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Showing posts with label electric car. Show all posts
Showing posts with label electric car. Show all posts

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Final ActiveE Meet: Pizza, Salad and BMW i3's

We've had an unusually cold spring so far here in New Jersey. I've wanted to host a final ActiveE meet for a few weeks now but the cold temperatures concerned me. There would be a few people coming from good distances and the reduced range because of the cold might be an issue so I had been holding off for a while.

Once I saw we would have consistent temperatures in the 60's I announced the meet on the ActiveE Facebook group page. Coincidentally, the day of the meet happened to be the day that the BEV i3's were released from the ports and shipped to the dealers here in the US, giving us even more to talk about.We ended up having eight ActiveE drivers come (even though two had to take other cars for various reasons).

The Thwaite's i3 is ready to go!
As usual we hung out in the parking lot for a while, talked about not wanting to let go of our ActiveE's but that we were indeed excited about getting our i3's. Michael and Pamela Thwaite got the good news from client adviser Manny Antunes of JMK BMW (who came to the meet also to answer any i3 questions we had) that their i3 arrived at his dealership that afternoon and would be ready for delivery on Saturday. Needless to say, the rest of the group was then officially jealous!

Pizza, salad, friends and talking EV. What could be better?
Electronaut Edition badge
Everyone at the meet has an i3 on order. BMW hasn't released the official ActiveE conversion rate but I've heard from some people in the know say it's somewhere north of 60% which is pretty good. Our small sample was 100% so I figure 60% to 65% may be pretty close. Of course that was how many Electronauts reserved an i3. We still have to option of declining the car when it comes in. Since we had to order the car without knowing exactly what it would cost us and what the Electronaut Edition i3 was we couldn't be bound to the order. I suspect a few will cancel for various reasons, but the number will likely end up very close to 60%, over or under.

With the cars arriving at dealers every day, and ships carrying them docking at the ports every few days, the ActiveE's days are numbered. My rental agreement ends on June 30th which should be pretty close to when I get my i3. My car is currently on the Fedora vehicle carrier ship, and is due at the port in NJ on May 15th. I figure about 5 or 6 days later I'll be picking it up from JMK BMW so I'll have about a week with both cars. Just enough time to conduct some road comparison tests and take a bunch of pictures of them together as I did with my MINI-E and ActiveE.
Hanging out and talking EV. We even had a Zero electric motorcycle join in!

It's been an incredible 5 year journey in BMW's trial leasing e-mobility programs. In a way I'm sad it's over but I an definitely happy to see that the participation from me and the others has delivered a revolutionary vehicle. It's the most efficient car sold in America and BMW uses manufacturing processes and materials not used by any other automobile manufacturer. No volume production car has ever been made with such a high emphasis on sustainability and I do expect other manufacturers are now going to follow BMW's lead.

i3 Monroney label: 81 miles per charge
BMW has indeed stepped into the future with the i3. That being said, it's not perfect. I think the biggest complaint is that many of us are not thrilled with the electric range it has. It was EPA rated at 81 miles per charge which is 14% less than the ActiveE's 94 (which was about 14% less than the MINI-E). I really didn't want to get the range extender, but felt the range was so much less than both the MINI-E and ActiveE that I have no choice but to add the oil burner. I'll do another post here (likely the final post on this blog) and offer more thoughts on this though, as well as where I'd like to see BMW take the i brand.

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.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Long, Long Way to Go

On the way to work today I stopped at Lowes Home Improvement store to pick up a couple things. As I quietly rolled into a parking spot I could see a guy that was walking towards my car looking intently at it and and then making eye contact with me. After driving my MINI-E for 2 1/2 years and now the ActiveE for nearly 2 years I can immediately identify the people that are just curious about my car from the people that are not only curious, but want to ask me about it and this guy was definitely the latter.

So I hopped out of the car once I parked and looked right back at him and before he could say anything I said (as I usually do in these instances) Yep, it's all electric and it's a real BMW. With a big smile he said that's what he thought be didn't know BMW made an electric car. I then proceeded to give him the whole MINI-E and ActiveE history and how they are leading up to the i3 which will be available in a few months. So we chatted about electric cars for a bit and he then tells me a little story about his personal EV experience that occurred about 8 months ago. He was at a Nissan dealership buying an Altima and while the paperwork was being completed he walked around the sales floor and was checking out a LEAF. His salesman came over to tell him he was all ready to see the finance department so he asked the salesman about the LEAF and if they were selling. His salesman rolled his eyes and said sarcastically "Oh yeah, like hotcakes. Everybody needs a car that only lets you drive 25 or 30 miles from your house".

As much as I know this is happening I still get depressed when I hear stories like this. A little over a year ago I did a long blog post here that discussed the less than stellar marketing and poor dealership experience that has been in my opinion really hurting electric car adoption here in the US. There are enough obstacles to overcome already without getting hit with "friendly fire" like this, but regardless it's just another road block that EV's have to get past.

Tesla has talked at great length about why they don't think the dealership model will work successfully when electric cars are sold alongside gasoline or diesel powered cars. They claim it's just not possible to extoll the virtues of electric vehicles without simultaneously criticizing the rest of their product line, which just happens to generate the bulk of your profits. However Tesla is in a different position than the other OEM's. They don't currently sell any gas powered cars so it's easy for them to say you can't sell both in the same showroom. The others have no choice, it's either sell them side by side or don't sell electric vehicles at all.

Another problem is it takes a salesperson three times longer to complete a sale of an electric car than it does a conventionally powered vehicle and time is money in the sales biz. Customers that are interested in an EV are going to ask a lot of questions that the sales person just doesn't have to deal with when they sell a "regular" car. So while I completely understand why so many car salesmen seem uninterested in selling the EV that their brand makes, I don't excuse it because it's really just a matter of being lazy. If they took even a small amount of time to learn more about electric cars, and specifically the ones they sell, they could probably sell one nearly just as fast as they can a conventional car. After all it is their job to have at least a reasonable understanding of the products they sell. Not having the knowledge or information on hand is part of why it takes longer. I'm sure that manufacturers could also do a better job of preparing the sales force and providing comprehensive point-of-sale literature to help assist the sales process.

What is encouraging though is that even despite the less than stellar dealership experience that many people encounter, plug-in car sales continue to rise. In 2011 there were a little over 17,000 plug in car sales in the US. That number increased to over 52,000 in 2012 and this year we are on pace to sell over 90,000 plug-ins. I can only imagine how much higher the numbers would be if the majority of the client advisers in the dealerships were enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the plug-in cars they sell. There definitely are people that get it and do a great job selling the EV their brand offers, but I find those to be the exception more than the rule. BMW has an advantage with bringing the i cars to market a couple years after some of their competition started selling cars with plugs. They have had the chance to observe and see where others have made mistakes. Hopefully they have watched, listened and learned. I know it won't be perfect, but I at least hope the client advisers don't steer their customers away from the i3 and i8 and towards their conventionally powered offerings because there may be a bit more work involved in completing the sale. We'll find out soon enough!   :)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

ActiveE Part Duex!

Back on January 13th, 2012 I picked up the first ActiveE at a nice handover ceremony held at BMW's North American headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ.
Getting an ActiveE was so much fun last year, I decided to do it again! We'll, that's not exactly the case, but I am getting another ActiveE tomorrow. The real reason I 'm getting a second ActiveE now is because six weeks ago I was unfortunately involved in a bad accident and my ActiveE was declared totaled.

In the interim I have been driving my Toyota Tacoma pick up which usually gets very little use. On one hand it was good to give it some use, but for the first time in over four years I've been driving a gasser every day and I have quickly been reminded how expensive gasoline is! I drive a lot and put over 53,000 miles on my ActiveE in the 19 months I had it so I drive nearly 100 miles a day. I've needed to refill the Toyota every four to 5 days and at $60 a clip it has added up to a lot of money even in this short period of time. I figure I've spent about $350 so far and I didn't even drive much initially after the accident. If I had my ActiveE I would have spent about $100 in electricity over the same period. It's really easy to see how high mileage drivers can quickly recoup the higher initial cost of some electric cars by the fuel savings alone.

Plugged in at home
I've really missed the smooth, quiet driving experience of an EV, and it's been strange going to gas stations so often again. I definitely look forward to pulling into the garage and plugging again when I arrive home at night. Funny how many people who have never owned an electric vehicle think plugging in will be such an onerous task, but experienced EV drivers like doing so, and really prefer it to going to gas stations. I know nobody likes going to gas stations, so I don't know why some people aren't jumping on the opportunity to relieve themselves of ever doing it again. Perhaps it's just a case of  "the devil you know".

Next post: Pictures of my new ActiveE and other electric cars from our North Jersey National plug in Day event at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ. Stop by to check out the cars and say hi if you are in the area. The event is this Sunday from 10:00am to 4:00pm.

Monday, September 23, 2013

National Plug In Day Approaches

The third annual National Plug in Day is being held this weekend. The event has grown so much in the past two years that it's being spread over two days this year, (Saturday, September 28th & Sunday, September 29th) to accommodate more people that want to attend. Perhaps we'll have to change the name to National Plug In Weekend in the future!

National Plug in Day began in 2011 and was held in only a small handful of cities. It was an opportunity for owners of plug in cars to gather to display their cars and to talk to people interested in them. This year there will be about 100 different events spread around the country and even one in the UK! We'll have tens of thousands of people in combined attendance and well over 1,000 cars on display.  
My MINI-E on display at the 2011 Plug In Day event in New York City.

That's not surprising as more and more people are buying cars with plugs. In 2010 there were less than 1,000 plug in cars sold in the US. Then in 2011 that number jumped up to over 17,000 and in 2012 over 50,000 plug in cars were bought or leased in the US. Through the first eight months of 2013 we have already surpassed 2012's total and are on pace to come close to 100,000 plug in vehicle sales this year. It's true that number represents a very small percentage of overall automobile purchases, but it's also very clear the plug-in car movement is gaining traction.

So if you have a plug-in car, make sure to check out the official Plug in Day website to see where the closest event is being held and bring you car for the afternoon. They'll be plenty of curious onlookers there so make sure you're ready to tell them how much you love driving electric. If you don't have a plug in car, please come also. You can check out the cars, ask actual owners any questions you have and maybe even get to take one for a drive. I'll be at the North Jersey event at Liberty Science Center in Jersey City so if you're in the area, stop by and say hello. Our event is on Sunday, 9/29 from 10:00 am till 4:00pm. I hope to see you there!  

Friday, July 12, 2013

Chasing Jack Brown

I hung a picture of Jack in my car during the 24 hour driving and charging marathon, just to keep me focused on the goal

Ever since the MINI-E program started back in 2009 the trial lease participants of that program and now the ActiveE program have had all kinds of informal competitions. Things like who could drive the furthest on a single charge, who could get the lowest consumption rate and even who could push their car the furthest past the electronically governed speed limit(Hint: You need a long, steep hill for this one).

4:00am: Getting juiced @ a Nissan dealer
I was the "most mileage" leader for the MINI-E program, driving over 73,000 miles in the 2 1/2 years months I had my MINI-E. That was one of the reasons BMW chose me to have the honor of being the first person to take delivery of an ActiveE. So when the ActiveE program started, there were plenty of people that came out saying they were gunning to dethrone me and be the ActiveE mileage king. Todd Crook, Dennis Pascual and Jack Brown in particular proclaimed they were going to do so and drive their ActiveE more than anyone else. There is still a lot of time left but they have a lot of ground to make up if they do want to pass me. I have 51,000 miles on my ActiveE with 6 months left and Dennis is the closest to me with 36,000 miles. They would have to significantly increase their driving and at the same time hope for my untimely demise to pass me at this point I'm afraid. :)

Jack was no match for Mariel's power
However total mileage isn't the only coveted driving "record" for the ActiveE drivers. The most miles driven in a 24 hour period recently became a challenge when Jack set out to drive his ActiveE from his home in the Bay area to Los Angelos in 24 hours. He even detailed his driving experience in a blog called "The Bay to LA in a Day in my BMW ActiveE" Jack completed his mission and in 24 hours drove his ActiveE 368 miles, more than anyone else had done in a 24 hour period. Then recently BMW started an online site for ActiveE owners that listed the leaders in total mileage and also in "most miles driven an a day". That's when the fame seemed to go to Jack's head. He started posting all over the internet how he's the 24 hour mileage king and how nobody can beat him. He even became uber-competitive now and always challenges the other ActiveE drivers to any competition he can think of whenever he meets up with them. At a recent ActiveE meet he even challenged Electronaut Mariel Knoll to an arm wrestling match. Now Jack's a big man but Mariel's a tough cookie and fortunately for the rest of us, she aptly pinned Jack down for the win and quieted him for a while.

1st stop: 1:30am at Nauna's to plug in
So I figured if I could beat his 24 hour mileage record that might be enough to really put him in his place. I set out with a fully charged car at 12:00am exactly. I did the math and while I figured it is possible, it would be tough for a couple reasons. First it was going to be a hot day, above 90 degrees in fact so I'd have to use the air conditioning. Normally that doesn't matter because it doesn't have a huge impact on my range, but in this case I'd be trying to squeeze out every mile so any loss would hurt. Also, now that I have over 50,000 miles and have charged the car 1,200 times, my battery capacity has shrunk by about 10% so my range isn't as good as Jack's was when accomplished the feat. Still I figured if I drove efficiently I would have a chance to beat him.

Lots of coffee was consumed
It didn't happen. After driving, charging, driving, charging for 24 hours, I rolled into my garage at 11:59pm with 353.6 miles on the trip computer. I had a few setbacks like needing to work a bit while the car was finished charging and having to stop for a short time at my parents house to help them with something, so I think if I did it again I could add another 20 miles or so and beat him. However I'm not sure I want to do that again. Driving just for the sake of driving can be a bit boring, I can assure you!

Is this really who we want representing us?
So for the time being Jack's record is safe and the rest of the Electronauts will likely be subject to his continued boasting. If I get the motivation back up perhaps I'll try it again in September when I won't need the air conditioning, but maybe someone else will have beaten it by then and I won't feel the need to subject myself to this grueling effort again.

My trip computer data. I drove for 7 hours and 44 minutes so the car was charging for 16 hours and 16 minutes. If the ActiveE could quick charge on direct current it would have been a totally different story and we could probably drive close to 800 miles in a day. I'm looking forward to that as an option in the i3.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Independence: Plug Into The Sun

My ActiveE with the rooftop solar array that produces all the energy I need to power it in the background
Independence Day as defined by Wikipedia: "Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain."

Independent as defined by Merriam Webster: "Not subject to control by others; Not requiring or relying on something else"

Personal transportation energy independence as defined by me: Driving a fully electric car that is powered by sunlight captured on your rooftop solar array. 

For over three years now I've been powering my electric cars with electricity generated by my rooftop solar array. Alone, both electric cars and solar electric are worth while on their own merits, but once you combine them the synergy created really makes them both better and even more worth the investment. Using solar electric to power your car makes it truly a zero emission vehicle, while using the electric you produce to displace purchasing gasoline gives it an even greater value than if you simply used it to power lights in your home.

A typical electric car can drive about 4 miles per kWh used. My solar array produces an average of about 30kWh's every day of the year. That will power an EV about 120 miles. If you have a gas car that gets 30mpg, which is much higher than the average car gets, it would need 4 gallons of gas to drive 120 miles. At today's gas prices that would cost about $15.00. That's $5,500 worth of gas per year at today's price. Gas prices fluctuate, but eventually they always go up. The sun will always be free. Sure, there was an initial investment for the solar array, but with my savings I'll be cash positive in about 8 years and the array's lifespan is about 30 years.

Then there is a great feeling knowing you are not dependent on big oil for your personal transportation. This Independence Day when I sit down to a nicely grilled steak, some farm fresh corn and open a bottle of beer, I'll certainly be celebrating our nations Independence as I always do. However for the third year now I'll also be celebrating my independence from oil. I'll take a second to reflect on that as I plug in my ActiveE tomorrow at about noon, just as my array will be generating peak power and the first of friends and family arrive at my house to celebrate the holiday(s). I hope everyone reading this has the opportunity to drive an electric car that is powered by the sun sometime soon, it's a combination you will love, I promise you. Happy Independence Day everyone! 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I've Got Gas

Not a happy camper
The ActiveE is a trial lease test program and it's the lessees obligation to bring in the car every 3 months or 5,000 miles for regular service. BMW needs to download the data the car has been recording, as well as check it thoroughly to make sure everything is working properly. After 4 years in BMW's e-mobility test programs I also know there are going to be technical issues from time to time. Still, even with knowing this is part of the agreement, when my car is in for service, all I want is to get it back as fast as possible. Everything else, even the great gas cars in BMW's new car lineup is just a disappointment after driving electric for this long.

It's not like I get bad vehicles as loaners. JMK BMW always gives me a highly desirable car that is practically new. For the past week now I've been driving a very low mileage 2013 328i with x-Drive since bringing my ActiveE in for my regular 5k service. It's fast, luxurious, spacious and pretty fuel efficient considering its power and size. Trouble is, I'm miserable with it. I've driven it about 700 miles and spent over $100 on gas. If I had my ActiveE it would have cost me about $35 in electric to drive the same 700 miles. However it's not about the money. I just really hate going to gas stations any more. Plus, as nice as it drives for a gas car it's not nearly as smooth, quiet and enjoyable to drive as my ActiveE - and it's not even close.

Having i3's lined up for loaners at BMW i dealers would be a good move
I've discussed this before here and I've talked with many of the other ActiveE lessees about wanting an electric vehicle for my loaner car while my EV is being serviced. I really hope BMW gets this and makes providing loaner i3's one of the requirements for dealerships that want to be certified i brand dealers. By dedicating a few i3's as loaners BMW can keep their electric vehicle customers happy and they can also expose some of their gas customers to e-mobility by letting them also use an i3 as a loaner when their gas car is in for service. Obviously the dealer would need to discuss the range with the client and make sure they aren't going to need to drive very far while they had it, but I'm sure that in many cases an i3 loaner would work fine for many of their customers. Just getting people to try an electric car is half the battle. Letting them have an i3 for the day while their gas BMW is getting a brake job or a tune up will definitely get many them thinking about buying an electric car.

Another advantage of electric loaners is it will eliminate the need for dealers to obsess over the fuel level of the car when they give it to you. Besides looking over the car for damage before they give it to you, what do they make sure you understand and sign that you agree to do? Dealers always make sure you see the gas level when you take the loaner and tell you that it's your obligation to bring it back with at least that much gas or you'll be charged some exorbitant amount of money per gallon. With an EV loaner, instead of getting a lecture about the gas level, you'll most likely to hear: "Bring it back with any state of charge you like, don't worry about it". Unlike gasoline it's so inexpensive to charge the car so why bother asking people to recharge it? I would assume BMW i dealers will be equipped with a DC quick charger so they can recharge the car in short order anyway.

So back to my situation. Normally the regular service only takes a day but I'm also having some work done which is why they have had it for a week now. Lately I've experienced a few GFCI faults which suspended my charging session on my public ChargePoint charger. This same issue plagued many of the ActiveE's last summer and both ChargePoint and BMW put out a software update meant to deal with the issue and it seemed to temporarily work but now the issue has starting back up again. I'm not the only person to have these issues lately either. I've spoken with a number of other ActiveE drivers(on both coasts) that are beginning to see GFCI faults also the past few weeks. It's no coincidence that this is starting to happen to us all at once now because the problem also began to happen last year around this time, just as it started to get hot outside. It's important to note this issue doesn't occur with EVSE's from all manufacturers. For example it doesn't happen when charging on AeroVironment or Blink chargers, so I would imagine the issue has to do with the communication between the car and the EVSE, and how they both interpret the J1772 protocol. For some reason the ChargePoint equipment is determining the information it's getting from the car is "out of spec" but equipment from other manufacturers determines it's within spec so it continues to charge. During charging the components in the KLE(the onboard charger) heat up as all electronic components do when current is running through them, but in this case the car senses there is a problem and shuts off the charger. You can easily restart the charging session if you happen to be there with the car, but that's not usually the case when you are charging at a public charger. We didn't have any issues the past 6 months or so, but now that the ambient temperature is heating up the issue is resurfacing - and I suspect it will only get worse as we move into the summer. Hopefully BMW can once and for all end the GFCI fault issue sometime soon. I'm actually surprised they haven't fixed it yet since BMW and ChargePoint both know of the problem and have worked together on it. In fact BMW i Ventures recently invested in the ChargePoint network so these two companies are no stranger to each other.

These are the kinds of things the ActiveE program is there for. Finding and correcting any issue the cars may have before BMW sells the i3 is what it's all about. I really don't mind these problems at all, in fact I expected them. As long as BMW identifies and fixes them so future i brand customers don't have to deal with any of this. I would also hope at some point BMW talks to the ActiveE participants to explain what they learned from our cars and how the problems we have experienced will not happen to i3 and i8 customers. The ActiveE group in large has been great about extended service visits and time without their car, but many also have expressed the desire to hear BMW tell us how our participation has helped and why these issues won't occur should they decide to buy an i3 or i8 when their ActiveE lease is up. In fact getting a thorough explanation may actually make the difference in whether or not they buy an i3 or i8.

The ActiveE's trunk would never fit all this
Well hopefully I'll be reporting that I'm back on electrons sometime soon. However the scarcity of parts for the ActiveE sometimes causes service visits to be longer than they would normally be for a regular production car. It hasn't been all that bad though, the 328i I have is actually a really nice car in spite of the expensive smelly stuff I have to pour into it every 3 or 4 days. After a few days I've finally gotten used to the start/stop technology it has and the trunk is actually a big plus for me as I frequently need to pick up supplies for my restaurant. The ActiveE's trunk is hardly useful at all for hauling stuff. The gas 1-Series has a small trunk to begin with, but the ActiveE's is much smaller because the e-motor and charging electronics intrude into the trunk space. That's just another example of why BMW will not sell converted gas cars as electric vehicles and will purpose build their EV's from a clean sheet of paper. You can't convert a gas car to electric and not make compromises, and compromises on a new BMW i electric car just wouldn't be acceptable.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A City Car At Home In The Country

Old world new new technology: The Stillwater General Store is still the Post Office for Stillwater and has the residents PO Boxes inside. It also used to be the towns only gas station.
A typical day in NYC
BMW will tell you their electric cars are best for city use, where short trips and low speeds allow a car with about 100 miles of range to perform the duties needed by most city dwellers. I agree to an extent with that because people that live in big cities usually don't travel very far from their residence to go to places like work, shopping and entertainment venues. But...

Parked at the Delaware Water Gap
I live in a rural community in Northwest New Jersey and have been driving BMW's Electric MINI-E and ActiveE now for four years and during that time I've driven in all kinds of environments. I have a good mixture of highway, city and rural road driving nearly every day and take the car to New York City all the time. Sure it performs very well in the stop and go traffic of Manhattan. Driving stoplight to stoplight and using the regen to do most of your braking does help extend the cars range. However the quietness and smooth driving experience nearly gets lost in the intense environment of the city. With all the horns beeping, sirens blaring, whistles blowing and construction crews drilling, there is so much noise the car's silence gets drowned out! Plus there's potholes that can swallow you up and steel construction plates on nearly every street that you are constantly driving over so you can't even really enjoy the smooth, vibration-less electric drive.

That's way I love driving my EV's on the rural roads of Northern New Jersey. It's just you, the trees and the road. In this environment you can really appreciate the smooth, quiet driving experience. On some nights I leave work very late at night and once I get close to home I'm the only car on the road. If it's warm enough I love to turn the radio off and open the windows because all I can hear are the crickets as I quietly roll down the roads towards my house. It's so relaxing that it helps relieve any the stress I may have built up during the day and puts me in a good state of mind. On weekends my wife and I like to just get in the car and drive West towards Pennsylvania. We've cruised through the Delaware Water Gap a few times and stumbled upon some cool places in many of the small rural communities of New Jersey near the Pennsylvania border.

My MINI-E was a great "country car" also
Driving an EV on rural roads with no other cars around is just fantastic. When you roll the windows down you don't have any noise pollution like what you hear in the city. It's just the faint sound of your tires rolling on the pavement and whatever nature has in store for you. It could be some birds chirping or the noise of the water in a stream rushing over the rocks, but whatever you hear, it beats the sound of pistons pumping and mufflers rattling, I can assure you of that. So the automakers can say they know what's the best use for electric cars all they want, it doesn't mean we have to listen, right?
Another view of the Stillwater General Store

Monday, April 8, 2013

One Year ActiveE Anniversary Marked By Meet-Up's On Both Coasts

I hosted the East Coast meet at my restaurant in Montclair, NJ
To mark the one year (and midway point) of the ActiveE field trial, meets were organized on both the East and West Coast on Sunday, April 7th, by some of the Electronauts. Here on the East I put together the event and out in California a few people including Jack Brown, Andre Deocares-Lengyel and Mariel Knoll did so. The East Coasters met at my restaurant in Montclair, New Jersey and out West they met at the Blue Skye Coastal Cafe. California is such a big state it's really difficult to have only one meet and allow for everybody to make it. On the East most people could get to my place on a single charge, except really for the Electronauts in Massachusetts and Connecticut. I did have someone come from Connecticut which was a 312 mile round trip and as always Don Young made the trip from Shelter Island, NY which is about a 140 miles each way. I appreciate everyone who came, but especially those who drove hundreds of miles and had to stop along the way for hours to recharge just so they could be here.

The ActiveE cake!
We had 15 ActiveEs come, as well as a brand new Model S, a Honda Fit EV, a Tesla Roadster, a Mitsubishi iMiEV and a Zero electric motorcycle. The weather cooperated and was clear and even made it up to 60 degrees which is actually cool for this time of the year, but lately we have had much colder than normal weather so 60 degrees was definitely a win for us. I ordered a custom cake that was made in the shape of an ActiveE and it was a big hit. We met for about two and a half hours and talked amongst ourselves as well as to curious onlookers who stopped by to check out the cars.

We even had three representatives from BMW's ActiveE technical team come and join in. BMW always sends representatives when we host these meets and it's really appreciated. While they can't offer privileged technical information, they are able to answer questions about service related problems and such. At one point they even pulled out a computer and hooked up to one of the cars to download information saving the owner a trip to his dealer which made his day. This kind of participation is really great.

The West Coasters: Photo by Joel Bartlett
Out on the West Coast they met for brunch and some good photo-ops before heading out. Most of the people who went had traveled well over a hundred miles so they had to make stops along the way to charge. At least one dedicated Electronaut drove about 500 miles for the round trip and had to leave the day before just to make it. That just proves California is just too big and we really need to chop it up into three states! ;)

One thing that was said frequently was how it's hard to believe the program is already half over and many don't want to think about giving up their ActiveEs. This all sounds too familiar to me. I can remember lamenting over the thought of giving up my beloved MINI-E but then the ActiveE came along and helped take the edge off turning it in. Will the i3 offer that same relief? I suspect for me it will but many of the others at the meet aren't 100% convinced yet. The non-traditional BMW styling and the lack of much information on the car even as the launch is less than a year away has many Electonauts wondering what their next move will be. I think if the i3 does deliver the same or better range as the ActiveE (94 EPA range rating) then many will transition from the ActiveE right into the i3, but the range is on everybody's mind now. The fact that the battery is so much smaller than what we have in the ActiveE has many concerned, even though it's a much lighter car. On a day like today when people were driving long distances to get together the need for range and a robust infrastructure really stands out.

The ActiveE East Coast team

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why Go Electric?

Why drive an electric car? Why bother with all the fuss of having to worry about where you can plug it in, how far you can go without needing a charge, how long will the batteries last and how much they cost? Who needs that? Gas stations are everywhere, gas isn't so expensive that it prohibits you from buying it and driving where you need and want to go - at least here in the States. So why bother with all this EV nonsense?

I talk to a lot of people about electric cars. Many of which are complete strangers that see me with my ActiveE, others are customers of my business that see my car plugged in and charging all the time, and still others are friends, family members and various acquaintances. Some people are really in to them. They know the current models, understand the benefits and the disadvantages and have obviously done a lot of research into electric drive, but that's the overwhelming minority. Most of the people I come across know very little to nothing about EV's, yet they seem to have a preconceived notion that they aren't really viable, and some actually believe they are worse for the environment than gas cars. I've even talked to people that claim EV's are some grand scheme by the liberal left to scam us into believing the "hoax" of global warming and take away our freedoms. To what end I don't know, but yes I have met people that have made that claim and actually believe it. I often wonder why so many people seem to have such negative thoughts about electric vehicles. Is it simply because they are different? I know we are creatures of habit and tend to prefer familiarity, but who actually likes going to gas stations? Nobody I know, yet many seem disinterested in considering an alternative that is available and has already proven to be viable option.

Tesla Model S is a top-of-class performer
I'm not advocating taking away anybody's right to choose what they want to drive or what fuel they can use. I believe once people get the opportunity to drive modern electrics, they will simply want to continue driving them as was the case with me. It's true some of the recently introduced EV's have been somewhat less than outstanding vehicles, but we are only seeing the first wave of electric cars now and have just scratched the surface of how good they will be. Just look at the recently released Tesla Model S if you want to understand how good electric cars can be. It has been showered with awards like Motor Trends Car of The Year, Automobile Magazine's Automobile of the Year, Popular Science's Innovation of the Year and many others. Yes, it's an expensive car, but it's in a class with other cars of the same price and beating them at their own game. It's actually a remarkable thing for a new automaker to enter the scene and sweep the years automotive awards like the Model S has. Still, we are a long way from widespread acceptance of EV's. Tesla has certainly helped open the conversation and with established automakers like BMW launching their own line of plug in electric vehicles soon, more people will start opening up to the possibility of plugging in instead of filling up.

Here's why I think people will eventually overcome the inertia of the status quo and transition to electric drive:

1) Electric vehicles ARE better for the environment. The long tailpipe theory doesn't hold water. For anyone that doesn't know what the long tailpipe theory is, it's the argument that because EV's don't have tailpipe emissions, you need to extend an imaginary tailpipe all the way to the power plant that made the electricity that powered the car, and count the emissions there as 'tailpipe emissions". This does have some truth. Grid powered electricity didn't come out of thin air and there are nasty emissions from coal powered power plants. This is an argument I hear a lot. Someone will say "You aren't accomplishing anything. Your electricity causes more greenhouse gas than my gasoline does." Of course they can't back up that claim, and they certainly don't want to hear that I power my car with renewable energy made by my solar array, they just want to blurt out something they heard somewhere and assumed it was true. However if I didn't have solar electric and plugged into the grid for all my electricity, driving my ActiveE would still be better for the environment than driving any gas car. Yes, depending on where you live in the US it makes a difference based on what fuel mix is used for electricity generation. However regardless of where, even if you use electricity that is made 100% from coal, an electric vehicle always generates less emissions than any gas car does.  The US Department of Energy has a great site that lets you plug in your zip code and it calculates your emissions based on the fuel mix of the electricity provided to your area. You can clearly see than in any case, driving electric emits less toxins into the air we breathe and that is better for us all.  Of course if you charge your car with solar electricity, then you do truly have a zero emission vehicle.

I'd rather give him my money!
2) Relying on foreign countries for our energy is dangerous and costly. We currently spend nearly $400 billion dollars on foreign oil annually. That's over a billion dollars a day and that money leaves our economy and doesn't come back. Every $10 increase in a barrel of oil costs our economy about 75 billion dollars. Can you imagine how much good that money could do if we were spending it on domestic energy? Electricity is entirely a domestic product. Every step of the supply chain keeps money circulating in our economy and that money gets reinvested time and time again and helps stimulate growth. When you buy gasoline, about 65 cents of every dollar leaves the US and the 35 cents that does stay is mostly for lower-paying service jobs like gas station attendants and truck drivers. Committing to electric cars that run on domestic energy will create thousands of jobs in infrastructure and grid related improvements, installations of EV charging stations and solar electric systems. Plus keeping the money in our local and regional economies will have an exponential effect as the money gets reinvested and spent locally, instead of being shipped overseas. No matter how much oil we pump out of the ground, the US can never dictate the price of oil. It's a global commodity and we are at the whim of the OPEC Board of Governors. If they decide to pull back production, prices will go up regardless of how much we supply. When we get sudden spikes in oil prices it destabilizes our (and the world) economy. We need to become less dependent on it. We will still need oil, but we can drastically reduce our need for it. The best way to do it as quickly as possible is to transition our personal transportation to domestic-energy powered electric cars.

3) Plugging in is more convenient than driving to a gas station. This is difficult for people that haven't lived with an EV to grasp, but it's true. When I plug my car in, I am usually home in my garage or at work and have just parked my car. I didn't need to go somewhere to refuel, it came to me. I was already going home or to work, I didn't go there to refuel. I simply take about 5 seconds to plug in once I arrived at my destination. Yes, I need to do it more frequently than you have to buy gas because the cars don't have as far a range as gas cars do - not yet at least, but it's so simple and quick it isn't a problem at all and I didn't have to go out of my way to refuel because it was already at the destination I was going to. Many people that have never driven electric can't get their hands around this because they have become so conditioned by the refueling process of gasoline because that's all they know. They assume you'll spend so much time worrying about where you can find a charger, whether or not it will be available and working, and how long you'll have to sit there and wait for your car to charge. That's just not how it works 99% of the time. The vast majority of the time you'll simply charge at home and that will be enough for your daily duty. If you need to drive a lot of miles every day, then perhaps an electric vehicle isn't the right choice for you just yet. Give it a couple years and there will be longer range EV's, EV's with range extenders, there will be quick charge stations that charge your battery to 80% in less than 30 minutes, all this will make electric vehicles a viable choice for even more people than they are today.

4) It's better. This is really the knockout punch. Even if there were no other reason to drive electric, the simple fact that it's a better driving experience is going to be enough to change the industry and the world. The silky-smooth linear acceleration, the instant torque, the quiet and vibration-less cockpit experience simply cannot be matched by an internal combustion engine car- any of them. When you hear someone talking about how they would never want to drive an electric car it's probably because they have never indeed driven one. Just about everyone that is open minded enough to give an EV a try walks away from it smiling and thinking "Yeah, that was pretty cool". I have let hundreds of people drive my MINI-E and ActiveE over the past four years and I can't remember a single one of them that didn't like it. Yes, there are still hurdles for mass adoption, quite a few of them in fact. The lithium-ion batteries are still expensive so that keeps the initial cost of the cars a little higher than a comparable gas car, although prices continue to drop at a rate of approximately 8% per year. This of course is off set by the lower refueling and maintenance costs but people have a difficult time looking at the long term cost of a car when they are buying it. They tend to look only at the purchase price and not the fuel and maintenance they will have to pay for. I think BMW should spend some time and make it a point to demonstrate the total cost of ownership when perspective customers are shopping for an i3. Show them that they may be paying a little more up front, but overall the car will cost them much less than comparable gas cars would. The best tool to selling them however is to let them take one for a drive, the longer the better. It doesn't take much to get hooked on electric drive.