Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BMW "Conversations" Video From the New York Auto Show

Rich Steinberg, manager of electric vehicle operations for BMW North America asked me if I would participate in a live Facebook Q&A at the New York Auto show last week. The plan was for me to answer general questions about living with and driving an electric car because of my experience with the MINI-E, and Rich would answer questions specific the the BMW ActiveE, which was being introduced at the show.

BMW does these Q&A Facebook sessions frequently and they call them BMW Conversations. You can view all the past Conversations on the BMW USA Facebook group page.

I had a nice time doing it and got to talk to the whole BMW electric car team. Everybody is excited about the launch of the ActiveE and that includes me. It looked fantastic and will have features like active thermal management, the ability to precondition the cabin and batteries as well as four seats and a trunk. As much as I love my MINI-E, I think I'm going to love the ActiveE even more.

Friday, April 22, 2011

MINI-E Pioneers Get Exclusive Look at the ActiveE!

Aaron Singer of BMW explains some of the ActiveE features to the MINI-E pioneers.

Last night the East Coast Mini-E pioneers were invited to a sneak preview of the BMW ActiveE at the New York Auto Show. The show doesn't actually open to the public until today, but BMW wanted the loyal MINI-E pioneers to get the first look at the successor to the MINI-E, and the final test vehicle they will be making before the 2013 BMW i3 hits showrooms. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the i3, it will be the first all electric car that BMW sells, and is scheduled to be offered for sale in 2013. The MINI-E, and now the ActiveE were low production test vehicles, leased to customers to help BMW refine the hardware and learn and overcome the challenges of introducing an all electric vehicle to the public so when they do sell the i3, it will be the best electric vehicle available. 

MINI-E customers have been promised that if we want to lease the ActiveE this year when the MINI-E program ends, that we would be guaranteed to be the first in line for one, and last night BMW took the opportunity so show us here on the East coast the car in person. A similar event is planned for the West Coast MINI-E pioneers next month. After the roughly 45 minute Q&A and everyone had a chance to sit in and check out the car, we were all taken out to dinner compliments of BMW. I'd like to than Rich, Hugo, Marian, Teresa and Aaron of BMW for hosting such a great event and making the MINI-E pioneers feel special. Taking the time in a very busy Auto Show week to spend a night with some of your customers was really appreciated by all of us. 

The cost will be very similar to the MINI-E's lease price, $2,250 down and $499/month which comes out to  $593/month over the course of the term. We are currently paying $600/month for the MINI-E, but that included comprehensive & collision insurance and the installation of the home charger. The cost of insurance and home charger have not been mentioned by BMW, so I'm guessing that means it will be the lessees responsibility. I think they would have announced that it would be included in the lease price if that was their intention. To be fair, no other lease program currently includes insurance and the home charger like the MINI-E program did so I won't be surprised if we are told that those things are our responsibility. If you add the cost of the insurance and the home charger, I'm guessing that will add about $2,400 to the total cost, or about $100 per month. We all have the electrical lines running to our current chargers, so all we need are the new chargers hooked up. The AeroVironment chargers that the ActiveE will be using can be purchased for $1,000 retail. I'm sure we'll get a better price since BMW is buying about 800 of them and the installation will take all of 15 minutes. Personally I plan to do the installation myself if BMW wants us to pay for it. My personal electrician will do it for me for $100; permit and all, I already asked him. The insurance should only cost  an extra $500 or $600/year since we're already paying the liability insurance for the MINI-E.

In case why anyone was wondering why my picture is on the jumbo screen behind the car in the photo above, it's because they were playing a video advertisement for the ActiveE in which, for a brief second or two, they played a clip from one of the short films about the future of mobility that I was in, so I waited until that moment came up and quickly snapped the photo! 

Anyway, the ActiveE looks awesome and although I'm really going to miss #250, I think the amenities offered in the ActiveE will take the edge off missing this car. The active thermal management and ability to precondition the cabin and battery(warm or cool it while still plugged into the grid) should make the car much better for me to drive in the cold snowy winters here in the North East. Plus, having a backseat and trunk will be nice also.

I'll be posting more about the event and the ActiveE in a day or so on my BMW ActiveE blog (You know I had to make a successor to this blog, right?) so check it out if you want to know more about the BMW ActiveE. Maybe you even want to apply to lease one also? Details on how to apply to lease an ActiveE will be posted on my ActiveE blog as soon as they are announced which should be in a month or two.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

MINI-E: Showing Off on Earth Day

During the past 22 months with #250 I've had a lot of opportunities to talk about the MINI-E to friends, strangers, the press and even display the car at "Green" events. I try to bring the car to all the events that ask me to come, as I really think I am obligated to do what I can to help promote electric cars since I was one of the lucky few that was selected to be in the MINI-E program. Unfortunately some are just too far away or on days that I just cannot miss work. I actually like bringing the car to these events and talking to people there. They have all kinds of questions about EV's and I definitely have a audience that is interested in electric vehicles and would be the target market for EV manufacturers.

With Earth Day celebrations approaching, I have been asked to bring the car to places that I just cannot go, like Massachusetts and even Maryland. While it may be physically possible for me to find places to charge along the way, it would just take too much time to make the trip reasonable. So if anyone is organizing an Earth Day event in North or Central New Jersey or even New York City and would like a MINI-E there on display, send me a message and perhaps I can bring #250 along and show her off!
#250 at a Green Transportation Expo in Florham Park, NJ last fall

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

1,000 Charges and Still Going Strong!

Recently I passed the 1,000th recharge milestone with my MINI-E. That's considerable when you realize I have only had the car about 660 days so far. I've put 54,000 miles on it so that's over 80 miles per day, every single day I've had it. Obviously I haven't driven it every single day, so the days I have driven it I've probably averaged above 90 miles per day. That's a lot of charging, more than 1.5 times per day actually. Actually, the car is such a pleasure to drive, I find myself using it for everything I can, whether it be personal or for business use.

Those of you that follow this blog know that I occasionally write posts about my experiences for sites like Edmunds, AllCarsElectric and most often, I was talking to Brad Berman, editor of plugincars recently and he asked me if I would write a post on my range throughout the year in different temperatures. I was actually working on just that to post here, and planned to post it once I hit my 1,000th recharge. So instead of a full post here about it, I put it up on the plugincars website, that way it will reach an even greater audience than here, and give more people a chance to see how the car has performed. You can jump to the full post HERE.

A lot of people ask me about the range in extreme heat and cold, and whether or not I am beginning to notice battery degradation now that I have over 50,000 miles on it. I really haven't noticed any degradation, but my data seems to show that it is beginning to happen, as the second year data shows slightly less range that the first year throughout almost all temperature ranges.What the real usable life of a EV's battery pack is still debatable. There just aren't enough of them out there that are using the newer lithium ion chemistries that have been driven enough miles and charged enough times to have reliable data on, so I'm sure a lot of people are interested in the data that I've accumulated over the past 22 months.

Remember, the MINI-E is a prototype test car, and does not have a sophisticated thermal management system. The passive thermal management system it employs is really primitive, making this car particularly vulnerable to weather extremes. BMW will be using an active thermal management system on both the ActiveE and the i3, based on lessons learned from the MINI-E trial lease program: Here's what I've observed:

Friday, April 1, 2011

MINI-E Dismantle, Battery Pack Replacement

It all started about a two months ago when I sent an email to Richard Steinberg, manager of electric vehicle operations and strategy for BMW North America. I asked him if BMW would replace the battery pack in MINI-E #250 because the original pack now has 53,000 miles and is beginning to degrade so my range is suffering. Richard gave me the usual company line about how the lithium ion batteries are expensive and if they did it for me then they'll have to do it for everybody and it will blow their whole bloody budget out the window.

First we disconnected the high voltage battery
Nonetheless, he said he would call Munich and see if it could be arraigned. A few weeks later Richard sent me an email and directed me to give him a call. I did just that and he prefaced the call by saying he wanted me to know he did all he could, but the BMW top brass wouldn't authorize it. He then told me all about a conference call he had with none other than BMW CEO Dr. Norbert Reithofer, Project i boss, Dr Ulrich Kranz as well as Hugo Vangeem and Marian Hawryluk who are electric vehicle project managers for BMW. Noticeably absent from the discussion was BMW North American president, Jim O'Donnell, but from what I'm told, they don't really let him make any decisions around there anymore anyway.  In any event after some discussion, the answer was "No new batteries for Tom".

I ordered 7 boxes, each with 5kWh
Those of you that know me, know that I don't particularly like being told no. In fact, I've been known to go to great lengths and at great expense to turn no's into yes. This wouldn't be any different. If BMW wouldn't give me a new pack, I'll just install one myself! So the quest began. 

We begin to take out the PEU

I quickly realized that it's not difficult to procure batteries for an EV as there are lot's of home conversion websites you can order anything you need from. It was a cinch to get the same exact cells used by BMW in the MINI-E. So last Saturday it was time to do the dirty work. Luckily, I have become friends with one of the area's leading EV mechanics and he offered his shop and services to do the swap. He really likes the MINI-E, so he looked forward to the opportunity to take one apart.  It didn't take us long to realize that much of the cars electronics had to be removed to replace the battery pack so we figured it would be better if we just did a complete dismantle. EV's are really simple and taking one apart and putting it back together is much easier than an internal combustion engine car, where only a experienced mechanic should even think about doing so.

Opening the PEU isn't allowed: oops!
Lot's of wires to reconnect!


EVERYTHING was removed!
Mind you, this isn't exactly allowed by BMW so there might be some splainin' to do once they realize I took part one of their precious prototypes. In the end, we did the swap, put everything back together and MINI-E #250 is running like new. If anyone want's some more photo's of the car when it was all taken apart, just ask!
PEU & motor assembly is all one piece

The suspension was in great shape
UPDATE: After a week of driving #250 with the new batteries, I can report the range is back to like it was when the car was brand new!
Mission accomplished!

UPDATE #2:  4/2/11: Just in case you didn't figure this out yet, it was an April Fools post and never actually happened. The car still has great range, although it may be starting to have slightly less now that it has been charged over 1,000 times and driven 53,000 miles. I plan on doing a range comparison post soon that will compare the cars range in different temperatures in the first year and second year I've had it.

If I had done what I said I did, BMW would probably be at my door today with a bus load of lawyers and repossess the car from me. Before getting the car, the trial lease participants all had to sign documents that we wouldn't alter the car in any way, we aren't even allowed to change a tire or put on window tint. Besides that, the battery pack is located behind the seats in the car so if we did change the pack, we wouldn't even have to open the hood, let alone dismantle the entire car!  I did take a photo of us removing a muffler, but figured if I posted that one, nobody would have been tricked! I hope you had fun with this!