Friday, August 6, 2010

Private tour of the MINI-E repair facility BMW headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ

Rob Healey is on the far right with the "Flying Doctor" Crew    (Sorry guys, I don't remember everyone's name)
This morning I drove to BMW's North American headquarters to attend the kick off of the "MINI Takes The States 2010" tour across America. It is basically a MINI road rally that starts on both coasts and ends up in Denver, Colorado. I don't think too many people are actually driving the entire route(maybe I'm wrong) but lots of MINI owners are going to drive specific legs of the rally and today it started with about 100(or more) cars leaving the Woodcliff Lake, NJ headquarters and heading to the first stop in Philadelphia. Obviously, I wasn't going to try to participate in the road rally since Philadelphia is a little out of my single charge range, but I wanted to attend the event to offer my support as well as say hello to some of the people in the MINI-E program that I know.

I arrived at around 8:30am and there were already a lot of people there. They had a new MINI Countryman on display which was nice to see. All of the cars that were going to participate in the rally were lined up three cars wide and looked to be about 30 cars deep. Since I wasn't participating, they directed me to a parking lot close to the gathering of people and right in front of the main entrance. As I approached, I saw about 6 MINI-E's parked in a row so I parked right next to them. When I got out, I realized that these were corporate cars that were being used to give test drives to the people there today. I was surprised how good they all looked, like they were brand new, but I'll get to that later.

I signed in, got a bag full of MINI goodies and some food and the first person I saw was Nathalie Bauters, communication manager for MINI. Nathalie contacted me a few months back and arraigned for me to have press credentials for the NY Auto Show because there were journalists from Germany that wanted to interview me about my experiences with the MINI-E. I then ran into Richard Steinberg, the manager of BMW Electric Vehicle Operations & Strategy. Richard and I have communicated via email and by telephone, but never met in person. It was nice to say hello in person and talk for a while about the MINI-E and electric cars in general. 

I then took a walk around of the facility as they were letting people see some of the vehicle testing rooms. There was even a MINI-E in one of the rooms with a AC Propulsion motor and PEU out for display on the counter next to the car. There was nobody there to talk about the MINI-E though. When I walked outside, Richard had a reporter there that wanted to do a short video interview with me and talk about the MINI-E. He also introduced me to Rob Healey who is the technical coordinator for the MINI-E. After I did the interview, Rob asked me if I wanted to take a private tour of the MINI-E repair facility where the "flying doctors" work on all the MINI-E's from the East Coast. You know I wasn't going to turn down this opportunity.   

First, he took me to an area where there were no complete cars, just parts. Everything from MINI-E's were on shelves from seats to battery boxes. There was even a huge vice there where he explained they put battery modules in to squeeze them to test that they can withstand the pressure. We then went to a parking garage where there were about 6 MINI-E's that were in various states of dissemble.  One of them had the entire interior including the batteries removed. It looked strange to see the car in that state. Then there was another that was really torn apart. So much so that I wondered why they even kept it. Without me saying anything, Rob offered "That one is used for parts" so that made sense. Sorry there aren't any pictures of the "inner workings" of the facility, but I didn't even ask if I could take pictures there because it was obvious to me that wouldn't be allowed.

We then walked over to the area where all the MINI-E's come to be repaired. There are two lifts dedicated to the MINI-E's and one of them even had a car on the lift being worked on. As when I first saw the cars in the parking lot when I arrived, I noticed how new and clean the car looked, like it was brand new. When I asked Rob about it, he said that all the cars that were returned after the first year lease were completely reconditioned. They had new front and rear bumpers installed, repainted as needed, new side view mirror covers, completely cleaned and reconditioned and anything that looked worn at all was replaced. Also, all of them got the giant plug decals put on the doors which was optional for us when we first got the cars(I declined). So that explained why all the MINI-E's I saw outside looked brand new. Before they ship them to France, China, Japan & the UK to be re-leased they really reconditioned them well, so much so the cars looked brand new. Actually I'm a bit jealous, maybe they'll spruce #250 up a bit the next time she's in for service. ; )

So the event went better than I expected. I had really went to show support for the rally and say hi to some of the MINI-E people and I ended up getting a private tour of the inner workings of the MINI-E program. I'd like to thank Rob for taking the time to show me around.


  1. Nice post. Maybe it would be a nice gesture for BMW to offer a similar "tour" for all the mini-e drivers. How about a lunch/tour one day as a thank you for beta testing their car AND paying to do so.... You guys are doing a great job of not only testing, but advertising for them with your various blogs and frequent interviews for journalists. I do hope BMW shows their appreciation.

  2. Did they have an activeE there? Or is that top secret also?

  3. Sammy: They did throw a kick off party for all of the trial lease participants last year, but a factory tour like I had would probably go over very well also.

    Anonymous: There was a room that was locked and when we passed it Rob said that it was "the top secret room" or something like that. I asked him if I could take a look at the Megacity car and he said there wasn't one there, he went on further to say they don't even have an electric 1-series(ActiveE) there yet. It makes sense since I suppose they are engineering them in Munich at BMW world headquarters. Still, I would have like to take a look around in there.

  4. I like the picture of the motor and control unit. Compare that to a new car engine and look how simple it is. It has to have a much lower cost to maintain over the years you own it.

    Then think that you don't need oil changes every 3 or 4 thousand miles, no spark plugs to change, no tune ups, air or fuel filters to change, no exhaust system that rusts and rots away etc... Only the cost of a replacement battery pack after 120,000 miles or so which will be substantial, but not more than all the maintenance you would have had with the gasoline car

  5. Tom,

    You east coast guys have all the fun!

    I trust #250 is running trouble free!


  6. Peder,

    I can tell you this, when I do have a problem, I know who to call! : )