What Cars Get Traded In For The Electric BMW ActiveE?

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2010 BMW ActiveE

2010 BMW ActiveE

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Much of the discussion around electric cars centers on their cost: high initial purchase price, low per-mile running costs.

But electric cars don't just compete against economy cars with high fuel efficiency.

As last week's unveiling of the 2014 Cadillac ELR range-extended electric luxury coupe showed, there will be plug-in electric cars across multiple segments.

Late this year, BMW will start selling its 2014 BMW i3 battery-electric car, bringing plug-in power to the storied Bavarian brand.

Leading up to that effort, it has launched two separate electric-car test fleets, putting prototype development cars in the hands of selected real-world drivers to understand how they're used in everyday life.

While the first fleet of Mini E two-seaters is now gone, the current test pool of several hundred BMW ActiveE two-door sedans is just celebrating its first birthday.

And while ActiveE drivers had have certain challenges with the technology--the ActiveE is, after all, a hand-built development prototype, not a production car--most owners seem to enjoy their electric BMWs.

A recent thread on the BMW ActiveE Facebook group proved instructive: It simply asked what car each ActiveE driver had traded in for the electric BMW.

Of the more than 50 drivers who responded--some saying what car the ActiveE had supplanted, even if they didn't actually trade it in--the list varied a lot.

Many ActiveE drivers came from the Mini E test, and had effectively swapped their electric Mini Cooper for the electric BMW, which is based on the 1-Series two-door sedan.

2012 BMW ActiveE - Driven in Monterey, February 2012

2012 BMW ActiveE - Driven in Monterey, February 2012

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The converted electric BMW has four seats and a real trunk, addressing two of the main complaints about the Mini E--whose battery box sat where the rear seat and load bay of the gasoline Mini Cooper would be.

Beyond the Mini E, though, there were a number of sedans, even a wagon or two, from European brands (Audi, BMW, Saab, Volvo).

There was one Lincoln LS, the early-2000s attempt by Ford's luxury brand to produce a mid-size luxury sport sedan. There was one Jeep Grand Cherokee.

There were a few Toyota Priuses, a Honda Civic Hybrid (for the HOV-lane sticker, its owner candidly admitted), a Mazda Miata, and a Subaru Outback Sport. There was even a motorcycle.

But there weren't a lot of cars from U.S. brands--meaning that the trade-ins from BMW's electric-car drivers probably looked a lot like the trade-ins for gasoline BMW drivers.

BMW ActiveE electric car at a charge point

BMW ActiveE electric car at a charge point

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As plug-in electric cars arrive from different automakers, they will probably attract buyers who fall on the progressive, adventurous end of that maker's usual customer base.

On the other hand, the Chevy Volt has brought an entirely new set of buyers into Chevrolet dealers--buyers who traded in cars like Prius hybrids and BMW sport sedans.

From our point of view, the moral of the story is that buyers of plug-in electric cars are likely to be affluent, willing to break the mold and drive something different, and eager to pioneer new technologies.

And those are buyers that pretty much any automaker drools over.

What lessons do you take away from the BMW ActiveE tradeins? Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (18)
  1. So what happened to the MiniCooper E cars? What did they do with them after they were turned in?

  2. Many were used by the London Olympic organizers last year. Others were (and I think still are) given to some utility companies and also some non-profits. Many are still being used by BMW employees in Munich. However the bulk of them were decommissioned. The batteries are all being used in different programs. For instance in California the BMW technology office has about 100kWh's of the MINI-E batteries that is being used for energy storage for a test project that includes a solar array an a demand response inverter so the facility has power even during outages as long as there is sunlight. There are other programs like this in Germany that are utilizing the batteries from the cars also. I was told that the rest of the cars were recycled.

  3. I suspect that the buyers of the i3 are going to be even more upscale and tech aware. There is such clear evidence that EV design done "from the ground up" is so much more totally efficient than adapted ICE platforms. From my discussions with a wide range of EV followers (many not yet driving an EV), designs like the ActiveE are not fully appealing due to all the compromises involved. The still rumored starting price for the Cadillac ELR vs the BMW i3 could leave the BMW as THE choice for an upscale yet still rationally practical....EV.

  4. Before the ActiveE, I had an Audi A6 Avant followed by a 2011 LEAF.

  5. I covered my second story on what cars were replaced by two Model S owners, a Series 5 and a Lexus SUV so far here in the greater LA area. In each cases, they said the same things, better handling, more luxurious, cheaper to operate. Can't beat that.

  6. "Late this year, BMW will start selling its 2014 BMW i3 battery-electric car, "

    Is that confirmed sales? NOT leases?

  7. Yes. Confirmed sales.

  8. I think the interesting point ommitted was some of us have/had BMW M3s and they were either traded in, sold or like mine, sitting in the driveway rotting because the ActiveE is so much more fun to drive.

  9. "From our point of view, the moral of the story is that buyers of plug-in electric cars are likely to be affluent"

    Affluent does not cut it. I have offered to mazda to pay for the entire homologation process for their mazda6 diesel sportwagon if they would only handle logistics. As you might or might not know, that cost can easily climb $100,000 USD or more; The response from mazda: none.

    Affluent is not enough if management is not on board. And contemporary management of today is preoccupied with personal political games and greed; they have no interest in their customers, as the case from mazda very clearly demonstrates. Ford is another good example: managers, not cutsomers, are putting the brakes on their clean diesels in the U.S.

  10. This article is about the BMW ActiveE, not about your desperate attempts to convince a different OEM to bring a completely different vehicle to the U.S. If you do not have a comment related to the actual subject matter, please post elsewhere. Mazda's extremely rational refusal to negotiate with you on its product plans has nothing to do with BMW's future EV plans.

    There are Ford forums, diesel forums... Not the right place at all and you know it...

  11. I disagree, my post is very much on topic, the point being that affluence is not enough to influence design and implementation decisions.

  12. Which still has nothong to do with the article itself, of course. But please, for the sake of your fragile mental health, please continue to make every single article end up being about your obsession with diesel engines and your amusing personal prejudices...

  13. That is my prerogative, if you do not like it, do not read it.

  14. "clean diesel" can't meet the SULEV II requirement in the US or PZEV level in CA...

  15. C'mon, Xiaolong, you know that our favorite diesel advocate isn't interested in facts...

  16. I am very much interested in the facts, you just do not like that fact that not everybody thinks electric cars are great. And yes, I am a diesel advocate, make no apologies for it, and am proud to be one. Maybe you should ask yourself what it is that makes people so thrilled with a diesel car.

  17. "The moral of the story is that buyers of plug-in electric cars are likely to be affluent, willing to break the mold and drive something different, and eager to pioneer new technologies."

  18. Most hybrid plug-in's are configured for high-efficiency and are generally quite boooorrring to drive. I believe that those who choose to drive them are trading-in fun for an eco feel good. All hybrid plug-ins should have a Fun Button(TM), allowing drivers to adjust acceleration performance to suit their immediate or daily needs (like the Fit Electric). If I only need to drive 5 miles on one day, why can't I push the sport button on my Prius or C-Max Plug-In and have a hoot! I mean, come-on, what's wrong with using-up a couple of kilowatts to make my drive truly exhilarating?

    I would love to hear other's thoughts on this? Can we hack a Prius Plug-In or a C-Max Energi????

    Sean Phillips, founder, Rocket Strategic Design www.rocketsd.co

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