BMW NZ investigating scary i3 hybrid fire in Nelson

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Words: Matthew Hansen
4 May 2021

Over the weekend a BMW i3 burst into flames while travelling between Nelson and Picton, resulting in the electrified hatchback burning to the ground. Now, BMW’s local arm has confirmed it’s investigating the incident.

The i3’s occupants, driver Anthony Genet and his two children, were able to pull over to the side of the road and escape with some of their possessions before flames engulfed the car. Photos and video footage of the blaze went viral yesterday following a report on Stuff.

According to Genet, the car first showed a warning message on the dashboard saying “Can’t continue journey, contact the dealership immediately”. Smoke was then cited coming out the back of the car.

“There were flames licking out from under the rear wheel arch. I gave my son my phone and said ‘dial 111’, in less than two minutes it was engulfed in flames. [...] The fire brigade were great, they were there in about 10 minutes, they didn't take long,” Genet told Stuff.

NZ Autocar contacted BMW New Zealand for comment, with a local spokesperson confirming that the firm is investigating the fire and that it’s in talks with Genet.

“We are aware of an incident that happened over the weekend involving a BMW i3,” said the spokesperson. “We are in contact with the customer and an investigation is underway. We cannot provide further details at this stage.”

The i3 at the centre of the fire was a range extender hybrid model. These came with a two-cylinder petrol engine in the back which is used as a ‘range extender’. These models were subject to a recall four years ago due to fears of fuel vapour leak.

It’s unclear whether this was the cause of the fire in this case, but it’s worth recalling Genet’s comments that flames appeared to first come out from under the rear wheel arch.

The i3 has had multiple recalls around the world over fire-risk concerns. On top of the 2017 recall, BMW also issued a recall in 2018 over incorrect electrical capacitors in i3 charging cords. There are also numerous documented cases of i3s catching fire overseas, many of them being range-extender models.

It’s been an interesting few months in the world of car fires. A Tesla Model S burned to the ground a few weeks ago following a crash crash, two occupants perishing. Hyundai, meanwhile, has shelved the fully electric variant of the Kona in its home market, with pundits tipping that poor local coverage around fire recalls for the model are to blame. Hyundai will instead focus on the Ioniq 5 at home, although it will continue to sell the Kona electric overseas.

UPDATED: A BMW Group New Zealand spokesperson has confirmed that the car was a private import. It notes that the car was over seven years old, was privately imported, and recently had servicing conducted by an independent repairer. 

“BMW confirms that a fire incident occurred over the weekend involving a BMW i3. The vehicle, which is over seven years of age, was privately imported into New Zealand by the owner and was not purchased through an authorised BMW dealer in New Zealand,” said the spokesperson.

“We are not aware of the vehicle ever having been serviced by any member of our authorised BMW dealer network in this country; however, we understand that the owner chose to recently have the vehicle’s servicing carried out by an independent repairer.”

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