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Thursday, March 20, 2014

It's Deja Vu All Over Again



Well not exactly, but close. With the US launch of the BMW i3 only a few weeks away, the ActiveE's days are numbered. Sure BMW will likely use some of the returning ActiveE's to add to the fleet of their car sharing service DriveNow, but the majority of the returned cars will likely be decommissioned. Many of the other “Electronauts” have already returned their ActiveE’s and moved on to other electric cars, while others are waiting for the launch of the i3. For the Electronauts that have i3's on order, BMW has allowed lease extensions so they can transition seamlessly into their new i3, which is what I am doing.
This is all too familiar and as much as I have enjoyed participating in the MINI-E and ActiveE trial lease programs, I have not enjoyed the part where you have to give the car back. We all knew it was part of the deal; these aren't our cars and we knew we only had a limited time with them, but just like when the MINI-E program ended, many of the participants lament having to return the cars that they have become so attached to.

As much as I'm going to miss the ActiveE, this isn't the same as I felt when I had to return my MINI-E. I really loved that car. It wasn't as sophisticated as the ActiveE and it wasn't as well engineered. It didn't have heated leather seats or a thermal management system. You couldn't set it to precondition and it didn't have a back seat or a trunk. But....it was one helluva fun little car. With the ActiveE I feel a little like I traded in my sneakers and t-shirt for a pinstripe suit. Sure I may look better in the suit, but in my opinion the ActiveE lacked a little of the soul the MINI-E had. The ActiveE was definitely a great EV and had all the amenities and luxury you'd expect in a proper BMW, but to me something was missing.

The ActiveE launch event at BMW HQ
Maybe it was just that the MINI-E was my first electric car and nothing will be able to compare to it now. It was the car that showed me the world of electric drive, and how plugging beats filling up any way you slice it. Back in 2011 BMW selected me to be the first person to take delivery of an ActiveE and I can remember the launch event at BMW headquarters like it was only a few weeks ago. BMW CEO Ludwig Willisch made a short speech and then handed me the microphone to say some words and the first thing I said to him was "Are you sure I can't keep my MINI-E". I'm not so sure Willisch or anybody at BMW appreciated that since this was the ActiveE launch party but that was how I felt. I don't feel like that with the ActiveE though, and I can see handing back the keys next month without feeling hardly any remorse.

My MINI-E was really a blast to drive
That's not to say I haven't enjoyed my time with the ActiveE, because I definitely have. It really was the best choice for me once the MINI-E program ended. Back when I got my ActiveE there really wasn't another electric car I would rather have as my daily driving vehicle. Since then, the Tesla Model S came out and has taken electric cars to a new level but the i3 is really the EV that I want which is why I'm getting one. I definitely have considered moving on to a Model S, but I just can't see myself driving a car that is so large; it's really just too much car for me. My time with the ActiveE has been fun, and I have been luckier than many of the other Electronauts since my cars have had very little problems, while some others haven't been so lucky. I do think part of what I miss from the MINI-E is the performance. The ActiveE holds it's own, but it's not really a fast car. You do get the great instant torque acceleration that electric cars provide, but at 4,000lbs it's just too heavy for the 170hp motor. Zero to sixty times of nine-plus seconds just doesn't cut it in my book, and I want a little more performance from my car. The MINI-E was a full second faster 0-60 than the ActiveE is and it actually felt like there was an even bigger difference. The i3 on the other hand is about a second faster than the MINI-E was, which makes it two seconds faster to 60mph than the ActiveE is, and you can definitely feel it. Shaving about 1,300lbs off the weight off the ActiveE while using the same motor makes a huge difference and gives the i3 even more punch than the MINI-E while it retains the refinement of the ActiveE.

The i3's has more interior room than the AE
Besides better performance the i3 charges much faster than the ActiveE, especially since BMW dialed back the charging rate of the ActiveE a few months ago because of problems with the onboard charger (which incidentally has been redesigned for the i3). It now takes me six hours to fully charge the ActiveE and that's terribly inconvenient for someone that drives a lot like I do. I'm now only getting about 15 miles per hour of charging and the i3 will likely get me 25 to 30 miles per hour of charging, which will be a welcomed improvement and allow me to drive it more. The i3 also has much more interior volume than the ActiveE with roomier front and rear seating and can accept more cargo than the ActiveE since its trunk is compromised by the intrusion of the power electronics. Roll that in with the fact the i3 is a gigantic leap forward in automotive technology being the first mass produced car ever to employ a carbon fiber body with an aluminum chassis and plastic outer panels. The i3 uses 70% less water a typical car needs during manufacturing process, much of the materials used come from recycled or sustainable sources and the Leipzig plant where they are made is powered entirely by renewable energy. These things matter to me and while they aren't paramount, they do add to the i3's appeal.
I drove my MINI-E to the ActiveE launch ceremony, and drove home in the ActiveE. BMW cleaned up the MINI-E and put it on display next to my ActiveE for the event.

Is my indifference to returning the ActiveE primarily because it wasn't my first EV, or is it the fact that I believe the i3 is so much better than the ActiveE that I'm just looking forward to getting it so I've already mentally moved on. I really don't know, but I am glad this is my last forced-goodby. From now on, how long I have my electric car will be decided solely by how long I want to keep it, and not by a manufacturer that decided it's reached its expiration date. However I definitely do not regret participating in BMW's trial lease e-mobility programs at all, in fact it's been a fantastic ride. For the past five years I have had the opportunity to drive two great electric vehicles and I am really inspired by how far we've come since I got my MINI-E in 2009. Back when I got my MINI-E the only choice to drive electric was to buy a $110,000 Tesla Roadster or build your own EV. Now there are over a dozen cars that plug in and they range from a high end luxury sedan that goes 265 miles per charge to affordable PHEV's that are within many family budgets. The auto industry generally moves at a glacial pace, so even though many people aren't happy with how quickly (or slowly) EV's are advancing, what we have seen in the past half a decade is indeed a huge step forward. The electrification of the automobile industry is indeed underway, even if many people don't realize it just yet.

14 comments:

  1. Sad, but this brings on a new beginning. I look forward to reading your thoughts on the i3 soon Tom. Thanks for the update I was wondering why you haven't had a post here lately.

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  2. I tend to agree about the i3 being vastly superior to the converted 1er Tom with the only exception being the exterior styling which is too futuristic for my liking. However I must admit it is growing on me

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  3. This a great goodbye introspective, Tom. As it cannot be said enough times, you have done an incredible amount of support for BMW's electrification efforts and the promotion of all EVs. I think saying "Are you sure I can't keep my MINI-E?" to Willisch was probably the highest compliment he and the BMW folks involved in the trials could have received at the time.

    It appears that BMW will deploy eDrive (PHEV) in their existing core models as they have done with ActiveHybrid, and although we would want more electric and less gas in that configuration, it will introduce the idea and the experience of driving a plugin to many, many people. A new world would be opened to their eyes and they will not look back, their car after next will be a pure EV.

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    1. Thanks vdiv. Yes, every model of BMW will get a PHEV version soon, and eventually there will be full electric BMW's in all sizes and shapes. It is indeed happening :)

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  4. nice read my friend. II feel the same way, I'm excited about getting the BMW i3 and I dreaded handing back over the Mini-E.

    Cheers
    Peder

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    1. That you Peder. Together we've had a great ride these past five years!

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  5. Nice post Tom. I've been reading your blogs nearly the whole time now and I sometimes fell like I was riding alongside with you. Thank you for doing this for all there years, you have really helped me believe in electric cars and I am sure you have inspired many others.

    Anton

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    1. Thanks Anton, I do appreciate hearing that. The readers and their comments are what helped keep me going!

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  6. I will second that Anton, I still remember the day I found Tom's blogs. They blew me away, I could not stop reading them, trying to catch up to real time. By the time I did it was not long before I had the chance to meet Tom at an i3 event. Before I knew it and with Tom's help I was driving an Active E, and enjoying every minute. I too have extended my lease and have ordered an i3. Thanks Tom. This is a great ride. Ed B

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    1. Thank you Eddie. It's been great getting to know you also!

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  7. I've really appreciated your knowledge, advice, and advocacy during our time as Electronauts. This has been a lot of fun for us -- and like you with the Mini-E, we are already bummed about the imminent(ish) return of Buzz. This was our first EV experience, and we had a blast with it. I, too, think the i3 drove better but I'm not sure I will be attached to it as much as I have been to this car.

    Both of us are scientists, so we love the idea of being part of an experiment -- especially one in which we help optimize a technology that can reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The ActiveE really fit our lifestyle as our "around the town" car. I will miss it, and always fondly remember these couple of years.

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  8. These last two blogs have been fun. I'd hate to see it end...

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  9. Sharon Smith HolleyMarch 22, 2014 at 8:59 AM

    Tom, thanks for putting my feelings into words as well. I can't tell you how many times over the years I have said I wish they would make another electric Mini. To every mini and BMW dealer I have come in ear shot of. I even got paid to go to a concept review when I had my mini-e, at the time I didn't know I was looking at my future next two cars, out of the four models on display (Active-e and i3). But the mini they had there (which I also now know is the club car) was the one that got my high scores because I just didn't want to turn mine in for something different. A few months ago I didnt want to give up my active-e either then I test drove the i3. Most of my life I have had 2 seaters/small cars so the mini-e wasn't a hard adjustment. I am not sure how I will do with the i3, the active-e has been a challenge space wise. I have to run my charge cord under my garage door as my 1928 garage is not big enough for the active-e. One day I hope to be able to have an electric mini again. I will say that my service was much better with the mini team telling me when to service the car and needed up grades. The BMW team (at my dealer) didn't seem to make any contact with me unless I gave them a call. I know all dealers aren't the same and after my car went dead 30 miles away from home, the closest dealer told me I was due for a software up grade last November. I was shocked. While that and not hearing from my dealer since the i3 test drive makes me start to wonder if I will get better service once I buy one. I was never afraid of running out of juice till it happened and left me stranded for hours. The extended would make me feel more security but the $4k price for hard to swallow with an already expensive car. I will continue to use an electric car so I can drive on sunshine for more years. thanks for being our voice Tom. Your sage advice has always been a huge comfort.


    as for the i3, can I email you for advice on what my dealer is telling me.
    I am so surprised by the lack of info from my dealer. I called him today and he said they started to make mine today. I was shocked. My dealer was supposed to send me an app, get me figures after the test drive. Now he says that he can't change the order. Who would order something without knowing the cost. Are they crazy?

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  10. The best reviews are always given by the owners who lived with the car, and having kept up with your blog Tom, I feel like I am better prepared for the arrival of my i3.
    Thank You, CDspeed

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