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Showing posts with label LA Auto Show. Show all posts
Showing posts with label LA Auto Show. Show all posts

Thursday, December 12, 2013

BMW to Make a Limited Edition "Electronaut Edition" i3

Introducing the "Electronaut Sport Edition". Something like this would be my first preference for the Electronauts .
A few weeks ago in LA at the West Coast Electronaut i3 event we first heard that BMW was planning on making a special "Electronaut Edition" i3 that would only be available to the ActiveE Electronauts. We weren't given any details, only that we would be offered a special version of the i3 that nobody else will be able to buy and that we will get the first i3 that arrive in the US.

The MINI-E was no stranger to a flatbed
Most of the ActiveE drivers expected some kind of thank you for being in the ActiveE trial lease program. In fact, many of us have been in BMW's e-mobility test program for nearly five years now, dating back to the MINI-E days. While most of us have genuinely enjoyed our time with these special cars, it hasn't been without sacrifice. Just about all of us have been left stranded on the road at some point or another because the car broke down, and some have had it happen to them many times in fact. I don't remember exactly, but between the MINI-E and ActiveE I've probably had to have the cars towed to the dealer for service five or six times and they have been in for service for probably a combined 4 or 5 months. Besides that, we had to take the cars in for regular check ups every 3 to 6 months or 5,000 miles and with my high mileage, I've had to have the car serviced every two months or so. That adds up to about 25 trips to the dealer for me alone so far for basic service and check ups. What I'm basically saying is that we have been good soldiers. We have provided BMW with an immense amount of real world data and a tremendous amount of feedback, all of which has helped to make the i3 and future BMW electrics better cars.

Personally I was expecting some kind of generous discount on an i3. I figured we would get some kind of deal like we'd get a fully loaded i3 with any options we want for the i3's regular base price of $41,350(BEV) or $45,200(REx). That way we would still be paying for the car, but get any options we wanted for free. I'd sign up for that and feel that BMW was definitely showing their appreciation for our efforts and inconveniences during the trials. But now that they are talking about a special limited "Electronaut Edition" I'm not sure what to think. I like the idea, but a little worried that some of us won't find the "special features" so special. It's hard to please everyone.

White i3 with BWM i Blue accents
So yesterday we had the East Coast Electronaut meet at BMW's North American headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ. After taking turns driving i3's and getting a tour of the battery tech department and even getting to see a real i3 battery back opened up, we had a question and answer session with Jacob Harb, manager of electric vehicle sales and service for BMW NA. It didn't take long for the topic of the special Electronaut Edition to come up. We still didn't get much details, but were told it's not just going to be stickers and a chrome badge, that the car will indeed have special equipment that isn't available on any other i3. Then Jacob asked us what we would think about it being available is a special color combination that isn't available to regular buyers and he threw out white with BMW i Blue accents. That surprised me a bit because that is one of the regular i3 color combos. I later asked a program manager about that and was told the white i3 will not be available in the US like it is in Europe, for at least the first year! So white would actually be an exclusive color here. Still, I'm not going for that. I don't really like the i3 in White and I'll have to pass on the Electronaut Edition if it only comes in white which is what Jacob was implying.

Laurel Gray is my favorite i3 color
However they weren't saying that this is etched in stone. BMW was just trying to take our temperature on the subject of color. Personally I don't think they can mandate any one particular color for the Electronaut Edition. No matter what color they choose they will get a minority approval. BMW will have to let us pick the color or at the very least offer three exterior color choices for this special edition. My favorite i3 color is Laurel Gray with the BMW i Blue trim. I like how it lessens the two-tone color scheme that stands out on all the other i3's. plus, if they really want to offer us a special color, they should use the Protonic Blue offered on the i8 or grab a unique color from the ///M division. The white with a black hood and roof looks too much like a Panda bear for me and in fact we joke about that in the i3 Facebook group all the time.

I definitely appreciate that BMW is making the effort to make us feel special, and as a group we all think that's a great gesture. However I just hope they get it right. Obviously nothing short of giving us free cars is going to please everybody - and even then some will probably say they should have given us i8's!  So I'll offer three different ideas that they could do that would be pretty cool.

1) My #1 choice: The i3 Electronaut Sport Edition. Think Mi3. Available only in Solar Orange, Laurel Gray and Ionic Blue. Give it a special interior, beef up the suspension, add unique sport wheels with stickier tires and give it a little more torque and HP (I'm sure they can do that with the same motor they have with very little tweaking) and you'll have a 6 second 0-60 car that will have better handling than 90% of all the sports cars out there. Sure we'll have a little less range but the smiles-per-hour will increase.

2) Old school: The MINI-E i3: Start with MINI-E numbered badges. This will add to the exclusivity of the cars.  We loved our numbered badges in the MINI-E program. It gave our cars which all looked alike unique personalities. I was MINI-E #250. The MINI-E pioneers even identified ourselves by our numbers and would say something like "I saw 183 last night". That was a cool feature that we all loved. Bring it back for the Electronaut Edition! They could also have an optional  MINI-E Gray & Yellow trim color scheme(hell, all the i3 colors are gray anyway!). This edition would also come fully loaded with every option available but we would pay only the base MSRP, essentially getting all the options for free. Although I was MINI-E #250, I'll gladly take i3 #1 if offered! ;)

3) The discount deal:  A straight 20% off. Instead of trying to figure out what color we want or what options are most popular just let us order our cars in a configuration we want and simply give us 20% off. That is a significant deal, considering the cost of the car. A fully loaded i3 REx will be about $50,000 before incentives. This would slash $10,000 off the price and after we get the $7,500 tax credit it our net would be about $32,500 and in CA it would be $29,950 because of the State discount! Yes it's a big discount but it will also save BMW money in not having to make a unique color or offer options that aren't available on other i3's. Making things like that in small quantities cost's a lot. Don't do anything special and just pass the savings along to us.

If you're an ActiveE driver post what you would want the Electronaut edition to be in the comments, I'm sure BMW will be reading!

Edit: A fellow Electronaut, David Sapp just offered a great suggestion over in our Facebook group. He wrote:

I like these ideas, Tom, but I'm going to throw out one not yet mentioned: for those of us who don't want to lease, offer a LIFETIME WARRANTY for Electronauts' i3 purchases. Bumper-to-bumper, everything included, with no limit in years or coverage restrictions. If there has to be a mileage cap, it should be somewhere north of 150,000. 

I've had two motor replacements in my ActiveE in addition to a host of other squirrelly things going on. I won't have confidence in my i3 purchase unless I have an ironclad warranty for as long as I choose to own the i3. Making the lifetime warranty non-transferable is fine, but make it last as long as the original Electronaut-owner chooses to drive the car, not just the typical 3-5 years. When I buy a new car, I want to keep it longer than three years, but I certainly don't want to get stuck with a five-figure motor-replacement bill. 

I think a lifetime warranty for us would be a great perk and appropriate. Since we have been the real world Guinea pigs and driving beta test cars for years now, we all have had many technical issues to deal with. Knowing that for as long as we own the cars we don't have any worry about paying for any repairs would be awesome. Great idea David!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

East Coast Meets West Coast at the LA Auto Show

The Electronaut crew at the LA Auto Show!
Ever since my MINI-E days, I have always wanted to go to a California MINI-E and now ActiveE event so that I could meet the people who I regularly converse with about our cars. There were opportunities, but the timing was just never right. Then I got the email form BMW inviting me to the Electronaut-only private event at the LA Auto show where a new BMW i concept car would be shown for the first time.

Jon, Mariel, myself & Angela
At first I didn't give it much thought, figuring it wouldn't be worth flying to LA just for the day. However I then attended the New York BMW i Born Electric event where over 100 ActiveE drivers came together and saw the concept i3 & i8 as well as had the chance to talk to some of the program managers. I had such a good time that while I was there I made up my mind to fly to LA for the Auto Show event. Not so much to see the new concept car, but really to see all the West Coast Electronauts in person and spend some time sharing our thoughts on the upcoming i3 as well as the current ActiveE program.

The concept i3 Coupe
The event was on Thursday, November 29th, from 2 to 4pm. I landed in LA late Wednesday night attended the event and flew out on the red eye that night, connecting in Chicago before landing in Newark at 9:00am the next day. It was a pretty crazy 24 hours, but well worth it. BMW introduced a new variation of the i3, a coupe. Before the show there were media outlets that speculated the new car they were unveiling was actually an entirely new model that was going to be called the i4. Many people (including me) fell for the misinformation, believing the websites that claimed that this indeed was a larger car, based on the i3 platform that would seat five.

Jacob Harb & Oliver Walter address the crowd
Presentations were made by Jacob Harb, the new Manager of Electric Vehicle Sales & Strategy for North America and Oliver Walter, Project Manager for BMW i. They spoke for about a half hour and then took questions from the Electronaut group. Many of the people I spoke to there were impressed with the i3 coupe and even said they prefer it over the Concept i3 four door. While I did like the new Coupe, I am definitely more interested in the four door. I also think some people that said they prefer the coupe did so because the coupe is closer to production ready than the four door i3 concept which was introduced over a year ago is. The Coupe has seemingly production ready doors that aren't made of glass like the four door i3 and the interior is very close to what I expect the production i3 to be. You could actually see yourself driving this car whereas the four door concept i3 is all glass and just a show car that looks a little too futuristic for some people's liking. Once the production version of it is out I think many of the people who said the prefer the coupe may change their mind. The accessibility to the back seating area is much better with the addition of the suicide-style doors, and I don't think they take away from the styling at all, especially without external door handles.

Murat and his ActiveE
I stayed at a hotel right outside the airport which was about an hour away from the show and I didn't arrange for transportation to and from the Convention Center before I got there. It wasn't a problem though. I posted on the ActiveE Facebook page that I needed to get back and forth and within minutes I has a few offers from fellow Electronauts. I ended up taking Murat Kazanci up on the offer and he took me to the show and dropped me back off. Murat works very close to the airport and was going also so it wasn't really much out of his way to swing by the hotel and pick me up. I got a bonus on the ride home and he took me to his office to check out the personal light sport aircraft his company is making. It was pretty awesome and you can see it yourself here. It was great meeting Murat and I really appreciated him taking the time to pick me up and take me back to my hotel. 

Listening to the presentation
There really wasn't much new information about the i3. Jacob did talk a little about the range extender option and also fielded some questions about the availability of DC quick charge on the i3, but BMW just isn't ready to give out much technical details yet. That's understandable because the car is still about 10 months from launch and BMW has a specific timeline on what and when the details will be divulged and there is plenty of time for that. I know some of us are anxious to get more information, but it's still early and there is no need to show your cards to the competition just yet. I suspect sometime in March or April we well get everything there is to know about the car. There were a few people that wanted to know what BMW has learned form the motor spline issue our cars have had and how that will guarantee there isn't a similar issue on the i3. I know Jacob spoke to some about this, but I wasn't close by and didn't hear the answer. That's a legitimate question. The ActiveEs have had this problem for a while now and while there is a fix being applied, some that haven't had the modification are still breaking down. I think it would benefit BMW if at some point they tell us what they learned and assured us that wouldn't be a problem going forward.

Todd, Oliver, Tom, me, Adam, Mariel & Jacob

Although it was a lot of traveling for basically one day it was well worth it. Meeting dozens of the West Coast MINI-E and ActiveE drivers in person after communicating with them online for a long time now was great, and I could have hung out all day if we were allowed to. I also had the chance to speak with Jacob Harb and Oliver Walter from BMW i for a while. Jacob and I have had previous conversations, but this was the first time I've met Oliver so it was a good opportunity to introduce myself and chat for a while. Just like the New York Born Electric Tour event, this was a great opportunity to meet the others in the program, talk to some program managers and learn a bit about what the i3 is going to be like. I really enjoyed myself and I hope BMW hosts more events like this for the ActiveE lessees as we approach the launch of the i brand. It really helps the people involved in these field trials feel appreciated.

George, Peder, Mariel & Tomoo
The absolutely fabulous dashboard layout of the concept i3 coupe. I hope BMW doesn't change much, it's perfect as is!
George Batek Snapped this cool picture of me talking to Todd Crook through the windshield of the car.