Sunday, January 31, 2010

Quoted in the Financial Post

Last week I was contacted by Rebecca Walberg of the Financial Post in Toronto, Canada. She was doing a story on the MINI-E and somehow found this blog. She wanted permission to print the lettering on my vanity license plate and had a couple of questions for me. I granted her permission and happily answered her questions. She had promised to send me a copy of the article or a link to view it online, but I guess she forgot. A friend came across the article and sent me the link. That's it for now. My next post will be my comments on passing 20,000 miles with #250.

Update: Rebecca emailed me on Monday 2/1/10 to tell me the article ran earlier than she expected and she sent me the link, so she didn't forget me!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

BMW Photo Shoot

About two weeks ago I received an email from Susanne Meis who works in BMW's communication department. She asked if I would like to participate in a story for BMW's 2009 annual report. She further went on to explain that they want to feature one MINI-E pioneer from the East Coast group, one from the West Coast and one from the group of participants in Germany. This story will be in the annual report to highlight BMW's commitment to future alternative fuel vehicles and to show a few of the actual people involved in the trial. I happily agreed and was told that I needed to have a telephone interview with the writer and then a photographer would be flying in from Vienna, Austria to basically follow me for a whole day and photograph me posing with the car in various locations that I frequent (home, work, stops along the way)as well as live shots of me in the car driving as well as out of the car at work.

The photographer, Peter Rigaud arrived from Vienna on Tuesday, January 26th and stopped by my restaurant in Montclair at night to go over the schedule for the next day's shoot. He & two assistants arrived at my home the next morning at about 8:50am and we spent about 2 hours shooting at my house and picking out different clothes to bring for other locations throughout the day. Peter was extremely professional and really knew how to get great shots. I've never modeled for anything and I don't suppose I'll ever need to again so it was kind of uncomfortable standing in so many positions and smiling as I leaned on every angle of the car. I can still hear him say "Remember za joy of driving!" with his heavy accent as he would remind me to put on a smile. After we left my house, we drove the route I usually take to work and he sat in the back of a minivan with the hatch open so he could take pictures of me all the way to my work. Then, as my staff watched and laughed, he had me leaning all over the car in front of the restaurant while he yelled "Tom, za joy of driving!!!!" We then drove to Liberty State Park in Jersey City to get some shots with New York City in the background. With rush hour approaching, it would have taken too long to drive into the city, take pictures and leave so we elected to get the New York skyline in the background. Peter must have taken 300 pictures(to get about 5 for the story) of me and other than it being freezing and windy outside the day went off without any problems.

I can't say enough good things about Peter and his assistants. They were real professionals and even managed to make me look good in the pictures, and that's not as easy as it sounds.

Friday, January 22, 2010

MINI-E Doubles as a Cargo Van

One of the shortfalls of the MINI-E as compared to a regular MINI Cooper is that there is no back seat. Just about the entire back seat area is taken up by the 48 lithium ion battery modules that power the car. There is a small cargo area that you can access from the rear hatch but it is only about 12 inches deep and can fit about 3 grocery bags. Any large items that you need to transport must be put in the passenger seat area. I just about always drive alone so the passengers seat does not have a person there, but that doesn't mean it's not full most of the time. I own a restaurant in Montclair New Jersey, Nauna's Bella Casa and I always need to run and pick up supplies. I pack that little MINI-E with so much stuff you wouldn't believe it unless you saw it. I once filled it with 18 cases of soda. Another time I carried six 50lb bags of flour but most of the time I just fill it with an assortment of restaurant supplies like pasta, olive oil, paper goods & produce. The picture about doesn't nearly show how much stuff I've packed in it at once, but it was the only picture I had. I better explain why the seat belt is fastened before I get some smart comment. No, I'm not worried that the cooking oil might get hurt, I just have to fasten the seat belt when there is weight on the passenger seat or I'll have to listen to the annoying chime that MINI puts in their cars to remind you to wear your seat belt. I'll tell you this, it works. It's so annoying I have to fasten my seatbelt or I'll go out of my mind listening to it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What a difference 20 degrees makes!

It was a beautiful day in Northern New Jersey today, a good 20 degrees warmer than we've had for a while. The outside temperature gauge in my MINI-E actually read 55 for a while. I don't know how accurate it is, but it sure felt nice out. The MINI-E batteries liked the warm weather also. My range shot back up to heights I haven't seen in months. I drove 79 miles and still had 12% charge remaining, which would be good for at least another 10 to 15 miles. I haven't gotten over 90 miles on a single charge since November as I have been averaging in the mid-seventies to mid-eighties per charge lately. I believe the biggest difference is that I didn't use the heater at all and that's probably the main culprit with the range reduction in the cold weather, more-so than the temperature drop itself. Well, we're only a couple months away from spring and I'm looking forward to my range going up just like the temperature.

Friday, January 15, 2010

MINI-E gets called into duty!

Well, not exactly the MINI-E, but I was. I have a couple different routes to drive to and from work, depending on the state of charge on the car. If I have a full charge, I take route 80 west to Route 206 south to Chester. It is about 10 miles longer than the other routes, but since it is about 80% highway, I can make it home in about the same time as the much shorter ways as there are traffic lights and low speed limits.
On Wednesday night, I had time to charge up at work so I left with 100% charge. I therefore chose to take the longer, mostly highway route home and I'm glad I did. It was around 11:30pm and I had just got on route route 80 in Parsippany and about 300 feet ahead of me I saw some sparks but I couldn't tell what it was from. As I got closer, I saw a minivan on its side and it had apparently just flipped over as nobody was there to assist. I pulled over and ran over to the van and heard someone yelling "Help" from inside. I quickly called 911, told them what had happened and then told them I was going to try to get the passenger(s) out. Smoke was pouring out of the engine compartment but I didn't see any sign of fire. Still I was worried that the smoke could overwhelm the passenger or that a fire might start. The only way I could see to get the person out was through the windshield so I started frantically kicking and even punching it. Let me tell you, safety glass is no joke, it is really hard to break through it but eventually I did. Just as I started to pull the glass apart and make a hole big enough to fit my hand through a second person stopped with a bat and helped to make the hole big enough to get pull the driver out. By then, about 6 others had stopped and were helping us carry the man off the road to get him out of danger. As we did that, the Calvary showed up and began to spray foam on the van. There were about 15 State Troopers, three fire trucks and two EMS trucks. One of the EMS workers asked me if I was in the car and when I told them no he asked how did I get injured? He pointed to my hands and I then realized they were covered in blood. I hadn't even realized that safety glass from the windshield was slicing up my hands as I was pulling it apart to get the guy out. They took me into the EMS truck and pulled about 20 pieces of broken glass out of my hands and wrapped them up in bandages and I was on my way home. It was really a crazy experience. I know it might be a stretch to post this story here because it really isn't a "MINI-E" story, but my route was dictated by my state of charge. I'm glad I had a full charge that night or I would have taken the short route home. However I bet the guy I pulled out of the car is even more happy I did.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

MINI-E #250 Back With 2 New Modules

Finally! After 24 days I finally got the call from Morristown MINI that #250 was fixed and I could pick it up. Evidently, there were two battery modules that needed to be replaced. I'm pretty sure part of the reason it took so long to fix was because I had it towed in the week of Christmas. MINI had specialized engineers that repair the MINI-E's, they don't use the mechanics at the dealerships. MINI calls these technicians the "flying docs" probably because they fly from coast to coast to repair MINI-E's in California, New York and New Jersey. I bet they flew home for the holidays so #250 just sat and waited for them to get back to work after the New Year. This is only the second time I had a problem with the car. The other time is was a bad battery module also and it was fixed in eight days. I had that problem three weeks after I got the car and at the time I was worried that it was going to break down every couple weeks or so. I remember thinking to myself "what did I get myself involved with?". That turned out not to be the case at all. I had six months of trouble free driving until this problem so I really can't complain. After all, this is a test vehicle, a prototype that will never be produced for sale. BMW made the MINI-E purely for research so I'm not at all surprised that there will be problems. But for now I'm back in the saddle of #250. Perhaps the best news is that nobody has to hear me complain about buying gas for a while.

Monday, January 11, 2010

MINI-E Program Extended, Will Transition To The ActiveE!

While the trial lease participants haven't yet been notified, it appears as though BMW has announced what we all expected, they are going to extend the MINI-E leases beyond the one year we all agreed to. How many of the existing participants agree to continue will depend greatly on how much the monthly payment will be. We are currently on the hook for $850.00 per month which does include all maintenance and collision and comprehensive insurance. I think most of us agreed to be in this program because we wanted to be part of something that we believe in, not because we think the car is worth an $850 per month lease payment. I know that's way I got involved. I wanted to offer my help and support in the hope that I could help prove that there is a market and demand for electric vehicles. That many people are sick of polluting the air we breath and paying outrageous amounts of money for gasoline while we send billions of dollars for imported oil to radical regimes that are no friend to the US.

I would definitely like to continue and extend my lease for another year, provided the second year lease payments are much lower than $850. I do think BMW will be reasonable here since it is in their best interest to keep many of the same participants involved. We all have installed and inspected wall chargers and that was probably the biggest hurdle for BMW in getting this program off the ground. (Follow this link to read Richard Steinberg's MINI-E program overview.) To now remove all the chargers and install them in new locations just makes no sense at all as the cost would be about $2,500 per participant. Removing that cost alone should knock $200.00 off the monthly payment. I'm going to go out and say I expect the lease offer for the second year to be $450 to $500 per month. I think if the cost is in that range most of the participants will re-up and be happy about it.

Finally, the real carrot in continuing the lease is that BMW is planning on offering a similar lease program for the ActiveE and it's scheduled to begin mid 2011 which is when our lease extensions will end and they are planning on offering us the option to transition into an ActiveE. Now that's what we all have been waiting to hear. The only question I have is "Why another trail lease?" How much data and research do they need. Other auto manufacturers have already announced that they will sell EV's and extended range plug in hybrids in the near future. BMW needs to get out there and announce that they will be selling these cars soon, not only testing them. I believe we will hear a similar announcement soon because I do believe they are committed to selling an EV soon, and that they are just waiting for the right time to announce it. For now we'll have to live in the "research" stage. I'm up for it, the only question is: can I transfer my license plates to the ActiveE?

Another $62 Bites the Dust

Another couple days pass without #250 and it's time for another fill up on the loaner. $62 is the most so far. I've now paid a total of $318.00 for gas and driven over 2,000 miles on the loaner and my Toyota combined in the three weeks-plus that #250 has been out of commission. Morristown MINI did call me and offer to switch me to a MINI loaner car last week and I do appreciate it, but honestly I have been too busy to drive to Morristown and switch cars so I've just kept the truck. Hopefully I'll have #250 back before the end of the week.

Friday, January 8, 2010

New Garage Heater Installed

Mini-E #250 is still in for service but when she comes home it will be to a warm garage. I had always planned on installing a heater in the garage because I do a lot of work in there and it gets really cold in the winter, but this incident with the car made me do it now. I suspect the problem with the car was brought on by sitting for two days unused in the extreme cold. I live in Northern New Jersey and even though the car is kept in the garage, it gets cold out there when the outside temperatures are in the teens as they were when the car wouldn't charge. I can now keep the garage at about 50 degrees even when it's really cold outside and I suspect that will be all the MINI-E(and maybe an ActiveE in the future?) needs to maintain an acceptable battery temperature even in the coldest nights.

Now all I need is the car! I got a call from Morristown MINI yesterday and they told me that they figured out what was wrong but that they haven't fixed it yet. Evidently, a couple battery modules need to be replaced and the whole battery pack needs to be removed to change them. The service department also said they now have a loaner MINI for me to use so I don't have to spend so much on gasoline! I wonder where they got that idea from? Perhaps someone there reads this blog? Hmmmm. Anyway, after two weeks with the Dodge Ram truck I think I'm ready for a MINI but the problem is I just don't have the time to drive to Morristown and swap the cars. I wanted to do it this morning but I had to attend an early morning meeting so I couldn't get there. Hopefully I can go tomorrow because 1,500 miles is enough in this huge thing.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Not Again!

Yes, I had to fill the tank of the loaner Dodge Ram truck again as my MINI-E is still in for service. It's been in for over two weeks now and when I called Morristown MINI yesterday to see if they had any info on when I will be getting it back I just got " Sorry, we don't have any information to give you" This is not unusual since the MINI-E's get towed to an undisclosed location(Woodcliff Lake, NJ) to be serviced. The service reps in Morristown are really nice, buy they can't provide any info because they don't know themselves. Anyway, I've now logged over 1,000 miles on the loaner truck and spent almost $200.00 in gasoline which really sucks. Hopefully I'll get #250 back soon, I'm starting to have EV withdrawal.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

At Least Someone's Charging Up!

It's been two weeks now since I last drove MINI-E #250. I guess the holiday season hasn't helped as the service technicians probably only worked a few days in the past two weeks.

At least my charger is getting some use even if it's not from my car. I had a couple pioneers stop by my restaurant to charge up recently. Jim McLaughlin and his lovely wife stopped by for dinner during a snow storm and topped off their charge while they were eating. They live in Princeton so they would need close to a full charge to get home from Montclair anyway. Then, a couple days ago, David Miller stopped by at lunchtime for a bite and about an hour of charging. He was coming from New York City and was worried if he would make it the rest of the way home so the charge was just enough to alleviate any range anxiety he might of had. Since I installed the charger at the restaurant in October I've probably had 10 or 12 MINI-E pioneers stop by and juice up and just about everyone had something to eat while they waited.

I think once electric cars begin to increase in numbers on our roads, it will make a lot of sense for businesses, and especially restaurants, to have public chargers at their location. Since you can't charge for the energy, you could charge a "parking fee" for the EV parking spot and the electric would be no extra cost. I own the property that my restaurant is located at and I have a 53 car parking lot that Nauna's & my tenant Quick Chek share and I would definitely want to have a public charging stations there if there are cars on the road that will use them. How about franchises like McDonald's? If every McDonald's had high power chargers there would be a network of public chargers that would make charging on the fly very convenient. Plus, they could charge for the parking spot as well as get the additional business as most of the people would likely go in and get something to eat while the car is charging. This doesn't only apply to food establishments though. How about places like Walmart? Charge while you shop! Plus, they might even get the customers to spend more money in the store because they would need to spend more time there because they were charging up. Instead of a half hour in the store they might spend one full hour there. It's already proven that the longer people stay in the store the more they buy. That's why the stores are designed to keep you in there as long as possible.

Anyway, I wish I had #250 back to charge up myself, but as long as I don't I'm happy the charger is getting some use.