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Monday, April 23, 2012

Traffic Jam? No Problem For the ActiveE

Traffic was backed up for miles on Route 80 this morning due to a major accident
If you drive an electric car, you have to get used to people asking you a lot of questions about it because it just comes with the territory. People are curious about them, and really know very little about the differences and similarities to gas cars. I've spoken to hundreds of people, many of which were complete strangers during the past three years I've been driving electric cars and answered thousands of questions. I do get all kinds, but many are the same basic questions that everyone has: How far does it go? How much does it cost to charge? How long do the batteries last? Is it a hybrid? What do you do when you run out?

Two tractor trailers closed most of Rt 80
There is one more that I frequently get and it's the topic of today's post: What do you do when you get stuck in traffic? Well today I was stuck in traffic and it took me about two hours to go only four miles and get past the reason for the backup, an accident involving two trucks. So the answer is: " I just sit there and listen to the radio, not worried at all because my car isn't wasting as much energy as all the gas cars that are running while they are out there with me" Electric cars don't 'run' like gas cars do. There isn't an engine that is running and burning fuel even if the car is just sitting there and not moving. Electric cars like the ActiveE aren't using much energy unless they are moving. Sure there is a small electric draw to power the radio and the heater or air conditioning, but it's not nearly as wasteful as gas cars are. As I sat there in traffic all the other cars were burning gas and belching out pollution even though they weren't moving.

It took me about 3 hours to arrive at my destination today and it usually only takes me one hour to do so. When I arrived there, my state of charge was just about exactly the same as it is on a normal day. Every one of the gas cars around me used much more gas today than they usually do because unlike EV's, gas cars are least efficient when they are sitting in bumper to bumper, stop and go traffic.

I should have checked this before I left!
I could have avoided this unpleasant delay though. The ActiveE has traffic alerts built into the navigation system. However since I didn't need directions going to my destination I didn't use it. Once I was stuck I turned it on to see what it said about it. One of the cool things it does is it show you how far you need to go to get past the part of the road that has the delay, so you at least have an idea how long you'll be stuck.  Maybe I should start using the nav just to make sure I'm not surprised by a major delay like what happened today.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

ActiveE Swag Arrives!

When I got came home last night I found a small box from BMW in my mailbox. BMW has been hinting about a welcome kit that we'd be getting but honestly I just about forgot about it because I've had the car for over three months now. Yes, I was the first person to get an ActiveE, but it was only a couple days after I got mine that they started delivering them to everybody else so many of us have had the cars for a while now.

Chrome 'electric' badge I put on my MINI-E
The kit includes a faux chrome (plastic) badge that can be stuck to the car. Many of us in the MINI-E program ordered and installed chrome badges that said 'ELECTRIC' so everyone knew we were driving an electric car. I guess BMW took note of this(although not enough to have the word "electric" anywhere on the car!) and decided to made a badge that said 'electronaut', the term they use for the ActiveE drivers. As I MINI-E driver I was a 'pioneer', but now I'm an 'electronaut'. I believe(hope) that when I get my i3 I'm just another satisfied BMW owner, there's no need to continue the names once the trial lease programs are over and BMW launches the i brand.

The kit also includes a cool pen, and a stack of business cards that offer basic details on the ActiveE. The thought behind the cards is if someone asks you about the car and you either don't have time to talk to them or just don't want to, you can hand them the card and they can get the basic info and then visit the ActiveE website for more information. Personally I always take the time to talk to someone that asks me about the car in a parking lot, a car wash or another public place. Even when I'm pressed for time, I feel I really need to at least have a brief conversation with them about electric drive, but now I can hand them the card also so they can visit the website.

I'm not sure if I'll be installing the electronaut badge. I have already customized the back of my car and have quite a bit of writing back there already. I don't want it to look too busy. I will definitely use the pen and the business cards though and appreciate the effort BMW made to give us this, even if I wish it came a little earlier. There are others that also did some customizing already and now they may feel this new badge doesn't fit into what they have already done.

The arrival of the welcome kit in coinciding with a new ActiveE information website that BMW just launched this week. I admit I haven't had a lot of time to look at it, and I did originally have difficulty signing into my page, as I was stuck in an endless loop while trying to access the account either through my Facebook or Twitter accounts, something that you were required to do. Once I did get logged in, I could see an interesting page that included links to ActiveE documents (very nice) and live twitter feeds and the latest comments from the ActiveE forum. I think this site has a lot of potential, hopefully it will do some more cool, useful things as time goes on. It just keeps getting better all the time!

The newly customized rear of my ActiveE. I added the word 'Electric' to the left and removed the sticker graphics on that side. I also had the 'no oil' and 'no gas' graphics painted on and installed the license plate holder that reads" My Other Car Funds International Terrorism". I may have enough back there already!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fantastic ActiveE EVent!

22 ActiveEs showed up as well as 13 other electric vehicles!
Wow, what a day for electric vehicles in the Garden State! On Sunday, April 15th I hosted what started out as an ActiveE meet that turned into the largest electric vehicle meet ever in New Jersey.

During the MINI-E program I hosted four MINI-E meets at my restaurant. It was a great way to meet the other MINI-E Pioneers and talk about the program; the good as well as any difficulty we were having.  Even though they were never official BMW events, BMW always sent a representative to listen to what we had to say and to our recommendations. So now that the ActiveE program has begun, I figured it was about time to get all of us driving these cars here in NY & NJ together to meet in person and swap stories.

That was the plan, but along the way we made some changes. I was talking to Micheal Thwaite about the event (Michael has an ActiveE and a Tesla) and he asked why don't we open it up to all electric cars. Since I was really focusing on bringing the ActiveE people together I hadn't really thought about it, but I really didn't have any objection to that, the more the merrier! So Michael and I started putting the word out that there was an electric car meet and all were invited.

We ended up getting a total of 35 EVs, which I believe is the largest gathering of electric vehicles ever in NJ, and at the very least, the most in recent history. There just haven't been enough EVs around to have a large meet like this. The breakdown was as follows: 22 BMW ActiveEs, 2 Tesla Roadsters, 3 Nissan LEAFs, 3 Chevy Volts, 2 Mitsubishi iMiEVs, 1 ZENN NEV, 1 plug in Prius and 1 converted pick up truck.

BMW had a film crew come and record short interviews of all of the ActiveE lessees that would agree to participate. They didn't say what they plan to do with the interviews but I'm sure we'll get to see it once they put it together.

Photo by Chris Monroe
The day went so well that we'll just have to do this again sometime in a few months or so. There were so many great aspects about the day. First, it was really fantastic to see so many people come out to see the cars. There were many curious onlookers that came by to see the cars and ask the EV drivers questions about them. Then there was the fact that we even could have a meet like this. Many of the people couldn't make the round trip on a single charge and needed to plug in to make it home. With the MINI-E meets, they could only use the one EVSE I had at the restaurant, meaning there was a line waiting to charge. Besides the two chargers I had set up for the meet, there are seven public chargers within two miles of my restaurant! We have the highest concentration of public chargers anywhere in the state on NJ, so Montclair is actually the best place to host an EV meet like this. At any given time there were always five or six cars charging. However the thing that brought the biggest smile to my face was talking to the other ActiveE drivers, the people that are new to electric drive. Most of them haven't even had the car for two months yet but they are hooked on driving electric! I heard them saying, "I'll never buy a gas car again!" and "I can't beleive how great this car is!" and "I hate driving my other gas car now." It's funny, with every new bunch of people exposed to electric drive, there is a very high percentage of them that get hooked on it. Once bitten by the EV bug you don't want ever want to go back to gas. It's one of the main reasons I believe this technology will win and be the dominant form of personal transportation. Not just because it's the "green" thing to do, not just because the operating expense is so much less, not just because they allow you to use domestic energy instead of foreign oil, but because people really enjoy and actually prefer the driving experience!
The event made the two biggest newspapers in New Jersey; the Star Ledger and the Record, here are links to the stories:

The Record
The Star Ledger

Monday, April 9, 2012

East Coast ActiveE Meet Set For Sunday, April 15th!

UPDATE: We have been getting such a great response from people who are bringing their electric vehicles, that I want to ask anyone who is coming and not bringing an electric car, to please park on the street (there is plenty of on street parking), because we will need the entire parking lot for all of the electric cars!

This Sunday, April 15th, ActiveEs within driving range will converge upon my restaurant, Nauna's Bella Casa in Montclair, NJ, for what will be the first of hopefully many BMW ActiveE meets that I play host to.

MINI-Es lined up at a meet in 2011
During the past two years as a participant in the MINI-E trial lease program, I hosted a few meets like this for the MINI-E pioneers. It's really a great way to get to meet each other, talk about our cars and discuss the great aspects, as well as the challenges, of being in the lease program. I've had as many as 14 MINI-Es show-up in the past. But now, there are more ActiveEs than there were MINI-Es, and more people will be bringing their ActiveEs to this meet than ever before. I already have about 25 confirmed ActiveEs coming and another 5 or 6 that are maybes. As with the MINI-E meet-ups, I've encouraged other plug-in car owners to bring their cars as well.  So in addition to the ActiveEs, we will also have Tesla Roadsters, Nissan LEAFs and Chevy Volts, pushing the total of cars up to about 40! That may very well be the largest electric vehicle public gathering in the State of New Jersey...ever!

As with the MINI-E meets, BMW has confirmed that they will have at least one representative in attendance, and maybe more. I've also contacted the president of the New Jersey Electric Automobile Association, Michael Thwaite (who just happens to also drive an ActiveE) and the NJ EAA has graciously agreed to help out with deferring some of the cost of the event. In the past, I paid for everything myself, but as these meets get larger and larger, it's getting expensive, so the NJ EAA's support is much appreciated. I have a level two EVSE at the restaurant, plus there are five public chargers within 2 miles of Nauna's, so up to six people could be charging at the same time. I ask that only the people who NEED to charge in order to get home use the chargers. This way, everyone who needs to charge will be able to do so. Also, if you only need an extra ten or twenty percent, please don't charge all the way to 100% if others are waiting for the EVSE.

So if you have an EV and want to show it off, or if you just want to come by and check out the future of the automobile industry, please stop by!

Sunday, April 15th from 10:30am till 1:00pm

Nauna's Bella Casa
148 Valley Road
Montclair, NJ 07042

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

NY Auto Show 2012 : What a Difference a Year Makes!

Unlike last year's NY Auto Show, the ActiveE isn't the center of attention anymore
This time last year, the MINI-E pioneers here on the East Coast were invited to a special sneak-peek of the ActiveE before the show was open to the public. Rich Steinberg and his EV team introduced us to the car for the first time, let us sit in it and gave us all the ActiveE program details. We were then all taken out for lunch where we shared MINI-E stories and talked about what we are looking forward to in the ActiveE. 

Last Years Auto Show- Recognize that guy?
This year's NYIAS was a bit different. The ActiveE was there, but it really garnered little interest. The program has launched, just about everyone that's getting a car has by now and BMW's electric vehicle focus has shifted to the i3 & i8. Concepts of both vehicles were on display, they were roped off in a section that only VIPs were allowed to enter, and even then they couldn't sit in them. These are concepts, the actual production versions have not yet been unveiled and probably won't for about another year, even though the final form has long been determined.

The i3 & i8 slogan is 'Born Electric'
However that's not to say BMW isn't taking what they learn from the ActiveE program to apply to the i3 because they are. BMW closely monitors the ActiveE forum, the Facebook groups and individual blogs like this one and is definitely using the feedback they are getting. For instance, I (and others) have been very vocal about allowing the car to stay in Eco Pro mode once selected. The way it works now, you have to select it every time you get in the car and quite often you forget. I think the driver should be able to simply select the mode they want the car to default to and have it stay in that mode until they change it. I've written about this here and on other sites. At the show today, no less than three different people at BMW told me they read my comments and after thinking about it agree with my assessment. Of course nobody would tell me for sure they will offer that on the i3, but the impression I got was like "look at what we learned already" from the ActiveE program. What good is learning something if it's not applied, so it's easy to connect the dots. ;)

I had the opportunity to talk with quite a few BMW representatives today, including Rich Steinberg, manager of electric vehicle sales and strategy and Ian Robertson who is a member of the board of BMW and also serves as head of sales & marketing of the entire BMW Group. Ian told me he recently drove an i3 and promised I will not be disappointed by the final production version. I was really surprised at the level of excitement that most people at BMW shared about the i3. The people that have had the opportunity to drive one have all commented on how great it drives and how it will offer a great driving experience. More than one person there told me they will be getting one once they are available, and that's great to hear.

There wasn't much new information about the i3 or i8, my guess is we will have to wait a bit for that. The i3 doesn't launch until September or October of next year, so BMW isn't going to show their cards for a while. The auto industry is extraordinarily competitive and manufacturers go to great lengths to keep the competition wondering what they have planned for future models. So while I'd love to see all the i3 details, I'm guessing it won't be until this time next year before we start  learning much about the car and not until the summer of 2013 before we get all the details. Time will tell. Anyway, at last year's NYIAS I did a live Q&A with Rich Steinberg and Tom Plucinsky. We fielded live questions on the upcoming ActiveE and I talked about my time with the MINI-E. I posted it here last year but for those that missed it, I'm posting it again below. Remember, this is from LAST year's NY Auto Show.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

BMW ActiveE "Extreme" Battery Test Begins!

Yes, you're reading that correctly. I'm getting anywhere from 150 to 200 miles per charge now!
In electric vehicles like the BMW ActiveE, range means everything. Like Ponce De Leon searched for the elusive "fountain of youth," electric vehicle manufacturers search for the battery that offers the best energy density which will give their cars the best possible range.

Back for re-programming
In 2010, BMW announced that they were forming a partnership with SB-LiMotive and would be using their batteries for BMW's upcoming electric vehicles starting with the ActiveE. The ActiveE would be using SB-LiMotive's new nickel-manganese-cobalt cells for sure, but there was no official confirmation on whether or not they would be used for the subsequent BMW electric vehicles, like the i3 and i8. That's because behind the scenes BMW and SB-LiMotive have been working on a new battery, one that has roughly double the energy density as the current ActiveE battery cells.

Some of you may remember the news articles about DBM's Kolibri battery. It powered a converted Audi A2  a record setting 282 miles on a single charge. Yes, the battery was almost double the size of the ActiveE's  (63kWh compared to 32kWh), but it basically tripled the ActiveE's 90-100 mile range. Well you know BMW isn't going to be one-upped by Audi! BMW and SB-LiMotive have been quietly developing their own "extreme" battery made with the same type of Alpha Polymer that the Kolibri is composed of.

Hours of reprogramming was necessary
BMW is considering using this new battery in the i3 when it launches in the fall of 2013. They have been conducting tests with these batteries in mule i3s for about 6 months now and have even provided the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing with dozens of full size large format modules, like what is used in EVs for extensive testing. Testing was completed and the batteries passed all the tests performed. The next step was then to outfit a few cars for use in everyday real life driving. BMW chose to install the batteries in one ActiveE for use in Munich, and two for use in the US; one being on the East Coast and the other on the West Coast. If all went well, after a few months they'd outfit a couple more ActiveEs with the new batteries and continue testing for about a year.

Many of you already know I have a very good relationship with BMW. As one of the more vocal MINI-E Pioneers and advocate for all plug in cars, I developed a close relationship with the EV program managers.  BMW even choose me to be the very first ActiveE customer. So it wasn't surprising when they told me about this new battery test (many months ago) and said when the time came they wanted my car to have the battery transplant if I would agree to it. I would have to agree to have the car remotely monitored 24/7 and bring it in to BMW headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ once a week for visual inspections. In return for my participation and cooperation, my monthly lease payment would be waived from now on. How could I say no?

Battery tunnel w/o batteries
So on March 19th, I dropped EF-OPEC off at BMW HQ and drove off in a loaner ActiveE. I asked Dave Mustac, the East Coast ActiveE technical coordinator and the project manager for this experiment, if I could come back the next day while they were doing the swap to take some pictures for this blog. He agreed, but when I showed up the next day I was told I could take any picture I wanted to, just not of the new batteries, which were next to the car under a blanket and my old batteries were already removed. I could see the steel reinforcement cage that protects the batteries, especially in the old transmission tunnel. This is where the Chevy Volt had problems with side impact crash testing. After seeing how well BMW has the batteries protected with the steel cage, I doubt they would have the same issue even if the side impact was severe. There were two other ActiveEs there, not for battery transplants, just being serviced. If a dealership cannot fix whatever problem arises with an ActiveE, Dave Mustac's team has it towed here to be diagnosed and repaired. It took them three days to complete the swap and I got the call to come and pick it up along with a long list of things I am now required to monitor and record. I even had to sign an NDA and anything I write about it (like this post) has to first be cleared by Hugo VanGeem or Marian Hawryluk, BMW electric vehicle program managers.

I got 160 miles this charge
I recently learned who the lucky chosen West Coast Electonaut is, but I'm not going to out him.  It's up to him to announce it if he chooses to do so. I actually found out accidentally. Idine Ghoreishian is the West Coast ActiveE technical coordinator (like Dave Mustac is here on the East) and he called me to ask what battery temperature I've been observing after extended periods of high speed driving to compare it with their test cars results. During our conversation he let the name slip. I don't think it was really top secret, but clearly they weren't giving each of us the other's name for some unknown reason. If things continue to progress as planned, as many as 10 more Electronauts will be offered the "extreme" battery upgrade. I might just be able to put in a good word for someone, so if anyone would like to send me a bottle of wine or a nice present, perhaps I could make a recommendation ;)

Fully charged, the needle now goes way passed 100%
My range has been exceptional so far. I have had to bring it back to BMW a couple of times to try to recalculate the consumption rate and the state of charge meter. They are both way off now because they were calculated for the ActiveE's battery and while BMW had worked to adjust them, they aren't perfect yet. Even my SOC analog gauge is no longer properly  calibrated. When I'm fully charged, the needle goes way passed 100%! By the time it goes down to 100%, I've already driven about 50 miles! The best range I've seen so far was 203 estimated miles as seen in the photo at the top of the post. Although I'm typically seeing about 170 miles per charge if I drive normally. 

147 miles and finished with 26% SOC

Another interesting thing is that this battery charges quicker than the stock ActiveE's.  I don't know the actual size in kWhs of this new pack, and even if I did, I probably couldn't say, but I can say the car now fully charges in about three hours from my level 2 EVSEs which is much quicker than it did with the original batteries.

I'll continue to report here on my new "Extreme-ActiveE"(should I rename this blog?) so keep an eye out for the latest updates! 

After 71 miles the state of charge was still at 50%. Depending on temperature and how efficiently I'm driving, I can get up to 200 miles per charge with my new Alpha Polymer batteries. I can't imagine why BMW wouldn't use these in the i3.
   UPDATE- 4/2/12: This post isn't real! It was an April fools post. I hope everyone had some fun with it, sorry to disappoint those that believed it was real. Unfortunately we'll have to wait a bit longer for battery performance of this magnitude, but rest assured it's coming. I've been doing April Fools posts for the past three years now dating back to my time with the MINI-E. If you'd like to see the past April Fools posts you can read them HERE.