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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Untimely End of BMW ActiveE #1

The large black case up high near the center of the car is one of the three battery cases in the ActiveE. Even though this was a pretty severe accident the battery was unharmed and could be safely discharged.
All good things come to an end. Last Thursday, August 15th, I was involved in a pretty bad accident while driving home from work. Neither the car nor I fared very well, but fortunately I'm still here. Unfortunately, the first ActiveE ever to be delivered to a customer (me) is no longer in commission. It sacrificed itself to protect me and it did a very good job of it.

I'm not going to go into every detail of the accident because it's still under investigation, but this is basically what happened: I was driving along in the center lane of a highway and there was a car in the left lane just slightly in front of me.  The car veered into my lane and was about to come in contact with the front left of my car. I quickly looked right and to my right-rear to see if there were any vehicles in the right lane. There weren't so I drifted right into the slow lane to avoid being hit by the car entering my lane from the left. As I was just about completely in that lane and was done checking my right, I looked forward and was surprised to see I was about 15 feet from a dump truck that was driving very slowly, probably about 20mph. I quickly applied the brakes, but I wasn't able to stop in time, because the truck was going so slowly, and I drove into the back of it.  I hadn't seen this vehicle at all previously for a couple reasons. First, this one-mile stretch of highway has no streetlights on either side of the road and is cut through a mountain with 200 feet of rock wall on each side of the road so it is pitch dark at night.  Secondly, it is also a long steep upgrade so heavy construction vehicles like a dump truck will likely drive up it very slowly. I was traveling about 65mph (the speed limit there) but since the truck was crawling up the hill I must have closed ground on it very quickly. The truck did not have its mandatory flashing hazard lights on when traveling below 45mph. In fact, I didn't even see its taillights at all so if they were on and functional then perhaps they were dimmed by mud or other construction film. I know you can't just drive into a vehicle from the rear, so to that extent I assume responsibility here, but getting cut off combined with the truck not properly lit with flashing hazard lights at night definitely contributed to the unfortunate incident. I have been involved in a few accidents in my life but never were any of them declared my fault in any way. I guess my streak is over because I do acknowledge some of the blame on this one.
You can see how dark this area is here. This was taken by a friend who came to see if I was OK. He actually got a call from someone who drove by and saw my car on the side of the road and recognized it. He called my friend who happened to be 5 minutes away and he actually beat the police and emergency crews there.
As for me I have a lumbar compression fracture and two bulging disks. I'll be wearing a hard upper-body back brace for six to eight weeks but I shouldn't need surgery as long as the fracture heals the way it is expected to. I'm cautiously optimistic because after four days of pretty severe pain it's now starting to feel a little better each day. I'm pretty much just resting to give it the best chance to heal. The more movement I make the longer it will take for the fracture to heal so I'm obeying doctor's orders and taking it easy.
The interior right after the accident
I always like to look for a positive side of any bad situation. Yeah, I'm hurt a bit and the ActiveE is totaled - not much good there, but this could have gone much, much worse. Immediately after the accident my lower back felt like it was on fire and I couldn't even stand up on my own so I don't even like to think about what could have been. The car really saved me. The airbags all deployed and the seat belt restrained me like it's designed to. The interior of the car looked perfect, there were no intrusions at all. Within seconds BMW Assist activated and was talking to me; asking me if I was OK and if I needed assistance. They called the police and ambulance for me. I couldn't have done this myself. I was in bad shape and had no idea where my cell phone was. To top it off, no passing cars stopped to assist me. I crawled out of the car because it was sitting in the slow lane of the highway and I was fearful somebody else would come along and hit me again. I was laying on the side of the road for about fifteen to twenty minutes before my friend pulled up because he got a call from someone who saw my car there and recognized it. It's hard to believe nobody stopped to see if anyone needed help. This reminds me of a few years ago when I passed a minivan that had just turned over on the road. I was driving my MINI-E and I even did a blog post about how I stopped and helped the guy.  Unfortunately, I didn't have any good Samaritans come to my aid, and just laid there as the cars whizzed past me until my friend arrived. About a minute or two after my friend came the police and ambulance showed up and they loaded me up and took me to the hospital

Better Days: First delivery ceremony
So here is the humorous part (yes there is actually something funny about the incident). I'm in the ambulance, being transported to the hospital. My neck is secured by a brace and I have an oxygen mask on and I hear over the driver's radio: "The vehicle has just burst into flames, call Fire for assistance."  As much pain as I was in, I immediately felt 100 times worse. As any of you who follow this blog know, I'm a huge advocate for electric vehicles, so all I could think of was how damaging this was going to be for all electric cars, especially if someone got hurt trying to put out the fire and I would be the cause of it! Fox News would no doubt have a special broadcast about how the electric car burst into flames after an accident. This would be especially devastating to BMW considering the timing of the BMW i3 release in only months. So I reached up, pulled off the oxygen mask and was trying to speak. I got out the words to the medic, "It's an experimental electric car, warn the first responders, it's an electric car!" The medic then went up and told the driver who radioed the information to the people on the scene. A few seconds later the response was ,"Are you talking about the correct vehicle, this is not a white BMW here that is on fire,"  They were evidently talking about a different accident that coincidentally happened at the same time.  I was so relieved.  I was really crushed thinking about how bad this could have been and how the media would run with it like they did with the Chevy Volt that caught on fire three weeks after a federal crash test. Funny, nobody heard about the gas car in New Jersey that caught on fire on the night of August 15th after an accident, did you? I bet if it was my ActiveE, it would have been plastered all over the news.

All that's left of ActiveE #1
So now it's nearly a week later and I'm beginning to feel better. I realize the ActiveE is gone and appreciate how well it was built to absorb the energy of such a severe collision and protect me inside. BMW Assist worked perfectly and was there to assist me within seconds. Without them I would have definitely waited longer for emergency services to arrive. I appreciate the outpouring of well wishers from the ActiveE community. Many have sent me emails and even Get Well cards addressed to my restaurant. BMW has been great also. I've been getting emails from BMW employees asking how I am from both BMW North America and from BMW AG in Munich. The BMW i EV team sent flowers to my house and cleaned my belongings out of the car and delivered them to me the day after the accident. They even removed one of my EF-OPEC license plates and sent it along with my stuff which was pretty cool 

Besides all of that, I have to mention that three of the other ActiveE lessees have even offered me their car for the remainder of the lease period. I can't express how great that made me feel. I wouldn't think of taking anyone up on that offer, but it's so nice to see people care so much that they would actually offer me their car. Without revealing the name of the person who sent it, I want to share with you one of the offers:


First, I am sorry to hear about the accident and I am glad you are for the most part ok. Since you do so much for the EV world and you did so much for me, I wanted to offer my car if they can't fix yours or find you a replacement. This does not mean I am trying to get out of the ActiveE program, it just means you do a better job promoting EVs then all the other people in the ActiveE group and I don't want to see that end. I have enjoyed every one of my XX,XXX miles but I know it can't compare to your 60,000. I am sure you have a ton of people worrying about you and a ton of emails to answer, so just keep it in the back of your head if you need anything. I wish you well and let me know if I can help in any way.

Again, I really can't express how great that made me feel to read that. I've said this before and really mean it: One of the greatest parts of being in the MINI-E and ActiveE programs has been meeting so many fantastic people who are in the program as well as communicating with complete strangers who have contacted me through my blogs. It's made the whole experience that much more enjoyable. What's next? I'm not 100% sure. The BMW i3 is on the top of my want list but the US launch is still about 8 months away. Maybe once I'm healed enough to start driving again the good people at BMW could find a way to get me one of them a bit early? Too much to ask? Perhaps, since they may not be making US spec i3's for a while as the European launch is going to happen 4 or 5 months before they start shipping cars to the US. Still, I can dream right? Stay tuned...




  1. Let me be the first to say how relieved we all are that you made it out safely Tom.


  2. I hope you get back to 100% soon Tom. The car doesn't matter, only you do. Thanks for posting this. I know you must have a lot going on now but it was nice of you to let us know the details. You've been a help to a lot of people in the program including me, thanks. Rest that back and you'll be ready for the next EV soon! BMW should deliver you an i3 now so it's waiting for you when you want it.


  3. Great news that you are okay, Tom!
    Definitely take it easy for a while to give your body a chance to heal. Thanks for all you do for the electric community.

  4. Wishing a speedy recovery. I drive with hundreds of these fully loaded trucks night and day and it's no picnic! I've had 2 serious car accidents in my lifetime and both were caused by drunk drivers so not my fault either. Just very frustrating. Let me know if I can help with anything, I can certainly take vacation from work here and there if you need help with your business.

  5. Feel better Tom. I feel so bad for you. You have been such a good resource for EV info. I don't know if you remember me but I sent you an email a couple years ago asking you about the LEAF and the Volt and you helped me decide to get a Volt. You were one hundred percent right and it was a better fit for my needs. God speed


  6. Have to echo what Chris had to say. You have played a huge role in convincing many of us to join the ActiveE program and help to convince others that EVs are the car of the future. All of us, BMW, and the planet owe you a debt of gratitude for your efforts. I said it before on the FB page and I'll say it again now. BMW needs to make you the focus of their i3 ad campaign and give you the car of your choice. Now they just need to do it a bit sooner...

  7. Thanks for all the details Tom; I know many of us were curious but didn't want to bother you.

    I hope you stick with the doctor's orders so you can heal!

  8. Tom,

    Good to hear the car protected you well...not too many cars could have done it. Know you are really sold on BMW, but for me the Volt is the car. Speedy heal,


  9. What a shock! I was wondering why we weren't hearing much from you over the last few days. I'm glad to hear that you've survived without too much damage.

    FYI, if you're looking for some reading material, I have quietly published my long-promised list, epic in length, of EV features that make up the perfect electric car. See my website.

  10. Tom,

    What an eloquent and well-written post, even amidst your back injuries!

    You're right: it could have been a lot worse. Cars are ultimately just that, and while I know that I'm very attached to our LEAF and our Volt, I hope I would be as reflective as you if I was in a nasty accident like this.

    I know I, and other members of the community have held off writing about this out of both respect for you and a wish not to confuse or confound any future insurance work etc.

    Please be safe, well, and know that you are welcome back on the show just as soon as you are ready.

    (For what it's worth, if I was closer, I'd be doing everything I could to get you back in an EV too)

    Nikki, Kate, and the rest of the Gordon-Bloomfield clan. Keep plugging in! :)

  11. Tom: Coming from someone that had a long history of back issues, listen the the doctors advice and give it as much rest as possible. Fractures will heal if you allow them to. Sorry about the car, but it looks like it was good to to till the end and sacrificed itself to protect you which is what all cars should do. Sometimes government regulation is a good thing and in the case of automobile safety it's definitely a good thing because years ago the car companies didn't want to put any money into safety devices and wouldn't have if they weren't forced to. I've read the i3 will have active braking assist, at least I think that's what they call it, which will make that car even safer because it 'sees' what you don't. We'll thanks for the information and get better buddy.

    Joe D

  12. That just sucks.

    One of the highlights of my first year of participation in the Active E program has been meeting you at Nauna's and having our picture taken in front of Active E #1... The many months of correspondence and public challenges have really made me feel welcome in our little community of 700 as well as a member of the greater rEVolution.

    I wanted you to sit out a few months while you test out the i3 for the rest of us and report any findings that you have found so that BMW could adjust and fix it for those that decide to migrate from the Active E to the i3. Obviously not be out for THIS reason.

    At this point, even if I catch up to your mileage, I'll continue to be #2... And that ain't a bad spot to be in! Especially with you in the Active E Lead!

    Get well soon. Focus on your health and get better. We do want you out there!


  13. Sorry to read this Tom. Feel better first, then get another EV so we can read about it! ;)

  14. Sorry to hear. Back injuries can be so painful. I hope you have a total recovery. You're Mini-E blog was an inspiration for my EV adventures over the last 5 years. I've been following your i3 news for the last year. Now I'm on my third EV (Tesla Model S) and couldn't be happier. Looking forward to more writing and a hope for speedy recovery. Get well.
    p.s. So, the truck you rear-ended didn't stop to help you? Is that kind of a reverse hit-and-run?

  15. Its so sad to hear that your ActiveE and the fantastic blog it inspired has come to an end, but I'm happy that you'll be ok, that's the most important thing. And at least you got to enjoy it for the majority of it's lifetime. And at least you'll still have the i3 to look forward to.

    Get well soon, Chris, (CDspeed)

  16. Glad you got out of there in reasonably good shape and hope your back issues resolve completely. Keeping fingers crossed for you! I have bad lumbar stenosis so I know how much pain you are in... Best of luck.

    As an aside I feel sorry because we don't put many miles on our ActiveE. Shortly after getting it, a retirement for one and major telecommuting shift for the other of us has meant we drive very little anymore. With the Volt and an ActiveE, combined we probably don't do more than about 250 miles per month. If you took over our ActiveE, it would be almost like getting a brand new one.

  17. Feel better Tom! I have a feeling you'll be in a new EV soon. Maybe Mercedes will come back and drop off one of the B-class EV's they came by your restaurant to show you recently for you to test out for them. That would be the smartest thing they could do ;)


  18. Tom, get your BMW dealer on the phone they might be able to find you another ActiveE. I may have found one, I'm not sure if its still available but check this out its in New York.


  19. Thanks for all the great comments and well-wishing everyone. I'm actually doing much better now, a week after the accident, than I initially expected I'd be. I'm up, walking fine and wearing the back brace. Sleeping is the difficult part but that's getting better also. I was very lucky indeed. This could have gone so much worse. Thanks again for commenting here, it's really been great reading all these while I'm taking it easy now. :)

  20. How scary -- and I'm very sad that no one stopped to see if you needed any help. I'd like to say I'm surprised by that, but I'm not.

    So very glad that you're okay. You've been such a good advocate and source of solid information about the ActiveE and EVs in general.

    Here's to a speedy recovery.

  21. Very glad that you are ok Tom. You gave so much for this car and it saved your life in the end.

    Well, I think BMW should give you the first i3 as well. BMW could not have picked a better ambassador for their EV efforts.

    I will miss this blog and the ActiveE stories. Very much looking forward to the i3 ones

  22. So sorry to hear about your accident. I just turned in my Actve E a few weeks ago, so there's probably an available one in Southern California. #147, I believe.

    1. Thanks Geo. The ActiveE program is winding down now, as the i3 is on the verge of launch. I has less than 5 months remaining on my lease as it is. Soon, the EV program managers in the US will likely get i3's for personal use so there will indeed be a whole lot of ActiveE's available. I won't be driving for a little while though so I'm in no immediate need and I'm sure at some point BMW will reach out to me about this. As I mentioned in the blog I'd really like an early i3, but I just don't know if that's possible. There are strict rules(mostly for insurance concerns) about letting anyone outside of the company drive a car that isn't a regular production vehicle sold or leased through the usual sales channels. We'll see.

  23. Tom, I was sorry to hear about this, but am glad to see you posting EV news which clearly is a sign that you are on the mend :)

    I have a question about the ActiveE program and am intentionally burying it down here where few people will see (but I didn't want to go to the extreme of taking it to email).

    I'm considering an i3 as my next car, after my early Volt lease runs out in December 2010. I can not extend the Volt lease. Since the i3 doesn't come out until April at the earliest, I will need something to bridge that gap.

    Having stumbled across sites like and , and seeing ActiveE's listed, it occurred to me that I might be able to get one of those and tool around in that for a few months.

    HOWEVER, I'm in Atlanta. I am perfectly capable of transporting a given ActiveE down to Atlanta (either via flatbed or patient roadtrip), but I was wondering about BMW's policy on out-of-area leases like this. Certainly supporting the car could be a problem, since it's unlikely that the Atlanta BMW dealers are equipped to support the ActiveE. And from what I've heard from you and others, I shouldn't count on trouble-free living with the ActiveE (understood, it was a test platform).

    I'm already aware of other options to bridge my car-less gap, but I'd like your opinion on the viability of the ActiveE as a short term option for me in Atlanta.

    1. Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the concern; I am doing fine now. Unfortunately it won't work for you. I have actually been contacted by a LOT of people asking the same question, some from the very beginning and who offered to pay transportation any time it needed service. The BMW dealers near you would not even be allowed to look at it. They technicians needed to be ActiveE certified first and the dealership had to buy special tools to work on these cars. Not even all BMW dealers in my area are allowed to service them, only the ones that got certified. Plus, BMW has regional service centers that are specially trained to handle any issue the dealers can't. Here on the East it's in Woodcliff Lake, NJ in in California it's in Oxnard. Where there is a potentially dangerous high voltage battery issue the car has to be able to be quickly brought the the regional service center. In fact, after my accident they came and took the car within hours of the incident.

      I am 100% certain they wouldn't allow out of state lessees. In fact one person that had already leased it and was moving out of the ActiveE program areas had to assign his lease to someone else. If I even thought there was a possibility I'd tell you to contact BMW, but unfortunately I am certain it wouldn't be allowed, sorry.

    2. No problem, and thanks for the detailed reply! I figured it was unlikely but had to ask. On to other solutions ...

      FYI, in case you missed my quiet mention of it on the MyBMWi3 forum, I have completed my "checklist for the perfect EV", aka an open letter to EV manufacturers. It's very comprehensive, so don't go to the URL below until you have some time on your hands :)

    3. Tom and Chris,

      I know of at least one Active E lessee who had temporarily moved "his" Active E to Texas for several months. But it is now back in California.

      Service will be a challenge, and you're effectively breaking the lease terms.

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