Farewell BMW i3 – so good, I bought two!

BMW i3 in Production

News is breaking over social media and automotive websites that after nine years in production, the revolutionary BMW i3 electric car is finishing production in July this year.

The i3 wasn’t BMW’s first EV, or even first widespread EV (that accolade goes to the 1 series EV known as the ActiveE), but is the one that people will recognise as that ‘weird electric BMW’. After production of 250,000 cars from its factory in Leipzig, Germany, I for one will be said to see it go.

The i3 was a brave move from a manufacturer that is known for excellent, if traditional saloons and SUVs. If it wasn’t for BMW, I doubt anyone in Western Europe would still drive saloon cars over hatchbacks, and yet here is a small (shorter than any other BMW on sale at 3999 mm), hatchback, electric city car with hot hatch performance, built out of carbon fibre(!) with bolt on plastic panels. It truly was a step from the norm for BMW, and launched to great fanfare in conjunction with a car that it shared and lot, and nothing with – the BMW i8 Hybrid Supercar.

BMW i8 – I nearly bought one once…

I owned two BMW i3s – actually I rented one from subscription service On To (referral code b4552 for £50 off your first month!). The first was a ReX or Range eXtender version with a small 2 cylinder petrol engine in addition to the battery. The ReX is a clever idea, but if I’m honest, I rarely used it as the car had 50Kw DC fast charging which charged the battery in less than one hour, and could provide 100 miles range in 30 mins. I sold it in 2018 and amazingly lost virtually nothing on it as EVs were starting to gain popularity and the ReX versions were zero road tax in the UK. However, I missed it terribly, and with a baby due, the idea of those rear hinging doors to put a little’n in without twisting your back seemed a good idea. The second one was a 120aH full electric with a range of over 150 miles, and this was by far the better car. I loved it, took it everywhere, and even drove to Belgium in it with one charging stop, and was really sorry to see it go. However, the Tesla Model 3 that replaced it is by far the best electric car on the roads (still!)

I’m thinking (as I only have one car right now) to maybe get an i3 again while I can? If I do, it will undoubtably have an AC Schnitzer conversion on it and would be the perfect city car. Fun fact: AC Schnitzer sell more kits for the i3 than any other BMW in the UK – how can that be true?!

I loved the turning circle of the i3, the weird back doors, the exposed carbon fibre weave when you opened the doors, even the odd noise the solenoid made when it popped the charge flap open (which seemed comically oversized on a tiny car). I didn’t like the way it handled on anything but warm, dry tarmac (winter tyres sorted most of that but wore so fast – I got 8k miles from a set over two winters), and the safety rating wasn’t great (again, a worry with a new born). The tech would seem outdated I’m sure now, but the looks would still be ultra-contemporary in 2022.

My first i3

I persuaded a very good friend of mine, Matt to buy one who liked it so much, his dad bought one too. I said to him (and he knows how many cars I’ve owned) that it was in my top three ever owned. Perhaps its number 1? I’ve only ever bought the same car again on two occasions (BMW i3 and Porsche 987 Boxster). I adored the Boxster too.

In my Boxster…

Would I have one over a Tesla Model 3? No, I don’t think so – the Model 3 is the EV you can own without worrying its an EV. Would I have both in a two car garage? Undoubtedly. I’m off to browse the classifieds. Farewell i3, but maybe hello again?

Bridging the Skills gap is key to our Greentech revolution

I recently wrote an article for East Anglia in Business magazine about how the skills gap is a huge issue in our move to a low and de-carbon economy (and let’s be honest, the latter is what we must be doing). Speaking to businesses around the county and region through my work with Anglia Ruskin University, it shocks me how little knowledge there is within SMEs about how they can be part of this Greentech revolution. Central and regional government talk about how this will be the future of business, and how the UK will be a Greentech leader, and yet the amount of funding going into it is in the tens of millions of pounds. It needs to be far more, and funnelled through training opportunities, innovation support and direct grants to enable business to move from high, to low or no carbon (for instance supporting small independent fuel retailers to transition to being EV charging hubs, or gas heating companies to installing and maintaining heat pumps). There is lots we can do, but its clear to me we need to do it faster and in a more joined up, and accessible (to SMEs) manner.

An Air Source Heatpump system

Polluting SUVs will be on roads for the next two decades – what should we do with them?

Read this article in Turkish – Bu makaleyi Türkçe okuyun

The Conversation

The biggest source of air pollution in UK cities is traffic, and in a new report, researchers discovered that a major contributor to the problem is the popularity of unnecessarily large and fuel-hungry cars.

Known disparagingly as “Chelsea tractors”, sport utility vehicles – more commonly known as SUVs – are highly polluting. Petrol and diesel SUVs produce 25% more CO₂ on average than a medium-sized car and, since 2017, they’ve outsold fully electric vehicles in the UK at a rate of 37 to one. Globally, rising SUV sales are the second-biggest cause of increasing carbon emissions.

Despite often being too big to fit in a conventional parking space, 75% of SUVs sold in the UK in 2019 were bought by people living in urban areas. The New Weather Institute, the think tank which produced the report, argues that the marketing strategies of car manufacturers have convinced town and city dwellers that it’s normal to go “shopping in a two-tonne truck”, regardless of the consequences for human health and the environment.

For a lot of drivers though, these vehicles simply appeal. Their elevated driving position gives a clearer view of the road and they are large inside as well as out, offering plenty of room for families. Manufacturers should be criticised for marketing a vehicle designed for rugged, off-road travel to people living in leafy suburbs, but ultimately, they’ll build what they believe buyers want.

Petrol and diesel SUVs are sold in their thousands every month and you can expect a car bought today to still be on the road ten to 20 years from now. This will frustrate efforts to decarbonise Britain’s transport sector just as the most significant action needs to be taken. So what can be done?

Remove, replace, revamp

There are three possible solutions. The first involves moving all these vehicles out of urban areas and into the countryside – where they are arguably designed to be – by banning their use in densely populated places. This won’t be simple though. Diverting SUVs to rural areas could swamp villages with more cars than people need. More challenging still is the fact that many of these “city” SUVs are actually the wrong type of specification for off-road use, even though they appear rough and ready, and so might not adjust all that well to rural life.

Another option involves the government and manufacturers creating incentive schemes to get SUV drivers to switch to zero-emission alternatives. But this kind of funding is actually shrinking in the UK and it suffered a further cut in March 2021. Many large electric SUVs, such as Tesla’s Model X, no longer qualify for the UK plug-in car grant, leaving fewer subsidised choices for urban buyers determined to keep driving SUVs.

A Land Rover being charged on a Paris street.
Low-emission SUVs are on the market, but can they replace older models on the road fast enough? Alex Vivido/Shutterstock

The third option is more innovative. It’s possible that petrol and diesel cars can be converted to fully electric vehicles using bespoke or generic kits, depending on the model. This approach is not without its challenges, but a number of companies are carrying out such conversions already, and it’s perhaps the most sustainable way to eliminate the carbon footprint of vehicles that are already on the road.

In this scenario, no new cars would need to be built to replace the SUVs, saving an enormous amount of energy, and these once highly polluting cars end up with zero tailpipe emissions when converted. Most of the car can be used, and what isn’t, (generally recyclable steel and aluminium), can theoretically be turned into parts for new electric motors and batteries.

This approach is known as a circular economy, in which the old and defunct parts of a product are salvaged and turned into new ones. This will apply to the batteries in the newly converted electric vehicles too, which are highly recyclable. So while the rush to buy SUVs in recent years has piled up problems for the coming decades, some innovative thinking can prevent these white elephants blocking the road to a net-zero society.

Tom Stacey, Senior Lecturer in Operations and Supply Chain Management, Anglia Ruskin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Droning on… The future of drones for Supply Chains

Note: This article was originally published in 2019 for TALE (Transport and Logistical Efficiencies)

Is the future of logistics drone-based? Tom Stacey from Anglia Ruskin University’s Business and Law faculty looks at the argument and wonders if there is a better way.

As businesses look to more automation and AI (Artificial Intelligence) to drive towards efficiency and growth to meet the demands of a growing population, the idea that we can utilise small, cheap (compared to a delivery van) and intelligent delivery agents is appealing. The argument is that they remove the need to keep a fleet on the road and negate the need for a human operative. To massive global corporations, the idea of a drone to deliver your package or hot food is one that means they can replace a means of transport that has almost reached peak efficiency with one where advances can still be sought – after all, drones are getting smaller, more powerful, more accurate and more reliable all the time.

Over recent years and months there has been plenty publicised about the use of drones to transport everyday goods to consumers, even directly to their door (or more likely garden). Amazon, Dominos and UPS amongst others have been testing drone deliveries and as UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are very much still a hyped and rapidly changing technology these are perhaps done as much for positive PR as anything else.

Compared to road transport (for that last step of delivery to the customer) means potentially less pollution from exhaust emissions and the avoidance of traffic congestion on route. A drone can take a direct “as the crow flies” route too and isn’t affected by hills or rivers in its path, the latest machines even have sensors to avoid obstacles and map the route in 3D noting where obstacles or collision risks occur to avoid them on the return journey.
The argument to use a drone for deliveries would seem quite strong then – less people in jobs that tend to be zero-hours contracts, less pollution, faster deliveries and less traffic on the roads, but is it as simple as that? Well possibly not, as the technology has some practical and fundamental drawbacks that may prevent it ever becoming mainstream, and also, it would seem there are some other options that are yet to be fully explored.

One of the biggest issues with small UAVs is their range, the average professional level drone can fly for around 30 minutes at a speed up to 30 mph. Assuming it needs to get back to base this gives a workable maximum range of around 7 miles. This is fine in an urban environment, but you could argue in a rural one, you’d be better off to walk! After all, it has always worked for postal services. Then there is safety – accidents can and do happen and current rules do not permit the use of UAVs within 50m of people not under the pilot’s control or three times that in built up areas – this is mostly so there is no risk it collides with a person which could cause an injury. Noise is a similar factor when close to people – these propeller driven machines make a particularly unpleasant buzzing, I’m not sure most people would not appreciate it in their back garden as a pizza descends for number 6.

Perhaps more limiting though are what we might call the payload for a UAV – 10 KG would be a workable maximum for a large craft – i.e. the kind you’d want to be able to land in most people’s gardens. This is fine to drop a new tablet computer off, but you’d struggle if you’d forgotten the sugar too. Then you have the (Great British) weather; nearly all small flying craft will struggle in wind to fly and land as well as they do in none and so you will likely only safely fly them in calm conditions, during the day. Compare this to a delivery van or rider and you find they are significantly more capable in all weathers. Snow? Forget it, rain? This is a challenge for most UAVs – consumer level craft can’t fly in the rain and even high end professional ones take more waterproofing which adds weight and complexity which impacts on range and size negatively.

So there are certainly challenges that are being faced by making this technology mainstream, however, people like Amazon are continuing to invest heavily in the technology with a site in Cambridge, UK, and even have a special agreement with the UK Civil Aviation Authority to test drones for consumer deliveries.

But what are the alternatives? If congestion, the weather and the technology are meaning the very end of the logistics journey is becoming the bottleneck or the challenge on the ground, what else could you do? Well, Elon Musk’s The Boring Company are investing in the US in going underground to move vehicles and people. Humans have been tunnelling for generations, and it might seem the perfect answer to moving goods around too. Whilst the cost of tunnels is high initially, they provide a safe, fast and efficient way to move things around, without the constraints of range, weather and capacity that vans and drones have. As Subway systems around the world show – with frequent enough stop off points, users will happily travel to the closest entrance/exit point and collect their package, and automated agents could even do this ‘last mile’ journey on your behalf. It might provide challenges around keeping your pizza hot, but then again so do 6 spinning propellers blowing air onto it!

Are Electric Cars the best option for company car drivers in the UK?

A Skoda EV charging
A Skoda EV charging credit: EVClicks

I recently spoke to the Daily Telegraph for their article entitled “Ford falls out of favour as drivers plug in to Tesla“. In my quote, I said that “Since the Tesla came out, we’ve always had a lot of small business owners, and sole traders buying them because of the tax benefits”. Now this is true for the most part, but of course applies to all electric vehicles, including Plug-in Hybrids as well as Full EVs, so its not just a Tesla phenomenon.

The sands have been shifting somewhat in the UK regarding the tax benefits that EVs give – in the 2020/21 tax year, company car drivers paid 0% BIK (Benefit in Kind) tax (part of P11D Class 1A National Insurance) on their electric company car, which no doubt led to the huge increase in registration figures, even in light of the pandemic and its effect on sales. Consider that many company car drivers pay around 25-30% BIK as a deduction from their pay packet and you can see why it would make sense for company car drivers to push their employers to give them electric options. in 2021/22 the BIK rate for pure EVs rose to 2% and will go up again in the next tax year to 3%, so it increases to balance the increase in adoption, but is still incredibly low compared to petrol and diesel.

It gets more complex when you look at Plug-in Hybrids, which are a popular company car choice – the amount of BIK tax is linked to the pure electric range, and in the UK, there are no PHEVs with a long enough range to qualify for 2021/22’s 1% rate, but some vehicles such as Volvo’s PHEVs just squeeze into the 7% (rising to 8%) rate, which is more than pure electric, but less than a diesel equivalent and certainly an option if you want a SUV that you can do reasonable mileage in per year.

Tesla Model 3 car

What other benefits are there?

It’s not just those you have to pay Benefit in Kind tax, business owners can also take advantage of the FYA (First Year Allowance) whereby they can write down 100% of the cost of not only pure electric vehicles, but also electric fuel used and charge points fitted at their premises up until 31st March 2023.

Of course, I’d suggest that you speak to your accountant for the exact, and most up to date advice regarding using an EV for your business use, but it is clear there are significant benefits in terms of reducing how much tax you pay both as an employee using an EV, or a business owner.

What about for private usage?

EVs are not just all about cost savings – albeit even as a private owner, you’ll benefit from significantly cheaper fuel costs and £0 Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) or Road Tax. By driving an EV, you’ll be being kinder to the environment, using less brakes and saving on maintenance too! If you have never driven an EV, they’re easy and pleasant to drive, with instant power, and if you pick a Tesla, you get a car that gets better with Over the Air (OTA) software updates like your phone or tablet.