Monday, June 13, 2011

Two Years of Driving Electric


Yesterday was two years to the day that I picked up MINI-E #250 and began a journey that would alter my life in many ways.

I had no idea I'd grow to enjoy electric drive as much as I did and I really had no idea I would become such an outspoken proponent of battery electric vehicles. The past two years have been a great ride, both figuratively and literally. The electric driving experience I have had with the MINI-E has been so great it has convinced me that I'll be driving electric cars from now on. The great news is that it is now possible, and that wasn't the case in 2008 when I filled out the application to take part in the MINI-E trial lease program. Back then you either had to buy a $100,000+ Tesla Roadster or build your own EV if you wanted a real, highway capable electric car.

Since I didn't have a spare $100k lying around or the time necessary to do a full conversion, I signed up to participate in the MINI-E Field Trial, not knowing at the time this program would take me off gas for good.  The program was initially supposed to be a one year, closed end lease. At the end of the year I would hand back the car and go back to gas, since there would still be no electric cars available for purchase at the time. However BMW offered one year lease extensions and now offered another six month lease extension, effectively making the MINI-E Trial Lease program 30 months for those who wish to remain in the program.  Six months from now, I and the other MINI-E pioneers who stayed in the program, can transition directly from the MINI-E into the BMW ActiveE, the final test car before the 2013 BMW i3 hits the market. The ActiveE is a 24 month lease and when it ends, the i3 will already be in showrooms. The significance of this is that BMW has offered me a clear uninterrupted gas-free path, from the day I took possession of my MINI-E; two years ago to the day they will offer the i3 for sale. No other car major auto manufacturer (that isn't named Tesla) can claim they have done that for any of their customers. I know the MINI-E group was small, but I think BMW deserves credit for this program. Sure we have to pay to lease the cars, and they are getting valuable information form these field studies, but no other major car maker took any of their customers off gas for good in 2009.

Being in the program has made me more aware of my energy usage, both in the car and at home. I installed a solar array, bought Energy Star appliances, changed all my lighting to either compact florescent and LED bulbs, adjusted my programmable thermostats, replaced old drafty windows and are generally more aware of reducing wasted energy. In doing so, I have reduced my home electric usage about as much as I need to charge the car, effectively eliminating my personal fuel expense and the solar array eliminates 90% of my home's electric cost. I even drive more efficiently, using the regenerative braking as much as possible and I definitely find myself driving slower, even when I'm not driving the MINI-E.

I have driven the car 59,500 miles so far. That's about 30,000 miles a year or double what the average American drives and the MINI-E handled it without any problem. So much for electric cars being only good for low mileage drivers who only drive short trips! Oh and another thing, I've never been stranded on the roadside because I ran out of charge. Something that everybody who hasn't driven an EV seems to be worried about. The car has been extremely reliable and has required very little maintenance. Another thing that I'm really impressed with is that I have now charged the car over 1,100 times and it still has virtually the same range it did when it was brand new. I know at some point there will be battery degradation, but I can tell you for certain, it isn't measurable yet and I have the data to prove it.

Somewhere in an underground storage tank at the Lukoil station where I used to go to before I got the MINI-E, there are about 3,300 gallons of gas that wouldn't be there if I never applied for the program. You see, I always went to this one gas station to fill up as it was conveniently located on my route from home to work. If I had continued to drive my Toyota Tacoma for the past two years and 59,500 miles, I would have needed to buy about 3,300 gallons of gas as the Tacoma gets about 18mpg. This would have cost me about $10,000. I would have also needed about a dozen oil changes and would be looking at a major (recommended) tune up for the truck. Electric cars like the MINI-E require virtually no maintenance and after driving 60,000 miles you would probably only have to replace the tires and wiper blades.

So yeah, it's really been a great run so far. I really look froward to the BMW ActiveE, but I'm going to miss the minimalist attitude of the MINI-E. Small, great handling, fun to drive and still the feeling of  "efficient basic transportation" that I like. Electric drive in a MINI Cooper platform works and BMW would be foolish not to bring it back in a series production sometime in the future.

I always believed electric cars might be our future. They reduce our dependence on foreign oil, keep our energy dollars in local economies, improve our country's national security and are much better for the environment. The past two years in the MINI-E program proved to me that I was right.

17 comments:

  1. Congratulations Tom, you are an inspiration!

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  2. This is great! I hope to be following your lead in a year or two. I'm currently getting quotes for a solar PV array and figure to buy an electric car in 2013 or 2014 when there are more options.

    Keep up the great work on the blog, I love reading it

    Regards,
    Francisco in Atlanta

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  3. Hehe, I just looked up your restaurant because of the winner certificate in the background.

    Nice to see that MINI-E #250 is visible on google streetview :-)

    Love your blog btw, I'm a longtime RSS subscriber!

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  4. Hey Matt,

    I didn't even realize that you could see it from streetview until now, pretty cool. It doesn't surprise me though because I'm always here.

    I'm glad you like the blog, it's been fun communicating with so many people over the past two years that I would have never met if not for the blog.

    I love to read the comments so don't be shy!

    Regards,
    Tom

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  5. Congradulations Tom,
    hard to believe it was two years ago, changed my life too.

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  6. Tom Congratulations from Spain. I will also refer to this entry in forococheselectricos.com

    I really like the blog and is written in plain English we can read without much trouble

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  7. Tom,
    Sorry I'm late on this -- but a belated congratulations. Another great entry!

    I have to confess to feeling a bit jealous as during the two years you've been driving electric, I, and tons of other folks, have been waiting to get a chance to drive electric.

    It's tough living in a non-rollout EV state (Colorado) when one is so eager to drive solar electric, and completely frustrating that Nissan's essentially ignored folks like me who reserved a LEAF in April 2010, and probably won't see one until 2012 (or later?)

    Probably should've signed up for a MINI E lease, way back when, eh -- well, actually they didn't lease them in Colorado, did they...

    Happy solar-charged driving!

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  8. Unfortunately you don't have many options just yet Christof. You could get a Volt, but I don't think that would be your preference since it is much more expensive and it does still use gas, even though very little.

    Here in NJ there are a few dealers with volts ready and waiting on the lot. I just went to Shumacher Chevrolet a few days ago and they have two ready for sale at MSRP. I know quite a few people that came in from non roll-out states just to buy a volt and drive or ship it home.

    I would think you may have difficulty getting a LEAF or Focus EV for at least another year because of the limited supply. It's unfortunate.

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  9. Guess I'm not being aggressive enough -- although I still don't quite understand how this guy in Vail, Colo. got this LEAF before someone who'd reserved a LEAF in Oregon ... guess local Nissan dealers are ignoring the reservations list?

    Check it out-->
    http://www.vaildaily.com/article/20110602/NEWS/110609965

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  10. Christof:

    As you know, they are only available in the few rollout states and just like what happened here, if a customer cancelled their order after the dealer was scheduled to get their car, then the dealer owns that car and can do what they want with it. A lot of people are coming from out of state to NJ to buy volts so I'm sure the same thing is happening for LEAF's.

    I know you are fancy on the focus EV also so even though it may be tough for you to wait a little longer, it may be your best decision. At least get a chance to see and drive the Focus before you decide. They both have their advantages. The biggest to me are the Focuses 6.6kWh charging and the active thermal management. However the LEAF had a LOT more interior room for both the passengers and luggage. I can't stress a "LOT" more enough. Ive sat in both a few times and the focus is more sporty, but much less practical. I think the ranges will be similar with the focus a little better in the cold, but that should balance out soon as Nissan will soon offer a cold weather climate package.

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  11. Interesting -- I'm guessing for a family of 4 then, a LEAF might be better than the Focus EV. Of course, we've been driving our family of 4 around in my 1992 Acura Integra Hatchback for 5 years :-)

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  12. Tom, loved your blog. I've been waiting for some electric car options and I'm a fan of the mini. How did you find the Mini E handling and acceleration?

    Regards,
    Carl
    Austin, TX

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  13. Carl,

    Both are really great. It's one of the most fun cars I've ever driven. The instant torque of the electric motor is really special, different than any gas car. I think once most people drive electric for a while, they will not want to go back. Thanks for the compliment, I love getting feedback from the readers.

    Regards,
    Tom

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  14. Hey Tom I just read your testimony fantastic... It's something that I'm glad its at our finger tips. How we gotten this far without cars like this is beyond me... Good to know you are part of the technology that improves rather than depletes resources...

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  15. Thanks Marco, I look forward to seeing you guys soon!

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