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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I've Got Gas

Not a happy camper
The ActiveE is a trial lease test program and it's the lessees obligation to bring in the car every 3 months or 5,000 miles for regular service. BMW needs to download the data the car has been recording, as well as check it thoroughly to make sure everything is working properly. After 4 years in BMW's e-mobility test programs I also know there are going to be technical issues from time to time. Still, even with knowing this is part of the agreement, when my car is in for service, all I want is to get it back as fast as possible. Everything else, even the great gas cars in BMW's new car lineup is just a disappointment after driving electric for this long.

It's not like I get bad vehicles as loaners. JMK BMW always gives me a highly desirable car that is practically new. For the past week now I've been driving a very low mileage 2013 328i with x-Drive since bringing my ActiveE in for my regular 5k service. It's fast, luxurious, spacious and pretty fuel efficient considering its power and size. Trouble is, I'm miserable with it. I've driven it about 700 miles and spent over $100 on gas. If I had my ActiveE it would have cost me about $35 in electric to drive the same 700 miles. However it's not about the money. I just really hate going to gas stations any more. Plus, as nice as it drives for a gas car it's not nearly as smooth, quiet and enjoyable to drive as my ActiveE - and it's not even close.

Having i3's lined up for loaners at BMW i dealers would be a good move
I've discussed this before here and I've talked with many of the other ActiveE lessees about wanting an electric vehicle for my loaner car while my EV is being serviced. I really hope BMW gets this and makes providing loaner i3's one of the requirements for dealerships that want to be certified i brand dealers. By dedicating a few i3's as loaners BMW can keep their electric vehicle customers happy and they can also expose some of their gas customers to e-mobility by letting them also use an i3 as a loaner when their gas car is in for service. Obviously the dealer would need to discuss the range with the client and make sure they aren't going to need to drive very far while they had it, but I'm sure that in many cases an i3 loaner would work fine for many of their customers. Just getting people to try an electric car is half the battle. Letting them have an i3 for the day while their gas BMW is getting a brake job or a tune up will definitely get many them thinking about buying an electric car.

Another advantage of electric loaners is it will eliminate the need for dealers to obsess over the fuel level of the car when they give it to you. Besides looking over the car for damage before they give it to you, what do they make sure you understand and sign that you agree to do? Dealers always make sure you see the gas level when you take the loaner and tell you that it's your obligation to bring it back with at least that much gas or you'll be charged some exorbitant amount of money per gallon. With an EV loaner, instead of getting a lecture about the gas level, you'll most likely to hear: "Bring it back with any state of charge you like, don't worry about it". Unlike gasoline it's so inexpensive to charge the car so why bother asking people to recharge it? I would assume BMW i dealers will be equipped with a DC quick charger so they can recharge the car in short order anyway.

So back to my situation. Normally the regular service only takes a day but I'm also having some work done which is why they have had it for a week now. Lately I've experienced a few GFCI faults which suspended my charging session on my public ChargePoint charger. This same issue plagued many of the ActiveE's last summer and both ChargePoint and BMW put out a software update meant to deal with the issue and it seemed to temporarily work but now the issue has starting back up again. I'm not the only person to have these issues lately either. I've spoken with a number of other ActiveE drivers(on both coasts) that are beginning to see GFCI faults also the past few weeks. It's no coincidence that this is starting to happen to us all at once now because the problem also began to happen last year around this time, just as it started to get hot outside. It's important to note this issue doesn't occur with EVSE's from all manufacturers. For example it doesn't happen when charging on AeroVironment or Blink chargers, so I would imagine the issue has to do with the communication between the car and the EVSE, and how they both interpret the J1772 protocol. For some reason the ChargePoint equipment is determining the information it's getting from the car is "out of spec" but equipment from other manufacturers determines it's within spec so it continues to charge. During charging the components in the KLE(the onboard charger) heat up as all electronic components do when current is running through them, but in this case the car senses there is a problem and shuts off the charger. You can easily restart the charging session if you happen to be there with the car, but that's not usually the case when you are charging at a public charger. We didn't have any issues the past 6 months or so, but now that the ambient temperature is heating up the issue is resurfacing - and I suspect it will only get worse as we move into the summer. Hopefully BMW can once and for all end the GFCI fault issue sometime soon. I'm actually surprised they haven't fixed it yet since BMW and ChargePoint both know of the problem and have worked together on it. In fact BMW i Ventures recently invested in the ChargePoint network so these two companies are no stranger to each other.

These are the kinds of things the ActiveE program is there for. Finding and correcting any issue the cars may have before BMW sells the i3 is what it's all about. I really don't mind these problems at all, in fact I expected them. As long as BMW identifies and fixes them so future i brand customers don't have to deal with any of this. I would also hope at some point BMW talks to the ActiveE participants to explain what they learned from our cars and how the problems we have experienced will not happen to i3 and i8 customers. The ActiveE group in large has been great about extended service visits and time without their car, but many also have expressed the desire to hear BMW tell us how our participation has helped and why these issues won't occur should they decide to buy an i3 or i8 when their ActiveE lease is up. In fact getting a thorough explanation may actually make the difference in whether or not they buy an i3 or i8.

The ActiveE's trunk would never fit all this
Well hopefully I'll be reporting that I'm back on electrons sometime soon. However the scarcity of parts for the ActiveE sometimes causes service visits to be longer than they would normally be for a regular production car. It hasn't been all that bad though, the 328i I have is actually a really nice car in spite of the expensive smelly stuff I have to pour into it every 3 or 4 days. After a few days I've finally gotten used to the start/stop technology it has and the trunk is actually a big plus for me as I frequently need to pick up supplies for my restaurant. The ActiveE's trunk is hardly useful at all for hauling stuff. The gas 1-Series has a small trunk to begin with, but the ActiveE's is much smaller because the e-motor and charging electronics intrude into the trunk space. That's just another example of why BMW will not sell converted gas cars as electric vehicles and will purpose build their EV's from a clean sheet of paper. You can't convert a gas car to electric and not make compromises, and compromises on a new BMW i electric car just wouldn't be acceptable.


  1. Hope you get your car back soon Tom. As for the electric car loaner program, how would a customer charge it up while they were using it? If they didn't already have an electric car they wouldn't likely have a charger at home either or am I missing something?

    1. Paul: I don't have any data to support this, but I bet in many instances people drive the loaner they get very little. If you drop your car off at the dealer in the morning for a tune up or brake job, most times they call you later the same day to pick it up. I think in cases like this an i3 loaner would work perfectly fine.

      Of course if the dealer knew they were doing an extensive repair job that would take a few days then I wouldn't recommend it, but most of the times the customer has the loaner car for a very short period, like a day or two and 100 miles would in most cases be just fine. Also, the car does come with a portable 120v charger that can be plugged into just about any any household outlet. It would fully charge the car overnight anyway. You do not need a special 240v charger at home, people just get those so they can charge their cars faster.

    2. Additionally, the i3 also has the REX option, so I suppose they can loan those out instead for ICE drivers. But Tom is right, the 120v works fine for a few days (of moderate driving) not the kind that Tom and I drive... 50 miles of EV on 120v took close to 12 hours in the first week or so of my ActiveE experience.

  2. I am certan BMW has engineered the problems out of the charging issue you have witnesses but as you say it would be superlative if they fully explain what the root of the cause was and how it was overcome

  3. I had the same Chargepoint fault when we took a trip up to Riverside in April. It was really annoying since we were pretty low on battery and were counting on that charge. Hopefully, that gets cleared up as the technology improves and evolves.

    From reading the AE facebook page, I think I've been really lucky in terms of the time our service calls have been. I don't think any of them have been more than 3 or 4 days. I got Buzz back the other day in < 48 hours. So, kudos to BMW of San Diego there.

    It's funny - I haven't minded getting the ICE cars as loaners that much (usually a 3-series, once an 128), but I HAVE noticed how much "rougher" the transmission seems to me after driving electric for a year.