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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Deuces Wild

It took me 225 days to hit 22,222.2 miles on the odometer so I'm just shy of averaging 100 miles per day. However if you factor in that the car has been in for service about 10 days, I went on vacation and there were a couple days that I just didn't drive it, I'm really averaging about 110 miles for every day I actually drove the car. That's a lot of driving and a lot of plugging in for an electric car with an EPA rating of 94 miles per charge. If you add it to the 73,531 miles I put on my MINI-E, I've now driven 94,753 all electric miles since entering BMW's electric vehicle program in 2009. Sometime in October I'll pass the 100,000 all-electric miles mark and I'm thinking that's an exclusive club to be in!

The BMW i3 launches next year
The ActiveE has been pretty much everything I expected it to be. It's a very competent, capable electric vehicle that has decent power and handles remarkably well for a 4,000lb car. Granted it's not quite as fast or as nimble as its gasoline 1 series counterparts, but all things considered it performs very well. It's comfortable to drive and the cabin is exceptionally quiet, even for an EV.  I really can't wait to see how this powertrain performs in the BMW i3 when they launch it next year. It will have the same motor and electronics as the ActiveE, with the same 184lb-ft of torque and 170hp, yet it will weigh about 1,300lbs less. That should make the i3 driving experience much better.

I've charged my ActiveE 482 times and have averaged 92.41 miles per charge with an average consumption rate of 3.37mi/kWh. My miles-per-charge is calculated by using the amount of energy used, the miles driven and the battery's state of charge when I plug back in, I don't use the car's 'estimated remaining range,' as my method is much more accurate. I record this data every time I plug in so I now have 482 journal entries that have spanned from the cold January nights to the hot July afternoons. The lowest two-week average driving range was in January and I averaged 80 miles per charge. The highest two-week average was 99 miles per charge which happened in June when it was warm, but not too hot that I needed to use the air conditioning. Since the end of June I have left the A/C on constantly, and doing so seems to have shaved about 6 miles per charge off my range.

I still get stopped all the time and asked about the car, this hasn't changed from way back in my MINI-E days. The difference I am finding is that many people now are a bit more educated about electric vehicles. In the past people looked at me like I had two heads when I told them my car was 100% electric and not a hybrid. Now they are generally less surprised and some even know a lot about electrics, and that wasn't the case at all only a year or two ago. For instance last night a woman saw my car charging in the parking lot of my restaurant and asked me about it. I was surprised that she said she heard that electric cars were going to have to make artificial noise at low speeds (vehicle pedestrian alerts) because they are so quiet. She also knew about DC quick charge and that there is currently a bit of a dispute over which plug the quick charge will use (CHAdeMO which is the Japanese standard vs. the SAE combo plug which will soon be formally adopted as the North American standard). Conversations like this were non existent only a few months ago for all but the most hardened EV supporters. The fact that regular people who I come across in every day life know about this stuff is very promising, because to me it means they are interested in EVs, or they wouldn't have bothered to read about and understand these things.

Even though the ActiveE is a converted gas car and compromises were made, it's still a great daily driver. I've driven gasoline 1 series BMW cars and while I did enjoy them also, I wouldn't trade them for the ActiveE. That's saying a lot because the 1 series platform was not designed to be an electric car. BMW had to chop it apart and retro fit the electric drivetrain and battery system and it's STILL a great car. Many of the people leasing them already are beginning to beat the "Let us buy our ActiveE" drums, just like the MINI-E pioneers did. That's not going to happen though, and we will have to return them when our 24 month lease is up. All I can say to those who feel that way is wait and see what the production i3 has to offer first. I loved my MINI-E and when I had it I couldn't imagine the ActiveE would be better but it really is a much more complete, refined electric car. From what I'm told the i3 will be an even bigger upgrade from the ActiveE than the ActiveE was from the MINI-E. That's going to be tough to accomplish, but I'm anxiously waiting to see. For now I'll keep on racking up the miles and enjoying the ride!

2 Good 2 Be True?

225 days to drive 22,222.2 miles.
I've plugged in 482 times.
I've averaged  92.41 miles per charge.
It's cost me roughly $1,200 in electric to power my car 22,222.2 miles. If I had a gas BMW 1 series(128i) it would have cost me roughly $4,200 in gas to drive the same amount of miles. A $3,000 savings in 7 months!
The car has a 32 kWh battery pack.
I've run out of charge 2 times so far and needed to plug into a 120v outlet for a while just to make it home.
I installed 2 public chargers in my restaurant's parking lot so patrons to charge up.
I've averaged 46.2 miles driven between plugging in.
72: The amount of times I would have had to stop for gas if I were driving a BMW 128i
The ActiveE has 2 more seats than the MINI-E did.
The BMW i3 will weigh 2,756lbs which is 1,245lbs less than the ActiveE.
The i3 launches in 12 months...
I recently had the ActiveE on display and handed out BMW i brochures at a Green transportation Expo in Jersey City.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


The guilty(alleged) party
In my previous post you can view a video of a truck hitting my ActiveE and then taking off. It happened yesterday afternoon. I made a police report and luckily I had the whole event captured on the surveillance system at my restaurant so I was able to provide the video and still photos of the perpetrator to the police.

I also printed up dozens of extra pictures of the truck and handed them out to the customers that I am friendly with and asked them to call me if they see the truck in the area. Of course all of my delivery people were also on the lookout as they are driving all over the community all day, every day. I knew if the person was local, it was only a matter of time before we would get him. So today when I had some spare time, I started driving around looking for the truck too.  Shortly after I got a text message from one of my delivery guys directing me to a particular street because he said he thought he saw the truck there. When I pulled up I immediately knew it was the truck we were looking for. Just to be certain I got out and looked at the front bumper and saw fresh white paint and even plastic from my bumper. I called Montclair Police Department and they had a car over in about three minutes. It wasn't long before three guys working in the yard came out to ask what was going on.

The officer explained and asked for the owner of the truck. Evidently they work for a construction company and the owner owns the truck but he wasn't there at the time. The officer then asked if any of them were driving the vehicle yesterday around noon and one of the men admitted he was. The officer then asked if he drove the vehicle in the parking lot of Nauna's and if he hit a car there. After a slight delay he admitted to doing so, but qualified the statement with "But I waited for about 5 minutes and nobody came out so I left" The officer then told him that he knows he's lying and if continues to do so he will face further charges. He stuck to his story and I actually started to feel bad for him so I asked him if he wanted to watch the video of him "waiting 5 minutes" which I had on my phone. I showed it to him and he just dropped his head and didn't say anything else - maybe he's not as dumb as I originally thought.

The good news is the truck was registered and insured so it looks like I won't have to pay the $500 deductible. I'll still be without the car for a while but at least it won't cost money also. Case closed. On to the next ActiveE adventure... 
ActiveE white paint and bumper plastic were evident on the truck's front bumper

Friday, August 24, 2012

Not Cool!

The above video shows someone hitting my car and taking off while it was parked and charging today. There wasn't too much damage and it appears all superficial but still you have to be a real jerk to hit someone's car like that and just take off. The Montclair PD is currently investigating and I have confidence they'll get the person because I provided many clear pictures of the truck. The video isn't clear enough to capture the license plate but you can see distinguishing details of the truck. I'll update the post when the person is caught which I expect will happen. Sorry about the size of the video, I don't know how to reduce it.

Not too much damage, but enough to cost me $500 for my deductible I'm sure. Plus lose the car for a week or so while it's being fixed.

Monday, August 20, 2012

BMW NA Appoints New Manager of Electric Vehicles

Rich Steinberg plugging in an ActiveE at a 2010 press event in NYC.
BMW just announced that Jacob Harb, BMW North America’s Market Manager, would be taking over for Rich Steinberg as BMW's North American Manager of Electric Vehicle Sales and Strategy, that position has been held by Rich Steinberg for the past four years. Rich will be moving on and taking the post of CEO of the new car sharing program of BMW i called "DriveNow". Initially DriveNow will only operate in San Francisco, and has dispatched 70 ActiveE's for DriveNow already, but the program will expand to include other major cities in the upcoming years.

I've had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Rich in the past three plus years that I have been involved in BMW's electric vehicle program. I give Rich a lot of credit for helping to bring the program to where it is now. There have been a lot of challenges in the MINI-E and ActiveE programs and Rich helped to successfully navigate the program through them. I will miss working with him and wish him the most success possible with his new position. I believe car sharing services like BMW's DriveNow have a very bright future especially in large cities, and I think BMW's decision to be the first luxury brand to launch such a service is a wise one.

I'd like to share the story of the first time I spoke to Rich. It was back in July of 2009 when the MINI-E program first launched. It was a rocky launch to say the least. Back then there was no industry standard for electric vehicle connectors since the J1772 wasn't yet formally adopted and BMW had commissioned ODU to make their connectors for the MINI-E. For reasons beyond BMW's control, ODU delivered the connectors late, and it really made a mess out of the installation process of our wall chargers. Some had the chargers installed without cables and the electricians were then supposed to install the cables at a later date, which should have been no problem. However some of the electrical inspectors didn't like the fact that the wall chargers had a UL listing and the cable and connector had another UL listing. They wanted the whole unit to have the same UL approval and were failing the inspections. I was one of the people caught up in the mess and I had the car, but no way to legally charge it since my charger had a bright red 'fail' sticker on it. I could of course charge the car on 120v, but the MINI-E had a huge 35kWh battery, and would take over 30 hours to charge meaning I could only drive it every other day.

I was upset as was many of the other MINI-E lessees and vented on our MINI-E Facebook page. Then one day I was at work and my cell phone rang and it was Rich on the line. We spoke for about 45 minutes and I made it clear I wasn't happy. The car was very expensive to lease($850/month) and I couldn't use it. Rich took the time to explain everything to me; why the connector was delayed, what the UL listing issue was, why some inspectors are interpreting the code different than others, why they launched the program without the cable issue resolved and then assured me I wouldn't pay anything until my wall charger was inspected and approved and BMW would do everything to make things right. He transformed my anguish to optimism and probably saved me as a BMW customer. I can't imagine how many phone calls like that Rich must have made back then, but I was impressed that he took it upon himself to speak directly to the affected customers and didn't pass it on to someone that reports to him. This in my opinion was the sign of a good leader.

I had an opportunity to talk to Rich recently about this move and he was very enthusiastic about it. Rich likes challenges and he's always volunteered to take on new ventures for BMW. Years ago Rich took the post of Manager of Product Strategy for MINI USA when many thought MINI wouldn't be successful franchise for BMW here in the US, that could have been a real career killer if MINI failed, but instead the brand flourished. He then accepted the position of Manager of Electric Vehicle Sales and Strategy back in 2008 when there were no electric cars anywhere. Who knew at the time if BMW would eventually make and sell electric vehicles as there was still so many hurdles to get past. He's now has led the program to within a year of the launch of BMW's first production EV, the i3 so I guess he see's it as time to move on the the next new(and uncertain!) venture which at the moment is BMW i's car sharing division. I wish him well, and hope our paths cross again sometime in the future. 

Which brings me to the new head of EV Operations and Strategy for BMW NA, Jacob Harb. Jacob was recently BMW's North American Market Manager and before that held the position of advanced planning and strategy manager. He's taking over for Rich at a great time in my opinion. The four years of R&D in the MINI-E and ActiveE programs have given BMW a lot to work with and they have learned plenty, meaning the lions share of the 'dirty work' is done and soon we get to see the results. With the i3 launch about a year away BMW is going to begin to market the car in the coming months. This means Jacob will undoubtedly be in high demand for interviews shortly after he takes over in September. I have never met Jacob, but hopefully will have the opportunity to do so in the near future. As one of the more vocal supporters of BMW's electric vehicle program I hope to continue the same type of professional relationship that Rich and I had with Jacob. There are some great people in BMW's EV program like Peder Norby, Todd Crook, Chris Neff, Michael Thwaite and many others that have been in the program since 2009. We're all anxious to see what Jacob has in store for the program, and are all willing to offer our support if called upon, just as we did for Rich.

Below is a video I made with Rich at the 2011 New York Auto Show. Tom Plucinsky asked Rich and I questions about the ActiveE from a live Facebook Feed. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

ActiveE Technical Issues(part 1): Splines, Splines Everywhere There's Splines!

The teeth (splines) of this ActiveE gear have been grinded away
What the hell's a spline you ask? Don't feel bad I didn't know what it was either and I'm a fairly "technically competent" guy. So when an ActiveE Electronaut posted in our Facebook group a month ago that he needs a new motor because he had 'spline failure' I had to look it up. Turns out splines are just the technical term for the teeth of both the male and female ends of a gear. Spline: A flexible connection featuring grooves cut in a shaft that mate with corresponding grooves in a connecting member, such as a hub. 

Suddenly everybody in the group was buzzing about splines like it was some advanced technology that BMW somehow under-engineered. It's just a simple gear, nothing complicated about it. Question is why are they failing on so many cars, and on a personal level why hasn't mine failed? I have way more miles than anyone else who has an ActiveE, I'm close to 21,000 miles now and the next person (that I know of) is around 13,000. Plus, many of the gears are failing on cars with less than 5,000 miles! Why would that be?

Possible Causes: (my opinion only)

Abusive driving. Maybe the people that have had the gear failure are just really punishing the car beyond its capabilities. There were a few MINI-E drivers who were known to have really abused their cars which is why BMW tightened up the rules and return policies on the ActiveE, making us more accountable for the condition the car is in when we return it. Probability: 5%

Bad batch of gears. It could be that BMW simply got a bad batch of gears that were defective metal. Probability: 15%

The car is too heavy. The drive system for the ActiveE wasn't designed for the ActiveE. It was designed for the 2013 BMW i3 which will be about 1,300lbs lighter than the ActiveE. Could it be the gear just can't handle the stress of applying 184lb-ft of torque to move a car that is over 4,000lbs before you add the weight of the passengers? Probability: 20%

Improper lubrication from factory. All of the pictures of the gears that ActiveE drivers have received from their service departments show the gears devoid of any grease. Gears like this obviously need an ample amount of lubrication or they will grind themselves away in short order. Did the factory just forget to grease some of the gears? Probability: 25%

Lubrication leak/washed away. Perhaps the factory did properly lubricate the gears, but there is either a design flaw that allows moisture to seep in and wash the grease away or there is some kind of faulty seal that allowed moisture in on some cars and that's why their gears failed and others didn't. Probability: 35%

Rusted & Stripped
Then maybe it's a combination of a couple of these possible causes. Maybe the gear is stressed to its limit because of the extra weight, there's an issue with moisture getting in there somehow and the ActiveE drivers love the feel of the instant torque so much they punch the accelerator every chance they get. Or maybe I'm missing it completely. If you think you have a better cause, please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section. Of course if a BMW technician who knows the real reason(s) wants to post there also anonymously, I won't mind that either. ;)

Technical issues are expected with the ActiveE. This is a car that is purely a test vehicle, meant to fully vet the components that will be used in the 2013 BMW i3. BMW also gets the CARB credits they need, which personally I'm fine with, and they have never disputed that the ZEV credits are part of the reason they did the MINI-E and ActiveE programs. However as long as these programs allow people like me to drive electric, and help BMW improve the technology so the cars they begin selling next year are the best they can be, then I think they are more than worth while. Just about everything in the ActiveE is new. The motor, the power electronics, the KLE(onboard charger), the battery modules, the active thermal management system and the entire high voltage battery system have never before been used an any vehicle so it would be foolish to think there wouldn't be technical issues like this. I've been a big supporter of the BMW electric vehicle program and sometimes when I take a step back and look at my posts I think I may be too positive without showing all of the challenges we in the program face from time to time. That's why I've decided to add a new series of posts called "ActiveE Technical Issues" that I will mix in with my other posts, highlighting the problems the car (and the people driving them) face.

This by no means is an indication that I don't love the car and regret applying for the program, which I don't for a minute. The ActiveE is really a great electric car and just about everyone I know who has one feels the same way. But it is a test car, and the technical deficiencies as compared to a production car do come out from time to time, and I'm going to do my best to write about them, just as I do for all the great qualities the car has.

This is how the gear should look
Splines Splines Everywhere there's Splines
Failing on the ActiveE, Breaking up my mind
Do This don't do That or you'll Break your Splines...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

BMW BLOG: Living with a BMW ActiveE (part 3)

Before I got my ActiveE I was contacted by Horatiu Boeriu, founder and managing editor of BMWBLOG and asked if I would like to do a series of posts on his site about living with an ActiveE. BMWBLOG is one of the (if not the) most well respected website that covers all things BMW. I thought this would be a great venue to expose the faithful BMW 'motorheads' to electric drive - BMW style.

It's really my hope that some of the readers there that may not have even considered looking at the new BMW i brand cars, might have some interest once they read about my experiences with an electric BMW. 
The third installment in my series was just posted today and it's called "Plugging In". It could have well just been a post here so I'm cheating today and rather than giving you all a fresh post here, I'm giving you the link to the post on BMWBLOG... I only have so much spare time to write! :)

BMWBLOG: Living with a BMW ActiveE (Part 3)