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EDITORIAL - Greenest Olympic transport ever?
AID Newsletter Editorial 1214 from Peter Schmidt -August 3rd 2012
Published: Fri, 03rd August 2012 12:07:19 GMT

BMW 3-Series London Olympics 2012
BMW playing it safe at London Olympics?

Open quote signFor Europe’s struggling electric car industry, as publicity goes, surely there is no better venue to demonstrate the low pollution status of plug-ins than during London’s current Olympics.

Even the most ardent petrol head would concede that for the countless daily Olympic transport needs, to and from the various Olympic venues, zero emission vehicles would be the all too obvious choice.

Who could argue with that?

BMW clinched the role as ‘Official Automotive Partner to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games’. In consequence, the thousands of participating athletes, countless Olympic officials and journalists will be chauffeured to, from and between airports, hotels and Olympic sites by BMWs and Minis.

For these demanding tasks, ferrying these people around BMW allocated no fewer than 4,000 cars.

And to no one’s surprise in the automotive PR business, BMW chose to cloak itself in green for this high-visibility Olympic function.

That’s by way of 120 5-Series hybrids and some 200 electric cars.

Function goes before green rhetoric, and given the anxiety generating range limitations of today’s first generation electric cars, BMW’s thinkers were left with no real alternative but to stick in the main to conventionally powered cars, chiefly 3- and 5-Series models, in order to guarantee an effective and smooth running transport operation for the London Olympics. Its pure electric Olympic car fleet is made up of some 160 battery-powered 1-Series ActiveE and 40 Mini E 2-seaters.

Given that these 200 electric members of BMW’s 4,000 strong London Olympic transport fleet are of course greatly handicapped by their range limitation and still lengthy charging times, and that smooth unhindered transport from point A to point B is of prime importance, BMW’s high-visibility electric fleet plays little more than a sideline role.

Primarily, its light duties mainly include the shuttling of athletes and officials within the Olympic Park and surrounding Games sites. In effect, the function of a modern multi-seat Golf Buggy.

Employed in any other more demanding task, the associated real danger of running out of battery power on route, could conceivably turn into a PR disaster, and was wisely ruled out for the London games, and who can blame BMW’s strategists.

Yet, as a prelude to next year’s launch of its purpose designed all electric i3, the likelihood is that BMW’s electric Olympic transport fleet will no doubt feature in countless perfectly staged photo opportunities.

Like in today’s real world, and regardless of the prohibitive price and range limitations of today’s first generation electric cars, these vehicles still remain ill-equipped for most real-life transportation tasks.

So even if today’s still prohibitively high affordability hurdles were brushed aside tomorrow, reality is that today’s pure electric cars can’t match the ordinary functionality of even the most ordinary conventionally powered cars.

That’s plain as day functionality like refuelling, peace of mind, driving range, payload, or for that matter luggage capacity.

For BMW, which went for the demanding transport job at the London Olympics, the cost of each individual electric car employed was low priority.

But despite its ability to throw truckloads of money at this high visibility task, there is no doubt that most, if not all of the real-life daily heavy lifting will be done by its conventionally powered cars.

No surprise then that only those with a vested interest in the electric car business - say major electric energy providers and some corporate buyers keen to play a green card for PR reasons – few private individuals have been tempted to actually buy or lease one of today’s electric cars.

Reality is that today’s electric cars don’t sell. And the prime reason, born out by BMW’s decision to use mainly conventionally powered cars for the demanding London Olympic task, is that present day electric cars still can’t master the majority of tasks that we motorists, who have grown to depend on our cars for prime essential daily transport, naturally take for granted whenever we get behind the wheel of our conventionally powered cars.

Until the real life functionality, driving range, payload, reliability and alike are near or in the same league as conventionally powered cars, allied to a similar purchase price, running costs and depreciation, electric cars will not be taken seriously by likely buyers.

Nor will they deserve to be.
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