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BMW calls Volt over ‘electric’ claims

Eye for an i: BMW will launch its i3 in the middle of next year at around $10,000 more than the Holden Volt.

BMW Australia says its i3, not Holden’s Volt, is an electric car

29 Oct 2013

BMW says it can’t be bothered igniting a battery-fuelled stoush with its closest natural competitor in Australia – the Holden Volt.

At the centre of the fight would have been the definition of exactly what the Holden Volt is – an electric vehicle as the Australian car-maker claims, or a petrol-electric hybrid as governments and BMW seem to define it.

BMW will introduce its compact i3 hatchback midway through next year, priced at about $10,000 more than the $59,990 Holden Volt. However, unlike the Volt, the i3 will sell as a pure electric car, with buyers deciding whether they want to tick the box for a $4000 optional range-extending two-cylinder petrol engine that doubles the i3’s reach.

In California, the US state with the highest proportion of electric and hybrid cars per capita due to strong incentives for alternative-fuel vehicles, the i3 will be the first car to be classified as a “BEVx”, or a battery electric vehicle with a range extender function.

However, the Chevrolet-badged version of the Volt is classified in California as a plug-in petrol/electric hybrid, and not a range-extended electric vehicle.

Likewise in Australia, the Holden-badged Volt is a hybrid vehicle, not an electric one as the car-maker promotes it.

“The Volt powertrain would be considered to be a hybrid powertrain, which is ‘a powertrain with at least two different energy converters and two different energy storage systems (on-board the vehicle) for the purpose of vehicle propulsion’,” a spokesperson from the Department of Innovation said.

“These (hybrid) vehicles are subject to different provisions of the ADR [Australian Design Rules] to determine their fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

“These vehicles are also required to comply with ADR 79, which regulates air pollutant emissions, whereas pure EVs do not (as they do not produce tailpipe emissions).” However, while BMW Australia is ready to argue the point that the Volt is really a petrol-electric hybrid car – and not an electric car as the company claims – the luxury car-maker’s general manager of corporate communications Lenore Fletcher says there is no point arguing the cause until such time as financial incentives are introduced for electric car owners.

Holden senior manager of product communications Kate Lonsdale said the Volt was registered as a hybrid for road regulation purposes as emergency services needed to know that it contained a fuel cell and a combustion engine.

“However, unlike traditional hybrids, which use electric power to supplement the mechanical power provided by the engine, the Volt can deliver full performance under battery power alone, making it an electric vehicle,” she said.

“When the battery is depleted and the engine runs, the Volt continues to drive using the battery and the engine. This ability makes it an extended-range electric vehicle, which is far more than a hybrid.”

Ms Fletcher said there was no reason for BMW to make a point about how the Volt was defined as there were no incentives for electric vehicles in Australia.

“Until hybridisation gets some form of incentives, it's a moot point,” she said.

“I think that in time and with the continued growth of this technology that we will definitely see greater acceptance and then there will be greater understanding of the technology from the government, and there will certainly begin to be some incentives that will make a difference.”

Instead, Ms Fletcher said the car-maker would build awareness of its “i” electric and hybrid sub-brand and its underlying technology “so that people will have a better understanding of which is what and where it all fits in”.

“If you think about our i8 it is a plug-in hybrid vehicle (just like the Holden Volt), and I guess in terms of the fact it can fill a similar role.”

Ms Fletcher said the distinction between the i3 and the $60,000 Holden Volt – BMW’s i3 is expected to sell for about $70,000 with the optional range-extending petrol engine adding an extra $4000 – would only become important if California-like laws promoting electric and hybrid vehicles were introduced to Australia.

“I think the reason that there seems to be a differential in terms of California and in terms of how they're explaining it there is because it will have an impact on their taxation and all the pricing and the incentivisation of the vehicle,” she said.

“We're quite comfortable (with the definition of the i3 as an electric car) because this vehicle was born from the ground up as an electric vehicle.”

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