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Saturday, January 25, 2014

My DriveNow Car Sharing Experience

This post isn't about my ActiveE but it is about the ActiveE. Actually it's really about BMW's car sharing program called DriveNow which I had the opportunity to use last week.

I'm a Plug In America board member and while we have monthly calls, we also have bi-annual in-person board meetings. The meetings are held in California since that is where most of the board members reside. Our first meeting of 2014 was last week and I needed to fly out to San Francisco for about a 24 hour stay. I was thinking about renting a car but then I realized that BMW's car sharing program, DriveNow operated in the area, and even had a location at SFO so this would be a great opportunity to try it out.

DriveNow is currently only available in the Bay area and in a couple of cities in Germany. You basically rent a car on-demand and pay by the minute. It can be one way or a round trip so you can drop it off at any DriveNow station regardless of where you picked it up from. Since you only pay for the time you have it, there’s no penalty for doing a one-way rental. There is a $12 minimum charge for the first 30 minutes, 32¢ for each additional minute and 13¢ per minute for parking. I was charged $60.00 for having it 24 hours which is a current special. The usual 24 hour rental is $90.00. That's still a great deal in my opinion as you get to drive a rare electric BMW that you can't even buy!

Touchscreen Display
I'm bullish on car sharing and I really think we'll have multiple car sharing options in virtually every city  inside of ten years. The great thing about DriveNow though is that they are using electric cars (the ActiveE) as their whole fleet here in the US. I'm sure as they expand they will introduce gas cars though, but they definitely plan to use BMW i3s as well. DriveNow has only been here for less than two years and as you would expect they have been experiencing teething pains.  I've read stories of people having difficulty activating the car with their card, and showing up only to find the car isn't charged but that is really to be expected as this is a brand new service and they will likely need time to work all of the kinks out. So I really didn't know what to expect, but I was willing to give it a shot. After all, I was there to attend a Plug In America board meeting so I had to use a car that plugs in while I was there, right?

Madison was my ride for the day
The whole experience turned out great. I signed up online a few weeks earlier and received my DriveNow card that you use to activate the car in the mail. When I arrived in San Francisco I had a choice of locations to pick up the car from. SkyPark at SFO has a shuttle that will take you right to the ActiveE's waiting for customers. You can only reserve a car for 15 minutes though, so it's kind of a leap of faith that there will be a car at the DriveNow station you expected to pick it up at. The app shows you where all the available cars are so you could go get another one if somebody took the car you were expecting to take. However I'm told there are usually cars at SkyPark available since it's one of the main DriveNow stations. As the service expands and there are more cars available, I think this will be less of a problem.  The cars are named and I chose Madison since the app showed it was 100% charged. The one thing I noticed though was the other cars that were parked at the same location were plugged in but not charging so they were fully charged also, however the DriveNow app indicated they weren't fully charged. Perhaps it doesn't refresh as frequently as it needs to?

You use your DriveNow card to open and lock the doors. Inside the car there is a touch screen display to begin and end your session, and to initiate a parking session where the car remains reserved for you. The DriveNow card is also a ChargePoint Network card so you can use it to charge the car while you have it on any networked ChargePoint charging station. That's a great idea for those who don't already have an electric car, since they likely wouldn't have a ChargePoint membership card.

I returned the car to the SkyPark location just outside of SFO airport. There was a shuttle bus there ready for me and without waiting at all I was dropped off at my terminal. Shortly after ending my driving session I received an email with the bill. The total was $65.02 ($5.02 in taxes) which as I mentioned above is a great deal in my opinion. Using DriveNow was simple and I paid nothing for the fuel I used, as that's included in the rental fee and I would have used about $10 in gas if I rented a gas car for my trip. Plus, God forbid you return a rental car without filling the gas tank to the level it was when you took it, because you'll get hit with crazy service fees and pay an exorbitant amount for the gas as a penalty for not refueling.

So if you are traveling to the Bay area and need some wheels for a while don't hesitate to use DriveNow unless you need to drive long distances where the 80-90 mile range of the ActiveE would be a problem. Or, maybe you live in the Bay area and want to see how driving an all electric BMW feels. Either way, you get to drive a rare all electric BMW, you can drive it all you want without paying for fuel, and you can return it to any of the DriveNow locations regardless of where you picked it up from and you won't have to pay an extra "location fee". You get the smooth acceleration, the quiet cabin and instant torque the electric motor of the ActiveE and the luxury and driving experience expected in a BMW. I know I won't hesitate to use it again the next time I'm in the Bay area.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Automotive News Story on Electronaut Impact

About two months ago Diana Kurylko from the Automotive News reached out to me and asked me if she could interview me for a story she want to write. Diana had just returned from the first ever journalist i3 drive event that BMW hosted in Amsterdam.

Sattig with an i3 at the LA Auto Show
While she was there she interviewed program managers that were responsible for the i3's development and many of them told here how important it was that they had input from the MINI-E and ActiveE drivers and how the leanings from those programs helped to make the i3 a better EV. However her conversation with Manuel Sattig, BMW i project manager inspired her to look me up once she returned home. Evidently Manuel told her how I had been a help with providing feedback and suggestions, and he even mentioned how I had driven the most miles in the MINI-E and ActiveE programs.

The past five years driving the MINI-E and ActiveE have been a lot of fun. Knowing that my input, along with the others in these trial lease programs, has influenced the development of the i3 makes it even better. I really look forward to the i3 and what's beyond it. BMW has more up their electric sleeve than they are letting on to. These are really exciting times. The story Diane wrote appeared in today's Automotive News. The link to the full text is below:

Feedback from enthusiastic early adopters shapes EVs of the future.