SAN DIEGO (CN) - BMW electric car drivers with "range anxiety" - the fear that the electric charge will run out - sued the company in a federal class action, claiming that the "range extenders" it sells can cause a car to decelerate suddenly from freeway speed to 15 mph.
Lead plaintiff Dean Rollolazo says the range extender for the BMW i3 REx model kicks the car into "limp mode," causing it to suddenly, and dangerously, lose power.
"The people I have talked to express extreme fear when it happens," plaintiffs' attorney Thomas Loeser told Courthouse News on Tuesday.
"If you can imagine driving on a freeway in Los Angeles and then suddenly your car decelerates to 15 miles per hour, it can be a harrowing experience. Or if you are going up a hill and the car slows down to 5 miles per hour. These cars have different modes of operation and the range extender causes them to go all the way down to super economy mode, and when it does that, the car essentially becomes a golf cart."
The 59-page lawsuit claims BMW markets its range extender to assuage drivers' range anxiety.
The range extender is a two-cylinder, 650cc gas engine that powers a generator that keeps the battery charged so the car can continue to operate on electricity. It comes on automatically when the battery level sinks to 6.5 percent, and is supposed to extend the car's range from 81 miles per charge to 150 miles per charge.
The brochure for BMW's 2014 i3 REx states that the range extender "adds peace of mind by helping to eliminate range anxiety when charging stations are not readily available."
But Rollolazo et al. say the extenders do nothing of the kind, because they kick the vehicle into limp mode, causing a "sudden, severe and dangerous loss in power because the range extender does not produce enough power for the vehicle to maintain normal performance."
"Drivers who experience this phenomenon describe it as 'dangerous' and 'a hazard,' recalling situations where other vehicles had to swerve around to avoid a collision," according to the May 26 lawsuit. "One driver experienced a total inability to accelerate when attempting to pass another driver on a two-lane road with rolling hills."
According to an article in autoblog.com, Consumer Reports discovered the problem, and autoconnectedcar.com addressed the problem in an article titled "Why I'm Returning My BMW i3 After Three Months."
The plaintiffs say the National Highway Traffic Administration database contains "scores" of similar complaints describing "harrowing" limp mode experiences.
A BMW representative did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday.
According to The Economist, better lithium batteries and more high-voltage charging stations are needed before consumers feel comfortable straying too far from home, "especially on dark, cold, wet nights because switching on de-misters, heaters, wipers and headlights will all use up more juice."
The plaintiffs seek class certification, an injunction, and damages for violations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, unfair competition, consumer law violations, false advertising, deceptive business practices, breach of implied warranty, breach of contract and unjust enrichment, plus a recall or free replacement program.
Attorney Loeser is with Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, in Seattle.
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