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.