Saturday, February 27, 2010

Now it's getting ridiculous.

Yes, that snow pile next to the car is as high as the roof. This picture was taken in the parking lot of my restaurant today, a day after the biggest storm of the year. Actually it was the worst storm we've had in quite a few years. Some towns not far from here had 3 feet of snow! We "only' had about 18 to 20 inches but with the high winds and the drifting it was hard to get an accurate accumulation reading. There were snow drifts at my house that were up to four feet high. Mini-E #250 was safely in the garage for the past two days. I don't mind driving it in moderate snow but this was an exceptional storm and I was only driving my Tacoma 4X4 the past two days. This winter has been exceptionally severe. In fact, the normal snowfall total for this time of year is 18 inches and so far this winter we have had 48! Now that the roads are mostly clear #250 is back in action, at least until the next blizzard.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Another Article about my high mileage

I received another Google news alert about the MINI-E today and when I checked it out I found it was another article about me and the mileage I'm putting on the car. This time it was in and you can read it here. They basically copied what I wrote in my guest blog post for Edmunds Inside Line and what was written in I guess people are starting to notice because I also received an email from MINI USA and they were contacted by a journalist from Germany and he wants to interview me about my experiences with the car. I agreed. This should be fun.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On The Road Again!

#250 is back in action! I got the call from Vinny at Morristown MINI this morning that the car was was fixed and had been towed back from the secret MINI-E repair facility at an undisclosed location. (BMW headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ but don't tell anyone) Evidently I did quite a bit of damage when I hit the pot hole, (my bad!) but hey, that's what we're here for right? Anyway, the service tag said they "changed engine, did all high voltage and ground tests and changed battery system" Sounds like a lot of changing went on in there, but as long as it's good to go I'm happy. While the car was there they did another regular service on the car. We were told in the beginning that we would have to bring the car in for service twice during the year so they could download data from the car. If we drove a lot then we would probably have to come in three times because the car can only hold data from about 5,000 miles. This is my fourth service download and I still have almost four months to go. I don't think the folks at BMW thought anyone would put so many miles on the car, but I and others are doing just that. Vinny said the Flying doctors (the tech's that repair the MINI-E's) were "ecstatic" that I'm putting as many miles on the car as I am. I guess it gives them more data to analyze. That's it for now, I gotta go make more data : )

Monday, February 22, 2010

MINI-E Lease Extension Details Forthcoming

The MINI-E trial lease participants all received emails today telling us that the details of the lease extension that we were told about would be emailed to us shortly. This is welcome news as many of us have been curious as to why we haven't been told anything other than we would be offered the opportunity to extend the lease. We only have 3 to 3 1/2 months left depending on when you picked up your car so we have been anxious to get some clarity on the details. Well, when I say details, I really mean cost. There has been a lot of speculation as to how much BMW will set the second year lease at. We are currently paying $850 per month for the car. Actually, we are really paying this high monthly payment to be part of something we believe in, but $850 ($932.88 w/tax in CA) is still a heck of a lot of money. I agreed to pay it because it was only for a year, no strings attached. Now that they are offering a second year I really have to think about how high I am wiling to go to keep the car.

There is a popular thought by many of the participants that somewhere in the $425 to $450/month range would be reasonable and I concur. The MINI-E Facebook page has an open discussion about it going on right now. There are a lot of really good people that have been driving these cars for eight months now and have done all that BMW has asked them to do. They love the cars and really want to keep them. I do hope we are rewarded for doing our part in helping to gather the information BMW was seeking in this experiment and the cost for the second year is reasonable. Most of the people I know in the program want to keep the cars as long as the cost isn't prohibitive.

We'll all know soon. Below is an excerpt of the email we received:

"The first email to keep an eye out for will come from by no later than early March. We will announce details about the opportunity to re-lease the MINI E for a second year, from this email address. As previously mentioned, this offer will be extended to a number of Pioneers, but only to those who are able to respond because the announcement is not stuck in a junk mail folder – well that’s not actually part of the criteria, we just want to be sure you receive the email and have the chance to respond quickly."

Friday, February 19, 2010

I Need a Loaner for my Loaner

A couple posts ago I wrote that my MINI-E broke down after I hit a big pot hole. Morristown MINI didn't have any of their MINI loaner cars available at the time, and when that happens they use Enterprise Rent-a-Car to provide their service customers with a loaner vehicle. I was given a 2009 Pontiac G5 to use until I get #250 back. I let my wife use it yesterday and I took our Toyota Tacoma pick up truck to work. Unfortunately when she came out of work the car wouldn't start. 

I figured it was a bad battery and just needed a jump and I was quite a distance away so I told her to call AAA. She did and they came and they were able to get it started but it was running really rough, misfiring and knocking badly. When my wife tried to drive it she said it had no power at all and kept stalling in the parking lot. Great. Enterprise was closed for the day so they couldn't help. Now I had to leave a meeting and drive to get her. To make matters worse I had dinner reservations later that night for us because today is her birthday and now by the time I picked her up, drove home and then to the restaurant we were going to be late. It was a lot of rushing around, but we did make it there only a few minutes late.

I went to Enterprise the next day and they gave me a 2009 Toyota Corolla and apologized for the inconvenience. For my troubles I will not be required to refill the car to the half-tank level it was at when they gave it to me which is a nice gesture, I guess. The good news is that I spoke to Vinny at Morristown MINI and it looks like my MINI-E will be finished today. They want to road test it tomorrow and if all goes well it will be back at the dealer by Monday or Tuesday.

Why did I make a post about this mundane topic? Well, I read a lot of various online blog comments from people about why they would never buy an electric car and a lot of the negativity stems from their worry that the car will be unreliable. That it will break down frequently and they fear it will leave them stranded. Yes, my MINI-E is in for repairs from me hitting a big pothole while I was going 50mph, it's broken. The point is, everything brakes eventually, even six month old Pontiac G5's with only 10,000 miles on them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hey wait, that's me they're talking about!

I have a Google news alert for MINI-E related articles. Every couple of days there is a story about EV's and the MINI-E gets mentioned so I like to read about it and the other EV news. Today when I checked the news I saw two new MINI-E stories were listed. The first one was about the BorgWarner heater in the MINI-E. They were saying how it was developed just for the MINI-E and how wonderful it is. I'd like to see the person who wrote the article come and sit in the car when it's 10 degrees outside. The heater in the car is dreadfully insufficient and is one of the things that everyone that has one complains about. EV's don't have waste heat from the engine like ICE cars do so there has to be a device that generates the heat for the cabin and ours just doesn't work well at all.

The second article was about this guy that has driven his MINI-E 20,000 miles in seven months. Hmmm, that sounds familiar. That's right, they were talking about me. It was posted at AutoBlogGreen and you can read it by following this link.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It was bound to happen at some point

Well, when I agreed to "test drive" the MINI-E for a year I knew it was a prototype. I knew (and was warned) that there would probably be problems, breakdowns and other inconveniences to deal with, but I still wanted to be part of the largest deployment of electric vehicles by a major auto manufacturer since GM's EV-1 so I agreed to be one of the guinea pigs driving around in a prototype vehicle. Funny thing is, I really haven't had to deal with any of those problem. Yes, I had to have the car service twice to have battery modules replaced, but both times the car was parked when the warning icon came on so I wasn't stranded anywhere and I simply drove my other car that day while the car was taken in to replace the modules. It took eight months and 21,000 miles of driving for me to actually have a break down and to be fair it really wasn't entirely the cars fault.
We have had a real cold winter so far here in New Jersey and a lot of snow recently. The frequent plowing and salting of the roads results in pot holes developing and some can get really big before they are repaired. A few days ago I was driving to work in the morning and was going about 50 mph and found one of those big, nasty potholes with my front right wheel and broke something in the front end. I'm not quite sure if it's a part that is specific to the electric drive or something that is on a regular MINI but the car made a very loud bang when I hit it and continued to make loud banging/grinding noises so I had to pull over and call the 800 line for roadside assistance. The tow truck came in about a half hour and took me and the car to Morristown MINI
Vinny, the service rep that is the MINI-E specialist there took great care of me and got me a loaner car from Enterprise (all the MINI loaners were out or he said he would have given me one of them). I'm happy to report that the "flying doctors" that work on the MINI-E's have been feeding more information to the dealers than they previously were, so Vinny is current on what is going on with the cars that have been taken to Woodcliff Lake to be repaired. This wasn't the case in the beginning when we first got the cars. The dealers really had no information about the MINI-E's that were being serviced and the customers were frustrated because they couldn't find out the status of their cars. I talked with Vinny for a bit and he told me that he now gets the information that he needs to keep the customers in the loop and that's a great improvement. I used to feel bad for the guys at the dealers because some of the MINI-E participants would give them a hard time about the lack of information but it wasn't their fault, they weren't getting any info. Vinny assured me that he'll stay on top of it and give me a progress report as soon as he hears something and he did. I got a call from him a couple days after I brought the car in and he told me that they identified the problem and have begun the repairs. He said the pot hole caused considerable damage and it would take a couple more days to complete the repair and bring the car back to Morristown for me and that he'd give me a call when he knows exactly when it will be ready. He then went on to apologize for my inconvenience and told me that I would be refunded this months lease payment for my troubles. Now that's good service! (especially since the repair was kinda my fault)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Nissan LEAF Tour visits New Jersey

My wife and I stopped by the Liberty State Science Center in Jersey City this morning to see Nissan LEAF. Nissan has dubbed it the Nissan LEAF Tour and they are stopping at various cities around the country to show off the car. I thought the car looked better in person and definitely was designed with aerodynamics as a primary concern. We got there at 9:15 am and nobody was there yet so I could really talk to the representatives. I voiced my concerns about the lack of an active thermal management system which is what I believe is the MINI-E's biggest flaw. It's acceptable in the MINI-E though because we know it's a test mule and not a polished and refined vehicle that will be offered for sale. The reps stressed that the Lithium Ion batteries that will be in the Leaf are superior to the ones in our MINI-E's and have tested well and will work better in cold weather. She also told me that Nissan has discussed this at great length and is prepared to install a thermal system if they see that there are problems with the cars. Anyone that had already bought a LEAF would have the system installed at no cost to them if they decided that it was necessary.

I do like the car a lot, but I am also concerned with size of the battery pack. It's only 24kwh. If you compare it to the MINI-E's 35kwh pack it looks underwhelming. The Leaf is lighter (by about 600lbs) and more aerodynamic though so that should help to bridge the gap in energy storage. Plus, it's been designed from the ground up as an EV, so perhaps it will come close to the MINI-E's true 100 mile per charge range. Nissan is claiming a 100 mile range, but remember the MINI-E was rated as having a 156 mile range and that's about as real as Santa Clause.

As much as I like the LEAF and want to support Nissan for having the guts to be the first major auto manufacturer to actually sell an EV, I think I'll stick with BMW and see where they are going with Project I. We have been told that the MINI-E trial lease participants will be offered another year extension, but we haven't been told what we have to pay if we want to keep the cars for another year. We have also read that BMW will transition some of the MINI-E participants into ActiveE leases in June 2011 which is when our second year lease will be over. Again, no promises and no word on what it will cost us. Even then, it's just a one year lease and we can't keep the cars. Hopefully, this possible three year lease odyssey will end with an offer to buy an ActiveE or Megacity or whatever BMW is going to call the EV they eventually sell. Leasing is OK for now, but in the end I want to own an EV. I give Nissan a lot of credit for bringing the LEAF to the market for sale. After checking out the car in person, I think they are going to make a lot of people that want to own an EV very happy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It's Snow Problem For The MINI-E

It's been exceptionally cold this winter here in Northern New Jersey with temperatures regularly in the low twenties and even the teens. We haven't had too much snow but I have had the opportunity to get the MINI-E out on snow covered roads a few times to test the effects of the regenerative braking and the traction control in extreme conditions.

One concern I have had from the beginning is how will the car behave on slick and icy roads when you use full regenerative braking. If the regen was too strong I was worried that the car would start to skid without the driver even touching the brakes and would really have no way to control the car other than to steer out of the skid. Full regen really holds the car back, enough to produce a skid on snow covered roads if there were no secondary safety controls in place. Luckily there are with the traction control system in the car. If the car senses the front tire slipping, the regenerative braking will be momentarily disengaged to allow the front tires to gain traction.

I live in a rural area with lots of roads that have steep inclines so I was able to do extensive testing the other day. I drove up and down a very steep street going as fast as 40 mph and engaging full regenerative braking to observe the results. Overall the car handled pretty well. I slid around a lot and even ended up in a snow bank once, but that was to be expected with how I was driving. The roads had 5 inches of snow on them and I was driving like a teenager the first time he drove in the snow, doing doughnuts in a mall parking lot! When I was driving normally, I had no problem keeping the car under control and preventing it from skidding or sliding. With any car, even four wheel drive vehicles, you need to drive slowly and with extra caution when the streets are covered with snow.

Final thoughts: The car behaved about the same as any small, front wheel car does and I put to rest my concerns that the regenerative braking would be hazardous on icy and snow covered roads.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

20,000 Zero Emission Miles in 7 Months

Electric cars get lots of criticism about why they just won't work for the masses. If you look around the internet where there are discussions about EV's you'll hear things like "Electric cars are a joke", "They are only for the rich that want to act like they care about the environment" "Battery technology isn't ready for prime time" and "EV's are only good for low mileage, local city driving". Well, I'm doing what I can to disprove the last one. I've had my MINI-E for a little over seven months now and I've racked up over 20,000 miles on it. That's with losing a combined month for two service visits (battery module replacements) so I've really only driven it for six months. I'm on pace for about 35,000 miles in the one year I have the car. 35,000 miles is more than 95% of the population drives in a year and I'm doing it in a 100% electric vehicle.

I have a unique situation because I own the building I work in so I was able to install a charge station at my place of business. This allows me to plug in during the day and charge up if I need to drive further than the available range will allow. I understand many others do not have this luxury, so they would be limited to the range a single charge can provide until they get home at night to charge back up. In the case of the MINI-E, that would be anywhere from 70 to 115 miles depending on the ambient temperature and the driving conditions (freeway vs city). Still, many others in the MINI-E trial lease program with only their home charging station are on course for well over 20,000 miles in the year. This is also more than what the average driver does in a year.

During my 20,000 mile joy ride the past seven months I have had a lot of fun with the car. I have met too many interesting EV advocates to list as well as many, many local folks that stop to ask me about the car.(Mostly wanting to know where they can buy one)I have also decided that EV driving is what I plan on doing from now on, even after this trial lease is up. I'm even installing a solar array on the roof of my home so I'll be driving on pure sunshine in about a month, plus generating enough electric to cover 3/4 of the overall electric bill for my home.

I haven't had to deal with the "problems that all EV drivers have to live with", whatever they are. I really haven't had to alter my life at all to accommodate the fact that the car has a finite range. I do everything the same as I did before other than taking about 30 seconds to plug the car in at night and again in the afternoon when I arrive at work. If you read the comments on blogs on the internet you would think it's such a hassle to drive an EV. That you have to deal with all kinds of obstacles and inconveniences and nobody will buy one because they won't want to put up with it. Funny thing is, the people that write comments like this have never owned or driven an EV. They've read somewhere how bad and unreliable EV's are so they've adopted the bad information as fact. They then write these negative comments that others read and the misinformation is perpetuated. So few people have actually had the pleasure of owning or driving an EV that there aren't enough of us to let everyone know how great they can be. I'm not saying that EV's are for everyone, but I do believe that they would work for a good percentage of the population. It's going to be interesting because very soon consumers will have a choice. EV's are coming to a dealer near you, and sooner than you think.

Some 20,000 mile facts:

Right now, there is over 1,100 gallons of gas that I didn't have to buy sitting in an underground storage tank of a gas station in Morristown NJ.

I didn't need to stop at that gas station about 75 times, which would have wasted about twelve hours of my life just sitting there while my tank was filled.

I didn't have to pay for five oil changes, and there isn't 30 quarts of dirty motor oil that needs to be recycled.

I've had a lot of fun driving the car and meeting a lot of interesting people along the way.