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Monday, July 23, 2012

It's True, I've Become an EV Snob!

My loaner: A 2011 Convertible 135i. If this doesn't get me back into gas, nothing will.
Just like the MINI-E program, the participants have to bring the cars in every 5,000 miles or every three months whichever comes first. Since I drive a lot, I'm taking the car in every seven or eight weeks.

The guilty gear.  Luckily mine was fine.
The service usually takes one full day, but this time BMW wanted to thoroughly check the main drive gear because there are some ActiveEs that are suffering a failure of this gear. It appears a few cars had the gear splines strip from a lack of lubrication. I'm not sure if the cause was a failure to properly lubricate the gear during manufacturing, or if there is a problem that allows moisture to infiltrate the gear and wash away the lubrication, but a couple of cars have had total gear failure so now all of the cars are having their motors dropped and the gear inspected.

Mine was fine and I had the car back in three days. However this post isn't about my car and the service visit, it's about what I was given to drive as a loaner while JMK BMW was servicing my car.

When I dropped off the car, I was handed the keys to a bright red 135i convertible. It packed a 3.0 liter turbocharged inline-6 engine with 300 hp and 300 lb-ft torque. By comparison my ActiveE has 170 hp, 184 lb-ft torque and weighs 400 lbs more. We don't have to line up both cars to prove which one is faster because there really isn't anything to debate. The 135i is a rocket and I have to admit I had some fun with it when I was driving back from the dealer.

I tried to plug in - didn't work
However it didn't take long for the fun to wear off a bit and leave me wanting for my ActiveE. After driving electric for over three years now, I guess I'm just ruined for life. If this red-hot convertible with 300 hp, paddle shifters and the "M" interior package didn't make me want to go back to an ICE, then I guess I'm just a lost cause, hopefully hooked on electric drive for good. While it was definitely a fun car to tool around in, it definitely lacked the sophistication of the smooth, effortless torque of the ActiveE. The 135i would scream at it's red-line and vibrations are felt right up through the steering wheel. There's none of that driving an EV; you get all of the power the car has without any lag or needing to get the RPMs up; it's there instantly when you need it regardless of your speed.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in driving the 135i was the lack of regenerative braking that I've grown so accustomed to. I actually had to use the pedal on the left...a LOT! The strong regenerative braking on the ActiveE (and the MINI-E before) improves the driving experience immensely. Everyone I know who has an EV with it complains when they drive a gas car without regenerative braking. They are like, "I can't believe I used to drive gas cars and actually like it!"  And I feel the same. While being brutally fast it also felt primitive. It jerked and lunged back & forth, had a noticeable lag between the time I pressed the gas pedal and the time the car took off and the roar of the engine, something I used to love, was just an annoyance now. I love the peaceful quietness of the ActiveE's cabin, it definitely enhances the driving experience in my opinion. OK, I guess I'm officially an EV snob, looking down my nose at gas cars forever! 

When I parked at the dealer to return the car, I reached down and swiped my finger across the exhaust tip to get a nice supply of pollution sludge that builds up inside the exhaust. Nice! I can just imagine how much your lungs must love filtering out this crap when you breathe it in. No thanks, I think I'll pass from now on. Give me a solar powered electric car and I'm good to go.

So if you see me out driving on the roads somewhere and for some reason I don't wave and say hello, don't take it personally. It's not about you, it's your car I'm no longer talking to ;)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Getting miked up for NBC News

So for the past couple of weeks I've been working on getting two public chargers installed in the parking lot of my restaurant, Nauna's Bella Casa in Montclair, NJ. I had planned on doing a ribbon cutting ceremony when they were finished, but then I got a call from Environment New Jersey and plans changed. 

The group asked me if I could speak about my experience with electric cars at a press conference they were planning on July 17th in Princeton, NJ to announce the publication of a just finished study called "Charging Forward: The Emergence of Electric Vehicles and Their Role in Reducing Oil Consumption". I agreed to speak and answer questions and while we were talking I mentioned that I was just about finished installing two public charging stations on my property. When they heard that they asked if we could have the press conference in my parking lot in front of the newly installed chargers, and I agreed. So much for the ribbon cutting ceremony, now I had a press conference instead! 
I made a few calls and asked my EV driving friends if they could come and bring their cars. Chris Neff and Gerald Belton brought their ActiveEs, Pamela Thwaite brought her Tesla Roadster and we had a Volt that is used by PSE&G come also bringing the total of EV's on site to five. NBC News showed up as well as a few newspapers and some local internet news sites. The event was featured on NBC's at 5:00 news that night and was also in the Montclair Times, New Jersey Spotlight and Baristanet News. Speakers included Environment New Jersey’s Director Doug O’Malley, Paul Heitmann of ECOtality, a company managing the E.V. Project, a $99.8 million federal effort to deploy approximately 14,000 chargers in 18 cities across the nation, Former Montclair Mayor Jerry Fried, Gray Russell, Montclair director of Environmental Affairs, Chuck Feinberg, Chairman of NJ Clean Cities Coalition and more.
The Blink Charger
I was very fortunate to get one Blink and one Coulomb public charger from each company for free. I host a lot of public electric vehicle events like this at my restaurant and both companies thought it would be a good idea to have their products on my site for promotional reasons. They made a good decision! They will both get a lot of use and exposure from my highly visible site. I've probably hosted more electric vehicle meets in my parking lot than any other site in New Jersey! My Blink charger is actually the first Blink public charger in the state. Coulomb has a very strong presence here already with over 100 public chargers in New Jersey already and are using the ChargePoint Network.

The Coulomb Charger
Even though I got the chargers for free, I did have to pay for the installation which was a couple thousand dollars. While I was at it I installed three bicycle racks on the property also, further inspiring green personal transportation! The charging rates at both chargers will be set at $2.00 per hour, but if you eat at the restaurant while you are charging your car, then your charging is FREE. I still need to get final inspection from the town before I can turn them on and start using them which will hopefully be next week sometime. I've had dozens of customers who came to the restaurant the past few days ask me what the chargers were for, but many knew and supported my decision to install them. Soon they'll be up and running so if you live in the area and drive an EV, bring it by for a good meal and all the free electrons your car can take!

Monday, July 9, 2012


This adds new meaning to "Have it your way at Burger King"
Thirty months and 73,000 miles of driving and I never once ran out of charge driving my MINI-E. Actually I only came close to running out about 5 times during that whole time. So why is it that in less than six months of driving the ActiveE I have managed to come up short of making it home twice!

Am I getting dumber with age? Maybe. Am I taking more risks than I did when I was new to driving EVs? Perhaps. Is the range meter on the ActiveE less accurate than it was on the MINI-E? No, it's actually much more accurate than the MINI-E's gauge was.

So why do I think it's now happened to me twice? We'll the first time was definitely forgivable and at the very least understandable. It was actually the day I picked up the car from BMW HQ. Yep, my first day with the car. I was driving all over that day, showing off the car to everybody and I wasn't really paying as close attention to the range as I should. Plus, one of the things that was cool about the MINI-E was it had a huge reserve. Once the remaining range meter hit zero, the car could still go anywhere from 10 to 20 miles! It was something that I loved and used frequently. The furthest I personally ever drove it passed zero was 18 miles. I assumed the ActiveE would have some kind of similar reserve, so when I set out home on that first day I knew I'd be cutting it close and would probably hit zero when I still had 2-3 miles to go, but I figured the car had to have at least 3 miles of reserve since the MINI-E had about seven times that. Anyway, it was a very cold night back on January 13th, about 25 degrees. I had the heater on and was driving normally figuring I'd just dip into the reserve to make the last few miles. Well when I was about six miles from home, I hit zero and about a half mile later a got the large yellow battery icon meaning the car was going to go into reduced power mode. Yikes! On the MINI-E I wouldn't see that warning until I drove at least ten miles passed zero, I didn't even drive a mile now! Then, less than a mile later, the car slowed down to a crawl. I thought I was doomed and would be calling a tow truck, but it made it over the top of a hill I was climbing and I was able to coast down the other side and into a gas station parking lot. It was about 1:00am so they were closed and I saw they had an outdoor vending machine. That was just what I needed because behind it there was an outlet I could use. I plugged in the 120v convenience charger and sat there for about an hour. I got it up to 5% which was enough to barely make it home.

So I really don't blame myself for that time. I had just got the car and was so used to the MINI-E huge reserve I just figured BMW would do something similar with the ActiveE. They didn't. I think there is about  one kWh of usable energy once you hit zero and that will take you anywhere from a little over a mile to about 4 miles depending on driving conditions. Now this time when I ran out was different. I knew the limit, but pushed it anyway. I was at home and the car had about 25% charge. I needed to go somewhere that was about 13 miles away. Going there was mostly downhill and coming back would obviously be uphill. I knew I'd only use about 7% or 8% to get there so I figured while I'd be cutting it close, I'd make it home. It wasn't to be. Since I really thought I'd make it, I wasn't really paying attention to the state of charge until I happened to glance down on my way back and saw 3%. Crap. I still needed to go about 4 miles uphill before I could drive on level ground and even downhill for the final 2 miles. At that point I knew I wouldn't make it. I started driving very slowly and made it about two miles before I went into reduced power mode and about 3/4 of a mile later the car again slowed to a crawl but this time I was going up a steeper grade. I managed to make it to the front of a shopping center where there was a Burger King before it stopped and I then pushed it to the front door which was about 400 feet away. The manager was nice enough to let me plug into an outlet inside and run my extension cord out to the car. At that point I was only about 3 miles from my house and the last mile was downhill so I only needed to charge for about 35-40 minutes and I was able to drive home.

When I ran out back in January I was surprised that BMW didn't leave a similar 'reserve' like they did with the MINI-E. I even considered writing the EV program mangers to suggest they revisit that for the i3, perhaps adding more of a reserve as an added safety net. Maybe they could have a switch you activate if you run out that has a 5 mile reserve or something like that. However once I started really thinking about it, I changed my mind. I don't want to keep a portion of the battery that I could use all the time hidden for the rare times I might need it. The battery is the most expensive part of an EV and I want to be able to use all of the usable portion of it! Many people are afraid to drive their EV even close to zero, so they would never realize the car's full range potential if the car had saved 5 or 10 miles for its reserve. Instead, I now believe zero should mean zero, just like it does on the ActiveE. If you are on flat ground you may be able to push it a few miles, but that's it. I would also like as part of the sales process to see the BMW i client advisers thoroughly explain this to potential customers. Make sure they know that zero means zero before they 'test the waters' like I did when I first got the car. I take the blame 100% for this latest misadventure though. I knew the car's limits but I pushed it anyway, and I paid the price. Even the healthiest golden retrievers need to be taken to the vet now and then.

I guess all I can say is...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Independence Car

I spent the 4th of July as many fellow Americans probably did; consuming hot dogs, cheeseburgers, ice cream and taking the occasional dip in the pool to get relief from the sweltering heat. I had some family and friends over to my house for a BBQ to celebrate our nation's Independence from the oppressive British regime some two hundred and thirty six years ago. 

While we were enjoying the festivities my ActiveE was nicely parked in the garage, plugged in and charging up. After a cloudy morning, my solar array had a nice clear afternoon and produced 45kWh's of electricity, and about 20kWh's that was produced went straight into the car's battery providing about 75 miles of driving range. This is how I claim my independence from the oppressive ministers of OPEC. On three different times during the day, I walked from the back yard around to the front of the house with friends who were asking about the EV & PV set up I have so I could show them the panels, and then into the garage to show the car plugged in and charging. Everyone loves it. They then say something like, "you know how much I spent on gas this month?" followed by some ridiculous number. I then tell them how far they could have driven an EV on that much money if they were buying electricity from the utility and it's usually about four times as far as they drove on gas and they just shake their heads. I then rub it in even further and say, "plus, you can make the electricity yourself like I'm doing here." You certainly can't make your own gas!

That's energy independence! Charging up my car with the power of sunlight as I'm having a good time with friends and family. Letting the same sunshine that's helping to make our day a great event also power my car! The best thing is the sun doesn't raise its prices nor reduce production to create artificial shortage and drive up demand. The sun doesn't make us drill deeper and deeper, damaging pristine wildlife refuges, nor does it make us look for it miles underwater.  Furthermore, sunlight doesn't cause pollution and smog like burning fossil fuel does. Other than hiding behind cloudy skies now and then, it's always there, basically in the same place as the day before and ready to rein down an incredible amount of energy for us, free of charge.

Many people talk about electric cars as being restrictive because they have a limited range and longer refueling time as compared to internal combustion engine cars. I guess it's how you look at it, I find them liberating. I've managed to live perfectly fine with a 100 mile electric car for three years now. During that time I've driven my EVs nearly 90,000 (mostly solar powered) miles and had to make very little sacrifice. Yes, occasionally there are tasks the car isn't up to, like driving to my in laws in Vermont or taking a day trip to Atlantic City, so I just take the gasser for these trips.  And to be honest, there have also been a couple of times when I was out with the car and realized I couldn't make a destination I would have liked to go to. Perhaps my plans changed during the day and I then needed to drive further than I expected to. Yes, it can happen. However these have been very rare occasions and the negatives have been overwhelmingly outweighed by the positives of driving an EV. I prefer to concentrate on all the reasons electric vehicles are great, rather than focus on the few shortfalls.

So on this 4th of July, along with celebrating the nation's Independence, on a personal level I celebrated my independence from OPEC, my independence from having to go to gas stations to get fuel and my independence from loud, vibrating, grimy and stinky internal combustion engines in my car. I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again: As far as I'm concerned, plugging in beats filling up any day of the week!
All this talk about energy independence reminded me of this classic Jon Stewart bit: