BMW & Fiat: Buy Our New EV; Get Gas-Powered Loaners for Free

Electric cars can be inexpensive to run, quiet to operate, but they do tend to cost more, do require a higher commitment, and if you need to go on a long trip, what do you do?

A variety of options have already been suggested or implemented by EV adapters, and a more recent solution offered by BMW and now Fiat is a proposal to outright loan a gas-powered vehicle to their EV buyers for times when needed.

BMW’s plans for its pending i3 all-electric car were reported by Edmunds a couple weeks ago and without specifying too many details, the deal was i3 buyers would get access to a free loaner for a limited number of times per year.

On Monday, Automotive News similarly reported that Fiat intends to make a gas-powered loaner available for buyers of its 2013 500e for up to 12 times per year.

Fiat’s deal is called ePass, and a 500e electric car owner in need of more range could access for free a rental vehicle from a national rental chain owned by Enterprise Holdings. This is the holding company for Enterprise, Alamo and National car rental brands and the deal was completed between Enterprise and Fiat last week.

“The whole thing goes back to how the car is being positioned,” said Tim Kuniskis, head of the Fiat brand in North America to Automotive News. “We’re positioning it to be another 500; a viable alternative to the current 500 to expand the reach of the electric car.”

Fiat 500e.

Fiat 500e.

Under the arrangement, Fiat 500e buyers will get a business account with Enterprise with enough credit for 12 rental vehicle days per year. The rental could be a light truck, minivan, or car from one of 6,000 locations, and insurance is on the customer, not provided by Fiat.

Fiat points out its option to rent a larger vehicle is an extra bonus, as one could do something like rent a pickup and help someone move. Or they could rent a minivan and take a bunch of people somewhere and back. Even a gas-powered Fiat 500 would not be much use for such heavier duty needs.

As for BMW, it too cites its expectations about its buyers’ needs, and makes predictions as to how its cars will likely be perceived and used. BMW estimates its i3 all-electric car will be fine for 90 percent of the time. It’s about 10 percent of the time an owner could feel a pinch, and wish for a gas car as an alternative.

The company is also making available an approximately $4,000 optional on-board, gas-powered range extender built by Kymco as well to make the i3 behave sort of like a Chevy Volt, but not actually.

The 35-horsepower range extender will be akin to a spare gas tank for restricted use, and is reportedly sourced from BMW’s G650T motor scooter. Previous reports had said it was a “motorcycle engine” and people were guessing which “motorcycle” it came from.

The Fiat 500e is expected at California dealerships this summer, and the BMW i3 is expected at dealers this fall.

For people who only have one car, or limited access to a second conventional vehicle, the promotion is hoped to ease the anxiety they might have felt over committing to an all-electric car.

Of course renting a car was always a possibility, but the manufacturers are stepping up to offer this option gratis.

Assuming a given buyer truly only needs a gas car on a very limited basis, this could augment market acceptance, and in any case, anything of actual cash value that is “free” is always welcome.

Time, Edmunds, Automotive News