LAPD's unused electric cars gather dust sitting in garage, but why?

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Anyone who remembers the epic, metallic-tasting, technicolor smog in the Los Angeles Basin found into the 1990s understands why air quality matters there.

While the worst of the uncontrolled tailpipe emissions have now been greatly reduced, and the air is cleaner, the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is now the major concern.

So it sounded like good news when the Los Angeles Police Department put out a bid for 100 all-electric cars for its fleet.

DON'T MISS: LA police to buy 100 BMW i3 electric cars for department use (Jun 2016)

After tests of both BMW i3 and Tesla Model S electric cars, the i3 was chosen, and images of the Bavarian-built small hatchback wearing LAPD livery spread far and wide.

They were destined for administrative and non-emergency duties, with images of uniformed and plainsclothes officers motoring around the metropolis silently and emission-free expected to follow.

That's not what happened.

Footage showing low miles covered by LAPD's BMW i3 electric cars [CBS Channel 2, LA]

Footage showing low miles covered by LAPD's BMW i3 electric cars [CBS Channel 2, LA]

Instead, as local television-news reporter David Goldstein found after an investigation, most of those 100 cars sit largely unused in a downtown police garage.

The 5-minute Channel 2 CBS video exposé, first aired 10 days ago, can be viewed at the top of this article. It came to our attention through a summary published Monday on the CNet Roadshow site.

The vast majority of the BMW i3 electric cars have less than 3,000 miles on their odometers—and some have less than 1,000 miles, more than a year after they arrived—according to mileage logs through August 2017 obtained by the station.

READ THIS: LAPD Gets Tesla Model S, BMW i3 Electric Cars As Police Cruisers (Sep 2015)

Not unexpectedly, the local-news report is heavy on the waste, cost-to-taxpayers, and fraud angles.

The bulk of the airtime, however, is devoted to a focus on the i3s apparently being used by LAPD members for personal errands. That's hardly a consequence of their electric powertrains.

What deserved more exploration than it received is why the cars weren't used in regular rotation: What were the problems that led LAPD users to ignore them?

LAPD BMW i3

LAPD BMW i3

Only a single line during the 5-segment addresses that: "Sources say some personnel are reluctant to use the electric cars because they can only go 80 to 100 miles on a charge."

While devoted BMW i3 drivers will differ, that range anxiety probably isn't unlikely among LAPD personnel—just as among the public at large—especially those with lengthy, time-consuming commutes from less-expensive communities.

The BMW i3s covered by the report appear to be 2016 models with 81-mile EPA-rated ranges; the updated 2017 BMW i3's larger battery pack gave it a rated range of 114 miles, over the perceptual hurdle of 100 miles.

CHECK OUT: Is this the country's first Chevrolet Bolt EV police car?

The issue of charging-station availability, usage, and training wasn't touched on in the report, aside from a note that the June 2016 cost of more than $10 million included not only 100 BMW i3s but also some charging equipment.

But in a different example, a group of used 2012 and 2013 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric cars that came up for auction in August 2014 highlighted another problem of electric cars in fleet use.

Those cars had high mileages (30,000 to 100,000 miles) but showed lifetime blended fuel-economy readings of only 34 to 39 miles per gallon—indicating they had essentially never been plugged in.

Footage from June 2016 LAPD announcement of lease for 100 BMW i3 electric cars [CBS Channel 2, LA]

Footage from June 2016 LAPD announcement of lease for 100 BMW i3 electric cars [CBS Channel 2, LA]

The seller confirmed that he had acquired the used Volts from fleets, and noted that many corporations reimburse employees for gasoline put into fleet cars, but won't pay for electricity when cars are plugged in overnight at home.

A deeper look at why the LAPD cars accumulated so few miles might help actually solve the problem. As Roadshow noted, "An LAPD official told Goldstein they would look into the issues raised by his report."

Meanwhile, LAPD now has roughly 200 plug-in electric vehicles, and a further 100 are expected during 2018. The city said in 2016 it wants electric cars to make up 80 percent of municipal-fleet vehicle purchases by 2025.

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