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Sunday, January 13, 2013

One Year Wrap Up

You can see the solar array on my roof in background. It produces about 10MWh's of electricity per year . 
Getting the keys to the first ActiveE
A year ago today I was at BMW's North American headquarters accepting the keys from BMW president Ludwig Willisch. In doing so I became the very first customer to lease or buy a fully electric BMW in company history, which was quite an honor. BMW selected me because I was one of the MINI-E pioneers, and because I was vocal supporter of BMW's electric mobility program. Still, there were plenty of others they could have chosen, like Todd Crook, Peder Norby, Don Young or any number of people that were dedicated MINI-E pioneers so it was really quite an honor.

The ActiveE has really lived up to my expectations. It is really a huge step forward from the MINI-E in just about every regard. Shortly after I got the car I called it an electric tank because it feels so solid when you are driving, and even after 35,000 miles it feels exactly the same. I'm sure that's partly because of the superior build quality that all BMW products share, but I also think the fact that it doesn't have an internal combustion engine vibrating the chassis constantly, causing rattles, squeaks and loosening fittings every time the motor is running has also contributed to the solid feel the car has maintained. 35,000 miles means I averaged 96 miles per day, every day of the year. There were plenty of days that I didn't drive the car at all so I probably averaged about 115 miles per day on the days I did drive it. That might surprise some people because it's more than the car can do on a single charge but by plugging in during the day to top off it's actually no problem to drive it 150 to 200 miles on the same day, and I did that quite often.  Driving that much isn't preferred, but the premium driving experience of the electric ActiveE makes my time in the car much easier.
35,156 miles in 366 days

As I did with the MINI-E, I've recorded data from every day I've had the car, and have 784 entries from this year of driving. By doing so I can really see range trends based on my driving speed and ambient temperature as well as detecting when the range degrades due to battery capacity loss. There hasn't been much capacity loss to measure yet, perhaps 2% or 3% at most. Ambient temperature is really the biggest range thief. Even with the sophisticated thermal management system the ActiveE has, the cold still cuts into the range, and it cuts deeply. I frequently complained about how poorly the MINI-E would perform in the cold weather and I was really hoping the thermal management of the ActiveE would make a huge difference to help the car offer a more consistent cold weather range. Don't get me wrong, it definitely helps and the ActiveE does perform much better than the MINI-E did in the cold, but it still suffers as much as a 35% loss of range in the cold winter days. There are even isolated days where I've measured as much as a 40% range loss. That's something that will certainly be of concern for customers of electric cars, and the manufacturers need to fully explain this to them during the sales process. The figures below are my monthly average range and observed driving temperature:

Month   Temp.   Range(Ave miles per charge)
January     34         79
February   38         83
March       48         90
April         55         95
May          66         96
June         73         98
July          80         94
August      79         94
Sept.        65         92
October     54         87
Nov.          45         78
Dec.          37         73
Jan(2013)  36         72

My consumption rate is way down in the cold
If the average temperatures seem a little lower than you might think it's because I frequently drive late at night. I drive home at night after my restaurant closes so the temperatures are cooler than they are during daylight hours. Also, you might notice that my range was noticeably better in January and February of last year which might lead you to believe the reason is because of battery capacity loss. The real reason behind that is when I first got the car last year, I was really trying to drive efficiently to see how much I could squeeze out of every recharge. I  had a lot of future ActiveE drivers asking me how far I could go per charge, so at the time I was driving much more efficiently than I normally do so I could report back to them how well the car was doing. Now that I'm settled in with the car, I drive it like I would any other car, which isn't really the most efficient driving style. I'm frequently driving 80-85mph on the highway and stomping on the accelerator to take off quickly every opportunity I have. The car is fun to drive, so I'm going to have fun with it. That's what's going to sell electric cars, they are fun! Once people get a chance to drive them and experience the great driving experience they offer then they will want to buy one also.

Driving electric this year cost me about $2,000 in electricity. If I was driving a BMW128i, the car the ActiveE was converted from, it would have cost me about $6,000 in gasoline. That's $333 per month of savings, and more than half my lease payment! It's easy to see how electric cars will pay for their initial higher cost over time by the fuel and maintenance savings. The problem is people often look only at the initial cost of a car, and not the total cost of ownership. I think BMW should show potential customers a graph with the total cost of ownership when they are selling the i brand cars. This will help people justify paying 20% more up front over a comparable gas car when they realize they will be getting the money back in the long run.

So one year down and one to go. It's hard to believe half my time with the ActiveE is already up. As much as I do love the car I have to admit I already looking forward to the BMW i3. Like the ActiveE was a huge improvement over the MINI-E, I'm confident the i3 will be even that much better. The i3 isn't a limited production test car like the MINI-E and ActiveE, and BMW has a lot riding on it. This is the electric car that BMW is betting will bring electric drive to their customers worldwide. It has big shoes to fill, but I'm betting BMW won't disappoint.

Another year of driving an electric car powered by sunshine. Why would I ever want to go back to this?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. (made an edit) I continue to be surprised by how fast a lot of people drive their ActiveEs (according to forum posts). The combination of high speed plus cold weather really hurts range. Aerodynamic drag varies as the square of the speed, so if you double the speed, drag increases four times. Driving 90 mph creates four times the drag you would get at 45 mph, but since it only takes half the time to go the same distance at 90, you end up using double the energy for the trip. Range would be cut in half. In real life it would not be half, because nobody drives 90 mph for their whole commute, but the lesson is--drive at very high speeds and efficiency will plummet (electric or ICE).

  2. Yes, Chris you certainly are right. Speed kills (range that is). On some of my trips I average 60mph+. Obviously the whole trip isn't on the highway, so I must be averaging 80mph+ while I am on the highway. I realize that's killing my range also, but since I have 'range to spare', it doesn't matter much to me. Being able to charge level 2 at work is a huge advantage. Almost every time I get in the car it's at 100% so I don't even have to think about driving conservatively to make my destination.

  3. Congratulations Tom. I would have guessed you had it closer to two years now. That's a lot of miles for anybody to drive, you need to move closer to your restaurant!

    Thank you for keeping the blog current, it's an interesting read. Personally I can't wait until BMW gives you the keys to an i3 so you can report on it. It would be a very wise move to give you one as soon as possible to help build up excitement. I'm sure something like that is already in the works :)

    Be well,

  4. Tom,

    Thank you very much for keeping us so well informed about your experiences with the ActiveE. As a former BMW driver I cannot wait for BMW to release a widely-available EV. I think that the i3 and the i8 may be a bit of a diversion for them, especially since the ActiveE seems ready.

    I hope you have an even more successful year with the car and that BMW gives you an option to keep it after the lease. I also hope to be able to visit North Jersey this Spring and maybe have a great meal at Nauna's.

    P.S. Your solar array hopefully produces 10 MWh (Mega Watt hours) a year, not 10 mWh (milli Watt hours) :)

  5. vdid: Thanks for spotting the MWh tag!. I can tell you for certain the i3 is not a diversion, it is really the car BMW is building their EV program around.

    The ActiveE, for all it's great aspects, is really just a test car and BMW has no intention of actually putting it into production. BMW is going to purpose build their EV's from dedicated platforms designed only for electric vehicles, not convert a gas car like they did with the ActiveE. You make too many compromises when you do that.

    The i3 is really going to be a great EV, wait till you get all the technical details before you judge it. That information will be available sometime in the Spring.

    Thanks for reading!

  6. I've owned a Volt now for just about 2 years and really appreciate the electric driving experience, power and silence! I have driven my Volt for 32,000 miles and have used 318 gallons of gas. I don't count electric useage as I have 48 240W SunPower panels on my roof, I don't have an electic bill to speak of. I'm considering a Tesla with a 300 mile range and do away with the ICE all together. Glad to see BMW is doing well with EV's. Charlie

  7. So Tom, do you have EV parking at your restaurant? Charlie

  8. Yes Charlie. I have two level 2 chargers with 1 space reserved for EV parking only.