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 . 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

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 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....