LAPD's Multi-million Dollar Electric Fleet Allegedly Goes Unused and Unloved

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

We know the State of California loves electric cars, but the Los Angeles Police Department may have mixed emotions. Back in June of 2016, the LAPD awarded BMW with a contract to provide 100 battery-powered i3 hatchbacks as part of a plan to enhance its public image. At the time, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told the press, “We should be thinking green in everything we do,” adding that the electric BMWs would “also save money and resources.”

Fast forward to 2018 and the contract is beginning to look like a good way to waste millions of dollars. The LAPD agreed to lease the vehicles, effectively doubling its electrified fleet, for three years. The logic was that the gas savings would offset the $1.4 million it would cost the police force to apprehend them from BMW. While that sounds wonderful, there is a problem — the LAPD isn’t driving them.

An investigative report from CBS Los Angeles kept track of the vehicles and accessed the departmental mileage logs to see how far the LAPD drove the i3s. It claims some managed a few thousand miles during their time as police vehicles, while others only have a few hundred miles on the odometer. Granted, the cars haven’t been with the LAPD that long, but most aren’t getting the kind of use one would expect even a light-duty law enforcement vehicle to see.

Considering the department said it would spend at least another $1.5 million for the infrastructure necessary to charge the vehicles on-site, the entire expenditure seems like a bit of a boondoggle. The CBS report alleges the sum of the initiative is roughly $10.2 million. While we’re not sure how it came to that figure, know it has to be in excess of $3 million. No matter how you slice it, it’s still a lot of taxpayer money. But is it a total waste like the report claims?

If the cars were sitting completely idle, then yes. However, if the force utilizes them for things like parking enforcement — writing tickets that make the city money — then the low milage would be more understandable. The NYPD relies on a bevy of energy-efficient gas and electric vehicles for its traffic and parking enforcement vehicles. Most of those don’t see a whole lot of miles per day, either. But the LAPD said the BMWs were intended for “community outreach and other police business,” which is about as vague as it gets.

CBS LA said sources claim the all-electric i3’s limited range made personnel reluctant to use the vehicles at all. One of the cars in the LAPD’s fleet has been around since May of 2016 and has averaged about six miles per week. The outlet also followed a few of the cars after leaving the lot, catching employees using them for non-police business. In a classic moment of gotcha journalism, CBS confronted an LAPD commander as she exited a nail salon. While she definitely wasn’t supposed to be using the departmental EV for that purpose, hell, at least the car was being driven.

LAPD Deputy Chief Jorge Villegas defended the program when questioned about the limited usage of the vehicles, saying “It’s all a part of saving the Earth, going green … quite frankly, to try and save money for the community and the taxpayers.”

Since the cars are presumably just going back to BMW (barely used) when this is all said and done, we’re not sure that’s really the case. There’s nothing green or fiscally sound about using finite resources to procure vehicles that nobody drives. It’s so odd because, while the battery-only version of the i3 isn’t a great long-haul vehicle, the car should be sufficient for transporting an officer to and from a courthouse or whatever local trip an administrator might need to make. LA is a sprawling city to be sure, but not so big as to completely nullify the i3’s ability to go from A to B within its borders.

[Images: BMW Group]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Master Baiter Master Baiter on Jan 20, 2018

    How are the officials responsible for this kind of waste any better than a common thief who sticks up a 7-eleven? . .

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    • Yurpean Yurpean on Jan 29, 2018

      @el scotto BMW bikes are THE standard for law enforcement worldwide, like 150 countries. They are so good and so well respected that even 200 PDs in the States have finally seen the light. Maneuverability, durability, speed, special frames and extension for weapon mounts, mount points for electronics, hardening, and and and. Their bikes are just amazing.

  • Joebaldheadedgranny Joebaldheadedgranny on Feb 01, 2018

    Love this. Like any big organization, the LAPD has numerous applications or "user cases" for vehicles. Many of these applications (parking enforcement, community affairs, process serving) are pretty well served by the EV, so what transpired here has little to do with the vehicle and more to do with the employees that are being asked to use them. Top guys like the mayor and chief sign off because the optics are great and the economics seem OK. The hitch happens at the Operational level- it starts with employees testing City resolve by ignoring the whole initiative and offering some resistance. When nothing happens in the way of consequence, the cars get parked and forgotten. I've this dozens of times in both private and public organizations.

  • Jeff Self driving cars are not ready for prime time.
  • Lichtronamo Watch as the non-us based automakers shift more production to Mexico in the future.
  • 28-Cars-Later " Electrek recently dug around in Tesla’s online parts catalog and found that the windshield costs a whopping $1,900 to replace.To be fair, that’s around what a Mercedes S-Class or Rivian windshield costs, but the Tesla’s glass is unique because of its shape. It’s also worth noting that most insurance plans have glass replacement options that can make the repair a low- or zero-cost issue. "Now I understand why my insurance is so high despite no claims for years and about 7,500 annual miles between three cars.
  • AMcA My theory is that that when the Big 3 gave away the store to the UAW in the last contract, there was a side deal in which the UAW promised to go after the non-organized transplant plants. Even the UAW understands that if the wage differential gets too high it's gonna kill the golden goose.
  • MKizzy Why else does range matter? Because in the EV advocate's dream scenario of a post-ICE future, the average multi-car household will find itself with more EVs in their garages and driveways than places to plug them in or the capacity to charge then all at once without significant electrical upgrades. Unless each vehicle has enough range to allow for multiple days without plugging in, fighting over charging access in multi-EV households will be right up there with finances for causes of domestic strife.