Monday, September 26, 2011

100 Mostly Highway Miles Still Possible After 65K

I'm still getting over 100 miles of range after driving over 65,000 miles

Yesterday I set out with my wife for a shopping destination that was about 40 miles from my house, certainly no range problem for the MINI-E. However when we got there we realized this wasn't the place we wanted and a quick search on my mobile device indicated that there was another place that was ten miles further that would better suit what we were looking for.

That would bring the round trip to 100 miles, just about what I feel comfortable doing in the MINI-E without recharging. However this trip was just about all highway driving, and I wasn't driving conservatively (slowly) since I didn't think I needed to because I had only planned on driving about 80 miles. I didn't think twice about continuing onward though. In my twenty seven months with the MINI-E, I have never run out of charge and needed to be towed. The car has never let me down even though I pushed it way passed zero miles on the range meter many times. The funny thing is, I think I'm almost hoping to run out one day before I turn it back in this December when the MINI-E program ends and the BMW ActiveE lease program begins.

I have done so many things with this fantastic little car. I've pushed it to its limits many times. I've learned a lot about energy consumption and how to drive as efficiently as possible. I've driven it 131 miles on a single charge and I've seen my range plummet to about 60 miles when driving on bitter cold, snow covered roads. I've pulled up to a gas station and told the attendant to "fill er up" and watched as he walked around the car looking confused.  I have listened to countless journalists write about how terrible these cars are because they will leave their occupants stranded alongside roads all across the country. I know it may sound crazy but I feel like I almost owe it to myself to run out of juice one day before I give it back.

So when the decision to go home or carry on came up I didn't even think twice. I knew I'd be pushing the limit once more, and that  by driving 100 miles with about 80 of them at highway speeds (65-70mph) I wasn't guaranteed to make it home. The car has over 65,000 miles on it and I have recharged it 1,230 times so far so surely battery degradation at some level has taken place, even if it's not evident in my everyday driving. Would this be the test that the car finally failed?

We'll as you know it didn't let me down. I made it home but I did drive the last three miles with the range meter at zero. It didn't go into limp-mode so I still had a few more miles left, possibly up to ten before it would have rolled to a slow stop. So for now there is still one thing I haven't experienced with my MINI-E. I'm not going to intentionally drive it until it runs out, but I definitely will continue to push the limit if I need to drive far on occasion. If it happens, it happens. I'll then be able to check one more thing off my electric car bucket list.

Friday, September 23, 2011

East Coast MINI-E Pioneers Meet Up Set for October 1st!

MINI-E's lined up for the first MINI-E Meet up back in 2009

If you drive a MINI-E in New York or New Jersey then save the date! Next Saturday, October 1st, I am hosting what will in all probability be the final formal meet up of the East Coast MINI-E pioneers.

As excited as many of us MINI-E pioneers are about the possibility of getting a BMW ActiveE in a couple months, the thought of returning these cars that we have all grown so fond of is really saddening. However we all knew the day would come. We have in fact been allowed to keep the cars for much longer than originally promised. We all signed on for a one year closed end lease, but much to our approval BMW extended the program for another year, then for another six months for a total of 30 months. Of course nobody was required to remain in the program and many returned the cars after the first year. Most people that I know that returned their car after the initial 12 month lease did so for financial reasons, not because they didn't enjoy their time with it.

I've hosted two MINI-E meet up already, and the West Coast pioneers out in California have also had a few meets also. However with the program ending in early December, this will probably be the last one, at least for the East Coast MINI-E group. So if you're one of the lucky people here on the East Coast that is driving a MINI-E, please make sure to stop by. The plan is to meet in the parking lot for the first hour (11am to 12pm) and then move inside for lunch and to have a more formal meeting. There will be BMW representatives in attendance to answer questions, listen to our recommendations and hopefully provide some information about the upcoming BMW ActiveE lease program that most of us will be a part of.

I have a 50amp EVSE at the restaurant for anyone that needs to charge up. If you are coming and will need to use the charger, please leave a message or email me as I need to plan a schedule for charging so everyone knows their charge time slot. If you don't NEED to use it, please don't. There will be people that can't make it home without recharging. You may also come early in the day if you would like and charge up before everyone else gets here. There is plenty to see in Montclair that's within walking distance while your car is charging.

Here's the event details:

Where: Nauna's Bella Casa, 148 Valley Rd, Montclair, NJ 07042
When: Saturday, October 1st, 11am to 2pm

Thursday, September 15, 2011

MINI-E #250 Stars at the Engadget Readers Meetup in NYC

There's #250 parked right in front of the entrance of Gustavino's about an hour before the event

I'm a big fan of the tech website Engadget, so when they asked me if I would bring MINI-E #250 to their readers meetup in New York City to display it and talk to the guests about electric cars, I didn't have to think twice.

Engadget covers all kinds of the latest electronics, from cell phones to cameras to robotic devices, and recently they have been covering electric car news. A few months back, they even ran a story on me when I challenged Washington Post writer, Charles Lane to come and drive MINI-E 250 for a day to prove to him that it's not unsafe to drive in the winter, as he proclaimed that all electric cars are.

It was held on August 25th and the event was a huge hit. It was held at Gustavino's on 59th Street and they had about 1,400 visitors. I stood outside by the car in a roped off section and talked to people that had questions about it and electric cars in general. I was really surprised how many people really recognized the car and even knew about the upcoming BMW 2013 i3. I had to answer a lot of questions about it, unfortunately a lot of the questions were about price and availibility, and since BMW hasn't revealed that information the best I could do was to direct them to the BMW i3 website and tell them to check it out every now and then for updates. However there was plenty of people that wanted to talk about the MINI-E, the Nissan LEAF and the Chevy Volt.

After it was over, I started thinking about how many of the attendees were really interested in electric cars and then it hit me that these are all tech-minded people, a perfect market for electric cars. Electric cars are more about technology than traditional car stuff like how many liters the engine has and what the transmission gear ratio is. I definitely think BMW and the other OEM's making EV's should pay extra attention marketing technology websites, they have a market there that may be more willing to be an early adopter than the rest of the general public.

I really love going to events like this and talking to people that are interested in electric cars. I really like explaining away the common myths that many people are worried about  "What do you do when you run out of charge?" & "What happens when you get stuck in traffic and the battery dies?"  are just two questions I get all the time. Many people are genuinely interested in EV's and once they get past the misinformation they may have heard or the baseless presumption that the cars are vastly inferior and have someone with real live EV experience explain to them how great these cars can be, you see them open up to the possibility of buying one. It's kind of like a light goes off and they say to themselves "Yeah, I could do that" when I explain the whole charging process and how I deal with basically a 100 mile single-charge range. I think I must have convinced a few dozen people that night that an EV would work perfectly fine for them, and that alone made the event a success for me. :)

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Red Battery Icon of Death

So ominous

If you're one of the lucky few people selected to be in the MINI-E trial lease program, you know there will be occasional bumps in the road. We were all prepped and warned that this is an experimental car, a prototype that BMW is using to gather information about electric mobility. I'm not sure even BMW knew how reliable they would or wouldn't be, and one of the qualifications to being in the program was that we had a second car as a backup, just in case.

However the cars have proven very reliable, and rarely ever need repairs. I have nearly 66,000 miles on mine now, and this is either the fourth or fifth time I had to have the car brought in for a technical problem, I can't really remember. Of course that would be a problem if this was a polished production car, but it's not, and under the circumstances I think that's fantastic considering it's a prototype test car.

Electric cars are much more simple than internal combustion engine cars and require much less maintenance, but they still have parts that can fail. From battery modules, to the power electronics, to fans that cool the motor and batteries, things can break. One thing that the MINI-E pioneers have learned is that you do not want to see the a red battery icon on your center display screen. That basically tells you: Dude, you're screwed.

Well yesterday I woke up and was planning to take the MINI-E to a local cafe with my wife for some fresh baked pastries and coffee and when I put the key in the ignition, the Darth Vader of icons appeared. The good old red battery icon was staring at me, front and center. When you see that, you just give up. You don't try to reset the power electronics, you don't repeatedly try to turn the car on, you just give up. The dreaded red battery icon means there is a problem with the cars high voltage battery system, and that could be serious. What you do is just what I did. You call MINI roadside service and tell them to come pick up the car and take it to the Flying Doctors, BMW's name for the engineers that repair the MINI-E's, and you hop in your back up car, the one you were required to have to be in the MINI-E program, and you go about your business until your MINI-E is returned to you, which is usually not more than a few days.

So for the next few day's I'm back on gasoline driving my Toyota Tacoma pick up truck. It's not such a bad thing because I need to give it a workout once in a while. It mostly just sits in my driveway collecting dust and I'm sure the use will be good for it. I don't even know when the last time I filled it up and the gas may be a few months old so I'll burn through all the old stuff I'm sure.

What's gas even cost these days? I guess I'll find out later this week...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hurricane Irene Blasts NJ. MINI-E #250 Unfazed

This street by my house was still closed five days after the storm. 

It's been five days since Hurricane Irene barreled through New Jersey, leaving in it's wake destruction, flooding, widespread power outages and unfortunately, a few deaths. There are still many people without power, houses underwater and many streets closed. The power to my neighborhood was just restored last night, but we still don't have telephone, cable TV or internet service. 

Luckily I installed a home generator a few years ago so I had power the whole time. It's a 16kW natural gas generator and it powers most of my home. It doesn't however power my 220v EVSE that charges my MINI-E, as the electric draw is about 7kW which would use almost 50% of the power it makes for my entire house. I can still use the 110v occasional charger which only draws about 1.6kW, however it does take a long time to charge the car this way, actually about 36 hours to fully charge a completely depleted battery. The good news is that the battery isn't usually fully depleted and you don't have to charge it to 100% unless you need to drive 100 miles. I almost never use the 110v charger, but while I was running my home on the generator, I didn't have a choice the first day.
110V charging at home
On Monday morning (the day after the storm) I set out on my 31 mile usual trek to work. I left early because I figured there would be some closed roads with flooding and downed trees. It turned out to be much worse than I imagined it would be. After about 3 hours I realized that attempting to continue would be futile. Every different route I chose ended with a closed road and when I tried to take the highways, the cars were backed up as far as you could see and the cars weren't even moving. It was a disaster. I've never seen anything like it. It seemed everywhere you looked a road was either flooded or had trees with tangled power lines laying across the street. So I turned around and went home. Luckily most of my staff and manager lives close to the restaurant so they could all make it. The restaurant would have to live without me for a day.

When I arrived home I had been gone 4 hours and had driven 58 miles. The estimated remaining range was 42 miles to give me an even 100 mile range for the day. The reason this is significant is to point out the advantage EV's have over internal combustion cars. All the time I was sitting in traffic I was barely using any energy, while the gas cars were burning gas the whole time. This is something that people that don't understand EV's are quick to ask "What happens if I'm stuck in traffic and run out of charge?" You won't!!! Your EV is especially efficient crawling around at low speed, the opposite of the the internal combustion engine cars which are terribly inefficient while stuck in traffic. 

The next day I left for work at 5am. I figured even if the roads were still closed, I could find a route to take as long as I didn't have thousands of cars clogging up the streets with me. The strategy worked and I was able to negotiate my way the 31 miles from Chester to Montclair in about 2 1/2 hours. It was difficult, but I was able to drive the whole way on back streets. Then, as I drove around the past three days I realized that many of the gas stations in Morris County are closed because they have no power. That didn't present any problem for me and MINI-E #250 though. My 62 mile round trip to work could be accomplished without a problem by fully charging at work so I didn't even need to slow charge at home, but I did anyway just to make sure it worked if I needed it in the future. 
New Jersey is still in emergency mode but the rivers are starting to recede, the utilities are slowly restoring power and the public works departments are cutting up the downed trees and clearing the roads. It has been a really difficult time for a lot of people and will continue to be for some time to come. However MINI-E #250 was barley fazed by the widespread power outages and continues to provide reliable transportation and a great driving experience regardless of what is going on around it. If nothing else the MINI-E program has definitively proven to me that EV's are ready for primetime, regardless what some others that have no real life EV experience will try to tell you.