Featured image provided by Electrify America.

Electrify America Offers 2 Years Of Charging For The Upcoming BMW i5. Is This A Good Idea?

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In a recent press release, Electrify America announced yet another complimentary charging program, this time for a BMW vehicle. In this article, we’ll take a look at the deal and the larger trend that it’s a part of. Plus, I’ll speculate a bit about the future of this “free lunch.”

Electrify America’s Latest Deal With BMW

Electrify America and BMW of North America have revealed a partnership that offers first-time owners of the new all-electric BMW i5 two years of complimentary 30-minute charging sessions. This collaboration is an extension of previous agreements between Electrify America and BMW, which provided similar charging benefits to first-time owners of the BMW i4, iX, and i7.

“BMW is helping more drivers experience an EV lifestyle by providing range confidence through access to fast, convenient charging while on the road,” said Robert Barrosa, Vice President of Technology and CEO- elect (June 1) of Electrify America. “Working together to increase access to ultra-fast charging is helping to drive EV adoption, leading to a more sustainable transportation future we all deserve.”

Owners of the BMW i5 are given two years from their purchase date to utilize the complimentary 30-minute charging sessions. To access this benefit, they can enroll via the My BMW app. Furthermore, the app or in-vehicle navigation can be employed to find nearby charging stations, confirm charger availability, and navigate to these stations. Electrify America’s quick-charging network allows new i5 owners to charge their vehicles confidently using the 150kW and 350kW chargers, which offer some of the fastest charging speeds currently available (at least when the 350 kW stations are working and aren’t taken up by a Bolt).

The i5 is a part of the upcoming BMW 5 Series, set to debut globally in October 2023. BMW says the new 5 Series will be equipped with the BMW Operating System 8.5, the BMW Curved Display, state-of-the-art digital services, and an electric drivetrain in the form of the BMW i5 for the first time. Additionally, the i5 will be the inaugural BMW electric vehicle (EV) to incorporate Plug&Charge payment technology. Following a brief online registration, drivers can automatically pay for charging by merely connecting their EV. The charger interacts with the vehicle to identify, authenticate, authorize, and charge the customer’s registered account for the charging session, thus providing a smooth charging experience for the user.

“As we continue expanding our electric offerings, access to charging infrastructure is as important as having a comfortable yet dynamic ride,” said Sebastian Mackensen, President and CEO, BMW of North America, in the release. “We are grateful to Electrify America for working with us and sharing in our mission to help make the future of transportation more sustainable.”

Let’s Compare This To Some Past Deals

If you search our past articles (or click here and I’ll do it for you), you’ll see that we’ve covered quite a few similar deals. Looking at them, and other free charging deals I’ve seen, there seem to be two different types of deals.

In many free charging deals between automakers and charging providers, there are limits based on the number of kilowatt-hours to be dispensed or an estimated number of miles of range added (a proxy for kWh). For example, Tesla has provided drivers with miles of supercharging either for a new vehicle buyer or as a reward for referrals. Electrify America often does something similar for automakers, but only for a new car buyer for a participating automaker.

Another way that such deals can be limited is in terms of time. Like BMW’s latest deal, automakers can set time limits per free charging session and allow them for a limited time. Tesla did this to the max in the past by allowing unlimited free supercharging for the life of the vehicle (at least until they get ahold of it again), and when I bought my 2018 Nissan LEAF, I got unlimited L3 charging for two years.

What we’ve seen over time is that unrestricted free rapid charging tends to lead to abusive behavior. People who could otherwise charge at home end up spending time at free charging stations just to save a few bucks on their home electric bill, or end up driving a lot more than they otherwise would. Or, worse, an EV driver might end up staying at charging stations longer when they can move on.

This leads to a misallocation of charging resources, where people who really need the charging end up not getting it, while people who are freeloading almost pointlessly take them up.

Setting limits can help reduce this kind of abuse, and make the perk be an actual perk again.

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What Are Good Limits?

So, the next obvious question is where to draw the line. Unrestricted, unlimited charging for free invites abuse, while paying full price more fully allocates the charging resources to those who need them. So, the wider question is this: is there a good place between paying and getting it for free that reduces abuse enough to make it all work?

This is probably a question best left to economists (they’re very familiar with the idea of misallocation and pricing), but as an amateur who took a couple courses in college, I’ll speculate a bit on how to best draw this line. Feel free to second-guess me on this!

It’s my opinion that we should look for more variables. How much it costs and how you limit any free charging are just two variables. Instead, we should probably look deeper for things like who bought the car, what it’s to be used for, and how much it’s driven every month.

Introducing more of these variables can lead us to more creative solutions, like allowing more free L3 charging for commercial vehicles, which wouldn’t be used for vacations, or limiting free charging to a certain amount every month, perhaps with “rollover miles” when unused, not unlike a cell phone company (before unlimited minutes became the norm).

This might also give us clues about other arrangements charging providers can make directly with customers. For example, Electrify America might offer people plans with a certain amount of charging per month for a flat fee, or even unlimited charging for an appropriate fee.

So, there’s a lot to think about here beyond simply whether free charging is a good idea, because the pricing of charging is a much more complex subject!

Featured image provided by Electrify America.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1950 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba