A BMW driver is accusing the company of overselling the performance capabilities of one of its electric vehicles, then changing its online advertising after the car failed to measure up.
Ronen Kleiman says he noticed immediately that the electric vehicle he leased in 2014 wasn't living up to what the carmaker was advertising on its website — it couldn't travel the distance BMW said it could on a single battery charge.
That distance is an electric car's equivalent to gas mileage, but more critical because it limits how far you can travel before having to recharge.
BMW's marketing material claimed up to 200 kilometres, but Kleiman says it was much less.
"They're trying to sweep it under the rug. It was clearly false advertising," Kleiman says.
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The Toronto father of two wanted a reliable family car that was also good for the environment.
He did a lot of research before locking onto an $970/month, four-year lease for a new 2014 BMW i3 — an all-electric vehicle, the first model of its kind for automaker.
"It was the first fully electric car, kind of lower, more affordable price range... This car, as advertised, filled all the needs that I required of the vehicle," Kleiman says.
"But right away I knew something was wrong."
BMW alters ad
He calls what happened next his "aha" moment.
Kleiman went back to the BMW website to recheck how far the company claimed the car could travel on one charge and found the marketing material had changed.
"At first I was questioning what I saw, because BMW didn't make any mention of changing anything. I knew I had read that the car went up to 200 kilometres [per battery charge]," he says.
Internet archives show that 11 months after Keilman committed to leasing the car, the company altered its online marketing material, reducing its claim of the distance the car could travel on one charge from a maximum of 200 kilometres to 160 kilometres, a 20 per cent decrease.
There was no indication on the BMW website that the driving range had been lowered.
By that time, the luxury car maker was selling both a 2014 and a 2015 version of the i3 and the website ad didn't differentiate between the two. However, the vehicles are almost identical and have the same battery.
BMW Canada didn't respond to specific questions from Go Public about why it changed its online advertising material after marketing the car, and why it didn't notify people already driving the i3.
The company says the battery range differs according to driver behaviour.
"Battery-electric vehicles can be significantly impacted by driver behaviour, the vehicle's external environment, and the consumption of on-board features," Barb Pitblado from BMW Group Canada wrote in an email to Go Public.
There is a disclaimer on the BMW Canada website under the battery range numbers, "depending on individual driving behaviour, determined in internal BMW consumption studies."
The website doesn't specify where those studies were done.
European testing more lax
That's important information, according to John Voelcker, editor-in-chief of Green Car Reports, who has been reporting on the electric vehicle market for more than six years.
"My suspicion is that 200 kilometres that was in the initial BMW marketing was actually taken directly from European tests, not from the North American test results," he says.
Voelcker has no direct knowledge of what happened with the 2014 BMW i3, but he notes the model was first tested and released in Europe, where testing standards in general can be more lax than in North America.
He says manufacturers must test vehicles in all the markets in which they will be sold. North American testing standards are more stringent and get more realistic results, he says.
On its website, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states the battery range for the 2014 i3 is 81 miles (130 km) — lower than what BMW indicated when Kleiman leased his vehicle.
Natural Resources Canada does not do its own tests on cars, instead relying on manufacturers to do trials and disclose the results.
The tests BMW filed in Canada in December 2014 for the 2015 model also show a shorter range.
'Clear and accurate' ads
Canada's Competition Bureau investigates claims of false advertising. It won't say if it is investigating BMW. In general, it expects automakers to respond to issues with their advertising.
"Important information should never be buried in fine print or disclaimers," says Josephine Palumbo, who is the deputy commissioner of deceptive marketing practices division at the bureau.
All carmakers have an obligation to ensure ads are "clear and accurate at all times," she says, so Canadian consumers aren't misled. If there is a question about accuracy, she says it's up to businesses to make things right.
"We encourage businesses who become aware of potential violations to immediately stop the representations, to take proactive corrective measures, to issue corrective notices and to offer restitution to Canadian consumers that have been affected," Palumbo says.
Kleiman tried for years to get an explanation and compensation from BMW Canada.
"For two years they've been pushing me to the side, not acknowledging this is an issue," Kleiman says.
BMW Canada offered Kleiman $5,000 toward the purchase of a new BMW, saying there was "nothing mechanically wrong with the car" and the offer was a "goodwill gesture."
He declined, saying he isn't interested in another BMW.
"I've been reasonable at every turn for them to correct this issue and they refused and they just basically stonewalled me," Kleiman says. "At this point I want to get my money back and I want to give the car back."
The 2017 model of the i3 does travel up to 200 kilometres on one battery charge. Kleiman asked for the company to give him an upgraded battery, since it would fit in his 2014, but it hasn't done so.
More than 30,000 plug-in electric vehicles are on Canadian roads. A record number — almost 11,000 — were sold across the country last year, according to data compiled by Canadian industry watcher Matthew Klippenstein.
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