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Friday, January 20, 2012

It's Go Time!

Today's the day! BMW has opened applications to the general public so if you live in one of the seven ActiveE markets and want to drive "The Ultimate Driving EV", get over to the ActiveE website and apply. You can also go to a participating BMW ActiveE dealership and apply there. I got mine from JMK BMW in Springfield, NJ and I highly recommend you go there if you live in Northern NJ. Manny Antunes is the ActiveE specialist there so if you go ask to see Manny ans tell him Tom sent you, it can't hurt ;)

Here's the link to apply: BMW ActiveE Application

Good Luck and I'll see you all on the electric highway!

Monday, January 16, 2012

BMW ActiveE Doesn't Disappoint!

Yes, I transferred my EF-OPEC license plates from the MINI-E!

I've been anticipating driving an ActiveE since it was first announced two years ago, so when I was presented with the keys to my car this Friday it was really a great feeling.

I do miss my MINI-E. The ActiveE sure has some big shoes to fill because that little car was really a fantastic car to drive. However as great as it was, it did lack some essential features that the ActiveE has, and now that I have had some time with it this post will detail my initial impressions.


Instrumentation:


The ActiveE's instrumentation is worlds better than the minimal gauges we had in the MINI-E. The state of charge meter is deadly accurate and doesn't bounce up when you stop for while like the MINI-E's did. When driving the MINI-E, if you drove on the highway for a bit and then got off and drove slower on the secondary roads, the SOC would go up as much as five percent. It's not that the car recharged, it was that while driving fast on the highway the car couldn't read the SOC accurately and always gave you a reading that was lower than your actual SOC. That doesn't happen with the ActiveE, the SOC never goes up when you slow down or stop for a bit meaning the reading is always spot on.  The large analog gauges in the instrument cluster are well laid out, simple and not over done. However you don't need to look far to get to the the goodies. The center stack info center has all the controls and settings for the car. From the navigation system to setting the preconditioning to checking out your trip efficiency data and much more, everything is controlled with a knob on the center console and displayed on a large screen in the center of the dash. The navigation system allows you to choose the "most efficient route" which is a nice addition to the usual "fastest" and "shortest" route options usually offered by nav systems. I'm not sure just how the car calculates the most efficient route, but I assume it is a combination of shortest distance and lowest average speed of the roads on the route. I doubt it considers hills as compared to flat roads and I haven't used it yet, but hopefully it is relatively accurate in the route it chooses as most efficient.

New Features

The ActiveE is a four seat coupe with a trunk. Now the back seats aren't really roomy for adults and the trunk isn't as large as the regular 1 series trunk is, but compared to the MINI-E which had no back seat and very little hatch room it has lots of room. It has very useful backup sensors with a visual display on the center display and there is a new "Eco-Pro" mode. A small button behind the gear shifter activates this mode which extends the cars range by reducing the power the car uses for the motor and the cabin heating and cooling. I can say for sure two things: First, it works. The car definitely goes further when you use it. I think by combining efficient driving techniques and using Eco Pro, you can squeeze as much as  15 to 20 more miles out of the car. If you just use Eco Pro and drive the same as you usually do you can probably expect about 10 more miles. However the second thing I learned is that by selecting Eco Pro the cabin air conditioning, heating and heated seats are severely impacted because of the reduced power they get. The seat heater barely even warms the seats at all. What I've been doing now that it's very cold here in NJ is begin my trip in regular mode and let the seat heater get the seats nice and hot and then turn on Eco Pro. The car seems to be able to maintain the warm seats in Eco Pro mode, just not get them hot to begin with.  Then there is the glide mode which allows you to coast along without using any energy and without activating the regenerative braking. There is a large analog gauge that displays whether you are using energy or recouping energy through regen, and right in the middle of the two it just says "ready" and when you are driving along and coasting the gauge is right on the ready position. Speaking of regenerative braking, the ActiveE's regen is definitely less aggressive than the MINI-E's, but it's definitely strong enough to allow us to drive with basically one pedal like we could with the MINI-E and it's much stronger than the regen on either the Nissan LEAF or the Chevy Volt. Perhaps the feature that I've been most looking forward to is the thermal conditioning and the cars ability to precondition the cabin and battery. While I've had a little getting the cabin preconditioning to work(I'm still learning how to set it to go on) the battery preconditioning works great and really makes a difference now that it's cold here in New Jersey. Tonight the car was parked outside for 10 hours in 15 degree weather and I turned on the preconditioning 30 minuted before I left and the battery was at 58 degrees when I started my journey. The MINI-E battery would have been about 40 degrees and when it got that cold the cars performance suffered, the regen would disengage and the range would be severely diminished. However with a 58 degree battery, the ActiveE  made the 31 mile trip home using only 40% of the battery. The MINI-E would have used 55-60% of the charge in these conditions according to my MINI-E data logs.


The ActiveE's scored great in the EPA's fuel efficiency tests. It achieved a combined 102 MPGe better than both the Nissan LEAF and the Chevy Volt with a 107 MPGe city and 96 MPGe highway.









Conclusion

Although I loved the MINI-E and have only had the ActiveE for a couple days, I'm really liking it. The ride quality is 100% better, it's quieter inside(if you can believe that), it's smoother during both acceleration and while using the regenerative braking and it feels rock solid while your driving it. The handling and acceleration may be just a tic below what the MINI-E offered, but it's still a fun car to drive and has great performance for spirited driving. The negatives so far are few, but there are some in my opinion. First, it doesn't seem to have the extra "reserve" range built in. When the MINI-E's range hit zero, I knew I could drive at least ten miles before it couldn't go any further. One of the first things I did when I got the car was to test how far it could go once the SOC reached zero. To my surprise, after one mile the car was finished. So anyone reading this that is getting an ActiveE take notice, zero means zero, don't push it or you'll get stuck. The second thing I'm struggling with is getting the cabin preconditioning to work. I don't know if I'm just doing it wrong or if my car isn't working properly but I can only seem to get it to warm the cabin about 50% of the time. I haven't spent much time on this and admittedly didn't read the owners manual so maybe I'm just doing it wrong, but it shouldn't be difficult to figure out. Lastly, the car is taking way too long to charge, as much as ten hours. Now before anyone gets worried about this, I contacted BMW and they told me that's not correct and the car will charge completely in 4 to5 hours. They asked me to bring it back for them to look at and fix whats wrong, but I'm having too much fun driving it to bring it back yet. I'll do that later this week and let them figure out what's going on. I put a meter on it and it's only accepting about 2.75kW. The onboard charger can charge up to 7.7kW so there is definitely something wrong. I'm sure they'll get it straightened out, but it is worth noting that there is a problem.

I know a lot of MINI-E pioneers will miss their cars, but after a while driving the ActiveE I think the overwhelming majority of them will agree the car is a much more complete car and with the addition of the new features and additional luggage and passenger space they will soon grow to love the car as they did the MINI-E.(And dare I say even more!)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

BMW Asks Me To Be The First ActiveE Customer

Ludwig Willisch, BMW's North American President hands me the keys to the ActiveE at BMW Headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ on January 13th, 2012





The BMW ActiveE program is officially launched! At about 3:00pm on Friday, January 13th I was handed the keys to my ActiveE at what BMW called the "ActiveE First Delivery Event"

ActiveE's at BMW HQ
My wife Meredith and I arrived around noon and we had lunch with the whole BMW electric vehicle team including, Rich Steinberg, Hugo VanGeem, Marian Hawryluk, Rob Healey, Dave Buchko, Joan Bowen, Nathalie Bauters and others. We then were offered a tour of inside the BMW technical facility to the area they have dedicated to electric vehicles. BMW is obviously serious about the i brand and electric vehicles because they have a very large area with multiple rooms set up for their EV's. In one of the rooms they had the three individual battery packs that are in the ActiveE and in another room they had every EVSE currently available lined up on tables so they could check to make sure they all worked charging the ActiveE. I was told every one worked with the exception of the Schneider unit that is available at the Home Depot. For some reason it would connect and start charging, then shut off. The whole technical area is under construction to accommodate the future expanding EV line including the BMW i3 & i8.

My MINI-E next to my new ActiveE
Once the ceremony began, Ludwig Willisch, the new BMW North American president and EV supporter (replacing the not so EV supportive Jim O'donnell) spoke for a few minutes and then handed the mic to me so I could say a few words. We then walked over to the ActiveE there on display next to my MINI-E and he handed me the keys and the ActiveE program was officially launched.

My wife and I had a great time and it was a very special experience. I want to thank BMW for giving me the honor of taking delivery of the very first ActiveE, and for treating me and my wife so well during the whole event. There were a lot of video interviews done by KSB&P, the company commissioned with marketing the ActiveE and they will be available online soon. When they are I'll post the links here.

So after two and a half years with the MINI-E, I'm now driving an ActiveE and this is the place to read about my experiences with the car for anyone interested. Please feel free to comment or ask me anything about the car or electric vehicles in general. My MINI-E blog has become very popular and a lot of fun. I'll be directing anyone who visits that blog here from now on and hopefully we can have some great dialogue here, as was the case there. Thanks for following!