An obscure safety issue has led to a halt in sales of the BMW i3 electric car until further notice.

The German maker announced a recall for every single i3 sold in the United States, covering 30,542 cars from the 2014 to 2018 model year.

The safety issue that led to the recall and stop-sale follows recent testing by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.

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During recent tests, the NHTSA found that 5th-percentile women—female drivers more than 5 feet tall and weighing between 100 and 110 pounds—showed a “marginally higher risk” of sustaining neck injuries in the event of a frontal crash if not wearing a seatbelt.

Drivers should wear their seatbelt at all times, of course. But if a female BMW i3 driver fitting that profile did not do so, she would be at risk of exceeding the injury limit allowed by the NHTSA, according to a report by BMW Blog last Monday.

2017 BMW i3 REx range-extended electric car [photo: Chris Neff]

2017 BMW i3 REx range-extended electric car [photo: Chris Neff]

The blog obtained a copy of the document specifying and detailing the safety concern. It says a remedy for the issue is still under development.

UPDATE: On December 1, BMW dealers sent the following notice to at least some BMW i3 owners:

Our engineers are about to finish the programming of a software repair solution that will fix the non-compliance issue. The software development is in the final stages and the solution is expected to be available as of mid-December.

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BMW released a statement which said its own testing did not reveal the inconsistencies found by the NHTSA, but it acknowledged them and said it will fix the issue.

The issue isn't software or a specific component, but a design characteristic that doesn't properly protect a small, specific portion of the population.

The remedy is expected to involve reprogramming of the airbag control logic.

2017 BMW i3 REx range-extended electric car [photo: Chris Neff]

2017 BMW i3 REx range-extended electric car [photo: Chris Neff]

BMW made it clear that the i3 is completely safe to drive in all conditions when the safety belt is fastened properly.

Unfortunately, the stop-sale means buyers looking at a new i3—which was recently updated for the 2018 model year—will be out of luck due to the safety concern.

The 2018 BMW i3 adds a sportier i3s trim and slight styling updates, though the battery and rated ranges remain identical to the 2017 model year.

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BMW gave no definitive timeline for when it will lift the stop-sale. BMW will begin mailing notifications to owners of the affected cars in January 2018.

The 30,542 cars to be recalled for the as-yet-unspecified modification include 29,383 sold to customers and 1,159 currently held by U.S. dealerships. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published on November 28, 2017. We have updated it to reflect information sent out to i3 owners by BMW dealers on December 1.


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