Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Another Fill-Up

Unfortunately, It's taking longer than hoped to get #250 back. I Haven't driven it in 11 days now and I had to fill up the Dodge Ram loaner truck again last night. Another $55 bites the dust. Hopefully the Mini-E "flying Doc's" (their description, not mine) can diagnoses the problem and make the necessary repairs. I'm sure the technicians that repair the MINI-E's are more engineer and less mechanic and have been involved in the MINI-E process from the beginning so they should know the car inside and out. I'm also sure that my problem is cold temperature related and this might be the first time they had to deal with problems caused by low temperature. I just hope that once I get the car back there aren't constant problems until the temperatures here get above 45 degrees or so. For all the great things about this car, the obvious weak link in its design is the battery temperature management, or lack thereof. I'm sure this was addressed in BMW's ActiveE. I'm really curious to see what they did and how much better it performs in the cold. This is a major hurdle for electric cars to overcome is the ever want to be sold outside of Southern California or Florida where it's warm all the time.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Loaner car = Pain at the Pump

With MINI-E #250 in for service, I have the pleasure of driving a Dodge Ram 4X4 pick up provided by Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Morristown MINI uses Enterprise for their main source of loaners while their customers have their vehicles in for service. I've already gone on record as being against this policy so I'm not going to rant about it again, but I do wish they would use MINI's as their loaner cars, I certain their customers would have a more positive opinion on the service experience if they did.

Anyway, I knew the time would come when I would have to go to a dreaded gas station with the truck and fill up sooner or later. As you can see above, It cost me $60 bucks (it is Christmas Day so I had to give the guy $1 tip, right?) for a little over 22 gallons. I got it with a full tank and I drove 330 miles so I got a whopping 14.9mpg! These same 330 miles in the MINI-E would have cost me $9-$10 in electric.

It's kind of ironic that I have such a huge, gas guzzling vehicle as the loaner car while my electric car is being serviced. It was the only vehicle Enterprise had left and they couldn't switch it with anything else, so I guess this week OPEC wins.

I really have enjoyed not going to gas stations in my six months with the MINI-E so far. I certainly don't miss paying $40 bucks or so every 4 or 5 days , but what I really don't miss is giving my hard earned money to the giant oil cartels. I know every time I fill up some small amount of that money is getting sent overseas to some Islamic fundamentalist regime that wants to kill me. Yeah, electric generated from burning coal isn't the cleanest source of energy, but at least the people working the coal mines in Wyoming, North Dakota & Pennsylvania aren't funneling part of their profits to radical groups plotting terrorist attacks on the US.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Grinch Stole Christmas!

Look at him. All green and hunched over. Chuckling at himself as he loads up my MINI-E and whisks it off so it won't be in my garage on Christmas morning.

Well, he's not exactly the Grinch, but as far as I'm concerned he might as well be. Unfortunately MINI-E #250 needed to be towed to Morristown MINI this morning. The red battery icon came on last night when I was trying to charge it. I hoped that it might reset itself overnight, but it wasn't to be so I had to call the Grinch and let him do his dirty work.

I believe I am partially to blame for the problem which I think was caused by allowing the batteries to get too cold. During the past three weeks it's been really cold and I managed to keep the batteries above 50 degrees at all times, except for one time when it went down to 49 degrees. It wasn't much a problem because I drive a lot and I charge frequently, both actions bring the battery temperature up significantly. As long as you don't let the car sit in the cold for a long time (24 hours or so) without using it I believe the temperature will stay high enough that it won't cause any problems. The battery pack is very dense so it will retain heat for quite some time. The problem is that I didn't use the car since early Friday morning. I drive the car a lot ( I have 17,700 miles on it already) but the past two days we had a big snowstorm so I was driving my truck that has a plow. That, plus it's incredibly busy at the restaurant so I've been working 15 hour days and I didn't have time to make sure the car had some use. When I came home from work at 11:45 pm on Sunday, I turned the car on to check the charge status and record some data. Everything seemed fine; the car turned on and the state of charge was at 55%. I did notice the battery temperature was 43 degrees. I had never seen it so low, but since the car started, I figured I was in the clear. I then plugged it in to charge it up overnight. It started charging fine but after about a minute shut off. I was still in the garage so I realized that it stopped charging. I unplugged the cable and plugged it back in. This time it only charged for about 5 seconds and shut off again. This time the dreaded red battery icon lit up on the charge gauge and I knew I was in trouble.

When I woke up in the morning I checked it again and the red battery icon was still lit, just for kicks I plugged in the charger again but again, nothing happened. I then popped the hood and closed it. I understand that by raising the hood, the high voltage system shuts off so I thought by opening and closing it I might reset something, but nothing changed. As a final attempt, I bought out a portable electric heater and placed it in the cabin of the car, blowing directly into the air vents to the battery compartment. After about two hours, the cabin was as hot as a beach in Aruba but the red battery icon was still lit and I needed to call the Grinch. He arrives in about 35-40 minutes and whisked #250 away.

During the afternoon I got a call from Morristown MINI. They wanted to know if I was charging or parking the car outside. I told them that the car has been in the garage since I last drove it. Evidently, they had two other MINI-E's towed in for the same problem as mine but they were both parked outside that past day or so. My garage does get cold even though it's attached to my house. I recently bought an electric garage heater but I have not had time to install it yet. It has a built in thermostat so I can set it at 45-50 degrees. I think this will alleviate any future problems like this from occurring.

By now anyone following this blog knows I love the car and I'm very glad I applied to be in this trial lease. The one reservation(well two reservations, the other being the ridiculous high cost) was that I was concerned with how the cold weather would impact the batteries. I can live with a reduced range since I have two chargers, but hopefully I can keep the battery temperature high enough to avoid another incident like this. For all the great aspects of this car, the one glaring deficiency I have found so far is the battery temperature management. The car simply doesn't have one, (except for a fan that blows cabin air across the battery pack) and it would be a fatal flaw if they actually planned on producing and selling these. They don't, so it's not a problem except for the trial lease participants here on the cold East Coast. I know Tesla spent a lot of time and money working on the temperature management system in their roadster and GM is also paying a lot of attention to it while designing the upcoming Volt. I'm anxious to see what BMW has planned for the ActiveE they recently announced, I'm sure they have had their engineers working on this issue for quite some time now. They wouldn't make the same mistake twice now would they?

Friday, December 18, 2009

BMW introduces ActiveE Project i Vehicle

From the beginning we were told that BMW was never going to make a production version of the MINI-E and that the purpose of this trial lease program was to gather information for a future four seat BMW that had a been rumored to be called the Megacity. Many of us in the program wondered what did BMW have up their sleeve. Every now and then you would see an artists rendering of a guess of what the car might look like, but never anything from BMW. Well, we just got what we were waiting for and everyone that I have talked with likes what we see. Detailed information on the ActiveE can be found at this link. I noticed in one of the pictures that it has the same plug as our MINI-E's do which means the wall chargers and cables that the MINI-E trial lease participants have will charge the ActiveE. Hmmm, it would be real easy for BMW to let MINI-E trial lease participants do some real world testing of the ActiveE. Also, it would be a nice gesture to reward us for paying $850/month to help gather information for them. We all have installed, approved and working wall chargers (I have 2 of them) so that would allow BMW to quickly get these on the road without the hassle and cost of permitting and installing new wall chargers. Just in case I'm not making myself clear enough, I would GLADLY offer to do a trial run of an ActiveE would the offer come my way. I say that on the odd chance that some BWM execs might happen across this blog....

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

MINI-E passes the icy road test!

On Sunday, December 13th, as I was driving to work at 9:45am, I drove through a rare occurrence where the conditions were perfect and the roads iced up almost instantly without any warning. During my 31 mile drive, I witnessed about 10 accidents but drove by at least 40 cars that had skidded off the road before I got there. Shortly after I made it through the troubled area, the NJ State Police closed the roads that I was on for a short period until the ice melted. Let me explain:

Every once in a while the conditions are just right for this to happen and when it does, all hell breaks loose and there are literally hundreds of accidents within minutes. It happens when the temperature is right around 32 degrees and it starts raining. The temperature up in the air must be warm enough so the rain doesn't freeze but then a quick temperature drop at ground level freezes the water on the roadways without warning and the roads become treacherous. My journey began from my home in Chester. I drove 10 miles on route 24 through Mendham and Morristown without incident as it was raining and the roads were just wet. When I got to the exit ramp for route 287 I eased off the accelerator and allowed the regenerative braking to slow me down as I always do but the car sensed the wheels slipping and quickly disengaged the regenerative braking. This probably saved me from sliding off the road and into a tree. I instantly realized what was happening and just steered the car through the turn since I wasn't going fast. Anyone that has the displeasure of driving on icy roads knows the worst thing to do is panic and hit the brakes.

My first thought is wow, these new snow tires aren't as good as I thought they would be, I almost lost it there. But it didn't take me long to see I was in the middle of something big, not just a typical patch of ice. As I drove down route 287 the instrument light that tells you the tires are slipping kept coming on so I slowed down to about 40 mph. A big black Chevy Tahoe came up behind me and since I wasn't going fast enough for him he started to pass me. As he passed on the left, I slowed down even more to let him get by and as he got in front of me, the Tahoe slid sideways right in front of my path, off the road and into the trees. As I looked at his car, I heard a horn beeping and I looked up just in time to see a car sliding quickly behind me and about to hit me from the rear. I quickly turned into the fast lane without even looking and the car slid right by me and also off the road. Now I knew exactly what I was in the middle of so I slowed down to about 20mph, put on my flashers and continued along. I was afraid that if I tried to stop someone would just slide into me.

People were sliding of the road and into each other the whole way. I counted 8 cars on their roofs off the side of the road and at least 40 damaged cars along the way. After a while I figured I should take some pictures or nobody will believe just how bad it really was. I felt like I was John Cusack in the movie 2012 as I was driving and avoiding accidents all around and watching car after car slide off the road or into another car, some sliding off the road and rolling multiple times. The next day I was talking to a customer that was on route 280 about 10 minutes after I was and he was in the middle of a 15 car pileup as the cars just kept sliding and crashing into each other.

I made it through unscathed but I'm sure that it was just as much luck as it was the fact that I quickly realized what was happening and acted appropriately. I must say I was really impressed with how the car handled this extreme event. When the entire road surface suddenly ices up it is much worse that when it's snowing because most people don't realize what's happening until it's too late. I haven't seen that kind of road conditions for a few years and I hope I don't have to drive in it ever again.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Yeah it's THAT cold

The temperature gauge read 19 degrees when I left for work today. The battery temp was 49 degrees which is just about as cold as I've seen it so far. After about ten minutes of driving the battery temperature got up to 65 degrees which is still low, but not so low that my range will suffer too much. My garage is insulated and it is always much warmer than outside but it still gets pretty cold when the temperature is this low outside. I just bought a garage heater that I will install sometime in the next couple weeks. I always wanted to get a garage heater, but it was never a pressing issue until now. I'm worried that when the outside temperatures get down under 10 degrees the battery temp will drop under 40 degrees overnight and that will really diminish their strength and thus cut further into my range. I'm not even sure the car will start if the battery temperature drops below 40. I vaguely remember a BMW representative telling me that 40 was basically the limit and anything lower than that is uncharted waters and they don't know what the car will do if the batteries get that cold. I'll set the thermostat to about 45 -50 degrees so the garage will never get colder than that. That should keep the battery temp above 60 since it will be charging overnight and that raises the temp a little. I suspect this will help keep my range from taking such a beating in the winter. So far I have seen my range per charge drop from 100-110 miles to 75-85 miles in this extreme cold so I want to do whatever I can to help the batteries maintain as high a temperature as possible. Even taking the car out for a short drive during the day rather than letting it sit in the parking lot all day without use can make a difference. The trick is to try to not let the batteries get too cold because they will lose the ability to accept a charge and even a short drive can raise the battery temperature 10 to 15 degrees. Parking the car in a sunny place is also helpful because even in the winter when it's cold out the cars cabin will be noticeably warmer if it's parked in the sunlight. I knew this was coming, and all I can say is that it's going to be an interesting 3 months..

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wall Charger Passes Inspection! FINALLY!

It's been over five months since my wall charger was installed in my home and it finally passed inspection by the Chester Township electrical inspector. I don't want to rehash the issues the inspector had with it and why he originally failed it, I have written about it more than a few times on this blog already so if any is really interested, just look up the previous posts on the subject. What matters most is that six months to the day that I took possession of the car I finally have an approved, working wall charger in my garage. Richard Steinberg of BMW will sleep well tonight once he reads this post.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Looks like I had the free snow tires that MINI offered put on just in time. Less than a week later I'm getting to test them out. There isn't much accumulation, but the roads are slippery and so far the car is doing just fine. I haven't noticed any difference from a conventional internal combustion engine vehicle at all. The regenerative braking hasn't presented any problems as it disengages when the car senses the front wheels slipping. As with any vehicle regardless of the propulsion system, when the weather conditions are less than optimal, you need to drive with caution and be extra alert.

Friday, December 4, 2009

New Wall Charger (sticker included)

A couple day's ago I had the electrical contractor that installed my wall charger come back and install a new wall charger. The first one worked fine, there were no functional issues at all. The problem was it didn't have a sticker on it that said it was tested as a complete unit and my local electrical inspector failed it when he did the inspection. This has turned out to be the single biggest problem MINI has had to deal with in the whole program. In fact, there are rumors that Richard Steinberg of BMW wakes up at night in cold sweats screaming "It has the sticker, it has the sticker" but this has not yet been confirmed.
There are somewhere between 450 and 500 Mini-E's on the road now and only a handful have had inspectors fail them over this issue. Basically, the problem comes from the fact that the wall charger and the cable that is attached to it were both tested and approved by Underwriters Labs, but they were tested separately and not a complete unit and some of the New Jersey inspectors would not accept it. None of the 100 or so chargers in New York failed and I think only 1 or 2 out of the 250 in California failed. The crazy thing is, the new charger is EXACTLY the same as the one they took away other than a shiny sticker on the cable. In fact, the "bad" charger that was taken away will go back to the factory where they will put the sticker on the cable and ship it out to be used again, but now it's safe because of the sticker. That's one powerful sticker, let me tell you. I'm now scheduled for re-inspection next week, lets hope the sticker does it's magic and we can finally put this charger issue to rest.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mini-E meets a cousin

My wife and I stopped for bagels this morning at the Bagel Pantry in Metuchen, NJ and when I pulled into the parking lot I noticed a man and a woman stare at the car and walk right over as soon as we got out. "All electric right?" he asked, followed by "how much power?" I told him 205 horsepower, but he quickly responded, "No, how much battery power" This wasn't just a casual EV fan I was dealing with, these were experienced EV owners and knew all the right questions to ask like what kind of batteries, what's their weight and so on. He told me he owns a Corbin Sparrow and loves it. I wasn't 100% sure what that was, but it sounded familiar and I figured I'd look it up when I got home so my wife and I went inside and had our bagels. When we got out we saw that they had gone home and brought back the Sparrow to show us. I took one look and said to myself "That's a Myers NMG". I then asked Phil and Jen, the owners "Isn't that a Myers?" Phil explained that the original company was Corbin and when they went bankrupt Myers bought the assets and continued the line. They recently introduced a new two seat version that looks much more modern and refined both inside and out. Anyway, this car has three wheels and only one seat. It has lead acid batteries that weigh over 800lbs and can take the car about 40 miles per charge. Just as a quick comparison the MINI-E's lithium ion battery pack weighs only 600 lbs and can take the much bigger and heavier MINI about 100 miles per charge. We chatted for a while more, took some pictures and we all agreed this is exciting times for electric vehicles. I know I've said it before, but one of the best parts of being in the Mini-E trial lease is that I keep meeting new and interesting people that want to talk about the car and the EV industry in general. That's been a bonus I really didn't expect when I signed up.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

15,000 miles in 5 months? How can that be?

Battery Electric Vehicles are little more than glorified golf carts that can be used for short trips and local city driving, right?
Battery Electric Vehicles really can't be used by people that do a lot of freeway driving or drive a lot of miles on a regular basis, right?
Battery Electric Vehicles are interesting, but they're not ready for prime-time just yet.


Then explain to me how I've managed to drive a Battery Electric Mini-E 15,000 miles in five months. I'm averaging over 700 miles a week and most of the miles (about 65%) are at freeway speeds. This glorified golf cart has been my primary means of transportation since the end of June and it has done just about everything my internal combustion engine Toyota can do for me. No it cannot drive 200 miles without stopping for fuel, but during the past five months I have only needed to drive more than the Mini's range about 5 times. I do understand that would pose a problem for single-car families, but I'm not here saying BEV's will work for everyone. I am saying they will work for most. I'm on track to put about 33,000 miles on the car this year, and that's more miles than about 95% of the population drives in a year. Part of the reason I have been able to drive so many miles is that I am able to plug in and charge up while I'm at work and I realize many do not have that option. I figure that has added about 15% more miles than I would have been able to do if I couldn't charge up, so I still could have driven close to 30,000 miles charging only at home, which is also way more than the average person drives in a typical year.

The point here is, BEV's are ready for prime-time. BMW slapped the MINI-E together in a couple of months by retrofitting an ICE Mini Cooper with mostly "off the shelf" parts. Can you imaging how much better the car would be if it was designed from the ground up as a BEV? If they took a couple years of research and built dozens of prototypes to work out the bugs and refine the final product? How much better the range would be if they spent more time improving the battery temperature management, reduced the weight by 500lbs and increased the aerodynamics?

Sure there are challenges, with charging infrastructure at the forefront and battery longevity up there too, but it's time to realize these cars can be made and driven just like their ICE counterparts, and oh yeah, people do want them. I can't believe how many people have stopped me to talk about the car and ask me questions about range, charging locations, cost, battery life, etc. I really didn't expect to find so many people energized about the prospect of being able to purchase an electric car sometime soon. I've been following the progress of EV's for a while now, but I didn't think there were so many others as interested in them as I am.

There has been a lot of talk about just what the MINI-E program is about. Some have questioned the true intent of BMW and the program. Was it only to satisfy the California Air Resource Boards ZEV mandate or was this a legitimate fact finding experiment. I don't know what BMW is up to but I can tell you that my time with the car has proven to me that I can live with an electric car as my daily driving vehicle, even though I drive over 30,000 miles annually. I also know that I have given dozens of test drives to friends, family and even strangers that were interested in the car and virtually everyone left impressed and said they would definitely consider buying an EV if one were available. Hopefully, BMW and the other auto manufacturers will follow Nissan's lead and give us what we want.

Thanks for reading my rant and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Free Snow Tires From MINI USA

I recently received an email from MINI USA that announced they would be installing winter tires on the fleet of MINI-E cars in New York and New Jersey (sorry California, but you don't need them anyway) at no cost. I called Morristown MINI a couple days later to set up the appointment and they didn't know anything about it. Seems I was the first to call about them. After waiting on hold for a few minutes while they made some phone calls, I was told that I was right and that they just confirmed it with MINI. They didn't get the tires yet so I made an appointment in two weeks which will coincide with my third scheduled service anyway so they can do both services in the same visit. I'm not sure if MINI is being nice to us or if they just don't want us crashing up their expensive electric cars when it snows. Whatever the motive, I'm happy. Thanks MINI!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Nissan LEAF goes on tour

Nissan threw down the gauntlet when they announced earlier this year they they will be the first major auto manufacturer to sell a 100% electric vehicle. This was great news for supporters of EVs, but it got even better when the details got out. Nissan plans to sell hundreds of thousands of LEAFs, not a small limited release to gauge public interest. They have gone all-in, and are betting that people want these cars now and are willing to deal with the obvious limitations they will be faced with like range and infrastructure problems. Nissan also announced they they will be investing 1 billion dollars in a new Lithium Ion battery plant in Tennessee and retooling their existing facility to build the LEAF there.

Why am I posting this on my MINI-E blog? Well, there is life after #250's lease is up and although I will not be happy, I knew going in that this was a trial lease program and would end with me giving the car back at some point. I'll keep the MINI longer if that becomes an option, but MINI USA has not announced if they will, and if so, at what cost as that will be an big issue as the current $850/month is unsustainable for most of the participants I've spoken to. Whatever the decision on lease extensions from MINI, there will be a time when I have to give it back, so my dilemma is what's my next move? Originally I was planning on getting a Chevy Volt, a plug in battery electric vehicle with an on board gasoline powered range extending generator, and still may buy one after all. However after driving the MINI-E what I really want is an all electric car with no gasoline at all. I really like that I never have to stop at a gas station. I don't even know what the current gas prices are, and I couldn't care less. Nissan has stepped up and stuck their neck out with this car and I want to support them for taking this huge gamble and giving us what we have been asking for since before the EV1: the ability to OWN an electric car that hasn't been made in some small specialty shop with little or no warranty with a major company to stand behind it for servicing.

For a while I wondered what it would be like to drive an electric car, and I want to thank MINI for making that happen and including me in this trial lease. I'm so impressed with the car I would buy it if they would sell it to me, but it doesn't look like that will be an option. Maybe we will get some news soon about the BMW Megacity EV that is supposed to be available in 2012 or 2013, but there really have been no details released at all so it's hard to get excited about it much less plan on buying one. The LEAF is an interesting vehicle, while it's not exactly what I would like it to be, it is still the only 100% electric option so I may find myself in a Nissan dealership someday with my checkbook and an extension cord.

So look for #250 and me to be at the New York City stop on the Nissan Leaf 22 city tour between February 8th & 14th. I'll make sure I get there one of those days to show my support for EVs as well as get a preview of what may well be my next car.

Monday, November 9, 2009

MINI-E East Coast Meet Up #2 details

The second MINI-E East Coast meet up was held at Nauna's Bella Casa in Montclair, NJ on Sunday, November 8th from 1:00pm to 3:00pm. The meet went very well, as we had 14 MINI-E pioneers, two MINI representatives and a surprise guest, a Tesla roadster. We all chatted for awhile outside and then moved into the restaurant to a fine lunch of pizza, wraps, fried calamari and shrimp. When we were finished, we were treated to a custom made MINI-E cake (see picture) prepared by a friend of mine, Linda Viscardi. It was great to see some of the other MINI-E participants as well as Marian & Hugo from MINI, whose attendance is really appreciated.
Here's a rundown of the attendees:

Stuart Greenberg (#277), Paul Heitman (#484), Chris Neff (#402), Ian Stocks (#495), Gordon Miller (#217), Robert Hooper (#304), Cliff Saunders (#249), Justin Stokes (#368), Paul Eng (#339), Jim Mclaughlin (#458), Ken Barbour (#466), Tim Gill (#486), me (#250) & Don Young (#364) who unfortunately got stuck in New York City traffic and arrived just as everyone was leaving but stayed for a while to chat.
Plus Marian Hawryluk and Hugo VanGeem from MINI USA and Michael and Pamela, the owners of Tesla roadster #T566.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Power Hungry

There is one thing that all of us in the MINI-E program have faced at one time or another and that's we need to go further than the range of our cars will allow. Some of us on the East Coast are now facing the reality that we can no longer travel as far as we could the first four months we had the cars due to the effect lower temperatures have had on the battery pack. Even with the reduced range the car will still go 75-85 miles comfortably, which is usually plenty for most daily commutes. The problem is what do you do if you need to go further on a particular day? Well basically there are two choices: You can either use your 2nd car that has an ICE, or find somewhere to charge up during your day. The easiest choice is to simply use your other car. Maybe let your spouse use the MINI-E that day, given they have a shorter commute. If only it were that easy. I'm hooked on the car, I admit it. I want to drive it everyday, not just when it's easy to do it. Luckily for me, when MINI offered 2nd wall chargers I jumped right on it and got one to install where I work. This allows me the freedom to basically drive the car just about anywhere I want to because I can always charge up, whether I'm at home or at work. Since I got the second wall charger I have been averaging 120 miles a day and range anxiety is mostly a thing of the past.

However others in the program aren't as lucky and didn't have the opportunity to install a second charger where they work so they are basically limited to traveling less than 45 to 50 miles from their home or they won't be able to make it back. In California there are a limited number of public charging stations for EVs but I don't think many of them are compatible with the MINI-E plug. Here on the East, public charging stations simply don't exist...yet, but I understand that may change in the near future. Until there are plenty of convenient public charging stations, EV owners will have to be creative if they want to drive for extended ranges. The other option is charger sharing. One of the MINI-E trial lease participants created a website where others in the program could register their home charger and allow others to contact them if they were in the area in need of a charge. Don Young of Shelter Island, NY recently used the website to hook up with over a dozen chargers and complete his "MINI-E Tour" of 1,019 miles before he returned home! He stopped about 20 times to charge up at various locations and basically traveled to the northern, southern, western and eastern most chargers that are in the program (and plenty in between). He stopped and used both of my chargers on different days to complete his mission. Charger sharing is the most effective way to extend your range, but it's not the only way. I'm obviously not the only one who doesn't want to use their other car on days they have to drive further than the car's range will allow. That is evident by the fact that some others in the program have found that the car will charge perfectly fine without the wall box and are willing to "break the rules" and have made their own portable charging systems. You won't find any evidence of this on the blogs or the MINI-E Facebook groups because it is highly against the rules, but I kind of believe MINI knows this is happening and since they really can't monitor or stop it they have no choice but to look the other way. These "outlaws" have been able to charge on the fly at any location where they can reach a 220V outlet with a 40amp line and thus enable trips further from home than any of the rest of us can make. RV parks, for example have available outlets like this for motor homes to plug into while they stay there.

It's all about the power, we need power. Not Gordon Gekko or Bernie Madoff type power mind you, it's the juice that fuels our cars that I'm talking about. These cars are so much fun to drive that we want to drive them more than the range will allow and many of us just won't accept it. I know I didn't want to. Before MINI announced that they would provide a limited number of second wall chargers I had already contacted the manufacturer directly about purchasing one or more additional charging units. Back in June when I first got the car and I didn't have a wall charger yet I consulted a friend who is an electrical engineer about building me a portable cable with a 220v plug on the end so I could charge up on the fly, but luckily the wall charger came and I wasn't tempted to pursue that anymore.

It's really MINI's fault here, so don't blame us if you hear about people breaking the rules to get their electric "fix."  MINI gave us the drugs in the first place, and now we're hooked. Electric drive is addictive, and I can't wait until the day when we are all "users."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

MINI-E Meet-Up Part Two is set for Nov. 8th

Calling all East Coast MINI-E field trial participants! On Sunday, November 8th at Nauna's Bella Casa, 148 Valley Road in Montclair, NJ we will be holding the second East Coast MINI-E group meeting. The first meeting we had on August 22nd was a very informative exchange of experiences and questions. There will be MINI representatives there to answer questions and to get feedback from us. Lunch will be served to the trial participants at NO COST. Please RSVP to me at: so I can plan the food side of the meeting and have a table set up for the group to meet at. Bring your stories, ideas, cameras, appetite and of course, your MINI-E! There is a 60amp charger on site to charge up before you head home.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What's up? Not our range.

Range. After cost, it is perhaps the most important feature of an EV. The range you can drive between recharging will determine if you can even consider buying an electric car. One of the problems with range is it's not constant and there are many variables that can affect it. The MINI-E trial participants on the East Coast like myself are beginning to realize just how fickle range can be.

The temperature is dropping in the NY/NJ metro area and unfortunately so is our range. During the summer when many of us were using the air conditioning in our cars we noticed a small decline in the vehicles range, maybe 2-3%, but it was so small none of us really complained and many didn't even notice at all. That's not the case now. One of the participants (#486) had to be towed home recently. After 87.8 miles, he could go no further. He was driving the same route to and from work that he did all summer with his "E", why now couldn't the car make it? The car couldn't make it because it was in the 30s most of the day here in NJ and his lithium-ion batteries were freezing their kilowatts off. Another (#304) realizes he'll be driving the car much less during the winter months just to make sure he doesn't need to be towed. I think most of us knew the cold weather would have an effect on our range, but just how much was the question. The fact that the weather dropped so quickly also made it more surprising to see how much less we could go on a single charge. I've done a lot of research on EVs so I knew going into this that the winter months might be challenging, but even I was caught off guard by how quickly my range dropped. As I've posted a few days ago, I had a second wall charger installed at my business so I'll be fine. I can charge up any time I need to at work or home, but I'm the exception here as most of the others do not have that luxury while they are working. The reduced range has some of the participants worried that they may not be able to continue to use the car to commute to work and one person even told me that although they love the car, if they can't use it to drive to work they might as well give it back.

When I signed up for this I expected there to be problems. I new this was new technology and that MINI themselves really didn't know what to expect. I decided to do this to help advance the technology with the hopes of actually being able to buy an EV sometime in the near future. I had no idea how much fun the car would be to drive, that's been a pleasant suprise. I'm sure MINI knew there would be problems like this on the East coast. That's why they put 200 or so of us on the road here in the Northeast, to see how the batteries would fare in cold weather climates. If they are to eventually sell EVs, they can't just sell them in warm climates. The California participants are still driving around without any range issues, why would they, it's always freaking nice in Southern CA! Back here on the East though, some of us are getting worried. Perhaps MINI should have talked to the participants a little more about the potential issues before they issued the cars, just so everyone knew what to expect. While I knew there would be range issues in the cold, it seems that some of the others didn't and are really surprised and concerned now. I think an email to the East Coast participants a few weeks ago as a warning before the temperatures dropped would have been appropriate.

The Ugly Truth:
I have been keeping data on every trip I take since I got the car and I can see just when my range started dropping and just how much so. Up until October I had been averaging about 105 miles per charge. During that time I had single-charge trips of 120 & 123 miles and frequently drove over 110 miles. Since the beginning of October, I'm averaging 88 miles per charge, and only once hit 100 miles. On the day I did 100 miles, I drove the last 12 miles after my range indicator hit 0%. I thought for sure I'd be calling a tow truck myself, but luckily I made it home in reduced-power mode. On the colder days (those under 40 degrees) I'm only getting about 80 miles of driving range. That's almost a 25% reduction! What's going to happen when we get down under 20 degrees? I'm starting to wonder if the car will even work. Well, I'm in it for the long haul, regardless of how the cold punishes the batteries. I hope that whatever we go through this winter helps pave the way for better battery temperature management in future EVs. I'm confident I'll be able to make it back and forth to work now that I have a second charger at my disposal, and as I've said before, anyone in need of some juice can charge up whenever they need to at my restaurant, Nauna's Bella Casa, 148 Valley Road, Montclair, NJ.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's no MINI-E!

I dropped #250 off at Morristown MINI for the second scheduled service today and was handed the keys to a silver Dodge Caliber. Morristown MINI uses Enterprise Rent A Car for their loaners, a practice that while I'm sure is economically prudent leaves the customer a little disappointed. Many of the other MINI dealerships are partnered with BMW dealers so other MINI-E drivers (particularly on the West Coast) have had BMWs and ICE MINIs to drive during service. I hope the service doesn't take long because the smell of smoke in the Caliber is getting to me. Besides, I'm actually going to have to stop to buy gasoline, and that sucks. I'm not sure when the third scheduled service is but hopefully it won't be for a while. I miss the car already. I know it's going to be tough to give the car back at lease end, it's the most enjoyable car I've had in a long time.

BTW, I'll have a full report on the cold weather range issues posted tomorrow.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

10,000 Zero Emission Miles

A few days ago I passed 10,000 on the odometer. I've had the car since June 12th so it took me about four months to hit 10k. That's a lot of driving in four months. In fact, I don't know any other MINI-E trial lease participant who has driven more. I know the folks at AC Propulsion, the company that manufacturers the electronics and motor for the car have a car with more miles, but they've had the car longer and use it for testing. I wouldn't be surprised if there are others that have more, but they don't post on the MINI-E Facebook group or report on one of the known MINI-E blogs, so I haven't had the opportunity to talk to them about it.

What does that mean? Well, not really much other than I've been able to drive and enjoy my MINI-E more than most others. The car is such a joy to drive and knowing I'm not polluting as I drive makes it that much more enjoyable.

Some other facts from my 10,000 emission free miles:

I didn't have to purchase 555 gallons of gasoline (My Toyota Tacoma gets 18mpg)
At $2.50/gal that's about $1,400. Compared to the roughly $400 in electric I've spent to charge up which is a $1,000 fuel savings.

I didn't have to get three oil changes, a savings of about $180.00 and I didn't generate 18 quarts of used motor oil that needs to be recycled.

I didn't have to stop for gas about 32 times. That would have added up to over five hours of wasted time sitting in my car at the pump.

I did get to meet a lot of interesting people who saw the car and had questions about it. I took many of them for test drives and every one loved the car and wished they had one.

I did start thinking more about energy efficiency both on the road and at home. I recently got some quotes on a 10KW solar electric system for my home and I going to have it installed soon.

I am looking forward to the next 10,000 miles.

With all the positives I've written about I'm sure by now anyone following this blog knows how much I really love the car and the whole "driving electric" experience. That being said the next entry might not be all praise. I, as well as the other MINI-E drivers on the East have been experiencing some problems with the cold weather that is setting in. Our range is down, actually way down. So much so that one of us had to be towed home a couple nights ago. He had gotten so accustomed to the usual range he could get and he didn't realize just how much the cold would diminish the driving range. Actually, I don't think any of us thought it would be so dramatic a drop. I've been collecting data on this subject and will issue a full report on my next post.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Christmas came early!

I received my 2nd wall charger today which I am installing at my restaurant in Montclair, Nauna's Bella Casa. This is really good news for me as it will significantly increase my daily range. I can "fill up" anytime now during the day so I don't have to allow for my 31 mile trip home every night. My round trip from Chester to Montclair is 63 miles so that left me with about 40 miles of driving during the day. Now I can drive to Montclair, top off, drive 100 miles or so and then charge up for the 31 mile drive home. I have agreed to allow any of the other MINI-E trial lease participants use of the charger during business hours at no cost, so if anyone is in need of a charge and is near Montclair come on over, I'll have it installed in a few days.

The only bad news I have to report is that with the cold weather starting to set in, I am seeing a noticeable reduction in driving range. The second wall charger may be more of a necessity than the luxury I originally thought it would be. Up until recently, I could expect to get 100 to 120 miles on a single charge, and I needed it because I drive about 95 miles a day. Lately, I'm really stretching it to get 90 -95 miles, and driving the last 5-8 miles with the car's charge indicator at 0%! I have to bring it in next week for the second scheduled service and I plan to ask them to look into the range issue. I'm hoping there is a problem they can fix, and that it's not just the cold weather that's causing the reduction in range. I'll write a post about this issue once I get the car back from service next week and by then I'll have more range data to examine.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The results are in...

Two months ago a started a poll here that asked the question: "Would you buy an electric car if it were comparably priced to a gas powered car." The poll recently closed and 355 people voted; the results are as follows:

Yes, definitely: 329 votes (93%)
No, not interested: 0 votes (0%)
Only with a 150 mi range: 18 Votes (5%)
Only with a 200 mi range: 8 Votes (2%)

What does this prove? Well, probably not much but it was interesting to see how little people voted for the 150 or 200 mile option. I'm sure everyone that is considering an EV has range as one of their top concerns, but that didn't translate in the voting as much as I expected. Now I know that visitors of this site are already interested in EVs so it was an unfair place to conduct a poll like this. I didn't expect to get many "no, not interested" votes, but not even one in the 60 days the poll was up. During that time the blog had about 2,500 visitors as it is averaging about 40 visits per day.

The only thing I can take from this is that although range is a major concern, people just want to opportunity to buy an electric car. Everyone that has been an advocate for EV's knows there will be problems in the early years of deployment. Limited range, unavailability of convenient charging stations, power supply issues at their homes etc. Even with all these obstacles it is clear that people want to have the option of electric drive vehicles for sale. Especially if they have ever had the opportunity do drive one already, like the other MINI-E drivers and I have had. Many of us keep in touch via social network sites like Facebook and blogs like this, and we all share a common desire to own an EV once the trial lease is over and Mini takes the cars back.

The only question is who will we buy from? Tesla? I'd buy a Type S tomorrow if is was available at the estimated $50,000 price tag. Nissan? The Leaf isn't my ideal vehicle, but the price sounds like it will be under $30.000 and if it's my only option, I'll do it even if the batteries are leased as rumored. BMW? We hear Project i is secretly working on a 4 seat, 3dr hatchback but nothing more than that with no real release date other than maybe 2012. Chevy? The Volt is a very interesting vehicle with the gasoline powered generator for extended range driving. I still need more details about the car's fuel efficiency. Don't believe the 230mph crap that GM announced, they did that with smoke and mirrors. I'll be very happy if the car gets 75mph in extended range mode. Fisker also has an extended range plug in like the Volt called the Karma. The car looks awesome and is a full size 4dr sedan. It is expected to be priced around $87,000 and have a 300 mile range. Smart is even making an electric version of their current model the Fortwo. I've driven an ICE Smart, I think I'll pass. There are others, but details are sketchy at best as far as price and availability. I think the auto makes finally get that we want these cars so it's going to be interesting to watch the next couple years as they bring EV's to market. I'm going to own one of them for sure. After driving the MINI-E for a while now, I'm sold on electric.

Oh yeah, and thanks to everyone that voted in the poll!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

My vanity plates have arrived!

Just in case driving an electric car isn't a strong enough statement, I thought I'd make my feelings clear. EF OPEC just about says it all...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

East Coast MINI-E Meet-Up; Part Deux!

The second MINI-E East coast meet-up is set for Sunday, November 8th from 1:00pm to 3:00pm. We will again be meeting at my restaurant, Nauna's Bella Casa, at 148 Valley Road, Montclair, NJ 07042. Reserve the date! More details will follow.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

EV Talk

About a month ago I wrote that the car has been getting more attention since I added the chrome emblems that read "electric vehicle." Well, the attention has definitely continued and I have talked with some really nice people recently who are excited about the future of EVs. I have had a lot of people beep and wave or give me a thumbs up while we are driving next to each other, and I have had the opportunity to talk with some others.

I was at a hand car wash last week and while I was waiting for the car to be finished a nice couple (Jerry & Ariel) asked me if the MINI-E was my car. They were driving a 2008 Cooper S and knew exactly what the car was. Jerry said that when he was shopping for his MINI he heard about the MINI-E trial lease and would have loved to apply but he needed to get a car then and the lease wasn't going to start for 8 months. He had never seen one on the road and had a lot of questions for me about using the car everyday. We talked about range, charging challenges, regen and both wondered about the effect the extreme cold will have on the batteries. He knew more about the car than anyone I have met so far that doesn't have one. After talking with me I could tell he wished he was able to wait and apply for a MINI-E. Then yesterday I was picking up some bagels in the morning. I parked the car outside the bagel store and when I got out and started to walk into the store I heard someone say, "Excuse me, is that car all electric?" I turned and saw a guy walking over to the car so I walked back and told him it was and gave him a quick explanation about the trial lease program. He told me that he was looking into the Tesla Type S but the uncertainty about when it would actually be available has tempered his enthusiasm. We then talked about the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Volt and even the Aptera vehicles that will be available soon to California residents. He knew a lot about the EV industry but he didn't know about the MINI-E. We chatted briefly and both swore that we would buy an electric car as soon as one is available with a decent range and somewhat reasonably priced when compared to its ICE competition.

One thing's for sure, since getting the MINI-E I have come to realize that there are a lot of people out there who really want an EV and will be willing to pay a premium for it once they are available. I have always read the internet blogs for EV enthusiasts and knew that they were out there, but driving the MINI-E has allowed me to meet and talk with them in person. I always thought there would be a market for electric cars, but seeing the reaction I get from people when they realize I'm actually driving one proves to me that there is.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The devil is in the infrastructure

If you talk to most people about EVs and ask them why they think there aren't really any available to purchase (unless you have $110,000 for a 2 two seat Tesla) chances are you'll get answers like, "Battery technology isn't there yet" or "Because big oil has spent tens of millions of dollars to keep them from being made available" or even "EVs require such little maintenance that auto manufacturers won't make them because they'll lose so much money on repairs." Over the past few years I have had a lot of conversations with friends and acquaintances on the very subject so I know what people think. Personally, I think all of those reasons have some degree of legitimacy, but having now been part of the MINI-E program I realize that perhaps the biggest hurdle is the infrastructure. MINI is struggling with different state and local electric codes and getting chargers installed for all of the participants has been more difficult than they anticipated. The auto manufacturers know this is going to be a big issue and require a lot of time and resources. This is going to add to the already high cost of making EVs because of the high cost of the batteries. Last week I posted about how New Jersey in particular has been a tough state for MINI to get the chargers approved for use in. It's such a new industry that I think some of the inspectors are being overly cautious when they inspect the chargers. In reality, the chargers are really not much more than a 220V outlet like you already have in your home for an electric range of clothes dryer. All the electronics that control the charging are built into the car. This is just one aspect of the infrastructure challenges the auto manufacturers will face as they develop and manufacturer EVs

Last week, at the California Air Resources Board's 2009 ZEV Technology Symposium, Richard Steinberg the MINI-E program manager made a presentation that detailed the program. Richard spent a lot of time on infrastructure issues, and one of the most telling lines of the presentation was "BMW/MINI is in the car business; BEVs placed us in the infrastructure business." Talk about leaving your comfort zone! The presentation talks about how quickly the program moved along. BMW only started talking about making a MINI-E in the Spring of 2008. They engineered, built and shipped 500 electric MINI-Es in less than 12 months! Clearly making the cars is not the big problem, it's going to be charging them. I do give BMW a lot of credit now, more than I initially did. Nobody else has put an EV on the road for real world testing since GM's EV1 and Toyota's RAV4 EV, and both of those projects ended quickly without the manufacturers committing to continue EV production. BMW has created the Project i program with the sole purpose of building and selling EVs. The MINI-E is the beginning, not the end, as was the case with the EV1 and the RAV4.

The good news is that BMW isn't going at it alone. Just about all of the major auto manufacturers are working on EVs and while they won't be sharing secrets about the cars they plan to produce, they are working together on Infrastructure Standardization. Public charging stations will need to be usable by all EVs and have 220V and 110V capabilities. Issues like should the chargers have an attached cable or should the cable be portable and carried in the car? Recently it was announced that
SAE standard J1772 plug would be used as the industry standard, but it doesn't seem like all the auto manufacturers are on board with that decision and discussions are ongoing.

As with all new technologies, there is a learning curve and a tremendous amount of time and investment needed in the very beginning. I'm sure BMW didn't think this would be a walk in the park, and I don't think they started Project i only to terminate the program before they bring EVs to the market for sale. I do hope they see the amount of interest the MINI-E program is generating and realize most us in the trial lease program understand it will be a difficult process to develop the necessary infrastructure to make BEVs a viable option for the masses. Just like the manufacturers will have hurdles, the people who buy the first round of EVs available for sale in the next few years will have difficulty finding places to charge. That being said, I think there are enough people willing to deal with the inconveniences that will exist, to provide the demand for these vehicles, providing manufacturers the need to continue to invest in them. Just about everyone I meet and talk to about the car asks me when will they be able to buy an EV. I'm certain there is a tremendous market for EVs out there just waiting for some manufacturer to mass produce them and offer them for sale (no more closed ended leases!). The infrastructure problems will be sorted out in time and BMW will have a head start from the information gathered from the MINI-E program. I just hope it doesn't take too long. After my short while driving this car I know I don't want to go back to an ICE, and I won't if there is an electric option when my time with the MINI- E is up. I'll deal with the lack of available chargers, just sell me the car.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gotta Love Jersey

Well my second wall charger seems to be put on hold until the State of NJ can figure out what it wants to do about the UL listing issue with the wall chargers. Last month I wrote that my wall charger at my house failed inspection because the two components of the charger, the wall box and the cable, were tested and approved by Underwriters Laboratory separately and some of the local inspectors were failing the units because of this technicality. Both items passed inspection and have UL approval, but I guess when you attach the cable to the box, it somehow becomes less safe. I know that UL testing is necessary. I can only imagine the dangerous junk that would be sold if there wasn't an entity to oversee and test electronic devices before they can be used by the public, but I think in this case the inspectors are being too strict.

There are nearly 500 MINI-E's on the roads of California, New York and New Jersey, and only in New Jersey is MINI and Clean Fuel Connections (the company MINI contracted to do the charger installations) having such extraordinary difficulties. The latest news is that they are requiring UL field inspections in addition to the regular municipality inspectors, and forcing MINI to replace the wall boxes previously installed with new boxes that have a UL sticker on them. Mind you, they are the SAME boxes as the ones they are replacing and using the SAME cables. The only difference is the cable (3 wires) is being attached at the factory, instead of having the licensed, NJ electrical contractor attach it at the time of the installation, unbelievable. New York and California inspectors have passed just about all the units, but here in NJ less than half of the installed wall chargers have passed.

It's really no wonder though. New Jersey is the land of corruption and payoffs. Rarely do we go a year without a major politician involved is some scandal involving "pay to play" politics. I guess MINI just didn't grease the right palms. MINI executives are now calling the fiasco "The New Jersey Problem." Way to go Garden State! Where's Tony Soprano when you need him? He'd make this little problem go away with a phone call!
Click the link below to read more about the charge box UL problems in NJ.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Turning Up The Heat

Now that the summer is gone and temperatures are dropping here in New Jersey one question is on the minds of the East Coast MINI-E drivers: How much energy will the heaters in our cars consume and how will it effect our range? Now I know the California pioneers are snickering at us here in NJ & NY as this will not be a concern for them, but we will have to live with a reduced range here, there's no way around it. I believe this is the reason MINI decided to bring the program to the East Coast instead of just California like most EV programs are limited to. I think this fact alone proves MINI/BMW really is serious about this field trial and wants to collect as much data possible. It would have been much easier for them to run this program in CA only, but they would not get the cold weather data that they will now. I have used the heater a couple times already in the past two weeks and I was actually quite worried with the results. It seemed that my range was really taking a beating (15-20%!) from using the heater. I say "seemed" because it was a very small sample and done completely unscientifically, with many other uncontrolled variables like speed and driving conditions. Plus, the range indicator in the car really isn't close to being exact, and the faster you drive the less accurate it gets. Only after you slow down or stop for a while do you get an accurate reading. I was using the heater while I was driving 65+mph driving home at night and watched the charge meter drop like a rock and that worried me so I decided to do some testing in a controlled environment. The past three days I charged the car to 100% and then turned it on and put on the heat. I first set the heat control to the highest setting. Then I turned the fan to the highest setting for 10 minutes to simulate the initial warm up period and then lowered the fan to the lowest setting which should be how I use it most of the time. The cabin is so small the lowest setting should be all I need to maintain a warm environment. I then let it run for an additional one hour and fifty minutes. I usually drive for about two hours a day so this should be close to the energy use I will incur, except for the fact that I will have multiple "warm up" periods that may use some more energy. After the three day test the results were pretty consistent. Twice I finished with 91% charge remaining and the other time I had 92%. This experiment made me feel a lot better about the using the heater. The test shows I can expect an 8% to 9% reduction in range if I use the heater 100% of the time which I suppose won't be the case on most days. Plus, I won't have the heat setting to the highest level as I did for the testing. The only other wild card will be how the batteries react to the frigid weather we can have here in New Jersey. What will happen when it's 10 degrees outside with a wind chill below zero? I can't simulate those conditions in my garage so I guess I'll have to wait and see. You'll be the first to know.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Is this what we're working on?

From the onset we were told that MINI is not going to sell the MINI-E, and that the purpose of the program is to test the components of the vehicle to be used in a future electric BMW. Nothing has been officially announced, but there has been plenty of talk about what this vehicle might look like. Above is just an artist's rendition of what the car might look like, and I for one hope the artist is way off. That thing is UGLY! I know the importance of aerodynamics especially for EVs, but the car still needs to look good for it to sell. I don't expect BMW to put out anything like that.

Nathalie Bauthers, a spokesperson for BMW says: "The MINI-E will play a significant role in the derivation of forthcoming strategic and technological decisions. In talking about their experience with the MINI-E, customers will be helping MINI and the BMW Group determine the viability of electric vehicles in big cities. The MINI-E is just one example of what the BMW Group is doing to develop future mobility concepts that are efficient and help reduce our impact on the environment and our dependence on foreign oil.," she says. "MINI-E is the first product of BMW’s project i (i stands for international, intelligent and innovative) – a program designed to research and develop transportation strategies and new types of vehicles specifically to meet the needs of the world’s growing mega-cities."

Hopefully, we will get something from BMW soon to give us an idea of what this mystery car will look like. I will definitely consider buying one if it looks good and is functional (4 seats). So far, I have very little complaints about the drivetrain of my MINI-E and BMW shouldn't have to change too much to use it in their car. Who knows, maybe MINI will put out an all electric version of their new coupe they just announced this week. Either way, I'm looking forward to having the option of electric drive when I buy my next vehicle, hopefully BMW will make my decision an easy one.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Three months down

It's hard to believe that a quarter of the year I have with the MINI-E has already passed. I have driven 7,200 zero emission miles, a little less than I expected to drive in that time, but that is because I didn't have a 220V wall charger for the first month and could only drive the car every two or three days. I had expected to put about 35,000 miles on the car this year and now I think I'll finish with around 30,000 -32,000. Being in the program is expensive as it costs $850.00 per month to lease the car so I planned on using the car as much as possible. I should have my second wall charger installed at my restaurant soon, so I'll now be able to drive as much as I want without the worry of having enough juice to make the 32 mile drive home at night. Since my home to work round trip is about 64 miles, I really only had 40-50 miles of extra driving range during the day and sometimes it wasn't enough. Now, I'll be able to drive the 32 miles to work (more when I make some stops along the way), then plug in & top off when I get there. I'll then have a range of 100+ miles before I go back to the office where I can top off if necessary to drive the 32 miles home. I will now have a range of up to 200 miles a day which is way more than I'll need 99% of the time. This will also ease my concerns about the effect cold weather will have on the batteries. I know the range is going to suffer from the use of the heater, and in really cold temperatures the batteries will undoubtedly be affected. Having the 60amp wall box at work will guarantee I can get home, no matter how cold it gets. I can even pre heat the car while it's charging and leave with a warm car and 100% charge. I want to thank MINI & Marian Hawryluk in particular for making this happen. I'm sure the participants who are getting additional wall chargers like me will put them to good use. Until there are public charging stations in convenient locations EVs drivers will struggle to feel confident about their range. However I do think there are enough people who are passionate enough to overcome the lack of chargers for the first few years of EV deployment. One unexpected benifit I have had since I've become involved in this program, is I have had the opportunity to meet, both in person and online, many great people that are EV advocates. There are more of them than I thought and these people can't wait for an affordable EV with a decent range (100+ miles) to be available to purchase. I get emails from people from all over the world who have read this blog and either had questions for me or just wanted to tell me they read the blog and can't wait until they can buy an EV. With the advancements in battery technology and the huge amounts of money currently being invested in the industry, we will not have to wait long. Nissan is the first automaker to announce that they will mass produce a 100% BEV, the Leaf and it has sent shockwaves across the industry. They plan to produce 300,000 Leafs annually by 2012. No other major automaker has announced production plans nearly as aggressive. The big question for me is what does BMW have planned? They have invested a lot of money and time in the MINI-E program. They must plan to use the information they gain from me and the other 499 MINI-Es for something. Personally, I'd like to see a small 4 door sedan with a 150 mile range, but after 3 months with the MINI-E, I'd probably buy anything that doesn't require gasoline. One thing's for sure, I'm not going to be happy when MINI asks for the car back. I still think (hope) they will offer some of the participants (me) the option to keep the car for an extended period. What will they do with the 500 cars? They can't just take them apart and crush them like GM did. That was (and still is) a PR nightmare for GM. MINI won't make the same mistake, I'm sure they have something planned for continued real world testing. One thing is for sure, whether it's the MINI-E or another EV, I'll be driving an electric car. I love the feel of the electric motor, the quietness, the smooth acceleration, the fact that I'm not polluting as I drive, the fact that I don't have to stop to buy gas at all and the fact that I'm not giving my hard earned money to the big oil cartels. Three months down already? Time does fly when you're having fun.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The emblems make a BIG difference

I was planning on taking a few weeks to see if the new emblems I put on the car made more people notice before I commented but that won't be necessary. In less than two weeks I have had about ten people ask me about the car or wave and give a thumbs up while driving. Just this morning as I drove around the "Green" in Morristown center, I had a nice encounter with a gentleman in a Volvo as we drove and stopped at three consecutive traffic lights next to each other. He started of with the usual "Is that a hybrid or all electric?" After I told him, he immediately followed with, "Where can I get one?" I hate to have to be the one to tell people that they can't buy one. They seem so excited when they see a 100% electric car on the road, no less a "cool" MINI Cooper, and then I have to hit them with, "They are not for sale, sorry, it's a pilot program." Our conversation continued as we were stuck in morning rush hour traffic and our cars were side by side creeping along. "How do you like it?  How far can it go? How long does it take to charge? How much does it cost in electric to charge it?" We talked for a bit and then he asked a question that nobody has asked me yet, and it caught me off guard a little. He said, "You know they could have been building electric cars for a long time now, why do you think they'll ever really commit to producing these when we've been asking for them for years now?" He was right. Auto manufacturers could have been building electric cars for a long time now. There were electric Model Ts in the 20s for God's sake. Why now, why after all this time will the auto manufacturers decide to invest in the greatest change the industry has ever faced? Well I think they will, and here's why: First, battery technology is getting better and better at a faster rate than it ever has in the past. You can thank laptop computers and other PEDs for that. Second, nobody likes to be beaten at their own game and the auto manufacturers saw new upstart car companies like Tesla, Fisker, Aptera and others on the verge of putting electric vehicles on the road and the huge public interest they were generating. They may not have wanted to get into the BEV business, but now they HAVE to, or lose market share. Thirdly, last year's outrageously high oil prices were painful, but they helped to raise awareness about just how dependent we are on foreign oil and how the giant oil cartels can cripple our economy if they choose to do so. OPEC is no friend to the United States and more and more people are realizing that and want to do something about it. Even if that means paying a premium for an electric car and living with a limited driving range, more people are willing to make concessions now than ever before. I've had this car for three months now and yes, I've had to make adjustments. I previously never had to think about where I was going the next day to make sure it was within my range. With my other cars that thought never crossed my mind, but now it does. I have only had to take my other car twice so far because I knew I'd be traveling over 120 miles the next day so it's not often, but if it were my only car it would be a problem. There are still a lot of obstacles to overcome, but I do think the genie is finally out of the bottle. Nissan has announced they plan to mass produce an electric vehicle, the LEAF, starting next year, Tesla has their second model, the Type S in early production, Chevy will have its plug-in hybrid, the Volt on the road next year and many other manufacturers have announced they will release an EV in the next few years. Once the public gets a chance to drive these cars as I have they will be hooked, I guarantee it. Hopefully they will have emblems that proudly announce "Electric" on the cars, it would be a shame if they made the same mistake that MINI did.

Friday, September 4, 2009

What MINI should have done

MINI did a great job with the MINI-E. This car wasn't designed to be an EV, but they managed to remove the ICE and powertrain and replace it with the battery pack, motor and the electronics necessary to convert the car to what it is. It's a fun car to drive, has great acceleration and handling and has a pretty good range as far as EVs go, with 100 to 120 miles of real world driving. The one thing MINI failed to do properly is label the car so most people who look at it know it's an electric vehicle. This has been a point discussed by many of the people in the program, as they are a bit disappointed that most people who see the car don't really know what they are looking at. MINIs are notorious for all kinds of graphics. You can order your car with many different themes from the Union Jack flag across the roof to about 20 different style rear view mirrors so the plug emblems on the MINI-E just don't stand out enough to make someone look twice at the car. Nothing really screams "Electric car here!" I think many of the people driving the cars like I am, are looking for ways to show off what we have. Part of being in the program is to show others that electric cars can be daily driving vehicles, that they can be fast & fun to drive. That's not going to happen if the cars go unnoticed. Many in the program have ordered custom license plate holders that say "100% Electric" or "No tailpipe & No Emissions."  Others are ordering chrome emblems like I did (see pictures above). There are a lot places on the internet to get custom car emblems, but many like me ordered them from a company called Third Planet Energy. They offer a variety different styles and phrases centered around electric cars and biodiesel, but can make custom phrases if you desire. So it cost me about $120.00 to do what MINI should have. They built a fantastic zero emission car but somehow forgot to announce it to the world. The experience of driving the car is worth the few extra bucks, plus I'm curious to see how many more people notice the car now and ask me about it. In the three months I've had the car I've driven it over 6,000 miles and only about a dozen people (who didn't read about me in the newspaper) stopped me to ask if the car was a hybrid or electric, let's see if the emblems make a difference.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

MINI offering 2nd wall chargers while suppiles last!

Last Friday I received an email from MINI USA that said they have a few extra wall chargers available for participants who might want them. I responded immediately so I could get my request in before the allotment was all gone. Even better, most of the extra chargers they have are the 50amp ones, the chargers that mostly went to the MINI dealerships. Most people in the program have 40amp chargers at their homes, as I do. The extra 10amps will make charging even faster, cutting down a complete charge from about 4 hours to under 3. I plan on installing it at my restaurant in Montclair near the rear door where I can pull right up to it. I will also make it known that if any of the other MINI-E drivers need a charge and are in the area they can stop by and "fill up" for free anytime we are open, which is 7 days a week 11 or 12 hours a day, depending on the day. I asked Marian from MINI about the availability of secondary chargers at the East Coast meet up we had, and she told me that they were working on it at the time but couldn't promise anything. I guess MINI realized that it would only enhance the program if they could place more chargers in the areas where the cars are. Until public charging stations are readily available, convenient charging will be a major hurdle for electric cars. Currently there are companies out there now planning the infrastructure for locations of charging stations since so many auto manufacturers have EVs in development stages, but they are still a long way from mass deployment. It's kind of a chicken or the egg situation. Electric cars need public charging stations to become mainstream, but it's difficult to invest tons of money into charging stations if there aren't enough cars that need them. I believe that once electric cars begin to appear in greater numbers, franchises like McDonald's that have parking lots will install a couple chargers with dedicated parking spaces for them. They could charge you $5.00 to park in the spot and charge your car, plus they know you are probably going to eat at their restaurant to kill the 45 minutes or so you'll need to charge up on their high powered charger. This would be a quick way to get thousands of public chargers available quickly and paid for by private enterprise, not tax dollars. If you drove an EV and you knew that every franchise had chargers in their lot you could easily take trips much further than the range of your car's batteries without the worry of getting stranded. The car could have a built in GPS with charger locations programmed in just like current GPSs have restaurants, banks, airports, etc pre-programmed. Well, that's all future talk. I'm happy that I'll be getting my 2nd charger now. It will allow me to drive this awesome car even more than I currently am, and that's a good thing.