Monday, March 29, 2010

"BMW E Mobility" video is posted on YouTube and #250 and I are the main characters

Back on March 7th I reported that BMW sent a film crew from Germany to film me and the car for three days. It is part of a long term project that will chronicle the shift from internal combustion engines to electric cars so this will  take years to complete but when it's finished, I'll be part of the documentary as one of the early adopters during the research phase of electric cars.

The film crew from TVT productions put together a quick 4 minute video clip to show the executives at BMW and they liked it do it was posted on You Tube. The video above is the four minute clip.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

#250 and I are featured in a NY Times Video!

Stefania Rousselle was the video journalist assigned to do the video production.

Last Sunday I spent basically the whole day with Stefania Rousselle of the New York Times shooting video of me and the car. Stefania said the Times wanted to look at the car from two perspectives; living with the car in a suburban environment verses a city environment. Since I live in rural Chester, NJ I was chosen to give the suburban perspective and Adam Moore, who also has a MINI-E and lives in NYC was chosen to give the city life perspective. The video came out very nice, but how much detail can you really go into in 5 minutes? It would be really nice to explore the issues of both environments in a 30 minute documentary type production. I know Stefania has enough footage to put something like this together, she must have recorded at least 4 or 5 hours of video between the both of us, so maybe she'll do it in her spare time(If she ever gets any)...It was a lot of work to see only a few minutes of video, but I guess that's how this business works, you can never record too much. One thing I did take out of the experience, when you have a wireless mic on you all day, you can't forget it or you could say something that's not necessarily meant to be heard, but we won't get into that....
Click on the link below to view the video:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Size Matters

How big is too big? Mini Coopers are small cars, well very small cars. Take out the back seat and put a bunch of lithium ion battery modules in there and it seems even smaller. While I've managed just fine with #250 for the past nine months, packing it to the roof  with supplies on many occasions, I've often thought "How much space in my vehicle do I really need?"

Obviously I would like a little more than the MINI-E has. I don't have any children yet so the two seats work well for my wife and I. In fact, we have three vehicles now (Porsche Boxster, Toyota Tacoma & MINI-E) and they are all two seaters. We might be the only family that has three cars and they all only have two seats!

So as I walked past this humongous Chevy Suburban 2500HD with vanity plates in the parking lot of my restaurant I had to stop and take this picture and wonder how much car do I really need?  Please post your thoughts on this subject in the comments section below. I'd really like to hear some opinions on this one.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Temperature Isn't The Only Thing Rising...

So is the range of the MINI-E. Now that (hopefully) the cold weather is behind us, so is the punishing effects the cold temperatures and the heater use has on the range of our cars. Today I drove 91 miles and still had an estimated range of 35 miles left to go. It was a leisurely drive at speeds around 40 mph, the kind of driving the MINI-E loves most so I expected to have good results, but a total range of 126 miles? I haven't seen my range that good since last September.

I was happy to read that the BMW ActiveE, the successor to the MINI-E will have a thermal management system that will warm or cool the battery pack to keep it at optimum operating efficiency. This is a feature that is dearly missed on the MINI-E and some of the other pioneers have been very critical of the car because of this omission. The reduced range in the winter months has caused some of the MINI-E drivers to lose faith in the car and not drive as much as they would like to. There are others, myself included who just adjusted their driving to accommodate the 20 or 30 less miles per charge that the car was getting. Then there were others like Jim McLaughlin (MINI-E # 458) who use a automobile cabin heater to pre-heat the cabin and thus the batteries. Jim has continued to record single-charge range well over 100 miles  for the entire winter, even when the temperature was down under 20 degrees. To me this is good news because it proves that a sophisticated thermal management system will allow the car to travel roughly the same distance regardless of the outside temperature.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fellow MINI-E driver gets some juice

When I asked for a second wall charger to install at my restaurant in Montclair, I told MINI that I would allow anyone else with a MINI-E that needed to charge up access to it. I really didn't expect to see as many people come to use it as I have. I'm fine with it, the electricity cost is minimal, about $3.00 if they completely charged a depleted battery which rarely is needed. More often the person just needs a little juice to get where they want to go. In this case the car that is in use by Saint Peters College in Jersey City needed a boost. They had driven from Jersey City to Montclair State University for a meeting and were feeling a little uneasy about getting back after the meeting. So they plugged in at Nauna's and went to the meeting. When they came back two hours later they had plenty of juice to make it home. One of the problems of using the car like this for a university is that many different people drive it and rarely does any of them drive it enough to get comfortable with the range. They don't have the confidence that someone that drives it every day has because we learn the limits from driving it all the time. The people that drive them every day wouldn't take a trip that we knew is close to or over the range limit. When you don't know the car well, you don't really know it's limits and you can get that dreaded "range anxiety" feeling.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

MINI-E #250 Weathers The Storm

It's the day after a major storm created havoc in New Jersey and there is evidence of it everywhere you go. There are trees down everywhere, streams flooding over, thousands without power and roads closed all over the place. I had the pleasure of driving home from work last night at 11:00pm right in the middle of the worst of it. There were 50mph winds and driving rain for hours. Actually, this storm has been here for three days now but last night was really the most violent. 

As I got close to home the main road to my house was closed as fallen tees took out power lines and the utility was there trying to secure the area so nobody got hurt. This forced me to drive the last 10 miles on back roads. This is a rural area and there are no streetlights and trees everywhere so I was a bit uneasy taking this route in such a bad storm, but I had no choice. There were branches down everywhere and the road was flooded in a few places but I made it. The only problem I had was one time I drove through a slightly flooded part of the road and the car went into neutral. This is common with the MINI-E's. The car doesn't have a conventional transmission and every now and then, under stressful situations, it jumps into neutral. I think it's designed to do so to avoid a situation that could damage the car, but I'm jst guessing that. I have heard of others hitting bumps or pot holes and the car goes into neutral, and other stories of people being stopped at red lights on steep inclines and seeing the same thing. The good thing is that we all know to just put it in park, shut the car off, then start it back up and it resets the problem so you are good to go. This is what I did so I was on my way in a few seconds. However the thought did occur to me that this would be the one time that it didn't work and I'd be stuck in the middle of the woods at midnight in driving rains, high winds and lightning, but my fears were short lived as I started back up and finished by journey.

So I'm happy to report that there is no truth to the myth that you'll electrocute yourself if you drive an electric car through flooded streets in the middle of a lightning storm.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

MINI-E Lease Extension Details Arrive

To renew or not to renew, that is the question....

When I first applied for the MINI-E trial lease program the terms were simple; $850 per month for 12 months, everything included, even collision and comprehensive insurance. All maintenance and even wear and tear items were covered and a loaner car would be provided if and when the vehicle was in for service. Total cost: $10,200 plus license and registration fees. It looks pretty steep on the surface since you can lease a new MINI Cooper S for about half that amount, get two back seats and still have money left over for the gasoline you burn.

I've been reminded of the high lease price dozens of times this year when I promote the MINI-E's virtues on various blogs, message boards and in face to face conversations. What I try to remind everyone is that for many of the Trial Lease participants or "pioneers" as MINI calls us it wasn't about the money. It was about helping to promote the proliferation of zero emission vehicles. We knew the MINI-E was not going to make it to the showrooms, so it wasn't about helping to "fine tune" the car for production. This program, whether or not anyone admits it or not, was purely about gauging public interest and acceptance of electric cars (that and getting some CARB credits but that was no secret or never disputed) and gathering data on average daily driving and responses to things like range anxiety and regenerative braking characteristics. The majority of the people in the program feel strongly as I do that the automotive industry should move in the direction of electric vehicles and offer their customers a choice of what kind of fuel that they want to power their cars with.

When we first got word that we would be offered the option of a second year with the car initially everyone was generally very happy because I believe most in the program love their cars and would like to keep them as long as possible. We were not given any details, just that we would have the option to renew for another year so shortly after the announcement was made we all started guessing what the terms of the lease would be. Whenever you lease a car, the longer the term, the lower the monthly payments so we knew the second year would be less, but how much was a mystery. Over on the MINI-E Facebook page, where many of us converse, the guesses were generally around $500/month. Anything under $500 and I think just about everyone would choose to stay in. Perhaps BMW knew that and wanted to "thin the field" some to send the returned cars to other markets as we have been told would be the case with the returning cars. In any event, I think some that wanted to keep the cars just can't at $600/month and that's unfortunate.

For me the decision was easy. I drive the car so much (about 30,000 miles a year) that the fuel savings alone will be enough to make the difference. Driving 30,000 miles in my Toyota Tacoma I'll need to purchase about 1,700 gallons of gasoline. If prices stay at the level they are today($2.65/gal), I'll spend $4,500 on gasoline. The MINI-E will cost me about $1,000 for electric so the $3,500 in fuel savings cuts the lease payment in half.(Actually it will cost me nothing in electric because I'll be generating all the electric with my new solar electric system at my home but it's still "costing me" $1,000 because I could have sold that electric to the power company) I also won't need to do about 7 oil changes, there's another $350.00. I won't need to put a set of brake pads on the truck either, or be halfway to a major tune up. Plus, I'm not losing the depreciation that 30,000 miles on the odometer will have on the Tacoma's value. All in all, while $600 per month sounds like a lot of money for a two seat commuter car, it really isn't at all.

All the financial reasons aside, I'm keeping the car because I love it. I enjoy the electric driving experience, I like that I don't have to stop and buy gasoline and that I'm not polluting as I drive. I like meeting new people all the time that stop me on the street and ask about the car and I like knowing that I'm doing a small part in helping to advance the movement to electrics.

To renew or not to renew? To me there is no question.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Filming the MINI-E

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Ulrika Ingold of TVT Media in Munich, Germany and was asked if I would participate video shoot for a documentary on the electric mobility and MINI-E. There was very little details about what they would need me to do and how long it would take, just that the film crew would be coming here from Germany the first week in March and needed to film me with the car at home, at work, in New York City and driving in between those points. They were given my contact info by BMW and as an early adopter they wanted my thoughts on the car, my lifestyle, energy and any savings I have enjoyed since getting the MINI-E. I agreed to participate without asking any questions mostly because I do believe in these cars and would like to offer my experiences and opinions for others to see.

On Wednesday morning I met up with Christine Burgmeier, Franz Stepan and Andreas Kickel at my restaurant, Nauna's Bella Casa in Montclair. They had spent the past two days shooting in New York without the car so they were anxious to start the interviews with me at home, work, and while driving the MINI-E.

It took about twenty hours in all between traveling and shooting on Thursday, Friday and Saturday which was much more than I expected. Christine, Franz and Andreas were such nice people I really wanted them to get all the different angles, environments and soundbites that they wanted, but honestly it turned out to be a lot more of an effort than I expected it to be.

Driving around a busy midtown Manhattan is difficult enough, but doing it while someone is driving next to you hanging out of a taxicab window trying to get in perfect position to film you driving is nerve-racking. We did it for about two hours when they either got enough footage or realized that I was beginning to get very anxious and wanted to finish the driving portion of the day.

I'm not supposed to get into much detail about what we discussed so I won't. I can say that they were very interested in my opinions on my energy usage, lifestyle changes and philosophy, maybe even more so than they were interested in specifics about the MINI-E car itself. The one problem I had was that they needed my answers to be brief and full of content. I found it hard to cut my answers down because I had a lot to say about each subject we discussed.

Christine, Franz and Andreas were all very gracious and professional so I hope I was able to give them all the video and sound bites that they were looking for.