ActiveE Electric Cars Are Crushed: Is There a Bright Side?

By · May 22, 2014

Crushed BMW ActiveE Electric Cars

Source: Facebook

When General Motors crushed the EV1 electric car a decade ago, it became a rallying cry by EV fans—calling for automakers to bring battery-powered cars to market. The sight this week of a trailer full of crushed BMW ActiveE models—posted to Facebook—reasonably recalled the same feelings of anger, frustration, and regret for Electronaut’s (BMW’s name for those who leased test vehicles). On the surface, it looks the same story of automaker intransigence regarding EVs.

Yet, the context for the demise of those ActiveEs has dramatically changed in recent years, begging this question: Can devoted EV drivers stomach the image, and put the EV1 debacle in the past?

With the first deliveries of the BMW i3 electric car this month, the company concluded its test program—which used the Mini and 1-series cars as a test platform. If we look on the bright side, BMW is in no way killing its EV program. Just the opposite. It has put an extraordinary amount of resources to the success of its electrification program, which it views as a long-term investment.

The ActiveE, based on the 1-series, was always considered a temporary platform for evaluation, and that’s how it was described to those who leased the ActiveE (and the earlier MiniE). Of course, it’s understandable that ActiveE drivers became emotionally attached to those vehicles. But is there a risk in over-reacting, by responding as if the crushing of some models was wanton destruction?

A number of returned ActiveE models have been put into service in BMW’s DriveNow electric carsharing program. In some cases with other disused cars, automakers donate test cars to college engineering programs, or if historically significant, offered to museums. These are great re-uses of test cars.

But, as reported on March 6 by Auto Week, it is common practice for automakers to crush or otherwise destroy pre-production cars that can't be legally sold or re-purposed. Chrysler recently ordered 93 first-generation high-horsepower gas-thirsty Dodge Vipers to be crushed, after the cars were used in training programs. Auto Week cited insurance and safety reasons for the Viper demolitions.

A Post- "Who Killed" World

Every driver of an electric car today should pay homage to the previous generation of EV activists who protested the crushing of the EV1, and the dismantling of electric car programs. Every day, electric cars become more of a mainstream automotive option—viewed as a viable “normal” car, just like any other vehicle on the road (except for its lack of tailpipe or use of petroleum). And like other cars, test vehicles sometimes get crushed—either in crash testing or because they have served their purpose.

Meanwhile, according to my calculations, this month we will pass the 200,000 mark for the number of plug-in cars on U.S. roads. There are nearly 20 plug-in models on the market. We will be up to one million plug-ins in about three years. Here’s the silver lining in the ActiveE story: The crushing of a few test electric vehicles, while sad, won’t have any effect on the inevitable transition from petro-based to electrified transportation.

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