One Year Later, This Tufts Professor Still Loves Owning the US’s First All-Electric BMW

Charles Rabie was specially chosen to be the first American owner of a BMW i3.

One year after becoming the first American to buy a BMW i3, Tufts professor Charles Rabie says the all-electric car is still “fun to drive.’’
One year after becoming the first American to buy a BMW i3, Tufts professor Charles Rabie says the all-electric car is still “fun to drive.’’ –Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

One year ago, the first BMW i3 in the U.S. was sold to Tufts University professor and electric car advocate Charles Rabie. Boston.com spoke with Rabie about how the all-electric i3 has treated him over the past year.

“We really love the car,’’ Rabie said in a phone call. “It’s lived up to its performance and it’s fun to drive.’’

Rabie was selected by BMW as the first U.S. customer of the anticipated i3, which he purchased from Herb Chambers BMW of Boston. Since that day, BMW has sold 8,773 i3 units in the U.S. to date.

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The i3 has a range of 80 to 100 miles from its 22 kilowatt lithium-ion battery. Rabie told Boston.com that he and his wife pushed the car’s limits over the past year by taking it on an 80-mile round trip from Brookline to Gloucester.

“There’s a filling station in Beverly and some nice restaurants,’’ he said. “We had lunch, filled up, and continued to the beach and there was plenty of energy to get home.’’

So how secure does Rabie feel about the i3’s safety net and the availability of charging stations?

“It’s up and coming,’’ he said. “You have many choices in Brookline, Cambridge, Boston, and don’t have to pay to charge your vehicle in many of them.’’

But Rabie said these stations do impose a parking fee while the vehicle recharges.

But the electric charging infrastructure along the Commonwealth’s highways could stand to improve, he said.

“I-90 is remarkably sparse at the moment,’’ said Rabie. “If want to charge, I have to pull off at Worcester.’’

Like other New England-area vehicles, Rabie’s all-electric i3 faced its biggest challenge over the past year during the region’s record-breaking winter. Rabie said the i3 handled the unusually brutal winter “okay, but not great.’’ The biggest issue was that the frigid temperatures “dramatically’’ affected the range of the car’s battery.

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“It normally gets 80 miles in summer, but that drops to 50 to 60 miles in the winter,’’ said Rabie. “That’s a bit of an impediment, not just because of its reduced urban range, but it would also prevent us from going on a ski trip or any long distance.’’

But the car also gave Rabie a generous federal tax refund worth about $7,500. Unfortunately, he said he bought the car too early to be eligible for a Massachusetts tax refund. However, he said Massachusetts tax incentives make owning or leasing an electric vehicle (EV) very attractive to consumers.

“What I like about Massachusetts is the tax credit applies for a lease as well as a purchase,’’ he said. “Massachusetts essentially gives you your down payment back and the monthly payments are about what you’d pay for gas, so the car is basically free.’’

But he would also like to see the Commonwealth offer more incentives for electric vehicle consumers, such as access to the HOV lanes and free EV-only street parking.

“Massachusetts does not give that privilege yet,’’ he said. “I would like to see more aggressive incentives from the government that will spark more [EV] sales.’’

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