Wednesday, December 22, 2010

MINI-E Driver Stefan Reitmeier Checks in From Germany


BMW has expanded the MINI-E program to include trial lease programs in Germany, the UK, France, China and soon they will launch in Japan. Many of the cars that are in these countries were originally leased to US customers and were redeployed abroad when the customers didn't renew for a second year as I did. 
This post was written by Stefan Reitmeier who is driving MINI-E #014 in Munich Germany.


My name is Stefan, I’m working in the automotive industry as an engineer for body-in-white joining technology and I’m driving the electric MINI #014 for the period of nine month in the German city of Munich. At my job I have nothing to do with electrical car engineering, but as I got the information that MINI E test drivers are searched in Munich for a public test program, I filled out the online application form on the MINI website. And I was lucky to get one!
 
In Germany BMW operates two test fleets of MINI E’s. Since June 2009 there are 50 MINI's in Berlin on the road. In 2011 their number will raise to 70. In Munich since June 2009 15 MINI’s were tested. This number was increased to 40 in September 2010. From these 40 cars, ten are operated by the Red Cross to gather information of electric cars used in the carpool of a fleet-operator. Four MINI’s are held by the companies involved to the test program and 26
were distributed to private users. For these cars they had about 670 applications via the internet.

At its first mission #014 got about 7000 mi (11300 km) on its odometer driven around Los Angeles by Kathy Bakken:
 
Now it's back in Munich:
 
The MINI’s returning from the US after their leasing contract ended are not scrapped, but overhauled and sent to new missions in Germany, France, China,...

Because the car is only ONE part of electro-mobility, local power suppliers and manufacturers of charging stations are also involved in the test program. In addition to the wall boxes for the private garages also several public charging stations in the city area are installed. In Munich about 30 public charging locations are operational or under construction.

In Berlin the power supplier made first steps to integrate smart grid features to the wall box. The user plugs in the car and selects the time when the SOC has to be 100%. The power supplier manages the charging and has the possibility to use excessive wind or solar energy in times of low power consumption to fill up the battery. Unfortunately in Munich this feature is not installed...  

I like the electric driving with the MINI E very much. The smooth and fast acceleration, the low level of noise and vibration, no exhaust...concerning to this every conventional car seems a bit old-fashioned and obsolete. Being part of the daily traffic jam sometimes I feel like a non-smoker surrounded by smokers.

I use the car almost every day. My daily commute to work and back is a total of 12,5 mi (20 km), so range is no issue. Nevertheless I do not charge the car every day and the maximum traveled distance with one charge spread over several days was 74 mi (119 km) with about 12 mi (20 km) left. But I do not want to go to or beyond the limits when having the chance to recharge.

On the German autobahn I usually have traveling speeds of 80-85 mph, which of course cut the range. But my parent’s home at a distance of 46 mi (74 km) is safe to reach. Recharging there is absolutely required before driving back. You have to consider MINI Es limited speed of 94 mph (152 km/h) when using the left lane of the autobahn to overtake a slower car. You quickly become yourself a slow obstacle for faster drivers with traveling speeds of 110 mph and more ...
Anyhow, the limited speed is necessary for a rational dimensioning of the electrical components in an electric car and the 94 mph are appropriate even for the German autobahn.

Not appropriate for German weather conditions is the lack of an active temperature management system for the battery. Temperature at present is 19°F (-7°C) and the battery temperature in the unheated garage drops to 34°F (1°C). At this temperature the MINI refuses to charge. But the car still drives. Due to my short commute the gain in battery temperature for the single distance is only about 5-7°F (2-3°C). With the car parked the whole day in the parking structure, the temperature may fall to a critical point where the car even won't start. The MINI-Team sent an E-Mail and warned that the car may fail at battery temperatures below 41°F (5°C)!

Thermal management of the battery is a crucial point for an electric car and the insufficient solution in the MINI E is maybe the biggest deficiency the car has.

In my opinion one of the cars main missions is: Bringing the electric drive into people’s minds in a manner that it is not just possible, but even better than a conventional one. This applies to both the people who buy cars and the people who develop and produce cars.

Keeping some restrictions in mind, the electric car offers:

- less noise/vibration and no exhaust (important for people both inside and outside the car)
- more driving joy (important for BMW and their customers)
- the chance to use renewable energy sources (important for all of us)

All deficiencies of the MINI E like limited space, reliability of the driving range due to unstable battery condition, inadequate performance of the cabin heater and so on are well known now and attributed to the prototype status of the car and its short-term realization.

At the next level the ActiveE will eliminate those deficiencies, providing four seats with a respectable trunk, an active thermal management of the battery, an improved visualization of the cars energy status and the ability to precondition the car while plugged in. This will increase reliability and provide the best use of the limited battery capacity.

The ActiveE will do the fine tuning before getting to the final level, the project i / MCV. As you can imagine, I'm quite excited about this...

You are invited to take a look at http://oh-e-mini.blogspot.com/ . It's my blog in German language.

Some posts I translated into English. In this case you can follow the English Version -link below the post headline.
 
With best regards from Germany
Stefan

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"EF-OPEC" has a Canadian Brother!

I get a lot of attention from other motorists while I'm driving around in MINI-E #250. However when I first got the car that wasn't always the case. BMW really didn't do much to announce that the car was a 100% pure electric car. There are decals of plugs on the car, but nothing actually said "electric". Many of the MINI-E drivers like myself complained about that and some of us added "electric" chrome emblems like I did to the side and back of the car. Some took it a step further and had vanity license plates made that further proclaimed our freedom from oil. My choice (and fact that I actually got it approved) of "EF-OPEC" has really drawn a lot of attention to me. Newspapers like the NY Times, the Star Ledger, the Daily Record and even the Wall Street Journal have noted my license plate.

So when Joerg of Vancouver, BC, one of the people that follow this blog saw the above picture in the Vancouver Sun, he knew he had to forward it to me. Joerg has been following this blog for a while now and occasionally emails me EV related articles. Joerg lives in Vancouver but is originally from Germany and has helped me translate English to German in the past.

I have never seen an EF-OPEC plate on any car other than mine before and I wonder if this person had it before I did. Perhaps they read about me and MINI-E #250 and got the idea there. I guess we'll never know. Anyway, it's great to see others have the same feelings I do even if it's on a car that does burn gasoline and need frequent oil changes. Maybe they just wanted to reserve the plate so when an electric car is available they can transfer it. Judging from the license plate, I bet this person will be one of the first in line to buy an electric car when one is available in BC. Don't worry buddy, you won't have to wait much longer...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Munich, We Have a Problem!


That icon you see of a plug with an exclamation mark is what the car is supposed to show if you have the car plugged in and charging and you try to start it up. The car will not start while it's plugged in so you cannot make the mistake of driving off while it's still tethered to the EVSE wall charger attached to your home. That would be like driving away from a gas station while the gas nozzle is still pumping gas into your tank, something that does happen every once in a while and is extraordinarily dangerous and at best only results in a destroyed gas pump and a huge insurance claim. At worst a spark ignites the spilled gasoline and the whole place blows up, along with you and the people working there!

The problem I have is that this icon is coming on and the car isn't plugged in. This means for some reason the electronics thinks the car is plugged in and won't allow me to start it. Plus, if I try to charge it the red protection light on the EVSE lights up which means it has gone into protection mode because there has been a problem detected. So basically I can neither start nor charge it, which leaves me with little choice than to have her towed in to Morristown MINI for the "flying doctors" to take a look at it. 

This is the first time I have had a problem and the car needed to be towed in about a year as the car has proven to be very reliable considering it is a prototype test car and even this time I believe I had a hand in on it's demise. On Sunday night I was charging outside at my restaurant in the rain. We had quite a storm and it was really pouring. When I unplugged the car, I quickly put the cap on the receptacle on the car as to not allow rain to get it wet. What I failed to realize was the the plastic cap had filled with rain water and when I slid it on the charge receptacle it flooded the area with water. 

I drove home without a problem, but when I arrived and went to charge the car, I noticed how wet the plug area was and that there was actually a lot of water inside the plug receptacle. I dried it off as best I could and left the cap off overnight to let it air out. I didn't need to charge the car to get to work the next day so that wasn't going to be a problem. In the morning when I tried to start the car all I would get was the icon pictured above, meaning the car believed that it was plugged in which it wasn't. By now the area looked dry, but I guess inside was still wet so I let the car sit all day and took my Toyota to work. 

This morning I got up and tried to turn it on again but I still get the plug icon. I figure that if it hasn't dried out in roughly 36 hours then the water probably did some damage that needs to be fixed so I called for a tow and it's now off to Morristown MINI. I figure this was 50% my fault and 50% the cars fault. I definitely shouldn't have poured water on the receptacle, but the car should be able to handle screw ups like this, there are plenty of idiots like me out there that make mistakes. I'm sure they could design the plug area better to prevent problems like this from happening and that is exactly what the MINI-E program is about; finding design flaws like this and correcting them so future EV's that actually make it to the showroom don't have them. The more I think about it, the MINI-E program was a brilliant idea. BMW is getting more real world data and information with this program than they could ever get with internal testing, and they are getting us to pay a lease payment to participate! Genius! So I sent Rob Healey, technical coordinator for the MINI-E and Vincent Immerso, MINI-E service adviser for the MINI-E at Morristown MINI an email that detailed the issue and a heads up that they should expect the car shortly.

Within an hour I got a call from Vincent and then an email from Rob to let me know they will get right on it today and get me that car back as soon as possible. Vincent asked me if I needed a loaner car, which I declined for the time being, and Rob informed me that Shaun Gillilan, one of the flying doctors was already en-route to check out #250. That is some great service!

So it looks like there is no need to call and complain to Richard Steinberg, manager of BMW's North American electric vehicle operations or Dr. Norbert Reithofer, BMW CEO to make them aware of this problem. The rank and file have this under control.

UPDATE: The car was fixed the same day and I already picked it up. As I thought, the problem was caused by excessive water infiltrating the plug recepticle. My bad!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pushing the Limit

The MINI-E speedometer and power gauge

During my eighteen months with MINI-E #250 I have tried to test the car in every way. I have pushed the range until I thought I would need to be towed, I have overloaded the cabin with hundreds of pounds of cargo, I have seen battery temperature extremes from 118 degrees to a low of 39 degrees and I've generally driven it like someone that is trying to find the weak links so BMW could identify them and improve upon the findings in future models. 

I have also not forgotten to test the 95mph electronically governed top speed either. In fact, on a few occasions I have tried to push it a little higher and beat the limiter. I did succeed to squeeze out 96mph, but not any more than that. I was really hoping to get a bit closer to 100, but after a few attempts I have all but given up. When you hit the 95 mph limit, the car cuts the power until it drops down to about 90 and then supplies power again, so you constantly bounce between 90 and 95 if you just keep the accelerator floored. I even tried to do it going downhill with the hopes that I could squeeze out a few more mph but it didn't happen. 

It's not that the car doesn't have the power, because it does. In fact, at high speed it has plenty of power and gets up to the 95mph limit with ease, but the electronic limit then takes over. I'm not sure if BMW just doesn't want us to have an accident at such high speeds or if perhaps the car just isn't geared to go faster and could have problems if we were to drive it to the limit. There is also the issue of battery use at these high speeds. The car uses a lot of power pushing the air out of the way at these high speeds. From my experiences I surmise that driving the car at 90+ mph continuously would cut the range in half of what the car would normally get so you wouldn't want to drive that fast often unless you were not far from your charger.

I think it's that reason that the other automakers that are coming out with pure electric cars in the near future have all set electric governed top speed limiters like the MINI-E has. For example the Nissan LEAF is limited to 90mph, the Smart Electric Drive can only go 60mph, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV is 81mph, the Honda Fit EV is 90mph and the Ford Focus EV is limited to 85. I'm pretty sure these cars, without the limiters could go much faster, but they would then use up the energy stored in their packs extremely fast and possibly leave their driver stranded and unable to make it to their nearest charge point. 

Personally I don't think there is much a need to go faster than 80mph in an EV (unless of course it's a Tesla Roadster!) so I don't mind the limiters as long as they are at least 80mph. In just about any driving situation, you wouldn't need to go faster than that to keep up with the flow of traffic on any highway. As long as the car has the instant torque and plenty of low speed power you would expect with an EV. The trade off you sacrifice in range just to drive a little faster just isn't worth it. I know I'm driving a little slower than I used to now that I'm driving an EV(except when I'm testing the top speed limit of course!) and when I think about it, I guess that a good thing.

Friday, December 10, 2010

#250 Gets a New Pair of Shoes

One of the great things about the MINI-E program is that everything is included in the $600/month payment. Everything includes all service and repairs (even if you caused damage or excessive wear) new tires when needed, even wiper blades and windshield  wiper fluid! No matter what breaks or is worn, it is fixed for free.

The East Coast pioneers (drivers in NY & NJ) also get free snow tires installed in the fall and then new all season tires installed in the spring. To make it easier for the dealers, the tires come mounted on new wheels so every 6 months I get a new set of tires and brand-spankin' new wheels. While the California drivers do get tire replacement as needed, they don't automatically get new ones every six months like we do on the east, and they certainly don't get new wheels every six months either. I'm on my fourth set of tires and wheels now in eighteen months with the car

Then again they don't have to deal with the problems the cold weather creates as we do so I guess BMW is throwing us on the East a bone for putting up with the reduced range and freezing interior(because the heater really doesn't work at all in cold weather) but that's a story for another post... stay tuned.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Little Car, Big Impact

The MINI-E is a physically small car. You don't need to park it next to big trucks to realize that.

However, the cliche "Big things can come in small packages" may never have been more appropriate to say about any other automobile than the MINI-E. Flash back to 2008 when BMW first decided to make the MINI-E. Other than the Tesla Roadster, there were no options for a highway capable electric car, and the Tesla really wasn't an option for 99.9% of the population. The only choice a person really had to drive an electric car was to build one themselves, which again, isn't much of an option for most people. When I came across the online application to test drive an electric car for a year, it was such a unique opportunity I went for it.

Honestly, I don't think BMW had any idea the car would be as successful as it has turned out to be. They originally offered only a one year, closed-end lease because they didn't know how good the car would be, if people would like driving them or if they really wanted to make a serious commitment to electric vehicles. The MINI-E was truly a litmus test to see how the public would react to e-mobility. Now, about two and a half years after BMW decided to conduct the Trial Lease program, they have offered second year renewals, expanded the program to six countries, announced the MINI-E successor(BMW ActiveE) and have announced plans to sell a purpose-built electric car in 2013, the BMW megacity.

The MINI-E has also made believers out of many of the lessees who, like myself weren't really sure that they could live with an electric car. Well, this little car proved without a doubt that we can and in fact prefer to. The smooth acceleration, instant torque, and quiet drive of the MINI-E give it an exceptional driving experience. The fact that I can use domestically generated electricity (or electricity that I make myself with my solar array) make it even more enjoyable. Energy independence is an important issue for many people. More and more people are realizing the effects our addiction to foreign oil has on America. The cumulative effects of spending (borrowing really) over a billion dollars a day on foreign oil is crippling our economy and the powerful oil lobby spends hundreds of millions of dollars to influence policy in our government. People are beginning understand how dangerous it is to rely on foreign regimes for our energy needs and want options. They want to be able to choose the fuel that they use to power their automobiles and the MINI-E came along and showed us what EV advocates have been saying for years now; that electric cars are a viable option and that there is a demand for them.

Recently autobloggreen.com posted an article titled: "How BMW created electric vehicle advocates through Mini E program" which basically said that the people that have leased the MINI-E love it so much they want to tell others how great it is. They are definitely right in saying this. Many of the MINI-E drivers like myself have become active in advocating electric cars, bringing our MINI-E's to green car events and even speaking at conferences and expo's about their experiences with the car.

About a month ago BMW announced they would be investing 560 million dollars to upgrade their Leipzig assembly plant to build electric cars and another 180 million dollars to build electric car components. That's nearly three quarters of a billion dollars! One thing is for sure, they wouldn't have made such a grand commitment to e-mobility had the MINI-E program been a failure. I'm pretty sure BMW had no idea how much this little car would effect the future of their company when they first proposed building it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A MINI-E Police Car?

I stumbled upon this article on autoevolution that shows a converted MINI-E police car. The conversion was done by AC Schnitzer. There is obviously no plans to make these cars but I thought  it was a neat story and enjoyed seeing the MINI-E in colors other than the gray, black and yellow trim that all the stock cars com in. The yellow interior trim was also painted blue and additional gauges were added as well as a police radio. I do like the wheels, but I bet they would cut into the cars range a bit. Maybe BMW will do this conversion for me the next time I'm in for service, I certainly wouldn't complain....

Friday, November 26, 2010

Regenerative Braking: How Much is Enough?

For the most part, electric cars like the MINI-E drive the same as their pollution spewing  ICE counterparts. Sure they are much quieter and the instant torque of their electric motors cannot be matched by traditional gasoline powered motors. However overall they are still cars, much the same as others just with a different energy source. The biggest difference in driving an EV as compared to a traditional car is the brakes.

While traditional cars use regular mechanical brakes, who's function is solely to slow the vehicle down, electric cars employ regenerative brakes which have two functions; slow the car down, and capture energy.
When you use your traditional brakes, you are creating energy, you just have no way to capture and use it so it is simply converted into heat by way of friction and wasted. Regenerative brakes are a mechanism which slows a vehicle by converting its kinetic energy into electricity which is then put into the cars battery to increase it's range.

The MINI-E has become notorious for it's extremely aggressive regenerative brakes. When people drive the car for the first time it can be startling how strong the regen is. Journalists have written that the MINI-E's regenerative brakes are like deploying a parachute at highway speeds. I think that's a bit over the top, but I have to admit, they are very strong and you need to drive the car for a day or two before you get fully comfortable with them.

However once you do get used to them, everybody that I have spoken with absolutely loves it and missed it terribly when they drive other cars that do not have regenerative brakes. A friend of mine, Michael Thwaite drives a MINI-E in New Jersey as I do. Michael also owns a Tesla Roadster(lucky bastard!) and he and I were talking about the two cars recently and he told me that he likes the regenerative braking of the MINI-E better than that of the Tesla because it's stronger in the MINI-E. He even told me that after getting his MINI-E he wrote Tesla and asked them why they didn't make the regenerative braking stronger on the Tesla like it is on the MINI-E!

I have come to realize that although it may be disconcerting when you first drive a car with regenerative braking, once you have a little time with it you love it. This is true for all the MINI-E drivers that I know. You learn to drive with only your right foot and use the traditional brakes only in emergency situations. I'm certain I could drive the MINI-E more than 100,000 miles before I needed brake pad replacements for how little I use them.

However recently when I took #250 in for the regular 5000 mile service, I was told that they were making a "software tweak" and to see if I notice any differences. I do and I'm not really happy with it. The regenerative braking is definitely dialed back a bit, requiring me to ease up on the accelerator earlier than previously needed to slow down in time for a turn or a complete stop. During the eighteen months I have had the car, BMW has done these software tweaks a few times and almost always it seems the regen is dialed back a bit. I guess they are trying to get the most efficient balance between performance, range and regen. I just want BMW and the other auto manufacturers working on EV's to know this one thing: The stronger the regen the better! If you are afraid that some people won't like it so strong (believe me, don't worry about that) then allow the regen to be set by the driver and make it adjustable. Just don't take away my aggressive regenerative braking, the stronger the better!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Plugging In Beats Filling Up Any Day Of The Week

November 12th was my 17th month anniversary with MINI-E #250. I have driven it almost 45,000 miles and I am approaching my 800th recharge. I keep detailed records of every time I drive the car as well as every time I charge up so I know exactly how many times I have plugged in, and that would be 791 times so far.

My MINI-E & a Tesla charging together
Sounds like a lot of work, right? I often hear people say how they wouldn't want an electric car and one of the reasons is because it's so easy to drive to a gas station and fill up. When you do so, you're generally good for 300 to 400 miles of driving as opposed to only a hundred miles or so for an EV.

The thing is, it's really no work at all to plug in, and only people that have lived with an EV can honestly attest to that. When I arrive home at night, it takes less than ten seconds to walk over to my EVSE, grab the cable and plug in. The car charges while I'm sleeping, it's that easy. When you need gas, you have to drive to a station and wait for them to fill your car up before you can continue on your way. My other car, a Toyota Tacoma can go about 325 miles between fill ups so I would have had to fill up at least 140 times, and most likely would have done so about 150 times.

So what would I prefer to do?  Make 150 trips to the gas station or just pull into my garage like I always do every night anyway and take a few seconds to plug in my electric car? Continue to suck on the oil nipple that we have all been conditioned to believe that we need, or tell OPEC to shove their black gold up their a** and charge my electric car with clean renewable electricity that I make myself with my solar PV array.
Hmmm, let me think about that one for a while.........

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Four Chevy Volts and a Tesla Roadster Come to Visit My MINI-E!


The parking lot of my restaurant today was an EV supporters dream!
 In addition to my MINI-E and my friends Tesla Roadster, we had four Chevy Volts stop by and hang out for the afternoon. That's right, there were four Chevy Volts in one place today and it wasn't a GM assembly line! There are only 15 Volts in the entire country on the road being driven by private citizens (The Volt Consumer Advisory Board Members) and four of them were in my parking lot for about three hours this afternoon. Lyle Dennis from GM-Volt.com and I organized the event. We had a bunch of people stop by and ask questions about the cars, the CAB members even gave some people test drives in their volts and Lyle even let me drive his volt for a while which was a great experience.

The car is everything it has been billed to be. It was powerful, had smooth acceleration, was nimble and felt like I was driving a luxury car, not at all like an economy car. You can't compare the driving experience to that of a Prius, which many people are trying to compare the volt to. I've driven a 2010 Prius, and it isn't in the volts league at all, not even close.

I would like to thank Lyle and the other three volt CAB members Mike Maria, Eric Rotbard and Robert Becker, as well as Michael Thwaite for bringing his Tesla roadster by. It was great to meet everybody and talk electric cars for a while. Reducing our oil dependency can be a lot of fun sometimes!

You can also check out Lyle's GM-Volt.com blog for more details on the day, he's going to do a post on the event tomorrow (Sunday 11/14)

I have to repeat how impressed I was with the volt. In my opinion GM has really nailed it with this car. The fit and finish was very good, it was very nimble and responsive and had that great quiet driving experience of an electric vehicle that I have come to really appreciate. I'm betting these cars will sell very well for a long time. It is definitely the best EREV/hybrid option available on the market today.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I'm Hosting a Chevy Volt Party!

Lyle Dennis of GM-Volt and I have put together a Chevy Volt meet for this Saturday, November 13th from 11am to 2pm at my restaurant, Nauna's Bella Casa in Montclair NJ. Lyle is a member of GM's Consumer Advisory Board for the Volt and along with the other members, got his Volt yesterday. Lyle spoke to two other CAB members here on the East Coast and they too plan on bringing their Volts also.


This should be a really great way to get a look at one of the most anticipated cars in modern history before they are available to the public. We will have the cars on display in the restaurants parking lot.

Nauna's Bella Casa
148 Valley Road
Montclair, NJ 07042
www.naunas.com

Very few people have had an opportunity to see this car so far, much less three of them at one location. I'll have the MINI-E there also, but this is really going to be a Volt day! More details on the event  later. You can also check out Lyle's GM-Volt blog for information.

Update: There will also be a Tesla Roadster there on display as well as my MINI-E so it will be a really great showing for the future of electric transportation.

Monday, November 8, 2010

MINI-E #250 and I are Included in the Marketing for Chris Paine's New Movie "Revenge of The Electric Car"

Back in 2006 Chris Paine wrote and directed a documentary called "Who Killed The Electric Car". This is a must see movie for any electric car enthusiast. (Actually I think everybody should see it) The film purpose was to try to investigate why the automakers (mostly GM) made electric cars, took them back from the customers and then crushed just about all of them so there would be no chance of them resurfacing and proving how good they really were. Back in 2006 when Chris made this documentary it seemed a hopeless quest to try to encourage major automakers to commit to building EV's, they just didn't want to and would always say there just isn't enough consumer demand to justify making them.

Now jump only four years to 2010. Just about every major auto maker has an electric car in development and two of them, the Chevy Volt and the Nissan LEAF, will be available for sale within two months. BMW has had over 600 electric cars in real world testing for a year and a half now and is poised to start their second all electric test car, the ActiveE next summer and will sell their first all electric car called the megacity in 2013. Ford announced they will sell a Focus EV in 2012, Fiat will offer a 500 EV, Toyota has partnered with Tesla to make another RAV4 EV, Honda recently announced they will have an EV in showrooms soon, Smart will have an electric version of their car and Mitsubishi will offer the iMiev shortly. WOW! What happened in the scant few years since 2006 and nobody seemed interested in making electric cars?

So Chris is making a sequel called "Revenge of The Electric Car". The film should be out sometime this Spring and I'll announce more about it as the date approaches. I was contacted by Michelle Kaffko, producer of marketing and distribution for the film and asked if I was interested in having my EV story used to help promote the movie. There is a link to the movies website on the top right column of this blog or you can jump to it from HERE.  Or just go to the website and click on the tab at the top that say's "Take Revenge" and scroll down a little to see how I've "Taken Revenge".

Monday, November 1, 2010

MINI-E software "Upgrade": I'm Not Sure That's What I'd Call It

During the sixteen months that I've had the MINI-E now, there has been a few software "upgrades" that have been performed when I have taken the car in for the scheduled service every 5,000 miles. The reason for these are to correct any known "bugs" the software might have, like early on when some of the cars would jump from drive into neutral when you were stopped at a traffic light, and also to tweek the cars power output and regenerative braking to refine the driving experience and make it as smooth and pleasurable as possible.

When I brought the car in for service last week, Rob Healey, technical coordinator for the MINI-E, told me that they were doing a software upgrade and to let him know how I felt about the changes they made. Well it's only been about a week now so I'm going to give it a little more time before I email him to let him know how I feel about it, but so far I'm not really lovin' it. They did seem to make the transition from acceleration to regenerative braking and vise-versa more subtle and smoother, but the regenerative braking has definitely been dialed back a bit and I need to adjust to it. I have found myself using the actual brakes much more than I have needed before and I don't really like that. Perhaps once I get used to it I will adjust my driving to once again use the regen for most all of my slowing down and stopping, but for now I find myself having to use the brakes to prevent myself from running into the rear of the car in front of me or overshooting a stop sign or intersection. It may just be me needing to get used to the new program. After driving the car for so long I got used to exactly when I needed to let off the accelerator to slow down for a turn or stop at a light and I need to re-learn that again.

You might ask why BMW does this and that is a legitimate question. I'm not 100% sure but I assume they want to test different levels of regenerative braking for efficiency as well as customer comfort. I recently spoke to a Tesla owner who also drives a MINI-E here in New Jersey and he said the MINI-E's regenerative braking is much stronger than Tesla's. He needs to adjust every time he drives one car and then the other. Some people like very aggressive regen and others don't want it to feel like they released a parachute to slow the car down every time they let off the accelerator. After driving the MINI-E I have learned to love the aggressive regenerative braking and for me, the stronger the better. Personally I think all EV makers just allow the driver to adjust the regen to the level they feel most comfortable with. I'm sure it wouldn't be difficult to have that as an option that the driver can set to the position they like.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Back in the Drivers Seat


Good news. After only about 5 hours after dropping off #250 for my 42,000 mile service and to check out the fan issue I got a call from my service manager Vinnie to tell me the car was all set and ready to be picked up.

Since I was at work and had a busy night in front of me (a party of 50 was booked) I couldn't leave and get the car so I picked it up this morning on my way to work. Vinnie greeted me as he always does, with my keys, an explanation of what services were performed and a smile. Service writers can help to make a usually unpleasant trip to the dealer more bearable by explaining everything they needed to do and simply being personable and Vinny does a good job at both. I am happy I got my MINI-E from Morristown MINI because I am very pleased with the overall job the service department does there. The car is always cleaned and charged when I pick it up. The only criticism I can really offer is that Morristown MINI doesn't have many actual MINI's to give out as service loaner cars and they use Enterprise Rent a Car for this. I know most dealers use this practice (When I had a Mercedes they also used a rental company for their service loaners unless you were a "Gold Circle" customer and probably needed to buy ten cars from the dealer to qualify) In all my service trips for the MINI-E (about ten) I only got to use an actual MINI once and it was a clubman. I really liked driving the car and it even made me think about buying one. I think this is a great way to showcase their products and possibly get their service customers to want to upgrade to a newer MINI or clubman. Oh well, what do I know?

Anyway, #250 is back on the road and I only had to shell out $8.00 for gas yesterday. Not bad, but consider this: The same miles driven in my MINI-E would have cost me about $2.65 in electricity, and that was for just ONE DAY of driving!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I'm Burning Gasoline For a While


One of the unfortunate aspects of the MINI-E program is that I have to bring the car in for service every 5,000 miles. The BMW technicians trained to work on these cars (called the flying doctors) inspect every detail, check all the battery modules and download the data the car has captured since the last service visit.

I recently turned 42,000 and that meant I had gone 5k since my last service so I knew I had to make an appointment soon. Then yesterday I noticed the battery temperature was unusually high, as it was over 100 degrees and this time of year when it's typically 60 to 70 degrees outside I usually see battery temperatures in the 80's so something was off. I then looked (and listened) closely to the battery compartment and didn't hear the usual sound of the fans that pull air from the cabin of the car and blow it across the battery pack. I'm guessing they stopped functioning and the increase in battery temperature is the result. If it were in the middle of the summer, it would be a big problem and probably prevent me from being able to drive the car because the modules would get too hot and the car would shut down. However since it is now cooler outside, I could have probably driven it fora while with no real effects or problem.

I emailed Rob Healey at BMW and asked him if he wanted me to bring the car right in for service or wait until next week when I had originally planned to bring it in for the 5,000 mile service. As I expected, he said being it in as soon as possible, not wanting to take a chance. So this morning I brought it in to Morristown MINI and picked up my 2010 Dodge Charger loaner car.

I got a nice surprise while I was waiting for the loaner car at the dealership as Rob Healey and Hugo VanGeem from BMW just happened to be there. Rob is the Technical coordinator for the MINI-E and Hugo is the head of BMW's electric car sales. It was nice to see them in person and say hello as I usually only correspond with them via email.

It is worth noting that this is the first malfunction I have had since last December, nearly a full year now. I did have a problem in February, but that was caused by me hitting a big pothole and messing up some stuff in the front end, hardly the cars fault. So now I'll be joining everybody else for the next few days. I'll be burning gas, supporting terrorism, sending my US dollars to foreign regimes and polluting the air as I drive. Luckily, it won't be for long.

Monday, October 25, 2010

EV Range Isn't set in Stone

Electric cars like the MINI-E are often gauged by how far they can go on a single charge. It seems that most of the auto manufacturers are focusing on 100 miles per charge as the minimum acceptable single charge range. The MINI-E has been tested to get 156 miles on a single charge using the EPA LA-4 cycle, but this doesn't mean much to those of us driving these cars because we have come to realize the real-world driving range is around 100 miles. Some get more, some less, it all depends on your driving habits.

The slower you drive, the further you can go. That is the simplest way to explain the how your range can vary. This isn't much different from a gasoline powered car. The slower you drive, the better your mpg.  My range varies from day to day, depending on how aggressive I drive. The MINI-E is a lot of fun to drive. The instant torque of the electric drive and great handling that all MINI Coopers have make it easy to want to drive the car spiritedly. Since I record all the data from my daily driving I can clearly see the difference when I drive normally, aggressively and economically. The other day I forgot that I was going to need to drive about 115 miles before I could plug in and was driving pretty fast on the highway, around 75 mph for a while. When I was halfway through my day I realized that I was already down to about 40% SOC and now needed to be very efficient for the rest of my journey.

When I was about 85 miles into the day, my estimated range was at only 10 miles and I still was 32 miles from plugging in. I now needed to be very efficient. I had two choices, get off the highway and drive a route that I knew. This was all secondary roads and I could drive 35mph or so and I would be able to squeeze out the 32 miles for sure. The other choice was much more risky: Stay on the route 80, find a tractor trailer and hypermile by drafting behind the 18 wheeler. Being the risk taker that I am, I decided to go the dangerous route. It didn't take me long to hook up with a tractor trailer, pull up right behind him and begin draft.

This is very dangerous and I don't advocate doing this. You need to be very alert and ready to brake immediately if the truck does. This hyper-miling technique is commonly used by people in gasoline powered cars and hybrids that try to get the highest mpg that they can. They even have competitions on who can go the furthest using the lease amount of gas, so this isn't an "electric car thing". It works because by drafting behind the large truck, your car doesn't have to use much energy to push the air away from its path. This air resistance is the main reason why going faster reduces efficiency because the faster you go, the wind resistance increases exponentially. As I started moving along behind the truck I could see the range indicator actually go up for a while. A few miles and I now had 15 miles of range remaining, up from 10. I followed the truck the entire time I was on route 80 which was about 28 miles. When I got off the highway I still had 6 miles of estimated range. Therefore, I drove 28 miles and only lost 4 miles of range!

When I arrived at work I had driven 117 total miles and had 0 miles of estimated range left. Had I driven the whole day more efficiently, I'm sure I could have done the 117 miles and had 5 -10 miles of range remaining without having the need to dangerously draft behind a truck. I want you to know I do not regularly do this, I don't find it necessary and I really wouldn't want to take the risk of an accident. This was as much a test for the car as it was a product of me having the inexplicable need to live dangerously every now and then. I don't want anyone getting the impression that this would be necessary if you had an electric car because it in no way is. In fact most of the people that do this drive gasoline powered cars. If you look around while your driving on a major highway it won't take you too long to see a car following a big rig a little closer than you would normally do, they are probably doing it consciously to increase their fuel efficiency. 

I've talked to a lot of electric car drivers and many of them have their own way to extend the range. Some hyper-mile, some put the car in neutral and coast downhill, others have ways to use the regenerative braking more than others, and some practice all kinds of hyper-miling techniques. However we all agree the simplest way to go as far as possible whatever EV you own is to just drive a little slower.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Wall Street Journal Features Me in a Series about Electric Cars

The chart above is a representation of an entire day in my life driving the MINI-E. Mike Ramsey from the Wall Street Journal contacted me a while ago and told me he was doing a series on electric cars. He said it was his intention to show all sides to EV's; the positives and the negatives and he wanted to talk to people that had both points of view. He asked me if I felt OK with being chosen to represent the pro-EV side.

That both a great feeling and a little scary. I have been in the news quite a bit lately but this was still a great honor since the Wall Street Journal is such well respected paper with world wide distribution and out of all the electric car advocates there are, Mike sought me out to be the example of how and why people do like electric cars.

Since Mike writes out of Detroit, we did the interviews over the phone and even a little through email. He had the Journal send a photographer to my house one day at about 9:00am and spent the entire day with me. He left his car in my driveway and came with me to work and drove around with me anytime I used the car, finally returning home with me at 10:00 at night. The purpose of this was to take pictures and record my use of the car for one entire day. They wanted to show the state of charge the car had, the miles, my average speed and outside temperature to make the graphic posted above. If you click the link below to the complete article you can enlarge the graph and see additional information.

The series of articles in the Journal did have more of an anti-EV slant, with Mike concentrating more on the roadblocks and issues that EV's may have than the positives. I'm a little disappointed that he didn't print more of what we talked about because I think a defended electric cars admirably and offered reasons why people are going to embrace them instead of focusing on their shortcomings. We talked about how the early cell phones were so expensive, had terrible range and were huge and cumbersome but somehow, despite the problems of the early models they prevailed and are now a part of just about everyone's life.

I got a lot of emails after the article ran and a couple "well done" messages from a few electric car advocates. You never know how an article will be written when you give an interview. Although I would have like to see a little more about the reasons I gave for why I think EV's will be a success, overall I think Mike was fair and didn't misrepresent anything we discussed. You can read the whole article by clicking on this link.

Monday, October 18, 2010

New Article on me in the Daily Record of New Jersey

Photo by John Bell




I was featured in a story that ran on the front page of the Daily Record this Saturday. It was written by Laura Bruno and was about the MINI-E, my solar electric system and my desire to see the country reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Click HERE to jump to the full article.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

MINI-E Survives the "Left Running All Night" Test!

I got up this morning and was ready to leave with my wife to go for a Saturday morning drive like we often do. I grabbed my wallet and cell phone but conspicuously absent from the counter were my keys. I always put my wallet and keys next to my cellphone charger so I never forget to take any of them when I leave in the morning so it was unusual that the keys weren't there. I'm not the kind of person that leaves them anywhere and often has to look for them. I'm structured and very organized, sometimes too much so. If the keys weren't on the counter than there really was only one other place they would be: in the ignition of the car!

I walked out into the garage and there they were, in the ignition and the car was "running". I use the word running but I really should say "turned on" because there is no engine to be running. In fact, if there had been an engine "running" I most certainly wouldn't have left it "turned on" all night like I did.

Last night was a busy night at the restaurant and I got home a little after midnight. When I was just about home I got a text from one of my employees that flew into Chicago last night and he was telling me he just landed after a 5 hour delay at Newark Liberty Airport. I was only a mile or so from home when he texted me so I figured I'd wait until I got home to reply. So as soon as I pulled into the garage, I turned off the radio and headlights and then replied to his text. We exchanged a few messages about how he now missed his connecting flight and needed to rent a car to get to his final destination because there were no more flights that night. I then grabbed the stuff I had in the car, and went inside my house leaving the car on all night.

I've never done this before and I haven't even heard of any of the other MINI-E drivers doing it either. There were however a couple of things that conspired to my making this mistake.

1) The car is completely quiet when it's turned on but not moving. If it had been an internal combustion car, I would have most certainly shut it off. I guess it's possible to leave the keys in the ignition with an ICE car, but not leave to the car running in a quiet garage.

2) I didn't need to charge the car last night. I had charged the car at work yesterday, so when I arrived home I was still at about 70% SOC and there was no need to charge up. I would have plenty of juice to take a drive with my wife in the morning and then drive to work and plug in there. As I have stated here before, I charge at work as much as possible because my electric rate at work is $.11/kWh verses $.18kWh at home. If I had needed to charge it when I got home, the car would have let me know it was still turned on when I plugged in by not accepting the charge so I would have realized what I did.

3) I have a digital keypad to unlock my door from the garage to the house to I didn't need my keys to get inside my house.

I did learn one thing from this. The car had about 5% less charge in the morning than it did when I left it at night so there must be a draw going on when the car is sitting and turned on. I know the battery fans go on every now and then to bring fresh air across the modules so I guess that could be it.

I can imagine how much carbon monoxide would have been in the garage this morning is I did manage to leave an internal combustion engine car running in there all night. I recently installed new garage doors that are insulated and seal the opening really well to prevent drafts so there wouldn't be a way for the gas to escape. 

One good thing to think about is I guess suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning will be a thing of the past once battery electric cars are in everyone's garage!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Back From The Bay Area Green Drive Expo

Picture of me and #250 on the Jumbotron at The Green Drive Expo





About two months ago I was asked by Brad Berman of PluginCars.com if I would like to sit on a panel of experienced electric car drivers to talk about living with an electric car and answer questions about the MINI-E and BMW's electric future. Brad was putting together the Bay Area Green Drive Expo and wanted one of the event programs to be three experienced EV owners for a Q & A session. I agreed to participate and the event was last Saturday, October 8th at the Craneway pavilion in Richmond, CA.

The event went really well. There were about 3,000 visitors and I got a chance to talk to some long time EV advocates like Chelsea Sexton (Who Killed The Electric Car) and Marc Geller, one of the founders of Plug In America. The two other panelists with me were Darell Dicky and Earl Cox. Darell has a RAV 4 EV and Earl has a Tesla Roadster. Both of them leased an EV-1 when they were available(Before GM took them all back and crushed them) and are fountains of information about electric cars. Darell, Earl and I are all frequent posters on Plugincars.com so I have communicated with them online, but had never met them before the event. It was nice to finally meet some of the people that I have been messaging online for a while now. Being on the East Coast I don't always get to meet many of the hard core EV advocates since many of them live in California where electric cars like the EV-1, the RAV 4 were available for a while. 

I really had a good time. I talked with so many people about the MINI-E, the BMW ActiveE and also the 2013 BMW Megacity vehicle. BMW was not present so I felt like the defacto representative. There were people there that were really interested in BMW's plans for electric mobility. I handed out printed cards that had ActiveE information on them and directed them to BMW's website and Project i Facebook page for information. There was a Nissan LEAF there, as well as two Tesla Roadsters, a Ford Focus EV, a Think City, a plug in Prius, a Mitsubishi iMiev, a Smart car, about a dozen professional conversions, electric motorcycles and electric assist bicycles. Chelsea Sexton was the keynote speaker, Toyota national manager of advanced technology Ed LaRocque gave a speech as did Gil Portalatin of Ford hybrid systems. There were test drives in the parking lot and all of the sponsors and speakers got together for a nice dinner after the event. 

It was really a great expo. Marc Geller even drove me back to my hotel from dinner in his RAV 4 EV. I had never driven in one before so that was a pretty cool experience. For me the best part was getting to personally meet all the people that I have only communicated with by email for the past few years. Thank you Brad for extending the offer to me to be a part of it all.

UPDATE: Someone posted a video of Marc, Darell, Earl and me on Youtube. This was recorded right after we were on stage for our Q & A session. Below is the link to the video.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8QsoUMxQbU&feature=player_embedded

Monday, October 4, 2010

My CBS Radio Interview Aired Today

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Sean Adams from CBS radio. Sean met me at Nauna's and I took him for a 15 minute drive and he interviewed me as we drove around Montclair. The interview was for a segment on CBS radio called "Stories From Main Street" and is about regular people doing unusual or extraordinary things. The interview aired on CBS radio today. You can hear the audio from the CBS radio website. You can jump to the site from the link below:
http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2010/10/04/stories-from-main-street-montclair-nj/

Friday, October 1, 2010

BMW Chief Designer Adrian Van Hooydonk Talks About The New MINI-E Scooter Concept

Adrian Van Hooydonk is BMW's chief designer and is generally regarded as on of the best in the automotive industry. Adrian talked a few minuted to describe the new MINI-E scooter concept in the video posted below.

It is a line of electric scooters that were recently introduced at the Paris Auto Show. Adrian and his design team came up with three different designs, one of them shares the MINI-E color combination and subtly design characteristics.  Personally, I think they all look great and if they can deliver the 65 miles per charge that I have read and not be too expensive, then I think they would sell well, especially in urban areas. This further confirms BMW's commitment to electric mobility and that they are proactively thinking out of the box for ways to meet then needs of efficient, low emission personal transportation.




Wednesday, September 29, 2010

MINI-E #250 Shows off at Green Transportation Expo

 I was asked to bring the car to a Green Transportation Expo in Florham Park last week. Fortunately, I pass through Florham Park on my way to work so it wasn't much of an inconvenience at all and I agreed. It was held in the parking lot of Pershing, LLC and there were about 15 other cars there. My MINI-E was the only pure electric so it got lots of attention and I was answering questions about it the whole time I was there. Most everyone really liked it and a few even knew about it. 

I even spoke to one of the organizers and he had told me that they were looking into installing charging stations in their parking lot for their employees. As you can imagine I encouraged him to do so and even offered some ideas and told him I can help him get in contact with the companies that make the EVSE's if he needed help. It's really great to hear employers getting on board with the EV movement. Workplace charging will play a big role in the mass deployment of electric vehicles. My personal experience of living with an EV was definitely improved when I installed a charger at my workplace. 
I talked about BMW's future EV plans including the ActiveE and Megacity vehicle and there was a lot of interest in those cars also. The day went well, there were a few hundred attendees and I'm sure more than a few of them went home with a different outlook on electric cars after I talked to them for a while.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Another Day, Another Interested Motorist


I've frequently written about how often people stop me and ask questions about the MINI-E. Is it a hybrid? Is it really all electric? How do you charge it? The final question is often: Can I buy one?

I had another "electric car moment" this morning on my way to work. As I pulled up to a traffic light in Morristown I noticed the person behind me holding up their cell phone to take a picture of the back of my car. This happens all the time since I got my EF-OPEC vanity plates. Usually once they get a picture, it ends there but today was a bit different. Once the traffic light turned green and I started moving I noticed that he moved into the lane next to me and sped up to get even with me. He then lowered his window and motioned to me to lower my window. We were pulling up to another traffic light so I really didn't mind.

Once I lowered my window he quickly asked "I hate to inconvenience you, but do you have a minute, I would really love to talk to you about your car" I really wasn't in a rush to get to work anyway so I agreed and told him to pull into the Dunkin Donuts parking lot that was right up the street. It turned out that he read the article on me in the Star Ledger a few weeks ago and knew all about the MINI-E from reading about it but he had never saw one in person. He had lots of questions about range, charging, temperature management and even wanted to know if I had noticed any battery degradation yet so he knew the right questions to ask. He said he has a deposit on a Nissan LEAF and is waiting for it to be available in New Jersey.

After about a ten minute conversation he thanked me, I gave him this blog address and we parted ways. Encounters like this have been one of the most interesting part of being in the MINI-E program. I have met so many people that are interested in electric cars, much more than I ever expected. With cars like the Chevy Volt and the Nissan LEAF coming to showrooms in a couple months we will finally have a choice.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Guest Post on Edmunds Inside Line

 
Edmunds Automotive is one of the most respected automotive authorities. For many years they have offered guidance for purchasing new and used cars in print and online. They also have a site that tests cars for long term durability. They buy the cars and drive them for a year or two and report on their time with the car. They call this site Edmunds Long Term Road Test. Occasionally at their request, I write guest blog posts for them about the MINI-E. Donna DeRosa, managing editor for Edmunds contacted me recently and asked me if I could write another post, this time about the effects the extreme heat we have had this summer has had on the MINI-E. Hit the link below to jump to the post I did.

http://blogs.insideline.com/roadtests/2010/09/guest-mini-e-blogger-the-heat-is-on.html

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How Much Electricity Does the MINI-E Use?



One of the questions that people frequently ask me about the MINI-E is "How much electricity does it use?" Sometimes they'll just say "I love the car, but I wouldn't want to see your electric bill!"

When I tell them the car costs between $3.00 and $6.00 in electricity to go 100-120 miles they usually smile and say "Wow, that's great". The reason the range is between $3.00 and $6.00 is because there is such a difference in electricity rates throughout the country. The MINI-E has a 35 kWh battery pack but only 80% of the pack is usable which means it has 28kWh of available power. That 28kWh can move the car between 90 and 120 miles depending on how efficiently you drive. It is less in the winter months because the heater uses a lot of energy, but for most of the year these numbers are correct as an average.

The national average cost for electricity is $.12 per kWh which means it would cost the average person $3.36 to fully charge a depleted battery on the MINI-E. However rates do vary. I pay $.11 per kWh at my restaurant in Montclair, lower than the national average, but it costs me $.18 per kWh at my home in Chester, only 30 miles from Montclair. So if I "fill up" at work it costs me $3.08 but at home it costs me $5.04! Obviously I take advantage of the lower rates and charge at work as much as possible.

Since I have a solar PV array at my home, I sell the electricity back to the utility at the rate they sell it to me ($.18/kWh) so every kilowatt-hour that charge at work saves me $.07. The average person drives about 15,000 miles per year. If they had a MINI-E they would need to use about 4,200kWh to drive 15,000 miles. If you use the national average, you would pay $504 for fuel for the entire year. If you use my rate at my restaurant, it's $462, at my home it's $756. So figure anywhere between a $40/month and $65/month increase in your electric bill if you had a MINI-E and drove it the average of 15,000 miles per year.

One of the great things about electric cars is that you can easily reduce your electric bill by $40 to $60 per month just by being more efficient and therefore completely eliminate your transportation fuel cost! You can't use less gasoline unless you drive less, but you can reduce your electricity usage and still drive as much as you always have. Simple measures like a programmable thermostat and the use of compact florescent light bulbs can make a big difference. In fact, five 100 watt light bulbs left on continuously for a year use the same amount of energy as it takes to power the MINI-E 15,000 miles! Here's how: five 100 watt light bulbs use 500 watts per hour. In 24 hours they use 12,000 watts or 12kWh. In 365 days they use 4,380kWh. What does the MINI-E use to go 15,000 miles? Remember above I calculated it to be 4,200kWh? So five 100 watt light bulbs use 180 more kWh than it takes to power 3,200lb MINI-E for 15,000 miles!

If you take a good look at your home electricity use, I'm sure you can reduce your usage enough to drastically offset the cost of electricity to power an electric car, if not completely eliminate it. Then, every penny of the money you would have spent on gasoline can go right into your pocket!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Phil Blackwood and #411 stop by Nauna's for a Charge

Ever since I got a 50amp EVSE installed at my restaurant, Nauna's Bella Casa in Montclair, I have posted on the MINI-E facebook page and here on this blog that any other MINI-E driver that needs a charge can come over and "fill up" as needed. Many have taken me up on the offer. Actually much more than I expected, which is fine with me as I get to meet some of the others in the program, chat MINI-E, and then sell them a dinner or lunch while their car is charging.

This past Saturday Phil Blackwood stopped by with #411 for some quick electrons. Phil had driven from his home in Central Jersey to New York City to attend the Solar Road Trip rally, a movement to get the White House to re-install solar panels on the roof. Phil needed a little extra juice to make it back to his house and Nauna's was in a perfect location to stop off at on his way home.


Phil and I had a nice conversation, he had a late dinner and after about an hour charge he had more than enough juice to get home.
Thanks for stopping by Phil, it was nice to meet another MINI-E pioneer!

In the past year that I've had the EVSE at Nauna's I've probably had two dozen or so MINI-E's stop by to charge up. I'm thinking I need to talk to BMW about the installing a real public charging station in my parking lot when the ActiveE program begins and they can tell the ActiveE participants in the NY/NJ area that the station is available for them to use at no charge. We can get the press involved and advertise how BMW is committed to a sustainable future with alternative fuel vehicles... Hmmm

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Nothing Like the Smell of Toxic Fumes in the Morning....

As I drove to work this morning for a while I was driving behind a pick up truck that I believe was diesel. Whatever the fuel used, the truck was leaving a huge stream of smoke as it drove down the highway. Even the picture above doesn't do it justice.

I passed the poison-belching behemoth as quickly as possible but started thinking, what did I really accomplish?  All these other cars that I'm following are spewing hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, sulphur oxides just like the truck was except I couldn't see it. That's one of the problems with tailpipe pollution, it's mostly invisible so people don't really realize how bad it is to breathe or just think it dissipates in the air. I think if all tailpipe exhaust were visible, like it was on the truck, then people would be more concerned with it and demand change. Just because we can't see the poison doesn't mean it's not killing us.

Electric cars like the MINI-E aren't necessarily emission free. Sure there are no tailpipes but the electricity that was used to charge the batteries was probably generated from burning coal so there is pollution created which will come out of the smokestack of the power plant instead of the tailpipe of the car. However, it is much less than the pollution that you get from burning gasoline. Plus, if you really want to factor in the entire cradle to the grave environmental impact from oil as compared to coal then the difference becomes even more pronounced in the favor of the coal generated electricity. Then there is the fact you CAN make your own electricity like I do with my home solar PV array. This combination makes an EV a true zero emission vehicle. Lets hope the EV + PV combination becomes common in the near future now that electric vehicles will finally be available for sale here in the US. I'm looking forward to seeing less and less tailpipes in front of me as the shift to battery electric vehicles begins.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Front Page News Story on Me & #250!

Recently I was contacted by Mike Frassinelli, a reporter for the Star Ledger, New Jersey largest newspaper with a daily circulation of over 300,000. He wanted to do a story on me and the fact that I'm driving an electric car and also charging the car with electric that I generate myself from my home solar array. Being the media hound I am, I happily agreed and he came over to my house with a photographer about a week later. We talked for a while, took some pictures and I even let him drive the car for a while. Mike is a great guy and a good journalist, asking all the important questions and even following up my interview with a conversation with Richard Steinberg, head of BMW's electric car division here in the US.

A few days later I heard from Mike and he told me that it looked like the story would run in Sundays paper but that was tentative. Then on Saturday, the day before it was to run, he called me back again and said he had good news and bad news. The bad news was that it wasn't going to be in Sundays paper. He then went on to say the good news was that the paper liked the story so much, they want to put it on the front page and Sunday wasn't possible. Wow, front page ink! That was good news.

So on Tuesday, August 31st, I started getting text messages from friends early in the morning. . The first one came at 5:50am  and said "I'm staring at some goof-ball on the front page of my morning paper, you really out did yourself this time". That was how my day was to be. I had dozens of telephone calls, text messages and emails. Also just about everyone that came to the restaurant that day had the paper in hand and wanted to talk to the "celebrity" some even had a pen and joked about wanting my autograph.

It was a fun experience and hopefully I got some people thinking about electric cars and solar electric. The combination is really great and hopefully a model for future personal transportation.

You can read the entire article from this link.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Closing in on 40,000 Zero Emission Miles


I looked down at my odometer today and realized that I am closing in on 40,000 miles on my MINI-E. I suspect I'll get there in a couple weeks, right around the time I pass 15 months with the car. I drive a lot more than the average American does, partly because I live about 32 miles from my job and partly because owning a restaurant means frequent trips during the day to get supplies, visit off-site catering jobs and sometimes even deliver food myself.

The time has gone by very quickly and I have enjoyed the car much more than I ever thought I would. I've met so many interesting people along the way, most total strangers that stop and ask me about the car. Many of which tell me they are interested in the same things I am; energy independence, national security and the environmental benefits of electric cars. I have also met a whole legion of electric car enthusiasts online, many of which have found me through this blog, and others I have met from electric car websites like PlugInCars.com, a site that I occasionally write articles for. In fact, the editor of the site, Brad Berman, recently asked me to attend the Bay Area Green Drive Expo in October to sit on a panel of experienced electric car owners and answer questions from the audience, which I accepted.

It's hard to simply describe the great feeling of driving a zero emission vehicle, you have to experience it. The good news is that soon many others will get the opportunity with electric cars like the Chevy volt and the Nissan LEAF both going on sale in three months, followed by the all electric Ford Focus by mid 2011. I really think the public is going to love these cars, and I'm really thankful I have had the chance to experience it before most others have.

One thing that's cool to think about is there is about 2,200 gallons of gasoline that I didn't have to buy, currently sitting in an underground storage tank at the Lukoil gas station in Morristown that I used to go to. That gas would have been burned in my Toyota the past fourteen plus months if I wasn't in the MINI-E program.

Some other facts at 40,000 miles:

I didn't have to purchase 2,200 gallons of gasoline (My Toyota Tacoma gets 18mpg)
At $2.65/gal that's about $5,800. Compared to the roughly $1,800 in electric I've spent to charge up which is a $4,000 fuel savings. Even with a solar PV system, the electricity still "costs" me money because I could have sold it back to the utility at the current rate if I didn't use it to charge my car.

I didn't have to get ten oil changes, a savings of about $500 and I didn't generate 60 quarts of used motor oil that needs to be recycled.

I didn't have to stop for gas about 125 times. That would have added up to over 12 hours of wasted time sitting in my car at the pump. It takes me all of 5 seconds to plug my car in when I get home at night and I'm sleeping while it charges.
I would be close to needing a full tune up. Plugs, filters, belts, etc. All of which aren't necessary with an EV. That's one of the great things with electric cars, there are so few moving parts that can wear out, making the long term maintenance very low. Of course you still have the one big expense of a replacement battery pack that will probably come at around 120-140,000 miles. It's really not possible to predict what that will cost because the price of the Lithium Ion batteries are dropping all the time as more and more companies are making them plus the technology constantly improves. That being said, the money you will have saved in fuel and maintenance will more than cover the cost of the replacement battery pack.

Oh yeah, and since I didn't have to buy any "black gold" to power my car, none of my money left our local economy and went into the pockets of some radical foreign regime that's a member of OPEC. I think I like that fact the most.