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: tom.moloughney@gmail.com 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.