BMW and the London 2012 organising committee, Locog, yesterday revealed details of the 4,000-strong vehicle fleet the car-maker will be providing as Official Automotive Partner for this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Speaking at BMW’s Marsham Street showroom in central London, officials explained how the cars would be used for a huge range of tasks, from ferrying athletes around the capital to towing boats out of the water at the sailing events in Weymouth.

Setting the tone for the BMW effort is the London Games’ ambition to be the first truly sustainable Olympics. In fact Richard George, LOCOG’s Director of Transport, calls London 2012 a “public transport Games”, and it certainly will be for most of the spectators. But Usain Bolt can’t really be expected to buy himself an Oyster card and catch the tube or a red bus to the 100m finals, and visiting dignitaries need to be able to maintain their dignity as they move between Olympic venues as well - which is where the low-carbon vehicle fleet comes in.

BMW has come up with a carefully selected mix of cars for the Games that have average CO2 emissions in official tests of just 116g/km, and fuel consumption of 64.5mpg. That’s roughly on a par with the figures you’d normally expect of a small runabout like the Ford Ka but the BMW fleet has to  include a number of larger cars and SUVs in order to meet the diverse requirements of the Olympic organisers.

One high-profile contribution comes from the inclusion of 200 electric cars – 40 converted Minis and 160 plug-in ActiveE 1-Series – but range, space and other limitations mean that battery-powered vehicles can only pay a small role in reducing the fleet’s carbon footprint. Those electric BMWs will leave behind a useful piece of post-Olympics legacy though; 120 charging points are being set up at five separate locations and these will be absorbed into the Source London network of plug-in locations once the Games are over. BMW has provided an Olympic electric car before – a converted 1602, the “Schrittmacher” (pace-maker) was used when the Games were held in the company’s home city of Munich in 1972 - but London 2012 will also provide a glimpse of BMW’s electric future, with the highly innovative i3 and i8 models, due to go on sale in the next few years, being shown off in a stylish glassy pavilion in the Olympic park.

The backbone of the fleet, though, will be provided by economical diesel-powered Efficient Dynamics versions of BMW’s standard production 3 and 5-Series saloons. Both cars have the lowest CO2 outputs in their respective classes; 109g/km in the case of the 3 and 119g/km in the case of the 5. Together, these two models will make up more than half of the fleet – 1550 3-Series and 707 5-Series. Also putting in an appearance, albeit in far smaller numbers (just 20 will be on duty) will be the new hybrid version of the 5-Series. That combines electric power with a turbocharged petrol engine to deliver 44.1mpg and 149g/km of CO2 in official tests, and is the first of three hybrids BMW will put on sale this year.

There will also be 200 diesel-powered Mini Countrymans, and a limited number of SUVs – 17 X3s and 10 X5s – will be used for specialised roles such as towing boats and the horse ambulances for the equestrian events. Besides the main car fleet, BMW will provide 25 motorcycles, which will be used to support road-based events such as cycling, and 400 Streetcruiser bicycles, which will help officials and team members follow the rowing events. Finally, the fleet will quietly be rounded out with people-carriers from Citroën, because BMW doesn’t make vehicles of that type itself.

Delivering the official cars for the Olympics will provide plenty of glory for BMW but a couple of potential headaches as well. Former Olympian and triple-jump world record holder Jonathan Edwards explained at the fleet launch how important it was for the transport to run smoothly to get the athletes to their events without undue stress. Once BMW hands the cars over, though, that will mainly be Locog’s job, and they will be relying on a huge army of 7,000 trained volunteer drivers to get competitors and officials to the correct venues on time – no easy task given the complexity of the Olympic sites and the pressures of London traffic, even with the reserved lanes for official vehicles on the Olympic Route Network. After the Games, thousands of cars will be sent back to BMW, which will have to work out how to dispose of them, although the company is saying that they should easily be absorbed in the context of its UK operations, which sell 130,000 new and 95,000 used cars each year.

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