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.