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The BMW i4 M50, and living with an electric car

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A reader is debating the merits of a BMW i4 vs a conventional 4 Series. I try my best to help.

Send me questions!

Question

Mike – I read your i4 review from last year and came away pretty disappointment. I test drove one and loved it.

Now that you’ve driven other electric cars, do you still dislike it? I’m a car guy but try to be really forward-looking, and ICE power just isn’t very good for anyone.

– Jerry

Answer

While Jerry doesn’t provide much information as to where he lives or how he’ll charge his new i4, I think it’s a good question to examine.

Let’s take an i4 M50, which has a base price of $68,700, and compare it to an M440i xDrive Gran Coupe, which starts at $62,150.

Building an i4 vs an M440i

BMW i4
Moderns cars are very difficult to produce from raw materials.

Not online – I mean building the real cars. While it’s true that electric cars start out behind their ICE counterparts in emissions, the powers that be are hesitant to explain how or why.

A modern BMW’s body is made from steel and aluminum, which need to be mined. BMW builds factories where workers live and where vehicles are easy to export. That means all the raw materials must be shipped in from all over the world, and both the i4 and M440 share this production and environmental cost. There are no electric boats or trains.

Research how aluminum is refined from bauxite, and you’ll discover a byproduct  called “Red mud” – a toxic substance that remains when the aluminum is extracted. There’s no place to put it, and it leaches into waterways. Nothing clean about that. You can look at any material in a car and find a similar problem.

BMW M440i
This might be a bit slower off the line, but an M440i comes alive in turns.

But you already knew that producing a car is bad. What’s worse is the battery, and the amount of energy needed to make it.

“Building the 80 kWh lithium-ion battery found in a Tesla Model 3 creates between 2.5 and 16 metric tons of CO2 (exactly how much depends greatly on what energy source is used to do the heating). This intensive battery manufacturing means that building a new EV can produce around 80% more emissions than building a comparable gas-powered car.” –  MIT

So from the very beginning, variables come into play, like the kind of energy used.

Driving the i4 long-term

i4 M50
Is it really better?

The great hope of environmentalists is that once an electric car is on the road, it will make up for that 80%. So let’s take a peak, according to the EPA:

  • BMW M440i: 312 grams of CO2 per mile
  • BMW i4 M50: 0 grams of CO2 per mile

The government would have you believe that the i4 needs nothing to make you go if you don’t dig any deeper. It’s shockingly difficult to find the real number, because it’s pretend. If you get your electricity from coal or gas, it’ll be much higher than getting it from a sustainable source, say, wind power. Where I live, gas and coal account for over 60% of electricity generated.

According to this tool, an i4 M50 would produce 140 grams of CO2 per mile, a difference of 172 from the M440i.

BMW M440i
Over time, this will pollute the environment more. Will you keep yours long enough to make up the difference?

This might be a bit vague, but if it takes 16 metric tons to produce an electric car, and about 3 to produce a conventional one then:

  • M440i – 12 tons of C02 emitted over 36,000 miles, + 3 tons from production = 15 total tons
  • i4 M50 – 5 tons of C02 emitted over 36,000 miles, + 16 from production = 21 total tons

Yes, over time, the i4 will catch up and surpass the M440i, but 77% of BMWs are leased.

Owning an electric car

BMW i4 M50
BMW’s research has shown that people want the i badge hidden.

Let’s forget about the the environmental stuff for a minute Jerry, because as far as you’re concerned, you won’t need gas ever again, and you’ll save a lot of money. Right?

Well, sometimes. First, you’ll need to install a charger in your home, which can cost anywhere from $2,000 – $4,000. And that’s if you have a home, because if you’re in an apartment, it’s not an option.

Speaking of, charging outside your home can be expensive. Charging up the Kia EV6 GT at a ChargePoint station costs about 5 dollars less than a tank of gasoline, and I had much less range. Electricity in your home is cheaper, but by no means free.

BMW i4 M50
Charging isn’t as easy as filling up yet.

Don’t forget that the i4 M50 is nearly $7,000 more expensive than the 440. The government gives you most of that back in tax rebates, but that won’t last. And it isn’t exactly fair to the M440i.

Lastly, despite my living in an upscale modern suburban neighborhood, there are zero chargers anywhere near me not attached to apartment buildings. And those complexes have one or two spots dedicated to charging. What happens when everyone has an electric car? When you need to get to work but no chargers are open and you’re at 10%?

The long-term effect

BMW M440i

One thing that no one seems to mention is that the M440i produces 382 horsepower the day you pick it up. It’ll produce that the day you turn it in. It also makes it in 100-degreee jungles, or 20-degree tundras. The range also remains the same.

The i4 M50? That makes 536 horsepower when you buy it. Three years later, it could make 5% less. And if it’s cold out, I hope you don’t have to travel far, because the i4 could lose up to 40% of its range.

Your payments however, they remain the same.

So Jerry, I hope you enjoy your i4. Get it because you like it as a car, not as an Earth-saving device. At the least, I hope this brought to light a few things you might have missed.

But the internal combustion engine allows you to go anywhere, as far as you want, with only 5 minute pauses for gas (or pee-pee time). It’s freedom. To me, electric cars are just another form of disinformation and control.

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