Friday, November 26, 2010

Regenerative Braking: How Much is Enough?

For the most part, electric cars like the MINI-E drive the same as their pollution spewing  ICE counterparts. Sure they are much quieter and the instant torque of their electric motors cannot be matched by traditional gasoline powered motors. However overall they are still cars, much the same as others just with a different energy source. The biggest difference in driving an EV as compared to a traditional car is the brakes.

While traditional cars use regular mechanical brakes, who's function is solely to slow the vehicle down, electric cars employ regenerative brakes which have two functions; slow the car down, and capture energy.
When you use your traditional brakes, you are creating energy, you just have no way to capture and use it so it is simply converted into heat by way of friction and wasted. Regenerative brakes are a mechanism which slows a vehicle by converting its kinetic energy into electricity which is then put into the cars battery to increase it's range.

The MINI-E has become notorious for it's extremely aggressive regenerative brakes. When people drive the car for the first time it can be startling how strong the regen is. Journalists have written that the MINI-E's regenerative brakes are like deploying a parachute at highway speeds. I think that's a bit over the top, but I have to admit, they are very strong and you need to drive the car for a day or two before you get fully comfortable with them.

However once you do get used to them, everybody that I have spoken with absolutely loves it and missed it terribly when they drive other cars that do not have regenerative brakes. A friend of mine, Michael Thwaite drives a MINI-E in New Jersey as I do. Michael also owns a Tesla Roadster(lucky bastard!) and he and I were talking about the two cars recently and he told me that he likes the regenerative braking of the MINI-E better than that of the Tesla because it's stronger in the MINI-E. He even told me that after getting his MINI-E he wrote Tesla and asked them why they didn't make the regenerative braking stronger on the Tesla like it is on the MINI-E!

I have come to realize that although it may be disconcerting when you first drive a car with regenerative braking, once you have a little time with it you love it. This is true for all the MINI-E drivers that I know. You learn to drive with only your right foot and use the traditional brakes only in emergency situations. I'm certain I could drive the MINI-E more than 100,000 miles before I needed brake pad replacements for how little I use them.

However recently when I took #250 in for the regular 5000 mile service, I was told that they were making a "software tweak" and to see if I notice any differences. I do and I'm not really happy with it. The regenerative braking is definitely dialed back a bit, requiring me to ease up on the accelerator earlier than previously needed to slow down in time for a turn or a complete stop. During the eighteen months I have had the car, BMW has done these software tweaks a few times and almost always it seems the regen is dialed back a bit. I guess they are trying to get the most efficient balance between performance, range and regen. I just want BMW and the other auto manufacturers working on EV's to know this one thing: The stronger the regen the better! If you are afraid that some people won't like it so strong (believe me, don't worry about that) then allow the regen to be set by the driver and make it adjustable. Just don't take away my aggressive regenerative braking, the stronger the better!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Plugging In Beats Filling Up Any Day Of The Week

November 12th was my 17th month anniversary with MINI-E #250. I have driven it almost 45,000 miles and I am approaching my 800th recharge. I keep detailed records of every time I drive the car as well as every time I charge up so I know exactly how many times I have plugged in, and that would be 791 times so far.

My MINI-E & a Tesla charging together
Sounds like a lot of work, right? I often hear people say how they wouldn't want an electric car and one of the reasons is because it's so easy to drive to a gas station and fill up. When you do so, you're generally good for 300 to 400 miles of driving as opposed to only a hundred miles or so for an EV.

The thing is, it's really no work at all to plug in, and only people that have lived with an EV can honestly attest to that. When I arrive home at night, it takes less than ten seconds to walk over to my EVSE, grab the cable and plug in. The car charges while I'm sleeping, it's that easy. When you need gas, you have to drive to a station and wait for them to fill your car up before you can continue on your way. My other car, a Toyota Tacoma can go about 325 miles between fill ups so I would have had to fill up at least 140 times, and most likely would have done so about 150 times.

So what would I prefer to do?  Make 150 trips to the gas station or just pull into my garage like I always do every night anyway and take a few seconds to plug in my electric car? Continue to suck on the oil nipple that we have all been conditioned to believe that we need, or tell OPEC to shove their black gold up their a** and charge my electric car with clean renewable electricity that I make myself with my solar PV array.
Hmmm, let me think about that one for a while.........

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Four Chevy Volts and a Tesla Roadster Come to Visit My MINI-E!


The parking lot of my restaurant today was an EV supporters dream!
 In addition to my MINI-E and my friends Tesla Roadster, we had four Chevy Volts stop by and hang out for the afternoon. That's right, there were four Chevy Volts in one place today and it wasn't a GM assembly line! There are only 15 Volts in the entire country on the road being driven by private citizens (The Volt Consumer Advisory Board Members) and four of them were in my parking lot for about three hours this afternoon. Lyle Dennis from GM-Volt.com and I organized the event. We had a bunch of people stop by and ask questions about the cars, the CAB members even gave some people test drives in their volts and Lyle even let me drive his volt for a while which was a great experience.

The car is everything it has been billed to be. It was powerful, had smooth acceleration, was nimble and felt like I was driving a luxury car, not at all like an economy car. You can't compare the driving experience to that of a Prius, which many people are trying to compare the volt to. I've driven a 2010 Prius, and it isn't in the volts league at all, not even close.

I would like to thank Lyle and the other three volt CAB members Mike Maria, Eric Rotbard and Robert Becker, as well as Michael Thwaite for bringing his Tesla roadster by. It was great to meet everybody and talk electric cars for a while. Reducing our oil dependency can be a lot of fun sometimes!

You can also check out Lyle's GM-Volt.com blog for more details on the day, he's going to do a post on the event tomorrow (Sunday 11/14)

I have to repeat how impressed I was with the volt. In my opinion GM has really nailed it with this car. The fit and finish was very good, it was very nimble and responsive and had that great quiet driving experience of an electric vehicle that I have come to really appreciate. I'm betting these cars will sell very well for a long time. It is definitely the best EREV/hybrid option available on the market today.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I'm Hosting a Chevy Volt Party!

Lyle Dennis of GM-Volt and I have put together a Chevy Volt meet for this Saturday, November 13th from 11am to 2pm at my restaurant, Nauna's Bella Casa in Montclair NJ. Lyle is a member of GM's Consumer Advisory Board for the Volt and along with the other members, got his Volt yesterday. Lyle spoke to two other CAB members here on the East Coast and they too plan on bringing their Volts also.


This should be a really great way to get a look at one of the most anticipated cars in modern history before they are available to the public. We will have the cars on display in the restaurants parking lot.

Nauna's Bella Casa
148 Valley Road
Montclair, NJ 07042
www.naunas.com

Very few people have had an opportunity to see this car so far, much less three of them at one location. I'll have the MINI-E there also, but this is really going to be a Volt day! More details on the event  later. You can also check out Lyle's GM-Volt blog for information.

Update: There will also be a Tesla Roadster there on display as well as my MINI-E so it will be a really great showing for the future of electric transportation.

Monday, November 8, 2010

MINI-E #250 and I are Included in the Marketing for Chris Paine's New Movie "Revenge of The Electric Car"

Back in 2006 Chris Paine wrote and directed a documentary called "Who Killed The Electric Car". This is a must see movie for any electric car enthusiast. (Actually I think everybody should see it) The film purpose was to try to investigate why the automakers (mostly GM) made electric cars, took them back from the customers and then crushed just about all of them so there would be no chance of them resurfacing and proving how good they really were. Back in 2006 when Chris made this documentary it seemed a hopeless quest to try to encourage major automakers to commit to building EV's, they just didn't want to and would always say there just isn't enough consumer demand to justify making them.

Now jump only four years to 2010. Just about every major auto maker has an electric car in development and two of them, the Chevy Volt and the Nissan LEAF, will be available for sale within two months. BMW has had over 600 electric cars in real world testing for a year and a half now and is poised to start their second all electric test car, the ActiveE next summer and will sell their first all electric car called the megacity in 2013. Ford announced they will sell a Focus EV in 2012, Fiat will offer a 500 EV, Toyota has partnered with Tesla to make another RAV4 EV, Honda recently announced they will have an EV in showrooms soon, Smart will have an electric version of their car and Mitsubishi will offer the iMiev shortly. WOW! What happened in the scant few years since 2006 and nobody seemed interested in making electric cars?

So Chris is making a sequel called "Revenge of The Electric Car". The film should be out sometime this Spring and I'll announce more about it as the date approaches. I was contacted by Michelle Kaffko, producer of marketing and distribution for the film and asked if I was interested in having my EV story used to help promote the movie. There is a link to the movies website on the top right column of this blog or you can jump to it from HERE.  Or just go to the website and click on the tab at the top that say's "Take Revenge" and scroll down a little to see how I've "Taken Revenge".

Monday, November 1, 2010

MINI-E software "Upgrade": I'm Not Sure That's What I'd Call It

During the sixteen months that I've had the MINI-E now, there has been a few software "upgrades" that have been performed when I have taken the car in for the scheduled service every 5,000 miles. The reason for these are to correct any known "bugs" the software might have, like early on when some of the cars would jump from drive into neutral when you were stopped at a traffic light, and also to tweek the cars power output and regenerative braking to refine the driving experience and make it as smooth and pleasurable as possible.

When I brought the car in for service last week, Rob Healey, technical coordinator for the MINI-E, told me that they were doing a software upgrade and to let him know how I felt about the changes they made. Well it's only been about a week now so I'm going to give it a little more time before I email him to let him know how I feel about it, but so far I'm not really lovin' it. They did seem to make the transition from acceleration to regenerative braking and vise-versa more subtle and smoother, but the regenerative braking has definitely been dialed back a bit and I need to adjust to it. I have found myself using the actual brakes much more than I have needed before and I don't really like that. Perhaps once I get used to it I will adjust my driving to once again use the regen for most all of my slowing down and stopping, but for now I find myself having to use the brakes to prevent myself from running into the rear of the car in front of me or overshooting a stop sign or intersection. It may just be me needing to get used to the new program. After driving the car for so long I got used to exactly when I needed to let off the accelerator to slow down for a turn or stop at a light and I need to re-learn that again.

You might ask why BMW does this and that is a legitimate question. I'm not 100% sure but I assume they want to test different levels of regenerative braking for efficiency as well as customer comfort. I recently spoke to a Tesla owner who also drives a MINI-E here in New Jersey and he said the MINI-E's regenerative braking is much stronger than Tesla's. He needs to adjust every time he drives one car and then the other. Some people like very aggressive regen and others don't want it to feel like they released a parachute to slow the car down every time they let off the accelerator. After driving the MINI-E I have learned to love the aggressive regenerative braking and for me, the stronger the better. Personally I think all EV makers just allow the driver to adjust the regen to the level they feel most comfortable with. I'm sure it wouldn't be difficult to have that as an option that the driver can set to the position they like.