The Los Angeles Police Department’s Fleet of BMW i3s Is Up for Sale
Taxpayers paid $10,267,699 for the cute city cars, most of which racked up four digits or less in mileage.
To help combat Los Angeles' infamously poor air quality, Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed moving all of the city's fleets to electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles in 2014. The Los Angeles Police Department's then-new non-emergency administrative fleet was part of this push, accepting bids in 2015 from BMW, Tesla and other electrified vehicle makers to supply them with cars.
An unlikely contender won out over longer-range fare like the Tesla Model S: the cute carbon-fiber-bodied, all-electric BMW i3. According to Bimmer Life, the department was set to lease 100 BMW i3s per year for three years starting in 2016, but according to The Current Review's Andrew Lambrecht, the least was postponed in 2018 with no explanation. While many of the LAPD's Capparis White i3s stayed relatively nondescript, some cars were dressed up in L.A.'s black and white cop car livery, complete with a light bar on top.
The intentions were good, but the price tag was high. Taxpayers paid $10,267,699 to lease the BMWs and install the charging infrastructure to keep them powered, per Bimmer Life. Worse yet, most of them barely got any use.
While the i3 non-emergency fleet was meant for community outreach initiatives and other business-related duties—not the police chases L.A. is infamous for—they were highly unpopular with the people who were supposed to use them. L.A. is a huge city, and the initial run of LAPD i3s only had the 22-kWh battery pack that produced 81 miles of range, reports Bimmer Life. These weren't the models with the gas-powered range extender, either, and personnel worried about getting stuck somewhere on the road.
The 2017 fleet that replaced that initial 2016 lease run only got a small bump in battery size, allowing 114 miles of travel on one charge. That wasn't enough to alleviate range anxiety within the department.
That's a very real fear, as it certainly wouldn't be the first time an electric police vehicle ran out of juice while on duty. Getting fleet users who are used to parking and leaving internal combustion cars to remember to plug an EV in can be difficult, leading to cars that were left sitting uncharged when others go to use them.
A 2018 CBS Los Angeles investigation found that most of the i3s had three or four figures on the odometer. The cars with more mileage were sometimes used for non-professional purposes. CBS even confronted an LAPD commander at a nail salon when they saw her using one of the cars to get a manicure.
Many of the ex-LAPD i3s are for sale through the dealership that leased them to the department in the first place: New Century BMW. While there aren't many listed online now (presumably because the low-mile cars were a great deal), Bimmer Life reports that the dealership listed the cars as ex-government vehicles with certified pre-owned status.
The cars sport the Deka World dark cloth interiors and 19-inch alloy wheels. Most are priced well under $20,000, with some even down in the $15,000 range. So, what didn't work for the LAPD's fleet could very well work for you if you're looking for a relative bargain on a BMW EV.
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Correction: Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, 9:13 am. ET: A previous version of this story misstated that Los Angeles leased 100 i3s per year starting in 2016. However, the lease was postponed in 2018 with no explanation, according to Andrew Lambrecht of The Current Review, who's been following the saga of the BMW i3s and their sale. This has been corrected above.