Car Culture

LAPD leases hundreds of BMW i3s, leaves them to rot in garage

Neglect and misuse reportedly run rampant with LA's huge electric vehicle leasing program costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Danny Moloshok

To many people who don't live here, LA might seem like a smog-choked hellscape in which people sit, enraged, in gridlock 23 hours a day. That may have been true 30 years ago, but these days we have more clear days than not and part of that is due to the higher-than-average adoption rates for hybrids and electric cars

Not wanting to look like part of the problem, the Los Angeles Police Department decided to jump on the electric bandwagon last year, but its multimillion-dollar investment hasn't exactly gone to plan.

Early in 2016, the LAPD put out a request for bids from electric car manufacturers on a contract to supply 100 electric vehicles for police use. BMW excitedly announced in June of that year that it had secured the contract and would be leasing the LAPD 100 of its i3 electric city cars for administrative use at the cost of $387 per month, per car. That works out to around $1.4 million over three years, add in another $1.5 million for support infrastructure for the vehicles, and it quickly turned into a pretty significant commitment for the city. It was a strong show of support for a cleaner, greener LA.

Except that's not really what ended up happening. What ended up happening is the wide-scale neglect and abuse of the cars in the program by police employees. Now, almost two years into the three-year lease, the vast majority of EVs have less than 2,000 miles on the odometer, with several having less than 300 miles. CBS reporter David Goldstein found that those cars with especially low use have cost taxpayers more than $15 per mile traveled.

The report found regular instances of the cars being used for nonofficial purposes, with one police department commander (of finance) taking the vehicle to a school in Long Beach (not part of the city) and then to get her nails done. Another official took a car to meet a student for lunch at Loyola Marymount University. Goldstein also found many other police personnel using the vehicles to go and get lunch.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, right, and LAPD Chief of Police Charlie Beck pose inside one of the department's all-electric BMW i3 vehicles.

Danny Moloshok

What's even worse is that the program didn't stop with 100 cars. The department now has 200 EVs with 100 more slated to join the fleet for next year, at a total cost of over $10 million. LA has more money than many other cities, but we definitely have better places to spend it, like helping our rapidly growing homeless population, for example, than on moldering EVs sitting in the parking garage of police headquarters. An LAPD official told Goldstein they would look into the issues raised by his report.

It's important to remember that these EVs aren't rated for police pursuit, so we shouldn't expect to see them chasing down perps on the 5 o'clock news. That being said, who else is looking forward to a bunch of barely used cheap i3's coming to market in the next couple years?