Saturday, October 1, 2011

MINI-E Meetup Attracts Some Other Plug-ins

Today I hosted what will in all likelihood be the final MINI-E meetup on the East Coast. I've done three meetups here at my restaurant during the time the MINI-E program has been ongoing. Now that we only have about two months left I wanted to host one more, kind of like a farewell to the MINI-E. In about 2 1/2 months, the 30 month MINI-E program will come to an end, just as the BMW ActiveE electric car program begins.

MINI-E pioneers Cliff Saunders, Michael Thwaite, Chris Neff, Timothy Schwartz and David Miller were in attendance as was BMW representatives Marian Hawryluk and Hugo VanGeem. Marian has come to every MINI-E meet I have hosted and Hugo has made the past two and their presence is definitely appreciated. It's nice to have people here that can answer questions and provide us with program information. They do this on their own time, it isn't required for their job. They genuinely want to be there to listen to what we have to say about our MINI-E experiences and offer support and they should be commended. My personal experience in the MINI-E program has definitely been enriched by the BMW employees involved in the electric vehicle division. The whole BMW EV team is really working hard to make the 2013 BMW i3 the best EV on the market when it is launched.
Aside from the MINI-E's, the meetup attracted some other plug-ins. We had an awesome black Tesla Roadster stop by as well as a plug-in Prius. After hanging outside in the parking lot for about an hour, we went inside Nauna's and sat down to a nice lunch. We talked a lot about the MINI-E program as well as the BMW ActiveE and other EV related topics.

Cliff Saunders drove 90 miles to get to the meetup so he needed to use my 50amp EVSE to replenish his battery pack. The timing was perfect and just as we were finishing the meeting, his car was fully charged and ready to go. That's the great thing about charging 50 amps at 12 kW, it only takes 3 1/3 hours to fully charge a depleted pack. For comparison, if Cliff had come in a Nissan LEAF, he would have had to wait about seven to eight hours to recharge it, since the fastest the LEAF can charge at is 3.3 kW. 
We finished of the meeting with a MINI-E plug dressed cake(OK it wasn't perfect!) and I think everyone had a great time. The day was a little bittersweet though. The MINI-E is such a wonderful car and we are going to really miss them. I know the BMW ActiveE will be a much more polished EV and I just know I'm going to really love it, but I will always remember my days with #250 fondly. This fantastic little car really proved to me that electric drive is not only possible, but I now believe it will eventually replace internal combustion powered vehicles. 


  1. Cool! Wish I could have stopped by

  2. So how quickly the batteries can be charged is determined by the car itself and not the expensive wall mounted chargers? What it their purpose then? Why not just plug it into a 240V wall outlet like you would a clothes dryer. I have a 40amp outlet in my garage that my son used to use for his welding equipment. Can I just plug a leaf into that?

  3. Anonymous: Well, both the electrical supply and the car will dictate how fast the car is charged.

    The car cannot accept more current that the outlet or EVSE can supply and the rate of charge is limited by how robust the cars on board charger is.

    The LEAF can only accept 3.3kWh of electricity, no matter how much supply you have. The MINI-E can accept up to 12kWh, which is nearly four times as much electricity. A Tesla roadster can accept up to 17kWh, and since it has such a large battery it needs to charge at a high rate or it would take too long to charge.

    The "expensive wall mounted chargers" as you called them really aren't "chargers" at all. The chargers are built into the cars. These devices are really called EVSE's or electric vehicle supply equipment. That's because they really only supply the car with electricity. Their purpose to to safely deliver the electricity so people don't get hurt plugging and unplugging at such a high rate of power. The MINI-E charges at 32 or 50 amps and a Tesla charges at up to 70amps. You would not want to accidentally touch the metal prongs of a plug as you were plugging/unplugging as there is a very good chance you would not live to tell about it. The EVSE's are there to make the charging process safe, that's all. Yes they are expensive, but the alternative is worse.

    Older EV's could simply plug into any 220 wall outlet, but today's EV's are designed to not accept a charge if they don't recognize the power is coming from an EVSE with a pilot signal. This makes plugging in directly to a standard 220/240 outlet impossible.

  4. Hi Tom,

    I've noticed your posts before on, but it's only now that I read your story and how you got into the MINI E field trial. First of all, thank you for much for collecting and sharing all this data, it's invaluable. I'm not aware of any comparable data sets, although I did find some useful information on the Tesla forum as well.

    Would you be at liberty to discuss the chemistry of the E-One Moli cells the Mini is using? I believe that they are cylindrical manganese spinel, but I've heard from other sources that they could be lithium cobalt or lithium iron phosphate. BMW published the MINI E spec online, but this information is conspicuously missing. If the publicly available information on the new i3 can be believed, it will utilize nickel-manganese-cobalt cells, and I'm wondering if BMW perhaps tested similar cell chemistry during the MINI E field trial.


  5. Hi George,

    Thank you for the kind words. I've logged every mile I've driven so far (66,000+ miles and over 1,250 log entries) so I really do have some great data on the MINI-E. Unfortunately, it is just a prototype test car and the hardware used isn't moving forward into BMW's future electric offerings.

    I really don't know the exact composition of the E-One Moli cells used. The batteries and powertrain were provided by AC Propulsion, not BMW. BMW wouldn't sell a car with third party-supplied batteries and power electronics. They wanted to get an EV out into the public quickly so using AC Propulsion made sense. It also bought them time to develop their own powertrain which they have done for the i3. As for the batteries in the i3, yes they are using newly developed Lithium-ion cells which will be using a nickel-manganese-cobalt chemistry made by SB-Limotive. SB-Limotive is a joint venture of Samsung and German parts giant Bosch.

    The MINI-E's did not use these batteries, but the BMW ActiveE will. I'll be getting a BMW ActiveE to drive for 24 months this December when I give back the MINI-E. The ActiveE will have the entire powertrain that the i3 will use. This will allow BMW to have the entire powertrain in real world testing for nearly two years before they sell the i3. I'm actually flying to Germany this Saturday as a guest of BMW's to drive the ActiveE among other things. I'm going to be one of the first non BMW employees to drive the car and I look forward to it. I'll post about it on my blogs and probably on plugincars.

  6. Hi Tom --

    I appreciate your response, I wish I paid more attention to the MINI-E field trial a bit sooner. This group has established an impressive track record, and aside from a few Tesla Roadster owners, it's pretty much the only group that has substantial real-world experience with the recent crop of lithium-based EVs.

    I'm aware of both the i3 and i8 and I signed up for the ActiveE trial a while ago. It would be great if I could upgrade from the Leaf to the i3 when BMW makes them available, but I'm a bit price sensitive and it depends on the ultimate price point of the i3. I have recommended both of these EVs to a friend as well.

    I think that it would have made sense for BMW to deploy manganese cells in the trial if this was the chemistry they ultimately wanted to use. I have very good reason to believe that they used the IHR18650BL cell. I looked at all their products in great detail, this is the one that fits the bill. Incidentally, if you added 5,088 of these cells together, you would get a battery pack with 35.616 kWh capacity. This particular cell uses Nickel-Manganese-Cobalt oxide cathode material, the same basic chemistry BMW is going to use for their production cars. I'm pretty sure that they will manufacture the new cells in a flat prismatic form factor and improve their thermal properties and performance.

    I'll do some more research, and see what else I can find. We have a very active Leaf community in the San Francisco Bay Area and we will be hosting senior engineering staff from Nissan at our meeting in early December.

    Have a safe trip to Munich, Tom. I look forward to reading your blog posts. It's funny, I actually worked at BMW at their R&D center (FIZ) in the Knorrstrasse many moons ago.


  7. Hi Tom,
    First, I wanted to say thanks for the great blog over the years. I think you've provided more insight into the day-to-day issues about owning an EV than any other source I've seen. I think you've done a lot to quell many concerns that my create reluctance among some of for buying our first EV.

    I wanted to correct a minor error in your second to last paragraph. You state:
    "That's the great thing about charging 50 amps at 12 kWh, it only takes 3 1/3 hours to fully charge a depleted pack. For comparison, if Cliff had come in a Nissan LEAF, he would have had to wait about seven to eight hours to recharge it, since the fastest the LEAF can charge at is 3.3 kWh."

    I think you inadvertently mixed up issues with power (the rate of energy transfer -- typically in kW, though it's fair to report it as A if you assume a constant voltage) and total energy (the amount of work the battery can deliver -- typically in kW-hr).

    It seems pretty clear that you understand this distinction (particularly with your subsequent response to the other "anonymous" in your comment above, but I wanted to clarify for less informed readers.

    As you note, different cars will store different amounts of electrical energy (total kW-hr). This, along w/ the EVs efficiency, will impact the total range of the car (just like the size of the fuel tank & the engine's efficiency limits the range of an ICE vehicle). Unlike an ICE car's fuel tank, it is far more expensive to increase the capacity (kW-hr) of a battery. For the most part, car manufacturers will end up sizing kW-hr based on tradeoffs of battery weight, cost, and associated system range.

    The charge rate (in kW or A) for the EV will, as you note, be limited by both the EVSE's capacity and the charger & battery in the EV itself. Most EVs, like your mini-E, will support various charge rates; though, charging at higher rates often requires more expensive equipment (another design tradeoff for the manufacturer).

    Most non-EV owners are already familiar w/ the concept of vehicle range (how far they can drive on a tank of gas), and the need to recharge. But the idea of recharge rate is something new that consumers need to ensure they are considering in making their EV decision (since there really is no equivalent for ICE cars -- most gas stations basically pump fuel at the same gal/min rate).

    For somebody like me, who has ~50 mile round-trip commute to work, most existing/planned EVs provide a suitably comfortable range long as I can recharge regularly. However, there are nights that I work late & leave early and might only have a few hours between getting home & leaving again. And, there are other days that I leave work & go to the airport, and then later return from the airport to work before returning home. These variations become potentially more problematic due to both range & charge-rate limitations...not a deal-breaker, just something else to factor in. And, you've covered all these concerns in other places in your blog.

    The biggest tipping point will be when we can convince an increasing number of parking locales to offer charging services. This will then allow folks to recharge while they work, or shop, or leave their car at the airport. I hope that in the next few years we'll see more & more of these popping up as marketing "attractors" (similar to how some grocery stores first started providing dedicated parking for pregnant women & mothers w/ babies) as more EVs penetrate the market. I'd imagine a lot of folks might come eat at your restaurant, just b/c you offer a couple of dedicated spots for EVs w/ 50A charging while you dine...even if the energy consumed is tacked onto the customer's bill, they are probably still likely to be drawn by the convenience of the service offered.

    I look forward to hearing about your trip to Germany, and the Active E when you start driving it.

    Again, thanks for the great blog,
    Jeff C.

  8. Hi Jeff, thanks for the great comment. Yes, I do know the the charge rate is in kW not kWh, sometimes I do these blog posts in a hurry and make typo's like that. You are correct that the charge rate is something that the general public is going to struggle with a bit. Everyone asks me how long do it take to charge? I tell them 3 1/2 hours and they'll say then why does the LEAF take all night? Doesn't it even have a smaller battery? Very few people understand that the car controls the amount of energy it can take, and believe it's all up to the EVSE (wrongfully called the wall charger). Sure the EVSE has a limit to how much energy it can provide, but more often than not, it's the car that is slowing down the rate of charge (In LEAF's & Volts at least) 3.3kW charging is just too slow in my opinion and will definitely slow the acceptance of EV's.

    I know I just couldn't live with an eight hour recharge time if the car had only an 80 or 90 mile range. I want 20 to 30 miles of range per hour of charging. Also, when people ask how long these cars take to charge I don't think they understand they won't often be charging it from "empty" so it won't take that long. I'd like to see people talk more about how many miles per hour of charging the cars get, then you could compare vehicle to vehicle using the same metric. Since each car has a different range, simply stating how long it takes to charge is useless if you don't know how far it will take you. Establishing a charging MPH would give people a better understanding on how fay you can go based on how long you charged.

    Also, you asked about my trip to Germany to drive the ActiveE. I did a blog post about it over at my ActiveE blog:

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