

      The entire reason for paying the extra money for the REx is so that you don’t have to spend the extra money to rent or take bus/train if you want or need to travel beyond your daily commute. So yeah you want to be able to maintain the 60mph or 70mph speed limit and not be a hazard to yourself or others on the road when all of a sudden the speed drops to 45mph in a section where the bulk of the traffic is traveling at 75mph. If you are paying almost $4k more (or $30 more per month on a lease)you want full functionality when you summon REx.

      Now if BMW had some brains and they weren’t so scared of what it would do to their ZEV and CAFE status they would have a switch that let you inform the car that you are embarking on a trip that will exceed the EV range and have that mode summon REx at say a 10% or whatever SOC was required to insure that the vehicle wouldn’t go into batter recovery mode, instead of holding out until a 5% SOC charge was experienced.

      Of course if they really had a clue they would tie it into the navigation system and then the computer would figure out the optimum time to summon REx to maximize efficiency and ensure that battery recovery mode was not entered when you were on a road with a speed limit in excess of 45mph. Once it calculates that the battery SOC was sufficient to reach the destination then REx could be shut off and it could finish of the trip depleting that extra SOC buffer.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Scoutdude,
        That’s you logic, but there will thousands of other reasons people will buy this vehicle. Remember in you world only V8s seem to matter.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          The reality is that people are paying extra for REx and weren’t told that it couldn’t provide 100% function so they are angry. Especially for how much the option adds to the price.

        • 0 avatar
          tedward

          No, scoutdude is right. A 45 ceiling is frankly unsafe on a huge percentage of us roadways. There are even urban area highways with speed limits of 45 where 45 is unsafe. It’s a shame this is a class action, all that means here is no one gets compensated and bmw never admits they made a mistake.

          In the rush for ev compliance I could do without the fat cars, the unsafe tires and now, the danger low speed maximums. Seriously, none of this would be tolerated in a normal car.

      • 0 avatar

        The way I under stand it in Europe the REX works mostly as your propose you can override it to get a boost when you know its going to run low. But that’s not allows under I believe CARB rules for full EV credits with a REX so they hobbled it. Personally I would have introduced the euro version and just taken the credits on the full EV versions.

      • 0 avatar
        dwford

        The REx does not really make the i3 a suitable long distance cruiser, since the gas tank only holds 1.9 gallons. planning on a long trip where the majority of the trip is using the REx defeats the purpose of the car entirely. This is a daily commuter car, not a long distance cruiser.

    • 0 avatar
      pragmatist

      People buy the range extender for a REASON, and the reason is NOT puttering along at crippled speed. These drivers probably intend to do most of their driving on battery, but when needed they want an ICE fall back.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        pragmatist,
        Read the answer I gave carguy and Scoutdude.

        Just because you buy groceries in bulk doesn’t mean you want to eat it all at once.

        The same can be stated about this range extender.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    No wonder the Prius continues to outsell everyone else, even after all these years. Why anyone will buy one of these things over a Volt is beyond me

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Corollaman,
      People buy them for several reasons over a Prius.

      1. The badge,
      2. Smaller and easier to manage in a city, and
      3. Added security of knowing you’ll still get home if the batter runs flat.

      I think the person who buys on of these BMWs is wanting an EV without the chance of running out of battery charge.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        #1 no denying that for some that BMW badge is worth everything and more. However it is to be avoided by others.
        #2 you haven’t seen one in person obviously because it is not smaller than the Prius and I highly doubt it is easier to manage but I haven’t driven an i3.
        #4 no problem getting where you want to go with the Prius since you know for most of them their sole power source is gasoline. Yes the PiP does exist but it has been a joke until this point with no real range and the fact that it does not have full functionality in EV mode. The new one is supposed to fix the last part.

        Yes I like V8 but I have nothing against Plug Ins whether they be a pure EV or some sort of a hybrid. In fact there is a Hybrid in my fleet and I’m seriously considering one from my daily driver and/or the used EVs that are now dipping under $10K in my area for something with 3yrs/36K on it.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    Then puttering along? Range extender should carry a warning, do not use on the highway!

  • avatar
    gasser

    Bingo!! That is the solution. A big yellow sticker that says “Exit highway if state of charge nearing 5%!!!”

  • avatar

    Ironically people buy it because it is the ultimate driving machine. Which Tesla if to be serious. Prius is not a driving machine, is more like appliance.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    So how far has BMW sunk? GM has engineered and built a better mouse trap.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    To hell with power loss – they should get sued for making it as ugly as a Multipla.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    The sooner the weenies that rent these new give up on them, the sooner they can fall into the hands of shade tree mechanics who can find out if there is potential for repowering their hideous carbon fiber shells with Hayabusa or K-series engines and giving them a reason for existing.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    The i3 is crippled to comply with California “electric vehicle” silliness to get taxpayer funding and get single-occupant use of the carpool lanes. Part of the crippling is that the engine won’t charge the battery more than some very small amount. So, when you’re headed to Lake Tahoe and know full well that you’ll be putting considerable demands on the propulsion unit, you can’t tell the i3 to charge the battery to, say 50% before you get to the mountain climb.

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