Published on January 30th, 2014 | by Zachary Shahan


BMW Chief Thinks BMW i3 Is Greenest Car On Planet & Better Than The Model S?

January 30th, 2014 by  

I almost passed this one up, since it’s not all that useful of a story, but it’s hard to not cover wild claims made by a BMW chief. It’s also hard to avoid jumping into discussions comparing two of the hottest electric cars on the planet — perhaps the two hottest. Also, the story triggered an interesting thought in my mind, so I felt compelled to just go ahead and share, after publishing over on my EV site, EV Obsession.

The BMW i3 and the Tesla Model S aren’t even in the same class, but they’re close enough that there seems to be a bit of rivalry going on between them, or at least that’s what the media likes to argue.

BMW i3 and me at Arc de Triompf in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)

BMW’s North America chief, Ludwig Willisch, recently claimed that the BMW i3 was the “greenest” car out there, apparently taking a shot at the Tesla Model S. The i3 may very well be “greener” than the Model S, but I think it’s quite a stretch (an incorrect one) to say that it’s the greenest car out there. We’re yet to see an official MPGe for the i3, but I don’t think it will beat the current frontrunners. And while the production process is important, MPGe rules the day when it comes to being green.

But aside from the above, this claim also made me think of something else — which car is “greening the world” more? In more specific terms, which car is inspiring more people to go electric?

The BMW i3 has a lot of appeal. As I noted, it’s the nicest car I’ve ever driven. Surely, it will bring many a non–EV lover into the EV fold. However, I don’t think there’s any chance it is going to do so to the same degree that Tesla has done with the Model S. Sorry, BMW, but the Model S is widely considered the best mass-manufactured car on the planet. It got Consumer Reports‘ top rating ever, and it is inches away from landing an unprecedented 100/100 on their scale. I think the i3 is a great car, but I don’t think it compares to the Model S.

Unfortunately, Willisch did take a pointed stab at the Model S in his recent statements. He noted that the Model S is “very heavy on the braking. Our car feels just like a normal car. That’s a big difference when it comes to driving.” Hmm, haven’t seen anyone else make such claims….

As I noted and recorded back in August, when asked about the BMW i3, Tesla Motors CEO & Chief Product Architect Elon Musk laughed. However, I personally think that laugh was blown out of proportion. If you listen to the recording, the questioner starts laughing first, which brings Elon to a sort of awkward laugh.

Nonetheless, Elon’s follow-up statement once the two of them stopped chuckling was pretty critical: “there’s room to improve on the i3, and I hope that they do.” Notably, Elon isn’t the only one to have made this statement — I’ve read it numerous times from other EV owners and reporters. I haven’t heard Elon comment on the i3 since then, but I think BMW’s leadership would be better off not starting a very public comparison of the i3 and the Model S.

In summary:

  • The BMW i3 is certainly green, but I don’t think anyone can claim it’s the greenest car on the planet.
  • The BMW i3 is arguably greener than the Model S… but I don’t think it will “green the world” as much as the Model S.
  • The BMW i3 is a superb car — I’d buy it over just about any other car — but it’s not the Model S, if you know what I mean.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • bsw

    couldn’t BMW not rip off Apple’s iEverything. They lose cred right away by not being able to come up there own naming.

  • SirSparks

    The production of aluminium requires consuming 13 Kw-hours or more per Kg of base metal. I don’t think that is very green at all.

    • Ross

      Neither is burning any fossil fuel.

    • Dave2020

      “FRP suppliers could lose their market share to metal and other industries if they cannot ensure that their FRP components can be reused or recycled at the end of their life.”

      We can consume GWhs of zero carbon electricity with no environmental ill effects.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    Should we conclude that Mercedes S550 is worse car to drive than BMW i3, because it weights 100 kg more than Model S? S550 is about the same sized as Model S. Not very sound argument from BMW.

    I also think aluminium is greener material for car than carbon fiber. BMW can boast with high renewable energy credentials because it is using hydroelectric power for producing carbon fiber for i3. But I would not count hydroelectric power as green renewable, because it disrupts river ecosystems. E.g. new found Amazonian river dolphin is endangered due to damming projects. And Yangtsean river dolphin already went into extinction mostly due to hydroelectric power production.

    Naturally river dolphins are just umbrella species. River ecosystems are a lot more than their most graceful species.

    • Dave2020

      Spot on Jouni, aluminium is a greener material than glass fibre too, which is a good reason to redesign wind turbines to use extruded aerofoils instead. Then you can standardise the cross section, mass produce at a fraction of the cost, replace more cheaply and recycle at end of life.

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