Mystery: Why Are 100 BMW i3 EVs Abandoned on This Small Island?

Jeju Island is a small volcanic island off the coast of South Korea. It is a destination spot mostly visited by Korean and Asian residents. And it is beautiful, but you must have a rental car to get around it. Cars on the island are everywhere, and so are a number of spots where 100 BMW i3s have been sitting for over a year. Some look ready to explore the island, but others have been stripped of parts. So why are they just left to rot?

About 70 BMW i3 sedans are sitting at the edge of a forest in Goseong since 2020. Another 30 have been left in a field. All of them belonged to a rental company that went belly up. 

The rental car company couldn’t keep up with the i3 payments

BMW i3 EVs
BMW i3 EVs | Getty

The company purchased 200 of the EVs using a payment plan. But when they couldn’t keep up with the payments, the company quietly went out of business. Not able to pay off the loans nor the taxes that had accrued, the cars were red-tagged for seizure. 

Now out of business, the company started dumping the BMWs in remote places like the forest, and also a flat strip of dirt in Ara. BMW Korea purchased back the cars through a court-approved bidding process last year, according to Yonhap News Agency. But most of the cars have remained where the rental company dumped them. 

Abandoning rental cars is a fairly common problem here

BMW i3 EV
BMW i3 EV charging | Getty

What is surprising is that this happens fairly regularly on the island. Rental car companies have been abandoning electric vehicles because of high repair costs. They also take longer to repair, putting them out of service for long periods. According to the Korea Times, some EVs have 50 million won repair bills. That’s $44,000. 

In some cases, the cars are just left at the dealership after the repair estimates are given to the rental agencies. But most of these rental cars have been purchased with government subsidies. So it is illegal to sell or dump them for the first two years of use. 

Government subsidies help pay for these rentals

BMW i3 EVs
BMW i3 EVs | Getty

A used 2018 i3 was said to have had a $13,600 subsidy paid by the government when it was recently sold. But there is no law on the books that allows the Korean government to demand paying back the subsidies. It is estimated that over 4,100 electric vehicles are being used by rental companies there, amounting to almost $50 million in subsidies. 

Supposedly, the cars will finally be auctioned off this week. They should sell well under what they’re worth due to the circumstances. As for the i3 itself, BMW will end production of the EV this July. 

The i3 has been around for almost 10 years since it debuted in 2013. While the i3 name will go away in the US and Europe, it will live on in China. The new i3 will be a long-wheelbase all-electric 3 Series sedan. 

BMW i3 concept car
BMW i3 concept car at Frankfurt Auto Show | Getty

RELATED: Where Do Rental Cars Go When They are Retired?