Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Zero emission pizza delivery

Any business owner knows you do whatever you have to in order to keep your customers happy. You work very hard to build customer loyalty, and it can be lost in a moment if the product or service you are selling isn't up to par. Today at the restaurant I had a delivery person call out sick and I couldn't get anyone to cover for him. I knew I would probably have to take a few deliveries if it got busy, but I do that every now and then so it's nothing out of the ordinary. What I didn't realize was that we would be extraordinarily busy today, perhaps due to the heat as it was about 91 degrees and humid today. Instead of having to take a couple deliveries myself, I ended delivering for 4 hours straight and taking almost 30 deliveries. MINI-E #250 got a good workout, and passed with flying colors. The car really likes stop and go driving, unlike gasoline powered cars. The low speed, around the town driving is easy on the batteries as long as you don't drive like you're on racetrack. So after driving 45 miles I only used 39% of the battery charge, which is better than I would get on the highway. Gasoline cars get terrible mileage in this type of stop and go driving, just another example of the difference in electric vs. ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles.

The other thing I realized today is that a lot of people read the local newspaper, The Montclair Times. About two months ago the Montclair Times did an article on me and the MINI-E. It had pictures of me with the car and details of how and why I got involved in the program. Since then, a lot of people who've come to the restaurant, have told me they read the article and they're glad I was doing it and wish me good luck. However, bringing the car to their home to deliver food elicited even more enthusiastic responses. Sure, I got the usual, "Wow, the owner is delivering to me today, I feel special," but many of them who saw the car in their driveway added, "Oh and you brought THE CAR! Can I take a look?" I didn't think that that many people knew about it, but I guess they all read the Montclair Times. As I reported before, I LOVE talking about the car, the environmental impact of ICE vehicles, the need to break the nation's foreign oil dependency, etc., so I really enjoyed talking to everyone about it. I would have liked to take some of them for a ride and show off the car, but there were hungry people waiting for me so I couldn't take too much time at any one house. I felt like I was selling the car today, instead of just dinner. Today was a good day. The restaurant was busy all day, I got to talk with a lot of my customers, and I did about 110 miles of zero emission driving. Life is good.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

East Coast MINI-E gathering was a success!

Today's MINI-E gathering was a great success. I played host at my restaurant in Montclair, Nauna's Bella Casa. We had nine Pioneers attend, plus Marian Hawryluk, a representative from MINI USA. She also came in a MINI-E so we had nine of them parked out in front of the restaurant. There would have been ten, but unfortunately one of the cars is in for service. Luckily the owners, John Rathgeb and Alan Chadrjian live on the block behind Nauna's (crazy coincidence) and could walk to the gathering. It was really nice to meet up with other "E" drivers and talk about the issues we have had as well as how much we all love the cars. It was especially nice of Marian to come. She wasn't obligated to be there, but chose to come to answer any questions we might have and to listen to our stories and complaints. There were some complaints, as much as we all love the cars, but most of them were not directly related to the car itself, they were more about the lack of a two-way communication conduit between the people at MINI and us. There was one particular car that has been in service 5 times already and Marian promised to find out what was going on with it and get back to the owners, as they have barely been able to drive the car since they got it. Nobody else at the event had encountered anything like what they have seen and have been racking up the miles for the past two months and driving emission free. I think problems aside we all really love the cars and we made sure Marian knew that. We had a nice lunch of fresh mozzarella salad, fried calamari, hotsy totsy shrimp, penne vodka & chicken francese. I think everyone left full and very happy with how the day went. My staff later told me that while we were having our meeting, people kept walking in the restaurant and asking them what was going on with all the cars outside. It looked really cool seeing all of the MINI-Es parked in the lot next to each other. I have to give props to Don Young. He came here from Shelter Island, NY, which is all the way out on Long Island, about 130 miles away. He had to stop halfway at Stu Greenberg's and charge up. Then charge up when he got to Montclair (at Sandy Bondorowsky's) and then halfway home again at Stu's. It must have taken him 18 hours for the round trip, that's dedication! I want to thank Marian Hawryluk, Don Young, Sandy Bondorowsky, Chris Neff, Paul Heitmann, Ken Barbour, David Miller, Michael Graham, John Rathgeb & Alan Chadrjian for coming. I definitely plan on doing this again, probably in 3 or 4 months and hopefully we'll have an even larger group for that one.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

If you build them....

So far, one of the aspects of being in the program that I have enjoyed the most has been talking to people who express interest in the car. Some people could care less, others ask a question or two and say something like, "The auto manufacturers will never make these for us, it would make too much sense. Plus they're in bed with big oil anyway."  But the last group, the ones whose eyes light up when they look at the decals on the car and realize they are looking at a zero emission vehicle, they're the ones I love to meet, and meet one I did today. I went to the bank this afternoon and when I came out there was a guy standing next to #250 admiring it. As I approached he looked at me and said, "I've read about these. You don't know how jealous of you I am." I immediately knew this was going to take a while and he wasn't going to let me go before I answered all his questions. I wasn't in a rush, and I really love talking about the car, about our need to reduce the country's oil dependency, the need to reduce the greenhouse gases we emit, and a host of other EV related issues. We stood there in the 90 degree heat for about ten minutes and I must have answered about 20 questions until I asked him the question he was dying to hear, "Do you want to take it for a drive?" He lit up like a kid on Christmas morning. I handed him the keys and said "Let's go."  We drove around town for about 10 minutes and then I dropped him back off at the bank. He loved the car's power, the regenerative braking and the overall feel you get with an electric car, as it's really a different experience than driving a car with an internal combustion engine. He thanked me 100 times and told me he'll be reading this blog from now on. His parting words were the same thing I hear over and over again: " I just hope the car manufacturers finally realize that we want these cars, and that we'll buy them if they build them." You hear that BMW? GM? Ford? Chrysler? Toyota? Honda? etc.. Build them and we will come! And Robert, I enjoyed this afternoon as much as you did, keep the faith.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Baby it's hot outside...

And that means the battery packs in our electric MINIs are sweating just like we are. Last week, Chris Neff, a fellow MINI-E driver (#402), asked me if I had noticed any reduced range with the hot and humid weather. I told him I didn't, but would look closely at my mileage spreadsheet where I log all the trips I take, (yes, every time I drive the car) and keep track of the mileage driven verses the battery percentage used. I know it seems like a lot of work, but I'm so used to it, and now it's second nature. After looking at the recent data I was assured that I told him the truth, that my mileage wasn't suffering because of the weather. I guess he jinxed me because since then I have been noticing a distinct decrease in driving range. It has been really hot here in New Jersey lately, hotter than it's been all summer and accompanied by high humidity. The last few days now I'm seeing about a 15% reduction in range and that's not good. I need to have a range of 100 miles to feel confident I can accomplish what I need to during the day. My round trip from Chester to Montclair is only 62 miles, but I also need to drive around during the day as I own property in Florham Park and Oradell and sometimes need to go there without warning. This 15% reduction is really putting me right on the line of making it home at night or not. Where I was once comfortable with driving 110 miles on a single charge I'm now worried about getting 95. For example, today I have already driven 62 miles and I have 29% battery charge and a projected 27 miles remaining. I still need to drive home tonight which is 31 miles. I'll make it, I know I can push the car at least 5 miles further than the expected range provided I drive carefully tonight. The problem is, if it were cooler out, I would probably have 45-48% charge and a range of about 50 miles remaining and that's a big drop. Granted it's about 96 degrees out with high humidity, but I'm starting to think the car would have been better off it it were water cooled as opposed to air cooled as it is. Usually the battery temperature is between 85 and 100 degrees and lately I'm seeing battery temperatures of 105-113 degrees and that takes a toll on the batteries. I'm not an engineer, but I know enough about cooling to know that a good liquid- based cooling system would work better than the current setup. You need only look at Tesla Motors to see an example of an efficient liquid based cooling system. The battery pack in the Tesla Roadster is designed to have an average operating temperature of 77 degrees and a maximum operating temperature of 95 degrees. My MINI-E's batteries are operating at or over 95 degrees most of the time now that it's hot outside and the performance is definitely suffering. I'm also pretty sure the Chevy Volt will be liquid based as was GM's ill fated EV1. Perhaps MINI choose to do it this way to save time and get the cars on the road as fast as possible. After all, this car is a mule, pure and simple. It wasn't designed from the ground up as an EV, and I don't think BMW ever plans on selling electric MINIs. This car was made to test the components of the drivetrain for future EVs, not necessarily MINIs. I'm pretty sure when they do a ground-up EV design, the battery pack will have a more efficient means of cooling than what the MINI-E has - it better!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fed-Ex drivers are observant!

I was driving on Soldier Hill Road in Oradell yesterday and when I stopped at a red light a Fed-Ex truck pulled up next to me and beeped his horn. The driver proceeded to lean over and roll down the passenger side window. He looked at me a little puzzled and said, "I've been following you for a while now and that car doesn't have a tailpipe. Is it electric?" I told him yes and it's one of about 100 in New Jersey and that I'm driving it for 12 months to help BMW gain information to be used in future EVs. By then the light had turned green and I said good bye. As I began to pull away he yelled, "You must be some big shot executive at MINI to get one of them for yourself." Since I didn't have time to fully explain how I got selected to be in the program I just smiled back and drove off.
It's not often someone realizes the car is electric while I'm driving it. Personally, I think MINI should have had some kind of decal that says "Electric Vehicle" or something like that. The plug decals just aren't enough for most people to realize what the car is. Unless of course they are Fex-Ex drivers who go driving around looking for tailpipes...

Friday, August 14, 2009

MINI-E East Coast get together planned!

Many of the people participating in the MINI-E trial lease program have been communicating online via the MINI-E Facebook groups and through blogs like this one to share our experiences, our problems and the excitement we share about this amazing vehicle. The problem is, other than the one event sponsored by MINI for each the East Coast and West Coast participants, we rarely get to see or talk to each other in person, and I think most of us would like to do just that. I figured that since I own a restaurant in Montclair, NJ, which geographically is an ideal location, I should organize an event. Montclair is only 12 miles west of NYC, and is within 50 miles of most of the NJ participants other than about 15 or so in Southern NJ. They could make it here, but would need a full recharge to get home and that might be difficult. There are two participants with charge boxes in Montclair, but I'm not sure of their availability. You can go to the website for MINI-E charger sharing at: if you need to charge up on the way somewhere. We are going to meet at Nauna's Bella Casa at 148 Valley Road in Montclair, NJ 07042 at 1:00pm on Saturday, August 22nd. I know there are at least 25 participants who are within a 50 mile range of Montclair so hopefully we can get a good group here. A few have already confirmed so it's definitely a go, rain or shine. We can all sit at a big table, have lunch and talk about the first few months of driving with zero emissions. I'll reserve a bunch of parking spaces so we can all park next to each other for some great pictures. I also told our local newspaper about it and they plan to stop by sometime. It would be great if we could get someone from MINI to come by as well, I'll make sure they know the event is going on and leave it up to them if someone can stop by. Leave me a message if you plan to come!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My first real taste of range anxiety

The first thing you realize once you begin life with an EV is the simple fact that the vehicle has a limit on how far you can drive before the need to "refuel" or recharge. "Of course it does," you say. "I know how 100% electric cars work. You charge the batteries and you can drive until they have no power left to move the car, everybody knows that!" Yeah you're right, it is that simple. But until you actually drive an EV and you watch the battery charge gauge steadily go down as you drive you really don't know what it is to have only a set distance you can go. You don't know what "range anxiety" is unless you look at your gauge and it tells you you can only go 20 more miles but you're 30 miles from your home. Then it hits you, "Oh crap, I'm not going to make it!" In regular cars, when the tank is low, it's no problem. Just stop at a gas station and fill up and you're good to go. Until there are public charging stations readily available in convenient locations, EVs will have a difficult time gaining widespread acceptance until they greatly extend the range the cars can go on a single charge. My MINI can travel up to 130 miles on a single charge but 100 to 110 miles is a more realistic range with a mix of city and highway driving. 100 miles a charge is more than enough for the majority of the population for their usual everyday use. But how about when you want to take a day trip? Remember, if the range is 100 miles you can only go 50 miles from your starting point because you still have to get back home. Personally, I believe that a range of 175 to 200 is necessary for many people to consider buying an EV. That's not to say that I think if tomorrow a four seat sedan with a 100 mile range came out that it wouldn't sell, because I think it would. However, most of the purchasers would have at least one other car in the family so they could use the EV for most of the daily commuting and errands, but still have the other car for long drives.

That brings us to last night and my first real range anxiety. If you read my last entry, you know my wall charger failed the electrical inspection because of a lack of UL approval, so I'm stuck using a 110V, 12amp "emergency" charger. The problem with this is the 110V charger is very slow and takes over 30 hours to fully charge the car as compared to about 4 hours for the wall charger.  That means, nstead of leaving in the morning with the car 100% charged, it's only at 60 or 70% which limits how far I can drive that day. I could just use the car every other day and then it would be 100% when I left in the morning, but after driving it for the past two months, I want to drive it every day.  That means I have to plan my day to make sure I'm not going to have to drive further than it will go. So yesterday, I left with 74% charge which should get me about 80 miles tops because much of my driving was going to be highway driving. I was only going to have to go about 63 miles which is round trip from my home in Chester to my business in Montclair, so I should have no problem. However, during the day there was a problem at a building in Oradell that I am a partner and I had to go there. The building is about 18 miles from Montclair so I just added 36 miles to my daily total which would bring me to about 100 miles, twenty more than I could probably make. Not the end of the world though because I still have the 110v charger and I can plug in anywhere the cable will reach so my plan was to go to Oradell and back, and then plug in for seven or eight hours and I'd have just enough to make it home. Ah, the best laid plans of mice & men... I needed to stay in Oradell for much longer than I thought I would have to and I got back to Montclair at 5:00, so I had only five hours to charge up since we close at 10:00 and I really didn't want to have to stay later just to wait to charge up. At 10:00, I checked the charge gauge and I was at 27%, just about enough to make it home if I drove carefully, didn't use the A/C and didn't speed. Since I didn't want to wait, I started out on my journey. I decided to take an alternate route home, one that doesn't have much highway driving as opposed to my usual route that is about 60% highway driving. It was late and the roads were empty, so I could drive slowly which really extends the range. As I began my journey, the charge meter went down much faster than I expected it to. After only 5 miles, with 26 miles to go, I was down to 16% which could take me about 20 miles. The problem with the charge meter is sometimes if you check your charge level when you just unplug, it may give you a slightly higher reading than what you really have and I should have waited a little before checking it. So now the range anxiety really kicked it, and for the first time I really didn't think I would make it. Luckily the roads were empty and I was able to drive really slowly, averaging only 35mph. When I was about 6 miles from home the range and battery charge meter both hit zero and I figured any second the car would just shut off and I'd be calling my wife to come and pick me up. She already thinks I'm crazy, this would confirm it. As luck would have it I was able to drive the final 6 miles on "empty" and limp into my garage, plug in and go to sleep. Just another day of zero emission driving.

I have to admit, it wasn't fun at the end. I had that feeling at the pit of my stomach that you get when you know something bad is about to happen and you can't stop it. I got lucky and made it but I learned a few things. First, MINI must have known that there would be idiots like me pushing the car further than they should so they must have designed the batteries to go for some miles even after the gauge reads zero, kind of like a reserve tank. Second, until I have my wall charger functional and leave the house with 100% charge, I cannot push it like I did last night. I'll just take my other car that day. (Poor me, I'll have to drive the Porsche!) And lastly, the best thing I learned was how amazingly quiet and peaceful the car is to drive. While I was driving at night, with the roads empty and the windows open, all I could hear was crickets as I drove. I knew the car was quiet, I've been driving it for two months now, but this is the first time I drove it with no other cars on the road at all. Usually, I have the radio on and the windows open so I get the wind noise plus the sounds of the other cars engines so it really isn't much quieter than driving an internal combustion engine vehicle. This was different. Driving slowly, 30 to 40mph with the windows open you don't get much wind noise and without the other cars it was so peaceful, almost surreal. It was like the recent Will Smith movie where everyone was gone and he was the last survivor walking around a quiet New York City alone. It's hard to explain, but as I was driving I had really good feeling knowing I was doing my part to help bring zero emission vehicles like the MINI-E to mass production, at least until the range anxiety kicked in...

Friday, August 7, 2009

MINI-E #250 suffers a setback

Well, I promised myself when I started the blog that I would "tell it like it is."  Even though I am a strong supporter of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and I don't want to scare people away from them, if there are problems with the car or the program, I said I would be honest and report them, just as I will the positive things that zero emission vehicles bring. So, today there was a setback. I had my wall charger inspected and it failed inspection because it does not have Underwriters Laboratory (UL) listing. That means that the unit has not been thoroughly inspected for safety, as all electronic devices sold or used in the United States must be. You may wonder why, after 2 months of driving the car, have I just now had the unit inspected. Shouldn't I have had the device installed and inspected before I ever took delivery of the car? The answer is yes, of course I should have, but unfortunately that's not how it went down. I'm going to have to go back to the beginning to tell you how things unfolded to this point in order to properly explain why I have the car and no way to charge it for daily use.

About a year ago, I was researching the upcoming plug in hybrid Chevy Volt, alternative fuel vehicles as well as BEVs that would be available in the near future and I stumbled upon the MINI-E trial lease application. MINI was looking for 450 people to participate in a field trial of a 100% battery-powered electric vehicle. They were to make 500 of them with the remaining 50 going to non-profits and municipalities for use over the same 1 year period. The idea was that we would drive these cars for the year, and provide feedback to MINI about our experience as well as test out the hardware of the vehicle for a future electric car to be made by MINI or BMW (BMW owns MINI). I filled out the application and forgot about it. Since I knew a lot of people would apply and there were only 100 committed to New Jersey residents (100 to NJ, 100 to NY and 250 to CA residents) my chances of being selected were slim. When I got the call in January I was pleasantly surprised that I was one of the 100 people out of thousands who were selected to be a participant. All I had to do was get approved financially and have my house inspected to make sure I had enough power supply to have the 32 amp, 220v charger installed; which I did with power to spare. I really didn't hear much from MINI until around April when I started getting emails about how the program was about to begin and that the California participants would be getting their cars first because there weren't enough wall chargers to go around and at the time only about 150 were made and they needed over 500 in all. Then a few weeks later another email came telling me that they would not have the wall chargers ready for a couple of months (probably in July) but that they wanted us to take the cars anyway and would give us a portable 110v 12amp "emergency" charger to temporarily charge the car until the wall chargers were ready. They stressed that all the cars HAD to be on the road and registered by June 26th and that they would waive the first month's lease payment of $850.00 for our inconvenience, since the 110v charger would take 24-30 hours to charge the car from empty to 100%. That meant I could only use the car every other day since my daily commute is 60 to 100 miles depending on the day. If I came home at night with a depleted battery, it would only have charged 25 - 30% charge by the morning and since the car gets roughly 100 - 120 miles on a full charge, I could barely make it to Montclair, where I work, and then even if I made it, I'd be stuck there. So, a few weeks of driving every other day, the electrical contractor hired to do the installation, O'Sullivan Electric, called me to schedule the wall box. I was thrilled that I would finally be able to charge every night and use it every day like I expected I would. However, when they came to install the wall charger, they didn't have the cable that plugs from the charger into the car. I was told that they were still waiting for it and they would come back in a few weeks to complete the installation once they had the cables. As it turned out, about two weeks later I got the call and they came and completed the install. They called my township construction department and scheduled the inspection for today, August 7th, and asked that I be home in the morning to show the inspector the unit. The township electric inspector came and he immediately told me that he couldn't pass the charger. He went on to tell me that this is the third one he has inspected and failed and that the problem is that the unit has not been properly tested by the UL and I cannot continue to use it. He was very professional and explained that he has attempted to contact the manufacturer and get proof that is has been inspected and approved as a complete unit, not separate components, but he has been unable to get the documentation that is necessary and until he does he will have to continue to fail the units that he inspects. Since I have been charging the car with the wall charger for the past three weeks, I was originally tempted to continue to use it against the advice of the inspector, therefore I could continue to use the car everyday. But after some thought, that just doesn't make any sense. I'm not going to take that chance that the unit fails and starts a fire in my home, especially since I charge overnight when I'm sleeping! Until the inspector comes back and passes the unit or MINI sends me a new unit that then passes inspection, I'll be using the wimpy 110v, 12amp charger and using the car every other day. I'm not mad, a little disappointed maybe that these issues weren't worked out before they gave us the cars. I knew there would be hurdles, this is a completely new program for MINI with different challenges than they face with their regular internal combustion engine vehicles. This problem really has nothing to do with the car itself, which is working fine (after a small problem a couple of weeks ago that required a new sensor) and really is a blast do drive. I'm sure by now MINI knows about the chargers failing inspection and hopefully working on solution for us soon.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

#250 at home charging up

Better late than never!

I admit I'm a little late to the blog game. Many of the other MINI-E participants have had blogs about their experience even before they took delivery of their car. I got my car on June 12th, so I've already had it for seven weeks, one of which the car was in for service. I have had a lot of fun learning to use the regenerative braking, dealing with range anxiety and most of all talking to people who ask me questions about the car. I just turned 3,000 miles and I wish I started the blog day 1, because there has been a lot to write about already, but I'll be here from now on for anyone interested in reading about my experience. Please feel free to ask me anything you want about the car, I'd be happy to answer anything I can.