Thursday, April 26, 2012

Check out my BMW ActiveE Blog!

Now that the MINI-E program has ended and I'm driving a BMW ActiveE electric car, I've transitioned this blog over to my ActiveE blog. Come join me for the continuation of the electric journey!
Please bookmark the following address and say hello when you stop by:
http://activeemobility.blogspot.com/

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The End

 Me and my wife Meredith speaking to BMW NA President, Ludwig Willisch at the BMW ActiveE First Delivery Event
Well not really, but it is the end of MINI-E #250. On Friday, January 13th, at the BMW ActiveE First Delivery Event in Woodcliff Lake NJ, I handed in my keys to #250.  I was then presented with the keys to the very first BMW ActiveE by BMW North American President, Ludwig Willisch.

Who would have thought? Back in 2009 when I first started this blog I never could have imagined I'd be standing there with the BMW NA President accepting the keys to the very first BMW electric car leased to a customer in the company's history. However there I was with my wife, accepting the keys and making a short speech about my MINI-E experience and thanking BMW for the honor of choosing me to be the very first ActiveE customer delivery.

As fantastic as the day was, and as much as I love the new ActiveE, lost a bit in the shuffle was the fact that I no longer have my MINI-E. For the past 31 months MINI-E #250 been my primary vehicle and I put over 72,500 miles on it in that time. It proved to me electric cars are ready for prime time. They are fun to drive, easy to recharge and really offer a great overall driving/ownership experience. I became so convinced that I'd be driving electric from now on that I installed a solar array on my roof so I can produce my own energy, and my electric cars would all be truly zero emission using renewable energy.

Yes, I transferred EF-OPEC to the ActiveE
The MINI-E saved me from needing to make about 250 trips to the gas station, kept me from buying about 4,000 gallons of gasoline and provided me with too many great experiences to recount and too many fond memories to list. I wasn't constantly worried about my range like everyone who has never driven an EV says will happen, and the car never left me stranded because it ran out of power. It was just like any other car, I got in it and drove.

So now a new journey begins. I have enjoyed this blog so much. All of the comments and emails that I have received from people all around the world have been so encouraging and really were the reason I continued to blog about my time with the MINI-E. A while back I started an ActiveE blog because I knew the day would come when I turned in the MINI-E for an ActiveE. From now on I'll be posting there and I hope everyone who stops by here will transition over to that blog and will continue to follow.

All that's left from #250 is wall charger and my side scuttle numbers.  Well that and a lot of great memories.
When the ActiveE First Delivery was over and we were getting ready to leave, I asked if I could take the side scuttle number off my MINI-E as a memento and I was granted permission. I hear some of the other MINI-E pioneers scuttle numbers have been mysteriously falling off right before they return their cars to pick up their ActiveEs. Hmmm, very strange.

All of us in the MINI-E program knew the program was ending, and BMW needed to move on with a more advanced, more refined electric vehicle to test before they sell the i3 in 2013. However knowing that didn't take the sting out of giving our beloved MINI-Es back to BMW. Besides our side scuttle numbers we all have the memories of the great experience of driving our first electric cars. Some day, when electric cars are everywhere we can look back and say, "I was there in the beginning. I was a Pioneer."

My BMW ActiveE blog can be found at: http://activeemobility.blogspot.com 

I already found a home for my old side scuttle numbers! Life goes on...


Friday, January 13, 2012

MINI-E #250:The Final Hours

Charging at home for the last time. It's the 1,383rd time I've charged up in the 31 months I've had MINI-E #250

"This is the end, my only friend, the end." In a couple of hours I'll get into MINI-E #250 for the last time. :(

I'll be driving with my wife to BMW's North American headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ and handing the keys to Richard Steinberg, BMW's Manager of Electric Vehicle Sales and Strategy and my time with the MINI-E will be over. My final odometer reading will stand at about 72,500 all electric miles, not bad for only 31 months of driving.

It's been a wonderful 2 1/2 year journey that has amongst other things, proven to me unequivocally that electric cars, even one with only a 100 mile range, is perfectly suited to be the primary car used in a household. I specifically want to point out the word primary, because it wasn't the secondary car in our household, it was always the car my wife and I went to first.

I'm not going to go in to all the reasons why we loved this car so much, there are over 200 posts here for anyone who hasn't followed. I will say the sting of having to return it has been soothed a bit by the fact that when we leave BMW HQ today, we'll be driving a BMW ActiveE electric car. The ActiveE is BMW's last step before they make a series production electric car, the 2013 BMW i3. The ActiveE is another test car like the MINI-E, however this car is completely engineered by BMW and has all of the actual components that the i3 will have in it, so we are basically field testing all the new electronics, motors and battery cells before they are offered for sale to the public in the i3 in about 20 months form now.

I'm heading to BMW HQ because BMW asked me to be the first customer to accept delivery of an ActiveE and they are having a press ceremony today where BMW North American President, Ludwig Willisch, will present me with the keys to the car. I've been a very vocal proponent of the MINI-E program and a supporter of BMW's efforts to develop electric cars so they thought it appropriate that I accept the first ActiveE and I am certainly honored they chose me for this event.

Now that I won't have the MINI-E anymore, I'll be transitioning this blog to my ActiveE blog, which will eventually give way to my BMW i3 blog. However I'll do one more post here in a couple of days to review the ActiveE handover event and offer my final thoughts on the MINI-E program. Thank you all for following the past few years and for offering your comments and questions.  I would have certainly stopped doing this a long time ago if I thought nobody was reading or cared what I had to say about this experience.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

MINI-E #345 Stops By For Some Juice

#345 Charging at 50amps

During the MINI-E lease program, I've made it know to the other Pioneers that they can charge up at my Restaurant in Montclair, NJ if they ever find themselves in need of a boost. I'm more than happy to supply them with the electrons needed to allow them to continue on their journey when it's longer than their single charge limit will allow.

I haven't kept count, but by now I'd imagine that I've probably had close to two dozen different Pioneers stop by and charge up; and many of them have dropped by more than once. Yesterday it was Michael Granoff's turn. Mike's day took him from the Northern part of the state to Central Jersey and on his way back he decided he'd be cutting it a bit close so he shot me an email asking if the EVSE would be available. If this had been the summer and the temperatures warmer, the distance wouldn't have been an issue, but now that it's cold and we use the car's heaters, our range drops off quite a bit. I think we both felt he would have made it without the charge, but he wasn't in a rush and it wasn't too much out of the way so why not stop by just to be safe.

Mike & I in front of our MINI-Es
I have a 50 amp EVSE at work which charges at nearly 12kWh. That really supplies a lot of electrons quickly, so after only about a half hour, Mike had plenty of juice to make it back home. We had a nice conversation about electric cars and EV infrastructure and the upcoming BMW ActiveE program (both of us are getting one) and then Mike was on his way.


Once I get my ActiveE, I'll convert my EVSE at work to be J1772 compliant. I can then charge my ActiveE there and offer the same free charging to anyone in the ActiveE program. I'm sure I'll continue to get occasional visitors in need of some electrons, and I'll be more than happy to oblige.

Friday, December 2, 2011

My Last MINI-E Milestone: 70,000 All Electric Miles

I've often written about the miles I've logged on MINI-E #250 during the nearly 30 months I've been driving it. Not that driving a lot is some kind of accomplishment, because surely it isn't. In fact, I really wish I didn't need to drive so much but I do. The reason I frequently bring it up is because one of the criticisms of electric cars is that the limited single charge range renders them useless to people who need to drive a lot.

Driving around New Jersey
Since most current electric cars (that aren't made by Tesla) can only go about 100 miles per charge, many people assume that means you wouldn't be able to drive an EV more than 100 miles in a day without extreme inconvenience. What it really means is you can't drive more than 100 miles without stopping, which in my life happens very rarely. Even with my rigorous driving regime, I'm only in the car driving for about 2 hours a day. That means it's parked for about 22 hours every day and might as well be plugged in and charging up for the next trip. As long as you have charging where you park, you can drive an EV much more than it's single charge range limit on any given day.

My odometer rolled passed 70,000 miles exactly on the 900th day I've had the car. That means I've averaged 77.78 miles per day, every single day I've had it. Now obviously I haven't driven it every single day I've had it, even though I did on the majority of them. If you take away the days I didn't drive it at all, I actually averaged about 85 miles per day of use. The only way that could be possible is by driving it much more than 100 miles on many days, to offset the days I only drove it 20 or 30 miles.

Charging at work
I have an advantage over many people with EVs and that's because I have a level 2 EVSE at my job. This allows me to plug in and quickly recharge while I'm working. That, combined with the MINI-E's robust charging rate makes it very easy to drive a couple hundred miles in a single day. Some other EVs like the Nissan LEAF have a pathetically slow 3.3kW charging rate and that severely limits the owners ability to charge up quickly and get back on the road.  In the LEAFs defense, it does support level 3 DC quick charge, but there aren't any level 3 charge stations installed anywhere near New Jersey so I wouldn't be able to use that if I owned a LEAF. BMW has incorporated 7.7kW charging on the ActiveE so hopefully they understand that robust charging is necessary, especially on a premium electric vehicle. Additionally, I hope they include level 3 DC quick charge on the 2013 BMW i3. By then, I think level 3 charge stations will begin to be installed or at least the planning will have begun. Level 3 DC quick charge stations will make long distance travel much easier with EVs, however a robust charge rate on level 2 charging combined with workplace charging like I have, will definitely enhance the EV experience for everyday use and make the cars much more versatile.

So back to my milestone. It's been quite a run with MINI-E #250, but it's soon to end. I have applied and been accepted into the BMW ActiveE lease program which begins in about two weeks. At that time, I'll hand in the keys to #250 and drive home with an ActiveE. It will be bittersweet, no doubt. I love this little car and have has so many great moments in it during the 70,000 miles I've logged, but it's time to move on. The ActiveE is a much more advanced electric vehicle. It has an active thermal management system which will help to alleviate the drastic range inconsistencies throughout the year, it has a new glide mode to increase efficiency during highway driving as well as other improvements and better instrumentation.

Hello, thank you. Send us your money!
Before I got the MINI-E my daily driver was a 2009 Toyota Tacoma pick up truck that I still have. I only drove it about 4,000 miles since I got the MINI-E, mostly in the winter when I used it to plow my restaurant's parking lot and on days I needed to use the bed to haul large freight for the restaurant. It gets about 17-18mpg so by driving the MINI-E 70,000 miles the last two and a half years I didn't need to buy about 4,000 gallons of gas. (Rant Warning): That's one of the most satisfying things for me. I hate buying gas. I hate that about 65 cents of every dollar I spend on gas leaves the US, and some of it ends up in the economies of radical nations that support terrorism. I produce much of the electricity that I use myself, on my home solar array. It's clean, renewable energy. However even when I use electricity that was supplied by the grid, I know that 100% of it was domestically produced, and 100% of my dollars stay local, or at the worst regional. Electricity is 100% a domestic product that employs American workers in every step of the supply chain. Even if it's "dirty" coal, it's still employing US workers and keeping the money in our economy. Money that is then reinvested in America. There is nothing more American and patriotic than driving an electric car and it is mind boggling to me when I hear politicians and media blowhards criticizing them. I can only imagine these people have agendas against EVs due to alliances with big oil and lobbyists that line their campaign pockets, because in my opinion there really can't be any reasonable reason why anyone who is capable of thinking would think they are a bad idea for our country. Perhaps one of them can tell me how exporting over a billion dollars for foreign oil every day helps make us a stronger country. Perhaps one of them can tell me how investing in improving our electric infrastructure to a smart grid where EVs can supply energy on demand wouldn't be a good idea. Perhaps if we diverted even the smallest percentage of the external costs of keeping gasoline cheap here (fighting wars in the Middle East to protect our oil supply and subsidizing oil exploration for companies that then make billions of dollars and never pay a penny of federal income tax) we could put tens of thousands of Americans to work upgrading the infrastructure and installing EV charging stations across the country. We can invest more in renewable energy and continue to offer tax credits and rebates for zero emission vehicles. The money is there, we just need to take some of it from oil. Some people complain that governments shouldn't pick the winner in the fight of oil vs. electricity. They already have and have been subsidizing oil for decades. All electricity needs is a small percentage of what we already give oil and EVs will dominate passenger cars, I'm certain of it. (End Rant)

So as my MINI-E journey is about to end, I'm absolutely convinced I'll be driving electric from now on. Thank you BMW for giving me the opportunity to experience electric mobility. The 70,000 miles I put on the MINI-E is just the beginning. Hopefully, I'll be around long enough to drive hundreds of thousands of zero emission, solar powered EV miles.

And I'll continue to tell everyone just how great it is...




Friday, November 25, 2011

Mega-City Car? How about Open-Country Car?

My house is straight through this field and on the hill you can see in the background

Electric cars are perfectly suited for urban environments. The low speed, stop and go city driving uses a lot less energy than higher speed highway driving does, plus the regenerative braking is used more and this helps to recover more of the already used energy. This has prompted some people to even say that electric cars are only good for city driving, and that nobody who lives in the country would want to buy one.

This general thought is so prevalent that BMW dubbed the upcoming i3, the first electric they will sell, the "Mega-City" car. The thought behind the name is that the car will be primarily marketed for people who live in some of the largest cities in the world.  BMW views mega-cities as urban areas with more than six million people – places like New York, Los Angeles, London, Barcelona, Paris, Tokyo and the Ruhr Valley area in Germany.

Wild life, not city life on my way to work
I agree that EVs work very well in urban environments, but it's the notion that they aren't well suited for rural areas that has me scratching my head. The reason: I live in a rural area about 50 miles west of New York City and have been doing just fine driving MINI-E #250 for nearly 30 months now. In a couple days the odometer will roll passed 70,000 all electric miles, many of which were driven on the winding country roads of Northern New Jersey.

One of the resident horses in my town
When I drive to work every day, I don't pass the skyscrapers you would find in a mega-city. I drive by horses, farms, streams and open fields and the MINI-E is perfectly at home there. Of course I'm not saying that an electric car with a 100 mile range would work in rural middle America where you need to drive a hundred miles to get to a grocery store. Obviously there are limitations with the current crop of electric vehicles, but ranges will increase and charging times will decrease as more and more companies are investing in them. However even today an EV can work perfectly well in areas other than big cities.

I doubt I'll get BMW to rename the i3 the "open country car," but perhaps someone out there who lives in a suburb or rural area who reads this will now realize an EV might just work for them. Plus, remember that I've been driving around the past two and a half years without the benefit of a single public charging station anywhere I've ever driven. Now that they are beginning to be installed, it will only help to make EV life even easier. Whether you plug in under the bright lights of a big city or in a barn next to your horse stable, the future for electric vehicles is sure looking good.  

You can see the solar panels that charge #250 on the roof of my home in Chester, NJ

Friday, November 18, 2011

MINI-E Meet ActiveE



It happens all the time. You bump into your old girlfriend or ex-spouse while you're out on a date with your new one, it's usually really awkward so rarely do you purposely bring the two together. Today I did just that. I took my MINI-E up to BMW's North American Headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ to get another close up look at the ActiveE. I have to admit, I felt a little bad for the MINI-E. It's served me admirably for the past 29 months. It's proven to me that an electric car with a 100 mile range is perfectly fine for my everyday driving needs, even though I drive about 30,000 miles per year, which is much more than the average American. It's never left me stranded and given me many great memories.

The ActiveE is in just about every regard a more complete electric car than the MINI-E, but that doesn't mean I won't always hold my MINI-E in the highest regard. It was my first electric car, and it allowed me to kick my gas addiction, hopefully for the rest of my life. However to deny that the ActiveE isn't a better all around car, would be denying the obvious truth. In my opinion, the biggest flaw of the MINI-E has been it's lack of a sophisticated thermal management system. It didn't cause much of a problem in the hot weather for me, but in the cold winters of the Northeast, the MINI-E's range can shrink by as much as 40% in certain conditions. The ActiveE has a liquid thermal management system, which is generally regarded as the best way to keep an EV's battery at optimum operating temperature. In my 40 mile test drive of the ActiveE last month in Munich, the battery temperature didn't vary more than a degree or two, and was about 85 degrees the entire time even though it was in the 40s outside. The ActiveE can also precondition the battery and cabin while you are plugged into the grid, so you can set the car to warm up or cool down before you begin your journey. By doing so, you leave 100% charged and the car doesn't need to use a lot of energy to warm or cool the batteries and cabin. That allows you to use more of your stored energy for its primary purpose; to drive as far as you need to.

The ActiveE also has what BMW calls the Eco Pro mode, which reduces the amount of power the car supplies the drive motor and cabin heating & cooling systems, this may make the car a little less enjoyable to drive, but will increase the range by about 10%. I don't plan on using the Eco Pro mode all the time, but I will on days that I know I need to drive far.  Then there is the new "glide" mode. By backing off the accelerator a bit, the car de-clutches and coasts, neither using energy to accelerate or recoup energy via regen. If the driver backs off a little more, the regenerative braking begins, and if they depress the pedal at all, the car will accelerate. My guess is that this feature may take a bit to get used to after driving the MINI-E for so long.  Besides the technical improvements, the ActiveE is a lot bigger and more luxurious. Unlike the MINI-E it has two back seats and a trunk and will be much more functional. It's also well appointed with white leather seats highlighted with cool blue stitching. An integrated GPS with improved electronics round out the interior.

All of this adds up to a much more sophisticated, luxurious and functional electric vehicle and I'm sure I'm going to love driving it for the next two years. We haven't been offered the exact date that we'll be getting our ActiveEs, but rumors have it some of us will be getting them in about a month and I suspect I'll probably be in the first batch of MINI-E drivers that get one. (BMW doesn't want me to continue pestering them any longer than absolutely necessary!). While I will no doubt really appreciate the technical improvements as well as the extra room and added luxury, I will always have special appreciation for the MINI-E, after all you never forget your first.





Sunday, November 13, 2011

BMW i3 Special Sneak Peek Review

Me next to the i3 concept. The production version is said to be VERY similar to this concept





On November 9th, BMW introduced the i3 & i8 concept cars for the first time in North America and I was one of only about 75 people to be invited to the event. It was particularly rewarding to see the car that will be  the fruit of the MINI-E and upcoming ActiveE programs. This is the car that we have been driving the MINI-E for.  Providing BMW the opportunity to collect data and get real world feedback  so that when they sell this car in 2013, they will have had millions of miles of real world driving experience from thousands of EV drivers, giving them feedback and offering their opinions of what they like and what they don't. This approach will allow BMW to bring a car to market that will be much more polished than a typical 1st generation car because it is, in a sense the third generation. I REALLY liked what I saw and did some reports on my i3 blog as well as on a couple EV websites. Click here to jump over to my i3 blog to see what I have to say and also get the links to the reviews I did on the GreenCarReports.com and PlugInCars.com

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How Much Does it Cost to Charge an Electric Car?

With all the talk about electric cars lately, one thing that I keep hearing is people wondering how much electricity will an EV need? Are they simply ditching the gas pump only to pay just as much in their electric bill? I made a post on this subject last year and I think it's important enough to put it up again for anyone who hasn't seen it already. It's consistently one of the top questions I get when readers email me so I figure a re-post is in order...

One of the questions that people frequently ask me about the MINI-E is, "How much electricity does it use?" Sometimes they'll just say, "I love the car, but I wouldn't want to see your electric bill!"

When I tell them the car costs between $3.00 and $6.00 in electricity to go 100-120 miles they usually smile and say, "Wow, that's great." The reason the range is between $3.00 and $6.00 is because there is such a difference in electricity rates throughout the country. The MINI-E has a 35 kWh battery pack but only 80% of the pack is usable which means it has 28kWh of available power. That 28kWh can move the car between 90 and 120 miles depending on how efficiently you drive. It is less in the winter months because the heater uses a lot of energy, but for most of the year these numbers are correct as an average.

The national average cost for electricity is $.12 per kWh which means it would cost the average person $3.36 to fully charge a depleted battery on the MINI-E. However rates do vary. I pay $.11 per kWh at my restaurant in Montclair, lower than the national average, but it costs me $.18 per kWh at my home in Chester, only 30 miles from Montclair. So if I "fill up" at work it costs me $3.08 but at home it costs me $5.04! Obviously I take advantage of the lower rates and charge at work as much as possible. So basically for what it costs for a gallon of gas today, you can drive an electric car like the MINI-E or Nissan LEAF about 100 miles.

Since I have a solar PV array at my home, I sell the electricity back to the utility at the rate they sell it to me ($.18/kWh) so every kilowatt-hour that I charge at work saves me $.07. The average person drives about 15,000 miles per year. If they had a MINI-E they would need to use about 4,200kWh to drive 15,000 miles. If you use the national average, you would pay $504 for fuel for the entire year. If you use my rate at my restaurant, it's $462, at my home it's $756. So figure anywhere between a $40/month and $65/month increase in your electric bill if you had a MINI-E and drove it the average of 15,000 miles per year.

One of the great things about electric cars is that you can easily reduce your electric bill by $40 to $60 per month just by being more efficient and therefore completely eliminate your transportation fuel cost! You can't use less gasoline unless you drive less, but you can reduce your electricity usage at home and still drive as much as you always have. Simple measures like a programmable thermostat and the use of compact florescent light bulbs (and LEDs now) can make a big difference. In fact, five 100 watt light bulbs left on continuously for a year use the same amount of energy as it takes to power the MINI-E 15,000 miles! Here's how: five 100 watt light bulbs use 500 watts per hour. In 24 hours they use 12,000 watts or 12kWh. In 365 days they use 4,380kWh. What does the MINI-E use to go 15,000 miles? Remember above I calculated it to be 4,200kWh? So five 100 watt light bulbs use 180 more kWh than it takes to power 3,200lb MINI-E for 15,000 miles!

If you take a good look at your home electricity use, I'm sure you can reduce your usage enough to drastically offset the cost of electricity to power an electric car, if not completely eliminate it. Then, every penny of the money you would have spent on gasoline can go right into your pocket!

If you are considering an EV, you can basically figure that for every 100 miles you drive, you'll use about 25kWh of electricity. Today's EVs average about 4 miles of driving on every kWh of electricity used. Then look at your electricity bill and see what you are paying for a kWh of electricity. Then take the total miles you drive and divide it by 4, and multiply it by what you pay for a kWh of electricity and you'll know your annual fuel cost for an EV like a Nissan LEAF or a BMW ActiveE.

Let's say you drive 20,000 miles per year and pay .15 per kWh (which is higher than the national average). Your fuel cost would be about $750.00. Now if you drove those same miles in a car that gets 30mpg (much higher than the average car) and gas cost an average of $3.50/gallon (less than it has averaged the past year) your fuel costs would be $2,333.00! Now imagine if you had solar electric, or simply made your home more energy efficient and reduced your electric bill. You could probably cut $40 or $50 per month off your home's use pretty easily. That could add up to $500 to $600 per year of savings! With an annual fuel cost of only $750 to power an EV 20,000 miles, your transportation fuel expense would now be virtually eliminated! That's a savings of over $2,000 per year, and that's at today's gas prices. Unlike gasoline, electricity is regulated and the price is relatively stable. Gas prices are volatile and are constantly increasing drastically before slowly lowering only to suddenly jump back up again, and in the long run, always increase.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Worst Case Scenario

The next day the snow was melting off and I had to tow it up my driveway to the garage since the battery was completely depleted.


Where to begin. I've often written here about how I've done so many things with my MINI-E, but the one thing I've yet to do is drive it until it just won't go another inch. We'll, with only about six weeks left with the car, I can now check that off the list.

It's not how I would have liked it to happen, but then again, what ever goes as planned? Ironically, that is precisely the argument that many pundits have against electric cars. With the limited range that today's EVs have, coupled with the effect the cold weather has on EVs that don't have thermal management like the MINI-E, many that are not EV supporters point that because the unexpected happens, they can be unsafe, and leave their drivers stranded in traffic or during a snowstorm. Earlier this year, I even took Charles Lane of the Washington Post to task on this very subject. He wrote an article about how he was stuck in traffic in a snowstorm and he thanked God that he wasn't an a crappy electric car because he would have most certainly ran out of juice and been stuck to freeze to death by the roadside. I wrote a rebuttal article and posted in on plugincars.com and it was then picked up and posted on many other sites and managed to garner a lot of attention. I still stand by what I wrote, and I did correct some blatant inaccuracies about EVs that Mr. Lane wrote. However as much as an EV supporter as I am, I do admit that as of today, there are instances that are better suited for internal combustion engine cars. Wow there it is, I said it. Please note that I did say "as of today." That's because, I do believe that as long as there is support for EVs, the automakers will continue to improve and refine them, and it won't be long until they do everything as good or better than ICE cars, but we certainly aren't at that point just yet. Why would we though? The ICE has had 100 years of refinement, and today's EVs are barely the first generation of modern electric cars, and the MINI-E I'm driving isn't even first generation, it's a prototype test car.

Anyway, back to the topic. This past Saturday morning, my wife and I took a drive to New York City. The plan was to leave the city around 11:00am, and head back to my restaurant in Montclair where my wife would leave me and drive home. Since the trip to the city and then to my restaurant is about 75 miles, she would need to recharge a bit at the restaurant before she drove the 31 miles to our home. My 4wd pick up truck was waiting for me at the restaurant, and I would drive that home at night after work. I brought the truck there earlier because the weather forecast called for snow later in the day on Saturday, starting at around 2 or 3pm, and I might need it to deliver food if the roads got bad. NOTE: This would be only the 19th time in recorded history (145 years) that it snowed in October in New Jersey.
Charging at work in the snow

When we entered the Lincoln Tunnel heading back to NJ, it was raining. When we exited the tunnel on the NJ side, it was snowing like crazy. We couldn't believe how hard it was snowing and how quickly it was accumulating. We still had to drive 18 miles to my restaurant, and then charge the car a bit before my wife would drive it home. At this point I wasn't really worried because I've driven the car dozens of times in the snow and the MINI-E being front wheel drive, and heavy because of the batteries does really well on snow covered roads. However, as we continued to the restaurant, traffic started backing up as the snow kept piling up. It took us much longer than usual to make it to the restaurant, and with the heat on all the while, the battery was down to about 5%, much less than I would have expected after a 75 mile journey. That meant it needed a longer recharge time and this would allow even more snow accumulation before my wife would set out to get home. We charged for 1 1/2 hours at 50 amps and this brought the state of charge to about 70%, much more than what would be needed for the 31 mile trek home. I've driven home in the snow many, many times, and in temperatures much colder than this so I knew she had more than enough juice to get home. My wife likes driving the MINI-E and is plenty comfortable driving in the snow so she didn't hesitate to set off home in complete confidence.

As Robert Burns wrote: The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. The "wost case scenario" that all the EV hating pundits write about was about the happen and we didn't have a clue. When my wife left to head home there was about an inch or two of slushy snow on the roadways, nothing at all to really be worried about. The roads weren't cold enough to ice up, and as long as it was just snow, the MINI-E shouldn't have any problem at all getting good traction. Not long after she headed home she realized it wasn't going to be easy. Traffic was crawling along at a snail's pace and she started to notice large branches were falling off the trees all over as she was driving. The problem with snow in October is that the trees still have most of their leaves. The leaves catch the snow and the branches become so heavy from the snow that they simply break off. As the snow continued to fall, so did the trees. Everywhere. She was stuck in one of the worst driving conditions ever in the area. Entire trees were toppling over everywhere. In only a couple hours thousands of trees were down, power lines were down and streets everywhere were closed. Her little 31 mile drive home became the "Worst Case Scenario" as everywhere she went the roads were closed and she had to turn around and try to find an alternative route, all while the snow plied up to over a foot of accumulation. I was on the phone with her trying to figure out a way to our house given all the main roads were closed. She was only five miles from our house, but seemingly no way to get there when she asked me what the large yellow battery icon meant. UGG! That means you are really, really low and only have a few miles to go before you run out. Not to scare her too much I said "Oh that just means you're getting a little low on energy now so it's probably best to shut off the heat now, just to be safe."  It turns out she knew how low she was when she called me to help her with a route home, but didn't want to get me worried so she didn't tell me. At that point I was convinced she wasn't going to make it, and was already thinking of who I could call that was nearby to go out and rescue her. With the current conditions, it would probably have taken me two or three hours to get to her, so I figured it would be better to call on someone close to her if it was necessary. Anyway, after we consulted Google maps we found a back roads route that would get her home, provided none of the streets that way were blocked. If any of them were, and she had to turn around once more, then for sure she wouldn't have made it. She followed the route, crept along  in reduced power mode at around 20mph, and pulled into our driveway about two hours of roadblocks, deep snow, falling trees and other motorists that need to learn how to drive (I won't go into that today). However, just as she pulled into the driveway, the car rolled to a stop, then went another ten feet or so and slowly crept to a halt. There was no way it was going to make it up my 350 foot, all uphill driveway; not a chance. I had to tow it up to the house the next day with my truck and push it into the garage.

No power meant most gas stations in the area were closed. No electricity = no gas.
Spoiled Food :(
So she walked up the driveway and found that the generator was on, so the area was out of power. About an hour later the power at the restaurant also went out. It's now over three days later and neither has had the power restored. Trees are still down across streets everywhere and millions of people in the NY/NJ/Conn area are without power. Most of the gas stations are closed because they have no power, and since my restaurant has had no power for three days I have to throw all of the food away as per the Montclair Board of Health (I would have anyway). I have no idea when we'll have power or when I'll be able to reopen. I've had to throw out about $15,000 worth of food!!! It was definitely the worst case driving scenario that the pundits were referring to, and yes she was lucky to have made it home. Just one more detour and she wouldn't have made it. I'm not happy at all my wife had to be the one that went through that, and I agree that's precisely the argument the EV haters have been saying all along. However I can't help but continue to point out how the MINI-E is a prototype EV, not a production car. Electric car technology is still in it's infancy and companies like BMW are still learning what works and what doesn't. BMW calls the MINI-E lessees Pioneers. Sometimes that sounds a little corny, but sometimes when something like this happens I realize it is fitting. We are occasionally experiencing inconveniences and difficulty, and we are helping pave the way for future generations of electric cars. Electric cars that don't have the shortcomings that the current crop of EVs do. Electric cars that handle extreme temperatures with ease, have hundreds of miles of range and can be recharged in a few minutes. This will happen, and I believe sooner than most think. As much as I love the MINI-E, I am very much looking forward to the BMW ActiveE I'll be getting in a few weeks. Not because it's a fancier, luxury car with leather heated seats, a back seat and a trunk though. What I'm looking forward to is analyzing the technical advancements BMW has made, because the ActiveE is still just another learning experience, another step to BMW's first series production EV, the i3. The i3 is really generation one in e-mobility for BMW and that's the car that will have to endure extreme scrutiny by the media. I'd like to think my experiences (and my wife's!) with the MINI-E and soon the ActiveE will play a role in making the i3 a better car, if so then all this has been more than worth it.  

Monday, October 24, 2011

New York City National Plug-In Day EVent!


A Chevy Volt, a Nissan LEAF, my MINI-E, a Tesla Roadster & a Plug-in Prius in succession 

Sunday, October 16th, 2011 marked the first National Plug-In day in America. Events were held in 29 different cities across America to celebrate the fact that the OEM's are finally giving us a choice in what fuel we choose to use for our personal transportation. We can finally choose domestically produced electricity over foreign oil and that was reason to celebrate.

The T-shirts made for the event trumpet "Welcome to the Free World"! As someone who drives an electric car and powers it with electricity I produce from my solar array on the roof of my home, I can really appreciate that statement. It's really liberating knowing I drive my car on sunshine, and in doing so I don't send my hard earned money to foreign regimes(many of which hate America), my vehicle is truly a zero emission vehicle, and last but not least, I'm saving a lot of money on fuel.

There were 20 electric vehicles in attendance including Michael Thwaite's Tesla(parked next to my MINI-E), Douglas Stansfield's Plug-in Prius, a LEAF, many volts (including one used by the NYPD), electric motorcycles, a converted Mazda, a Ford Transit Connect electric delivery van, and a few electric trucks. Clipper Creek, an EVSE manufacturer was also there.

Nate Pinsley addresses the crowd
According to Nate Pinsley, the event organizer, we had 1,200 visitors and 38 volunteers(including me) and had five hours of nothing but EV talk and demonstrations. Michael Thwaite had his Tesla Roadster parked next to my MINI-E and we were both barely able to talk by the end of the afternoon. We had talked to so many people all afternoon we were exhausted by the 4:00 end of the event. Michael and I frequently attend EV events so we are quite used to this kind of demonstration, but this was bigger than what we are used to doing and there were more people that had EV questions here, so we really didn't have a break all afternoon.


It was a great day, the first National Plug-in Day ever, with many more to come. In fact, we are going to start planning National Plug-in Day 2012 soon as with more and more EV's on the road, the event will certainly grow each year. I'll be at the 2012 event with my BMW ActiveE, and by then LEAF's will be available in the NY/NJ market as will be Ford Focus EV's and Mitsubishi i's. The electric car movement is certainly gaining ground, and the level of interest from the people that attended the event was really fantastic. Events like this really help the public get over any initial fears they may have about EV's. Talking to people like and Michael and I that have lived with electric cars for over two years really helps people realize that an electric car can work, and maybe is the right choice for them.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Montclair Becomes One of The First Municipalities in New Jersey With Public Charging Stations


Montclair New Jersey, the town my restaurant in located in recently installed four public charging stations. Of course I have been advocating this every time I get the chance to talk to anyone in the township government that is willing to listen. However Gray Russell, the township's environmental affairs coordinator, didn't need my prodding, he had applied for a grant for four public charging stations financed by Sustainable Jersey and Walmart and was the recipient of the grant.

Randy Solomon 
This week Gray hosted a Green Fleets Workshop that was coordinated by Sustainable Jersey (www.sustainablejersey.com) and the NJ Clean Cities Coalition. Participants were municipal, county, and corporate fleet managers from northern NJ.  Randy Solomon works with Sustainable Jersey an he was the event facilitator and Montclair & Gray were the host. Representatives from NJ DEP were also there as presenters.

After the meeting, Gray wanted to show everyone the newly installed chargers and he asked me to stop by with #250 and say a few words. Everything went really well and the guests were already pretty well informed about EV's which is not something I usually encounter. I even let Randy take MINI-E #250 for a spin around the parking lot and he was impressed.

It's really great to see public charging stations slowly becoming available. The EV future really looks bright.




Saturday, October 1, 2011

MINI-E Meetup Attracts Some Other Plug-ins


Today I hosted what will in all likelihood be the final MINI-E meetup on the East Coast. I've done three meetups here at my restaurant during the time the MINI-E program has been ongoing. Now that we only have about two months left I wanted to host one more, kind of like a farewell to the MINI-E. In about 2 1/2 months, the 30 month MINI-E program will come to an end, just as the BMW ActiveE electric car program begins.

MINI-E pioneers Cliff Saunders, Michael Thwaite, Chris Neff, Timothy Schwartz and David Miller were in attendance as was BMW representatives Marian Hawryluk and Hugo VanGeem. Marian has come to every MINI-E meet I have hosted and Hugo has made the past two and their presence is definitely appreciated. It's nice to have people here that can answer questions and provide us with program information. They do this on their own time, it isn't required for their job. They genuinely want to be there to listen to what we have to say about our MINI-E experiences and offer support and they should be commended. My personal experience in the MINI-E program has definitely been enriched by the BMW employees involved in the electric vehicle division. The whole BMW EV team is really working hard to make the 2013 BMW i3 the best EV on the market when it is launched.
Aside from the MINI-E's, the meetup attracted some other plug-ins. We had an awesome black Tesla Roadster stop by as well as a plug-in Prius. After hanging outside in the parking lot for about an hour, we went inside Nauna's and sat down to a nice lunch. We talked a lot about the MINI-E program as well as the BMW ActiveE and other EV related topics.

Cliff Saunders drove 90 miles to get to the meetup so he needed to use my 50amp EVSE to replenish his battery pack. The timing was perfect and just as we were finishing the meeting, his car was fully charged and ready to go. That's the great thing about charging 50 amps at 12 kW, it only takes 3 1/3 hours to fully charge a depleted pack. For comparison, if Cliff had come in a Nissan LEAF, he would have had to wait about seven to eight hours to recharge it, since the fastest the LEAF can charge at is 3.3 kW. 
We finished of the meeting with a MINI-E plug dressed cake(OK it wasn't perfect!) and I think everyone had a great time. The day was a little bittersweet though. The MINI-E is such a wonderful car and we are going to really miss them. I know the BMW ActiveE will be a much more polished EV and I just know I'm going to really love it, but I will always remember my days with #250 fondly. This fantastic little car really proved to me that electric drive is not only possible, but I now believe it will eventually replace internal combustion powered vehicles. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

100 Mostly Highway Miles Still Possible After 65K

I'm still getting over 100 miles of range after driving over 65,000 miles

Yesterday I set out with my wife for a shopping destination that was about 40 miles from my house, certainly no range problem for the MINI-E. However when we got there we realized this wasn't the place we wanted and a quick search on my mobile device indicated that there was another place that was ten miles further that would better suit what we were looking for.

That would bring the round trip to 100 miles, just about what I feel comfortable doing in the MINI-E without recharging. However this trip was just about all highway driving, and I wasn't driving conservatively (slowly) since I didn't think I needed to because I had only planned on driving about 80 miles. I didn't think twice about continuing onward though. In my twenty seven months with the MINI-E, I have never run out of charge and needed to be towed. The car has never let me down even though I pushed it way passed zero miles on the range meter many times. The funny thing is, I think I'm almost hoping to run out one day before I turn it back in this December when the MINI-E program ends and the BMW ActiveE lease program begins.

I have done so many things with this fantastic little car. I've pushed it to its limits many times. I've learned a lot about energy consumption and how to drive as efficiently as possible. I've driven it 131 miles on a single charge and I've seen my range plummet to about 60 miles when driving on bitter cold, snow covered roads. I've pulled up to a gas station and told the attendant to "fill er up" and watched as he walked around the car looking confused.  I have listened to countless journalists write about how terrible these cars are because they will leave their occupants stranded alongside roads all across the country. I know it may sound crazy but I feel like I almost owe it to myself to run out of juice one day before I give it back.

So when the decision to go home or carry on came up I didn't even think twice. I knew I'd be pushing the limit once more, and that  by driving 100 miles with about 80 of them at highway speeds (65-70mph) I wasn't guaranteed to make it home. The car has over 65,000 miles on it and I have recharged it 1,230 times so far so surely battery degradation at some level has taken place, even if it's not evident in my everyday driving. Would this be the test that the car finally failed?


We'll as you know it didn't let me down. I made it home but I did drive the last three miles with the range meter at zero. It didn't go into limp-mode so I still had a few more miles left, possibly up to ten before it would have rolled to a slow stop. So for now there is still one thing I haven't experienced with my MINI-E. I'm not going to intentionally drive it until it runs out, but I definitely will continue to push the limit if I need to drive far on occasion. If it happens, it happens. I'll then be able to check one more thing off my electric car bucket list.

Friday, September 23, 2011

East Coast MINI-E Pioneers Meet Up Set for October 1st!

MINI-E's lined up for the first MINI-E Meet up back in 2009

If you drive a MINI-E in New York or New Jersey then save the date! Next Saturday, October 1st, I am hosting what will in all probability be the final formal meet up of the East Coast MINI-E pioneers.

As excited as many of us MINI-E pioneers are about the possibility of getting a BMW ActiveE in a couple months, the thought of returning these cars that we have all grown so fond of is really saddening. However we all knew the day would come. We have in fact been allowed to keep the cars for much longer than originally promised. We all signed on for a one year closed end lease, but much to our approval BMW extended the program for another year, then for another six months for a total of 30 months. Of course nobody was required to remain in the program and many returned the cars after the first year. Most people that I know that returned their car after the initial 12 month lease did so for financial reasons, not because they didn't enjoy their time with it.

I've hosted two MINI-E meet up already, and the West Coast pioneers out in California have also had a few meets also. However with the program ending in early December, this will probably be the last one, at least for the East Coast MINI-E group. So if you're one of the lucky people here on the East Coast that is driving a MINI-E, please make sure to stop by. The plan is to meet in the parking lot for the first hour (11am to 12pm) and then move inside for lunch and to have a more formal meeting. There will be BMW representatives in attendance to answer questions, listen to our recommendations and hopefully provide some information about the upcoming BMW ActiveE lease program that most of us will be a part of.

I have a 50amp EVSE at the restaurant for anyone that needs to charge up. If you are coming and will need to use the charger, please leave a message or email me as I need to plan a schedule for charging so everyone knows their charge time slot. If you don't NEED to use it, please don't. There will be people that can't make it home without recharging. You may also come early in the day if you would like and charge up before everyone else gets here. There is plenty to see in Montclair that's within walking distance while your car is charging.

Here's the event details:

Where: Nauna's Bella Casa, 148 Valley Rd, Montclair, NJ 07042
When: Saturday, October 1st, 11am to 2pm