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 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 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.

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:

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.