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."