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Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day and Electric Cars

Memorial Day is a time to reflect, honor and pay tribute to the brave men and women who lost their lives defending America. By honoring them it helps us remember the true meaning of courage, sacrifice and service.

There are a multitude of reasons we as humans have fought wars over. Religion, land, nationalistic feelings and just sheer desire for power have usually been the top reasons for war over the past couple thousand years. However that's changing. America has basically been in a constant state of war in the Middle East for the past twenty years and has seen thousands of US troops pay the ultimate price and tens of thousands seriously wooded. 

There were probably many reasons why Osama Bin Laden hated America, but one of the main reasons was because the U.S. established a military base in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden saw this as the greatest possible desecration of the holy land, and he was even told to leave the country after threatening and speaking out against the royal family for allowing the US to do so. We needed to establish bases like this all over the Middle East because we knew we would need to have a strong military presence there to protect the oil fields and keep that cheap crude flowing out of the Middle East to supply the West.

Ex CIA director James Woolsey said, “The national security reasons to destroy oil’s strategic role in our economy are substantial,” ...“More than two-thirds of the world’s proven reserves of conventional oil lie in the turbulent states of the Persian Gulf, as does much of oil’s international infrastructure. Increasing dependence on this part of the world for our transportation needs is subject to a wide range of perils.” Woosley is a big supporter of electric vehicles and actually drives a Chevy Volt. He has said on many occasions that the full scale deployment of electric cars in the US will make us a safer, stronger nation as we rely less and less on foreign nations for our energy needs.

Take a look at what the former CIA director thinks about who's funding terrorism: @1.55

James Woolsey: Oil Addiction and Islamic... by FORAtv

Electricity is entirely a domestic product. Virtually every link of the supply chain is a domestic product or domestic labor so 100% of the money spent on electricity stays in either your local or regional economy. That money gets reinvested many times over. Sixty to seventy cents of every dollar you spend on gasoline leaves the US, over a billion dollars a day, and some of it ends up in the hands of people who don't necessarily like us, and would have no problem helping to fund the people trying to kill our troops.

Personally, I believe driving an electric car is not only good for the environment but is patriotic, and is my way of making sure none of the money I spend on my personal transportation fuel is ever used against the brave men and women of the US military. Happy Memorial Day.

UPDATE: I just read this article written by Maj. Gen. Anthony L. Jackson USMC, Ret on this subject so I thought I'd add it here:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

How Much Electric Does An EV Use?

With all of the talk about electric cars lately, one thing that I keep hearing is people wondering how much electricity will an EV need? Are they simply ditching the gas pump only to pay just as much in their electric bill? I did a post on this subject on my MINI-E blog last year and I think it's important enough to put it up again here for anyone who hadn't seen it already.

One of the questions that people frequently ask me about my electric car is, "How much electricity does it use?" Sometimes they'll just say, "I love it, but I wouldn't want to see your electric bill!" When I tell them it costs between $3.00 and $6.00 in electricity to go about 100 miles they usually smile and say, "Really? Wow, that's great". The reason the range is between $3.00 and $6.00 is because there is such a difference in electricity rates throughout the country and the amount of energy the car uses is dictated by how efficiently you drive. The ActiveE has a 32 kWh battery pack but only 28kWh of it is available for use. That 28kWh can move the car between 80 and 120 miles depending on how efficiently you drive. It is less in the winter months because the heater uses a lot of energy, but for most of the year these numbers are correct as an average.

The national average cost for electricity is $.12 per kWh which means it would cost the average person $3.36 to fully charge a depleted battery on the ActiveE. However rates do vary. In New Jersey, we have much higher than average electricity rates and I pay about 18 cents per kWh. Therefore it would cost me about $5.00 to fully charge a depleted battery. So basically for only a little more than what it costs for one gallon of gas today, you can drive an electric car like the ActiveE or Nissan LEAF about 100 miles.

EV + PV is a fantastic combination!
Since I have a solar PV array at my home, I generate most of the electricity my home and car uses and I pay very little for my electric. Many months my electric bill is even zero and I drive much more than the average person, about 35,000 miles per year. The average person drives about 15,000 miles per year. If they had an ActiveE they would need to use about 4,200kWh of electricity to drive 15,000 miles. If you use the national average, you would pay about $504 for fuel for the entire year. If you use my rate at my house, and forgot about the solar array, you’d pay $756 to power the car all year. Therefore, figure anywhere between a $40/month and $70/month increase in your electric bill if you had an electric car like the ActiveE and drove it the average of 15,000 miles per year.

One of the great things about electric cars is that you can easily reduce your electric bill by $40 to $70 per month just by being more efficient and therefore completely eliminate your transportation fuel cost! You can't use less gasoline unless you drive less, but you can reduce your electricity usage at home and still drive as much as you always have. Simple measures like a programmable thermostat and the use of compact florescent or LED light bulbs can make a big difference. In fact, five 100 watt light bulbs left on continuously for a year use the same amount of energy as it takes to power the ActiveE 15,000 miles! Here's how: five 100 watt light bulbs use 500 watts per hour. In 24 hours they use 12,000 watts or 12kWh. In 365 days they use 4,380kWh. What does the ActiveE use to go 15,000 miles? Remember above I calculated it to be 4,200kWh? So five 100 watt light bulbs use 180 more kWh than it takes to power the 4,000lb ActiveE for 15,000 miles!

If you take a good look at your home electricity use, I'm sure you can reduce your usage enough to drastically offset the cost of electricity to power an electric car, if not completely eliminate it. Then, every penny of the money you would have spent on gasoline can go right into your pocket!

If you are considering an EV, you can basically figure that for every 100 miles you drive, you'll use about 25kWh to 35kWh of electricity. Today's EVs average about 3.5 to 4 miles of driving on every kWh of electricity used. However very soon there will be even more efficient EVs like the BMW i3 which will probably exceed 5 miles per kWh used. So look at your electricity bill and see what you are paying for a kWh of electricity. Then take the total miles you drive and divide it by 4, and multiply it by what you pay for a kWh of electricity and you'll know your annual fuel cost for an EV like a Nissan LEAF or a BMW ActiveE.

Gas prices will only go up in the long run
Let's say you drive 20,000 miles per year and pay $.15 per kWh(which is higher than the national average). Your fuel cost would be about $750.00. Now if you drove those same miles in a car that gets 30mpg (much higher than the average car) and gas cost an average of $3.50/gallon( less than it has averaged the past year) your fuel costs would be $2,333.00! Now imagine if you had solar electric, or simply made your home more energy efficient and reduced your electric bill. You could probably cut $40 or $50 per month off your home's use pretty easily. That could add up to $500 to $600 per year of savings! With an annual fuel cost of only $750 to power an EV 20,000 miles, your transportation fuel expense would now be virtually eliminated! That's a savings of over $2,000 per year, and that's at today's gas prices. Unlike gasoline, electricity is regulated and the price is relatively stable. Gas prices are volatile and are constantly drastically increasing before slowly lowering only to suddenly jump back up again, and, in the long run, always increase.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Spreading The Word

I was recently asked to speak about electric vehicles by Pershing, llc at their Jersey City office. I know the people over at Pershing because they host a of couple green car expos every year.  I'd always brought my MINI-E to the events and I'll be bringing my ActiveE to their next expo in June. So when Diane Raia of Pershing asked me if I would like to speak to some of their employees about my electric car experience and where I think the industry was going, I happily agreed.

She also asked me if I knew any other EV owners who might want to also present and I recommended fellow MINI-E and ActiveE driver Chris Neff. Chris agreed and the two of us presented and then answered questions. For the most part Chris spoke about his experience living with an electric car and I spoke more about the technology side of the industry.

After the session, Diane and a few of Pershing's management team came down to the parking garage to look at our cars and talk about public charging equipment. Pershing has been considering installing chargers for their employees at both their Jersey City and Florham Park locations and I think after listening to Chris and me they are definitely going to go forward with installing the EVSEs. Good win for us!

We also brought a box of BMW i brochures that had i3 & i8 information and handed them out to all the people in attendance so BMW got some good exposure without even knowing it!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tesla, Cadillac and Infinity To Compete With BMW For The Premium EV Market

It wasn't long ago I was driving around in my MINI-E and was virtually the only electric vehicle on the roadway. Sure there were a few hundred Toyota RAV 4 EVs, about a thousand or so Tesla Roadsters and some home built converted electric cars, but there weren't any major OEM dealerships where you could walk in and drive away with an electric car.

Now only a couple of short years later you can go to your local dealership and order a Nissan LEAF, a Mitsubishi i or a Ford Focus, all are 100% electric vehicles. There are also two plug in hybrids available, the Chevy Volt, which offers about 35 miles of electric range before switching to gas, and the plug in Toyota Prius which will take you about 11 miles on electricity before the gas engine takes over. However none of these cars offer the all electric range like the MINI-E, the ActiveE have or what the upcoming BMW i3 will offer and have EPA ratings below 80 MPC. 

Tesla Model S
Except for the fact that they have a plug and run on electricity, none of these cars are really in the premium car market that the upcoming BMW i vehicles will be situated in. That's about to change though. In just a couple of months Tesla will be launching their second electric car, the Model S. It's a full size sedan with all the luxury amenities expected in a premium automobile. It has strikingly good looks, performs as well or better than any gas powered luxury sport sedans and is available in three different battery pack sizes: 40kWh, 60kWh and 85kWh. Base list prices for the Model S are as follows: $57,750, $67,750 & $77,750 respectively. Tesla has really set the bar high for long range electric vehicles. The 40kWh Model S, the smallest battery pack offered, will have anywhere between 100 and 160 miles or range, depending on temperature and driving conditions. The largest pack offered, (85kWh) will have an official EPA rating of 265 miles, but under the right conditions will take the car up to 320 miles.

2014 Cadillac ELR PHEV
Then there is the plug in hybrid Cadillac ELR. The ELR is basically a more luxurious, re-badged Chevy Volt. It will share the Volt's Voltec powertrain and offer a yet-unidentified all electric range before the range extender turns on. Some expect the electric range to be longer than the Volt's approximate 30-40 miles conditions permitting. After all, Cadillac is a premium brand, and premium in an electric car means premium range. The ELR is scheduled to be available in late 2013 as a 2014 model, just like the BMW i3.

Infinity LE Concept
Now Infinity has thrown their hat into the premium EV market with the announcement of the Infinity LE. Infinity announced the car a couple of months ago at the New York Auto Show. This might lead you to believe that they are behind the others if they are only just announcing the car. However since it's being built on the LEAF platform, they are much closer to delivering the cars than you might think. Infinity claims they will begin selling the LE in two years so it will also be a 2014 model, although it will come out after the BMW i3 and ELR have been launched. The LE is only about six inches shorter than a BMW 5 series, so it is definitely a full size sedan. The concept LE was said to be fitted with a 24 kWh battery pack, the same as the LEAF. Personally I don't believe the production LE will have such a small pack. If it does, the range will most certainly be insufficient for what most prospective premium sedan purchasers will be looking for. As I said before, premium IS range when talking about an electric vehicle. I have had more than a few conversations with people high up in Nissan's electric vehicle program, some very recently. It really seems like they are going to be very aggressive with their electric vehicle program and that they "get: what it's going to take to be an industry leader. This makes me believe they won't under power their first entry into the premium EV market, and the LE will have a larger pack than the 24kWh that the concept has.

It's hard for me to believe that all of theses electric vehicles either are or will be available within two years. We have come a long way from my early MINI-E days when there were no "affordable" pure electric cars even on the horizon. Even with all of these choices, there isn't much of an overlap and all of theses cars are different enough not to cannibalize too much sales from one another. The Infinity LE offers close to what the Tesla Model S will except for range, and until we really know what the Infinity's range will be there is no use really comparing them. The ELR is a plug in hybrid and the closest thing to it coming out will be the BMW i3 with the REx range extender option. However the i3 is a hatchback while the ELR is a sports coupe which is really more like the ActiveE but that won't go into series production (to the chagrin of many ActiveE drivers!). Tesla really has an opportunity to grab the majority of the luxury electric vehicle market. They are first to market with Model S delivery beginning in two months and they are offering more all electric range than anyone, by a long shot. The big question remaining is can they really pull it off? Do they have the funding to stay in it for the long haul and will the cars be reliable? If Tesla starts delivering cars and half of them end up back in at the dealerships for major battery issues or software problems, they will take a huge customer confidence hit and that could be enough to kill them, especially since there will be premium EV options following the Model S very soon. Still, the range Tesla is offering is going to make many people who wouldn't consider a 70 to 90 mile per charge EV think about it.
BMW Concept i3 has no B-pillar and 'coach-style' doors.

BMW's i3 is launching in about 16 months now. Official EPA range figures aren't available but all indications from early testing point to an EPA rating in the low to mid 90's. If so, it will be the only EV available with an EPA rating over 90 MPC other than Tesla offerings. I have been very vocal to my BMW connections that I believe the i3 NEEDS to have an EPA rating of 90 or more miles. If not, it's not really in the 'premium EV market' and falls into the LEAF/Focus EV/Volt category to me. Remember premium IS range when talking EV and being the only one other than Tesla to break 90 miles per charge is important in my opinion. BMW also wants the customers that need/want an even greater range though so they are offering a range extender(REx) as an option in the i3. It will be a very small (600cc) gasoline engine with a small(probably 2-3 gallons) gas tank. When the i3's battery is depleted, or hits some pre-determined critical low state of charge level, the REx will turn on and sustain the batteries charge, similar to how a Chevy Volt works. This will allow the i3 REx to go ~100 miles on battery only and then ~100 miles on gas without needing to plug in or refuel. Unlike the volt, the i3's gas engine will have no physical connection to the cars drive train and will serve to charge the batteries only, never powering the wheels. BMW is taking this approach as opposed to just using a bigger battery pack like Tesla because they believe it's not necessary to lug around a huge, expensive, heavy battery all the time if you only need it once in a while. The MINI-E and ActiveE programs have proven that most people can live perfectly well with a 100 mile BEV, especially now that public charging infrastructure is being deployed. If you feel you need more range, rather than pay $10,000 more for a larger battery you can add the REx for much less and not add 400lbs of extra battery that you have to lug around all the time reducing the cars efficiency even on short trips where you didn't need the extra kWh's.
A camouflaged  i3 in recent testing

The concept i3s looks have been a subject of concern for some following BMW's EV plans though, and I have read comments where people express their objections to the futuristic styling. It should be noted that they are commenting on the concept i3 though, and concepts are usually futuristic looking. I'm sure the production i3 will be toned down a bit and look more "BMW like." Some also wish it was a bigger car with a trunk. Personally I'm happy with the current i3 configuration. It's just what I want for my daily driving car. The utility of a hatchback is a big plus for me and the size is just right for commuting and city driving and parking. This doesn't mean BMW is abandoning the full size sedan market though. They currently have a number of BEVs and PHEVs in development and the i5 in particular has been rumored to be either a five passenger sedan or a small crossover and should satisfy the needs of those looking for a premium family-sized plug in vehicle. The first car out of the new i brand can't be everything for everybody, and will suit the needs of some but not others. However in just a matter of a couple of years BMW will have at least four plug in cars in showrooms (i3, i4, i5 & i8) and it won't end there. Richard Steinberg, manager of electric vehicle operations and strategy for BMW NA recently said, "I have a feeling you'll see plugs cascade through our entire product line." Yes, it is getting interesting!

Note: I intentionally left out the Fisker Karma and the Coda Sedan. The Karma is over $100,000 and costs more than any of the cars mentioned here, even the most expensive Model S. Personally I don't consider Fisker competition to these cars and I doubt they will even be in business in  a few years. Coda's sedan does have decent range with an 88mpc EPA rating, however it's anything but premium or luxury and is basically a carbon copy of an economy car made ten years ago. It's built in China and based on articles I have read by people who have driven them, the quality is far inferior than anything expected from the automakers mentioned above.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Back To Gas For a Day!

My loaner for the day, a 2011 328i
Just like the MINI-E trial, one of the conditions of the ActiveE program is that we have to bring the cars in every 5,000 miles for a scheduled service. It's a very comprehensive check up, and the technician really checks out everything on the car to make sure it's performing properly. They also have to take about a dozen pictures of various components in the car and send them directly to BMW.

My first 5,000 mile check up coincided with a trip I was taking to Las Vegas so I didn't need the car anyway and there was no need for a loaner. Manny Antunes of JMK BMW dropped the car off at my restaurant when the service was completed and it was waiting there for me when I came back from my trip. Since I passed 10,000 miles a couple weeks ago it was time to get the second service and this time I took advantage of JMK's loaner service.

Waiting for me when I dropped off EF-OPEC was a shiny blue 2011 328i. It's funny, the 3 series is one of the most successful sport sedans in automobile history. It has won numerous awards and is a benchmark that other automobile manufacturers strive to attempt to duplicate. However as I was driving it I couldn't help but feel like I was driving something radically inferior to what I have become accustomed to. I know that sounds terribly snobbish, but it really is how I feel when comparing the driving experience of it with how pleasurable the ActiveE is. The roar of the engine and vibrations felt right up through the steering wheel under heavy acceleration is just no match for the smooth, quiet eDrive system found in the ActiveE. 

EF-OPEC charging behind their demo
I know I'm not alone with this assessment either. I've heard very similar thoughts from other ActiveE drivers. Some of which are brand new to electric drive and in only a short period of time proclaim they are never going back to gas. It one of the main reasons I'm completely confident electric cars will play a major role in personal transportation in the near future. It may take a bit of convincing to get some folks to try it out, but once they have lived with an EV as nice as the ActiveE they'll be hooked!

Nice new sign
By the end of the day the service was completed and JMK called me to say I can come and pick it up. When I arrived it was plugged and charging right behind the dealer demo that my service adviser Manny Antunes told me he just leased. I also noticed they put up a new sign since my last visit reminding people not the park in front of their charger and 'ICE' it.

Typical of rental or loaner cars I had to replace the gas I used so I stopped at a gas station and put $10.00 in to bring it just about exactly to where the gauge was when I got the car. I drove it 41 miles and the trip computer said I averaged 18mpg during that time. That same 41 miles would have cost me about $2.00 in electricity for the ActiveE, just another reason to never look back.

Monday, May 7, 2012

ActiveE Personalization Begins!

The no oil and no gas symbols, the word "electric" and the license plate frame now distinguish the rear of my ActiveE from the others.
Now that just about everyone that's getting an ActiveE has taken delivery of it, people are starting to customize their cars to distinguish theirs from the rest. All of the cars come exactly the same so many people want to make a personal statement, or in some cases, just blend in with the rest of the cars on the road.

No stickers & custom wheels
Some ActiveE lessees decided to remove all the circuitry graphics, leaving only the small eDrive badges on the sides to distinguish the car from any other white BMW 1 series. You'd have to be pretty observant to realize the car has no tailpipe or recognize the hood bulge that is only found on the ActiveE to realize that the car is special. I think most people that see an ActiveE like this might think it's just a 135i with an aftermarket or M-series hood.

Some stickers removed
Others have removed some of the graphics while leaving some. A popular combination I've seen is removing all the side graphics except the word "ActiveE" and leaving all the graphics on the hood, roof and trunk. I've seen some of the cars that do this and I think I does look pretty good, however the ActiveE graphic looks a little too big there by itself without any circuitry graphics near it.

Still others have gone in a different direction and added thinks like chrome badges, stickers, magnets, bike racks and even interior customization like armrests. I decided to remove a few of the circuitry graphs, not many, but just enough to add some other personalization graphics in their place. I want everyone that looks at the car to know instantly that it's electric. I hired a professional pinstriper to paint a couple small plugs on the side coming off the eDrive badges and on the roof antenna 'fin'. The more attention the better!

My MINI-E No Oil & No Gas magnets
I also had him paint the "No Oil" and 'No Gas' graphics that I had displayed on my MINI-E, but they were magnets. It was always a pain to take them off before going through car washes and I even had someone steal one off the car once when it was parked in a parking lot. Then, after removing the circuitry graphics on the left side of the trunk lid, I had him paint the word 'Electric' to match the 'ActiveE' sticker on the other side of the trunk. He used the same font and colors as the stickers and if you didn't know one was painted and the other a sticker you would never know the difference.

As a final touch, just for added flair, I ordered a chrome license plate frame that says "My other car funds international terrorism" My wife's not so keen on this though. She told me she would have preferred if it said "This car doesn't fund international terrorism". I guess she has a point since she usually drives the 'other car' which kind of makes her the terrorist supporter of the family. OK, maybe I went a bit too far this time but I never said I was perfect.

What have you done with your ActiveE or what would you have done if you had one? Please comments below, I'd like to know!

PLEASE NOTE: If you have an ActiveE and want to custom paint it like I did, be prepared to pay to have it removed or repainted at the end of the lease if BMW requires it. I don't think custom painting is really an allowed modification. If I have to I'll have it removed before I turn it in. I just don't want anyone getting in trouble because they did what I did. For the record, I didn't get permission, I was afraid they'd have said no!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

10,000 All Electric ActiveE Miles

It's day 108 of my ActiveE lease and I rolled passed 10,000 miles this morning. That's an average of over 92 miles driven every day I've had it. However, the car has been for service twice, and once more for the 5,000 mile checkup, so I actually haven't had it for a combined 14 days. Take those days away and I'm actually averaging 106 miles for every day I've had it. Good thing the ActiveE lease has unlimited miles!

My ActiveE with my solar array in view
Driving as much as I do you want to have a car you enjoy driving. If you're going to spend a couple hours a day in your car, you might as well enjoy the driving experience as much as possible. I've been driving about 30 years and have been very fortunate in my life to have been able to afford some very nice cars. I've owned a couple Mercedes, a Porsche Boxster, a twin turbo Mazda RX-7 and even had a Delorean for a while in the late 80's. However I wouldn't trade the ActiveE for any of them. It's such a pleasure to drive and makes the time I spend driving very enjoyable. If  I'm commuting and just want to get from point A to point B, it's up for the task and does so with style. The quiet cabin, devoid of the vibrations that come with an internal combustion engine vehicle, is actually calming and relaxing to drive. Yet if I'm out driving for pleasure and looking for an exhilarating drive, the ActiveE is also up to the task. It has a lot of torque and it's available instantly. It may not be as fast as some of the other cars I've had, but the great torque combined with the strong regenerative braking allows you to drive it car with with only the right pedal under most circumstances, and that is something you just have to experience to really appreciate.

Perhaps the best thing about the ActiveE is I don't have to go to gas stations at all, unless of course I go there for a cup of coffee! All I have to do is take about 10 seconds to plug it in once or twice a day and it's always ready for wherever I need to go. There may be people out there that find it difficult to believe that I average more than 100 miles per day driving an electric car with about a 100 mile single charge range. Even those who do might think it must be such a hassle to plug it in every night and even sometimes at work, but it really isn't. Talk to anyone who's driving an EV now and they'll tell you it's a lot less of a hassle than driving to a gas station and filling up every couple days. Again, I know that may seem odd to someone who has never lived with an EV, but I'm telling you, to me it's the truth. I'd rather pull into my garage and take 10 seconds to plug in than go to a gas station any day, and that's not even considering that electricity is 1/3 to 1/4 the price of driving on gas.