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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hey! That's My Parking Spot!

Rory Cupen's ActiveE getting some electrons from Nauna's EVSE
It was about 4:00pm today and I was returning back to my restaurant after my physical therapy session (I'm recovering from labrum surgery in January) and when I pulled up to where I park and plug in, I saw another ActiveE sitting there and 'filling up'.

So I went inside and met Rory Cupen who lives about 45 miles from Nauna's, actually not too far from where I live. Rory needed a boost of about 25% to comfortably make it home without worrying about the dreaded range anxiety setting in, so he decided to stop by Nauna's. Rory is a member of the Facebook ActiveE group and I recently posted a picture of my EVSE there and offered free charging to all ActiveE drivers. Rory and I had a nice conversation, mostly about EV's and solar electric and then he was on his way. He only needed about an hour and a half of charging to give him the boost that made him confident he'd make it home and I am more than happy to oblige.

Gerard Belton was actually the first Electronaut to stop by with his ActiveE to get some charge, but I can now add Rory Cupen to the list that I'm sure will grow. I had a similar freestanding offer to the MINI-E pioneers during that program and many people took me up on the offer. In addition to the EVSE that I am currently using, I'll be installing a proper public charging station in my main parking lot in the near future so I'll have two EVSE's on site in the event we have multiple electric car owners that need to charge simultaneously. I'll probably have the EVSE in the parking lot set to charge a small fee, but offer complimentary charging if the person eats at the restaurant while they are charging. I just don't want people dropping their car off in my lot and charging all day just because it's free. That would really defeat the purpose of having it available for people that may need it. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Range Anxiety Isn't Only an EV Thing!

Range Anxiety: Range anxiety is the fear that a vehicle has insufficient range to reach its destination thus stranding the vehicle's occupants.

Range Anxiety, Gasoline Style!
I stopped by a local gas station the other day to get a cup of coffee (that's all gas stations are good for these days, right?) and when I was leaving I noticed a man walking with a gas can from the pump area towards the street. As he walked by me I asked him if he needed a ride, not knowing how far away his car was. He thanked me but said he was only a block away and didn't want to get my car dirty as he was in his work clothes. I asked him what happened and he said, "I wasn't paying attention and by the time I realized how low I was I couldn't make it to the station." So he continued down the block and no doubt filled up and continued on. I took a few pictures as he walked away, then got in my ActiveE and quietly drove off. Did he have range anxiety? Sounds like he did once he realized how low he was, and for good reason, soon after his car shut down right on the street, in traffic, and he failed to make his destination.

Drivers of electric cars are much more susceptible to experiencing range anxiety  for a couple reasons:

First, electric cars have a shorter range they can drive before they need to refuel as compared to their gasoline burning counterparts.

Secondly, gasoline stations are everywhere as they have had a hundred years to proliferate whereas there aren't very many electric vehicle public charging stations since modern electric vehicles are just beginning to become available to the public in the past couple years.

Thirdly, gas cars take about ten minutes to refuel, while electric vehicles typically take 4 to 8 hours. However level 3 DC quick charge stations are beginning to be deployed and a complete network of them could really be a game changer. These quick charge stations typically recharge an electric car to 80% capacity in under a half hour.

These three reasons conspire to cause many people to worry if they could live with an EV. Fearing that they will be driving with white knuckles, gripping the steering wheel tightly as they constantly look down at their state of charge meter. I'll admit, when you first get an EV, you do spend some time looking down, running calculations through your head and double checking your remaining range with how far you'll be driving that day. However it doesn't take long to get comfortable with the car's range and soon you find yourself looking less and less at the state of charge and estimated range meters. When the MINI-E program first launched the other MINI-E pioneers and myself all went through it and we conferred and offered tips to each other on how to minimize the chance of running out of juice. After a few months, we rarely talked about it because we all learned how to deal with it, how to maximize our range and how to plan ahead so we wouldn't put ourselves in a position where we could run out before we made our destination.

Now as the ActiveE program begins and a whole batch of new Electronauts are introduced to electric drive for the first time, I'm beginning to see the same questions as I did three years ago when the MINI-E program began. It's kinda cool being the 'elder statesman' now, one person even called me "Sensei" when he asked me a question! Of all the topics about living with an EV, dealing with the 100 mile range is usually the most discussed, and the one that people that don't have much EV experience think they will have the most difficulty with. However once they have their car, and live with it for a few months, the overwhelming majority of people come to terms with the range, get used to it, and stop worrying about it. That's when they really begin to appreciate how great these electric cars really are. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Two Days & Two ActiveE Visits!

Gerald Belton stopped by Nauna's for a bite to eat and some electrons!

During the MINI-E trial lease period I installed an EVSE at my restaurant in Montclair. Having the ability to charge quickly on 240v electric really allowed me to drive basically as much as I needed, and allowed me to drive the most miles of any of the MINI-E lessees. However I wasn't the only person to use it. I announced that any of the MINI-E drivers could stop by and charge for free if they needed the extra juice. I was surprised at how many people took me up on the offer!  Over the course of the two years since I had it installed, I'd say at least 30 or 40 MINI-E pioneers stopped by to charge.

ActiveEs, Teslas, a Volt & Plug in Prius
Recently, I posted on the ActiveE Facebook page that any ActiveE driver in need of a charge is welcome to stop by and plug in. It didn't take long for me to have my first guest. Last night Gerald Belton took me up on the offer and came by for a meal and some electrons. I wasn't there when he came by because at the time, I was at the Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, NJ. The Temple was hosting a free screening of Chris Paine's Revenge of The Electric Car and I, along with about ten other electric car drivers, brought our cars and parked them in the front of the Temple before the screening. We talked to the people coming to view the screening and then a couple of us answered questions from the crowd after the movie was over.

Richard Oscar's ActiveE paid a visit
Then tonight I noticed an ActiveE pulling into my parking lot around dinner time. I figured it was either Michael Thwaite or Chris Neff, two ActiveE lessees that live close by and stop by Nauna's from time to time. I was surprised to see it was neither of them, and just a nice couple coming for dinner. They just got their ActiveE last week and are not members of the ActiveE Facebook group. I talked to Richard Oscar and his wife for a while about the car and the program and invited them to the ActiveE Meet-Up I have planned for April 15th (more on that soon) and they said they will be attending.

The EVSE at Nauna's
So Gerald Belton gets the distinction to be the first of what I'm sure will be many ActiveEs stopping by Nauna's for some electrons when he came by last night.  Then tonight I met two more members of the ActiveE's exclusive '700 club'.  Plus last night I had the car on display and spoke with many potential electric car owners. Not bad for a couple of weeknights in March. From the MINI-E program to the ActiveE, one thing that's been so much fun is getting to meet so many people that are interested in many of the same things I am; reducing my carbon footprint, using less foreign oil and promoting the advancement of alternative energy. This EV thing just keeps getting more and more interesting!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Two Months, 5,000 Miles Later...

The odometer rolled past 5k about seven weeks after I took delivery
It's been two months now since I was handed the keys to my BMW ActiveE from BMW North American  President Ludwig Willisch. Since then I've driven it about 5,300 miles and I have enjoyed every mile. Not long after I took possession I did a post here on my initial impressions. Now that the newness is starting to wear off and I have had a good amount of time behind the wheel, I'm getting a clearer picture of the car's strengths and weaknesses. 


Pre-conditioning. I love preconditioning! The MINI-E was desperately lacking this feature. I work long hours and my car is outside in a parking lot all day. I drive home late at night when the restaurant closes, and during the winter months, my car is usually a frozen brick when I get in it.  The MINI-E would take about a half hour to get the cabin comfortably warm under these conditions, and would use a lot of energy from the battery to do so. With the ActiveE, I simply set the pre-conditioning feature to turn on about a half hour before I leave, and when I get in the car it's toasty warm inside AND the battery is warm which helps to extend the car's range. Honestly after having this feature, I couldn't ever buy another EV that doesn't have the ability to pre-condition.

Eco-Pro mode. I find myself driving in Eco Pro mode just about all of the time now.  If I need a quick burst of power, I just deactivate it for the time being and then reactivate it. It extends the car's range by about 10-15% and in my opinion it doesn't compromise the car's fun to drive factor as there is still plenty of power. There are two things that need to be *fixed* about Eco Pro though, see them later under "weaknesses".

It's a BMW. I'm not all into the status of driving a luxury brand so that's not what I'm talking about. Maybe years ago that meant something to me, but it doesn't anymore. I really don't care if it says BMW or Kia on the hood. I'm interested in how the car drives, how comfortable it is, how efficient it is, and the level of quality that went into building it. BMW has a reputation of delivering on all of these qualities and this being my first BMW, I'm not at all disappointed. It's pretty much what I would expect from a luxury brand, everything feels top notch. It really feels rock solid, something my wife still talks about every time she drives it. It's extremely quiet inside, even for an electric car and that's saying a lot. The fit and finish of the interior is great, the seats are very comfortable and the BMW Connect drive offers useful amenities.

Instrumentation. I really like the instrumentation and how it's laid out. It has all of the things that I like to see, such as the state of charge displayed in a numeric value instead of just a fuel-gauge like what's in gas cars. Some EV's only give you the gas-gauge type of reading and it's just not effective for an EV in my opinion. The ActiveE has one of those also, but as long as I can see the state of charge in a percentage, I'm happy. You can also reset all your efficiency values for every trip you make while keeping your overall consumption (miles per kWh used) in tact. This is good for data geeks like myself that like to see how efficiently they drove every day without resetting the car's overall efficiency values. Also, the large analog gauge that displays if you are using energy(eDrive), gaining energy(Charge) or in glide mode(Ready) is very useful. I can really improve my efficiency by keeping an eye on this gauge and trying to keep the needle as close to 'ready' as possible. Electric cars should help the driver improve their efficiency if they want to and watching this gauge definitely helps me.


It's heavy! The ActiveE, being a converted internal combustion engine car is really heavy. That's partially because BMW needed to add a lot of steel to reinforce the frame to retain its crash-worthiness. When you remove the car's gas engine it weakens the car because the engine is this huge mass of metal that will absorb energy in the case of a front end impact. Plus, the three battery blocks needed to be protected so there is more steel reinforcement. Then add the weight of the 32kWh battery pack and this small coupe is suddenly 4,000lbs! That's just too heavy for a car of this size and the efficiency suffers from it. Having to lug around 4,000lbs plus passengers gets the better of the car and so far I'm averaging about 3.1 miles per kWh used. Plus, when you push the car hard in corners, you can feel the weight - and not in a good way. On the flip side when you aren't driving it hard, the weight makes it feel incredibly stable and rock-solid. Because of this feeling I've called it an "electronic tank".  When the i3 comes out late next year, I expect it to be at the top of the efficiency chart when compared to other EV's. It will weigh about 1,250 lbs less than the ActiveE and have the same motor and electronics. This should help to boost its consumption to around 5 miles per kWh.

Electronic glitches. Since the car launched there have been two electronic glitches that the ActiveE drivers have had to deal with. I know BMW is working on a solution, but for some it's not coming fast enough. I have been lucky and have not had a disabled car stuck on the road that needed to be towed to safety. Others, however, haven't been as lucky. The two problems are very similar. One is the 'transmission malfunction' error and the other is the 'drivetrain malfunction' error. The vast majority of the time when you see either of these error massages, the car will continue to drive and the message will simply go away. On some occasions, if your car is stopped when you get the message or if you are slowing down for a streetlight or stop sign, and you are just about to stop, the car message will display and the car will power down. Again, the vast majority of times you can just remove the key, wait a couple seconds and then restart the car and continue, but some times this doesn't work and you are stuck. I know BMW is working on these issues and hopefully we will see a solution very shortly. It would appear to me this is just a software issue and that there really isn't anything wrong with the car, it's just some kind of sensor is sensing a problem that doesn't exist. I say this because the car drives fine while this is happening and even if it shuts off, when you restart it it performs perfectly. The ActiveE is a small pilot program and issues are expected. We had our fair share of them in the MINI-E program and after a rocky start BMW corrected the issues and we were able to have many months of great, trouble free driving. I suspect the same will happen here. Once the BMW engineers figure out what is causing these issues and they develop a software patch we'll put this behind us. I just feel bad for some of the participants that have had problems with this right form day 1. They haven't been able to drive the car nearly as much as I have and get to enjoy it for what it is; a great electric vehicle.

Eco Pro NEEDS to be the default driving mode. The more I drive the ActiveE, the more I'm convinced of this and I'm not the only one who feels this way. Over on the BMW ActiveE forum MANY other people have written the same thing and there are even threads on this very topic. The way it's currently set up, you need to push a button on the center console to activate Eco Pro every time you begin to drive. You can't just set it so that every time you get in the car it's automatically in Eco Pro mode.  What happens is you forget to activate it and then realize 10 or 15 miles into your journey. This is a problem when you are trying to extend your range as much as possible to make a destination. Sometimes when I have multiple stops, I remember to set it when I first get in the car, but after one stop when I get back into the car I don't remember to activate it again and I don't remember until later along my journey after I've wasted energy driving in regular mode. Eco Pro mode allows you to extend your range and it doesn't really compromise the driving experience so I think really the car should default to Eco Pro mode, but if BMW doesn't want that at the very least they need to make the switch a toggle type so you can set it and leave it on all the time. Or have a setting that the driver can choose what mode the car defaults to. I feel VERY strongly about this and I will hound BMW for the next two years to make sure they change this for the i3. Expect to read me complain about this many times here on this blog for the next year to make certain it sinks in at BMW! ;) The other thing I'd like to see changed with Eco Pro mode is the heated seats do not work when in Eco Pro mode and I think they should. Heated seats use less energy than the cabin heater and I'd rather just use the heated seats when it's cold and turn the cabin heater way down or even off.

Overall the car has been pretty much everything I had hoped it would be. It's fun to drive, very comfortable and I can charge it with the sunlight that reigns down on my roof. What's gas cost these days anyway? I couldn't care less!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Is That a Helicoptor In the Garage?

The guilty party

About a week after a got my ActiveE I heard an unusual noise coming from the front of the car while I was driving. Since the car is usually so quiet a noise doesn't have to be loud to be noticeable, but this was a really loud noise that sounded like a fan on really high speed. I was concerned for a bit, but as the car continued without a problem and the noise went away, I figured it was just a normal occurrence.

The MINI-E had a fan that cooled the electric motor and another fan that cooled the battery. When the battery temperature got higher than 90 degrees or so, the fan went on high speed and was quite loud itself, but not as loud as what I heard.  Then, as other people started getting their ActiveE's they too were startled when they first heard the fan. When one person heard it for the first time, they had just gotten in the car to go for a drive. They were so concerned by the noise they turned the car off, got out and used their other car! They then emailed me(knowing I've had the car for a while by then) to ask me if that was a normal noise they heard. A couple days later Todd Crook, one of the ActiveE drivers out in California emailed me about it. He had just heard it for the first time and was surprised how loud it was. He was inside his house and the car was charging in the garage when the fan suddenly went on. Todd said he thought a helicopter had landed in this driveway! Yeah- it's that loud!

Since I had only heard it once and for only a short time, I really didn't think much about it. It's cold here on the East Coast so the fan wouldn't need to come on much to cool the batteries like it may for the West Coast Electronauts. However, now that I've had a couple people call me and ask me if it was normal for the fan to be so loud, I reached out to the ActiveE technical maintenance team and was reassured that it was normal and that the fan goes on when the car detects the batteries need to be cooled.

Now that ActiveE deliveries are happening every day and more and more Electronauts are "blasting off" I'm sure many of them will be a bit surprised the first time they hear the fan. I know a lot of them check out this blog so hopefully many will read this first and be ready when the helicopter lands by them for the first time.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Beam Charging Responds!

Beam EV charging stations are prevalent in New York City parking garages
My previous post about a misadventure at a parking garage in New York City got the attention of Beam Charging. Within hours of the post going up, I noticed a comment from a person named Joseph from Beam Charging, apologizing for the problem and promising to make immediate changes including retraining parking attendants, correcting the communication error I had on the EVSE and, here's the best one: he's lowering the cost from the existing $3.95/hour to much more competitive $2.95/hr. Of course this is still more than you would pay to charge at home, but public charging is a convenience and you have to expect to pay for that. The ActiveE can take 7.2kW per hour from these EVSE's so I'm getting much more bang for the buck than say a Nissan LEAF owner would since the LEAF can only accept 3.3kW per hour. 

I then received an email from Joseph and it turns out he is actually Joseph Torquie, the president of Beam Charging! I applaud him for reacting so positively to my problem. I know it's going to be a tough time in the beginning, and there will be a lot of lessons learned by both the EV drivers and the EVSE operators, but seeing how well Joseph responded to this is very promising. I won't hesitate to use the Beam chargers in NYC now, in fact I'll seek them out when I need some juice while in the city.

Here's the comment he left yesterday:

Hello Tom,

This is Joseph from Beam Charging.

I am very sorry to hear about your disappointing experience at one of our locations! It really upsets us at Beam to hear a story like this.

From the pictures you have taken it looks like the 77th Street location between Lexington and 3rd Ave.

That garage has been undergoing construction for the past 5 months and we have been constantly battling with keeping it operational and escaping damage as the floors were renovated. This does not excuse its current condition and we have taken swift action to have the station cleaned. After investigating why you were restricted from using your ChargePoint card, we found out there had been a programming problem and have since fixed it. Other users may have experience this problem as well, but failed to notify us of the issue. Thank you for pointing this out.

Regarding the training of the attendants, we have implemented a new training program in the last few weeks and we are retraining all of our garages. We will now prioritize the referenced location for training! In addition to the multiple training sessions, as requested by our garage partners, we have posted instructions in both English & Spanish on the charging stations. This provides a “back-up” if an attendant slips through the cracks and misses our training sessions. If a customer does not have a ChargePoint RFID Card or a smart credit card, on the station door there is an 800 telephone number at the bottom of the instructions. This gives the customer the ability to start a charging session over the phone with the help of a ChargePoint or Beam operator.

Since your visit to our Beam location, we have updated our hourly rate to $2.95 for all of our stations. Our pricing structure is continuously being adjusted based on current EV models, usage, and demand. The hourly cost has to account for the Volts, the BMW Active-E, and of course the Teslas that visit our locations. As you know the technology and charging time requirements are different for each of those vehicles.

We also offer a $98/month unlimited charging option to avoid having the consumer feel the pain of the large technology difference between the EV of today (built last year) versus the EVs arriving in the near future. We hope to also offer other plans for those who charge less frequent as we move forward.

Lastly, we are working with multiple entities in NYC to try and increase the intelligence of the grid. With Smart Grid technology, the grid could identify that an EV is connected and what type of on-board charger an EV would have and pricing structure could be adjusted to fit the EV. Unfortunately we are not there yet.

We at Beam try everyday to find better ways to increase our level of service, customer support, and overall charging experience.

The EV community is small but rapidly growing, and Beam is committed to making sure that everyone's input is recognized!

I thank you for taking the time to point out the above issues to us. We will work very hard to rectify them and avoid a reoccurrence.

I hope that in the near future you will visit a Beam location for a much more enhanced experience and know that your feedback has directly impacted the NYC EV charging environment in a most positive way!

Beam Charging

Pretty cool, right? Thanks for taking the time to respond Joseph! I'm sure you've won over some ActiveE drivers with your quick response and promise to help make charging easier and less expensive!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

What We Have Here Is: Failure To Communicate

My wife and I went to Manhattan this morning to meet up with some friends who were visiting from Massachusetts. We met for brunch on the Upper East Side and had a really nice time. We live about 50 miles from the city and a round trip of 100 miles without charging would necessitate extreme-efficient driving, mostly because it was in the low 40's and the range is a bit compromised when the temperatures fall below 50 degrees. However I was gong to work directly after and that's only about 20 miles from the city, so the 70 miles trip would be no problem.

When we arrived at the restaurant, there was no on-street parking available so we found a parking garage right down the block and when we approached my wife noticed a sign outside that said "Beam Electric Vehicle Charging Station". When we pulled in, straight ahead I saw the Coulomb EVSE with the ChargePoint name printed across the front of it. I didn't really need to charge but what the heck, I'm here and there's an EVSE available so I might as well grab some extra electrons.
 The garage attendants had no clue. They knew the EVSE was there, but didn't know anything about rates or if I was even "allowed" to use it. They told me they have never seen it used before but gave me their blessings to give it a try. I know Beam is big in NYC and they offer unlimited charging plans for $98/mo but I didn't know if I could just access the EVSE with my ChargePoint card. Since the unit had ChargePoint printed on it I figured I could use my ChargePoint card. Sounds reasonable, right? I guess it's not because I was denied access. When I swiped my card in front of the EVSE, it did recognize it. However it then displayed "Authorization Failed: Restricted Use Only" That's a shame because I was fine paying them the posted rate of $3.95/hr for about $1.20 in electricity. I was there two hours so the unit would have made them five dollars at least.

When I got home I went to the Beam website and saw I need to also register to their network to use Beam EVSE's, even though it says ChargePoint Network on the EVSE. As I wrote, they sell the $98/month unlimited use deal, but also a pay-as-you-go contract for a one time fee of $9.95. You then need to wait for them to mail you a card to swipe, so you can't just register with your smartphone and begin using the unit on the spot; not very user friendly in my opinion. To make matters worse, the EVSE was covered in dust, like it was never used. Here I was ready to pay to use it and they wouldn't let me. I think they should at least have some single-use swipe card at the garage that you could buy when you arrive. They could sell them in hourly increments so you can buy however much time you want the EVSE to charge for. I really don't want to have to have a half dozen swipe cards on my keychain, and you know even if I do when I really need to use a public charger I'll happen to find one that I don't have the card for.

The good news for me, is that I've been driving an EV for nearly three years now and have driven about 80,000 miles, and not once have I ever needed to use a public charging station. I'm sure the time will arise when I do, or when I will make a trip that I couldn't have otherwise taken without using a public charging station, but for now I'm really not worried about it. The electric vehicle industry will have growing pains. Right now it's like the Wild West with regard to public charging and people are making up the rules as they go along. In time things will settle down, networks will merge and hopefully someone will come along with a way to have one card work on all public charging stations regardless of the network, kind of like PayPal for public charging. Maybe the answer will be no "networks" and just have the stations work with the swipe of a credit card, seems easy enough to do that now but then the networks would lose the "one time account activation fee" and I'm sure they don't want to give that up until they absolutely have to. Sooner or later someone will come up with a better way and all the others will be forced to conform or be shuttered into obsolescence. I'll be eagerly waiting for that day. Till then, I'll be happily charging from my personal EVSE's. No problem, since they've been all I've needed so far.