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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Untimely End of BMW ActiveE #1

The large black case up high near the center of the car is one of the three battery cases in the ActiveE. Even though this was a pretty severe accident the battery was unharmed and could be safely discharged.
All good things come to an end. Last Thursday, August 15th, I was involved in a pretty bad accident while driving home from work. Neither the car nor I fared very well, but fortunately I'm still here. Unfortunately, the first ActiveE ever to be delivered to a customer (me) is no longer in commission. It sacrificed itself to protect me and it did a very good job of it.

I'm not going to go into every detail of the accident because it's still under investigation, but this is basically what happened: I was driving along in the center lane of a highway and there was a car in the left lane just slightly in front of me.  The car veered into my lane and was about to come in contact with the front left of my car. I quickly looked right and to my right-rear to see if there were any vehicles in the right lane. There weren't so I drifted right into the slow lane to avoid being hit by the car entering my lane from the left. As I was just about completely in that lane and was done checking my right, I looked forward and was surprised to see I was about 15 feet from a dump truck that was driving very slowly, probably about 20mph. I quickly applied the brakes, but I wasn't able to stop in time, because the truck was going so slowly, and I drove into the back of it.  I hadn't seen this vehicle at all previously for a couple reasons. First, this one-mile stretch of highway has no streetlights on either side of the road and is cut through a mountain with 200 feet of rock wall on each side of the road so it is pitch dark at night.  Secondly, it is also a long steep upgrade so heavy construction vehicles like a dump truck will likely drive up it very slowly. I was traveling about 65mph (the speed limit there) but since the truck was crawling up the hill I must have closed ground on it very quickly. The truck did not have its mandatory flashing hazard lights on when traveling below 45mph. In fact, I didn't even see its taillights at all so if they were on and functional then perhaps they were dimmed by mud or other construction film. I know you can't just drive into a vehicle from the rear, so to that extent I assume responsibility here, but getting cut off combined with the truck not properly lit with flashing hazard lights at night definitely contributed to the unfortunate incident. I have been involved in a few accidents in my life but never were any of them declared my fault in any way. I guess my streak is over because I do acknowledge some of the blame on this one.
You can see how dark this area is here. This was taken by a friend who came to see if I was OK. He actually got a call from someone who drove by and saw my car on the side of the road and recognized it. He called my friend who happened to be 5 minutes away and he actually beat the police and emergency crews there.
As for me I have a lumbar compression fracture and two bulging disks. I'll be wearing a hard upper-body back brace for six to eight weeks but I shouldn't need surgery as long as the fracture heals the way it is expected to. I'm cautiously optimistic because after four days of pretty severe pain it's now starting to feel a little better each day. I'm pretty much just resting to give it the best chance to heal. The more movement I make the longer it will take for the fracture to heal so I'm obeying doctor's orders and taking it easy.
The interior right after the accident
I always like to look for a positive side of any bad situation. Yeah, I'm hurt a bit and the ActiveE is totaled - not much good there, but this could have gone much, much worse. Immediately after the accident my lower back felt like it was on fire and I couldn't even stand up on my own so I don't even like to think about what could have been. The car really saved me. The airbags all deployed and the seat belt restrained me like it's designed to. The interior of the car looked perfect, there were no intrusions at all. Within seconds BMW Assist activated and was talking to me; asking me if I was OK and if I needed assistance. They called the police and ambulance for me. I couldn't have done this myself. I was in bad shape and had no idea where my cell phone was. To top it off, no passing cars stopped to assist me. I crawled out of the car because it was sitting in the slow lane of the highway and I was fearful somebody else would come along and hit me again. I was laying on the side of the road for about fifteen to twenty minutes before my friend pulled up because he got a call from someone who saw my car there and recognized it. It's hard to believe nobody stopped to see if anyone needed help. This reminds me of a few years ago when I passed a minivan that had just turned over on the road. I was driving my MINI-E and I even did a blog post about how I stopped and helped the guy.  Unfortunately, I didn't have any good Samaritans come to my aid, and just laid there as the cars whizzed past me until my friend arrived. About a minute or two after my friend came the police and ambulance showed up and they loaded me up and took me to the hospital

Better Days: First delivery ceremony
So here is the humorous part (yes there is actually something funny about the incident). I'm in the ambulance, being transported to the hospital. My neck is secured by a brace and I have an oxygen mask on and I hear over the driver's radio: "The vehicle has just burst into flames, call Fire for assistance."  As much pain as I was in, I immediately felt 100 times worse. As any of you who follow this blog know, I'm a huge advocate for electric vehicles, so all I could think of was how damaging this was going to be for all electric cars, especially if someone got hurt trying to put out the fire and I would be the cause of it! Fox News would no doubt have a special broadcast about how the electric car burst into flames after an accident. This would be especially devastating to BMW considering the timing of the BMW i3 release in only months. So I reached up, pulled off the oxygen mask and was trying to speak. I got out the words to the medic, "It's an experimental electric car, warn the first responders, it's an electric car!" The medic then went up and told the driver who radioed the information to the people on the scene. A few seconds later the response was ,"Are you talking about the correct vehicle, this is not a white BMW here that is on fire,"  They were evidently talking about a different accident that coincidentally happened at the same time.  I was so relieved.  I was really crushed thinking about how bad this could have been and how the media would run with it like they did with the Chevy Volt that caught on fire three weeks after a federal crash test. Funny, nobody heard about the gas car in New Jersey that caught on fire on the night of August 15th after an accident, did you? I bet if it was my ActiveE, it would have been plastered all over the news.

All that's left of ActiveE #1
So now it's nearly a week later and I'm beginning to feel better. I realize the ActiveE is gone and appreciate how well it was built to absorb the energy of such a severe collision and protect me inside. BMW Assist worked perfectly and was there to assist me within seconds. Without them I would have definitely waited longer for emergency services to arrive. I appreciate the outpouring of well wishers from the ActiveE community. Many have sent me emails and even Get Well cards addressed to my restaurant. BMW has been great also. I've been getting emails from BMW employees asking how I am from both BMW North America and from BMW AG in Munich. The BMW i EV team sent flowers to my house and cleaned my belongings out of the car and delivered them to me the day after the accident. They even removed one of my EF-OPEC license plates and sent it along with my stuff which was pretty cool 

Besides all of that, I have to mention that three of the other ActiveE lessees have even offered me their car for the remainder of the lease period. I can't express how great that made me feel. I wouldn't think of taking anyone up on that offer, but it's so nice to see people care so much that they would actually offer me their car. Without revealing the name of the person who sent it, I want to share with you one of the offers:


First, I am sorry to hear about the accident and I am glad you are for the most part ok. Since you do so much for the EV world and you did so much for me, I wanted to offer my car if they can't fix yours or find you a replacement. This does not mean I am trying to get out of the ActiveE program, it just means you do a better job promoting EVs then all the other people in the ActiveE group and I don't want to see that end. I have enjoyed every one of my XX,XXX miles but I know it can't compare to your 60,000. I am sure you have a ton of people worrying about you and a ton of emails to answer, so just keep it in the back of your head if you need anything. I wish you well and let me know if I can help in any way.

Again, I really can't express how great that made me feel to read that. I've said this before and really mean it: One of the greatest parts of being in the MINI-E and ActiveE programs has been meeting so many fantastic people who are in the program as well as communicating with complete strangers who have contacted me through my blogs. It's made the whole experience that much more enjoyable. What's next? I'm not 100% sure. The BMW i3 is on the top of my want list but the US launch is still about 8 months away. Maybe once I'm healed enough to start driving again the good people at BMW could find a way to get me one of them a bit early? Too much to ask? Perhaps, since they may not be making US spec i3's for a while as the European launch is going to happen 4 or 5 months before they start shipping cars to the US. Still, I can dream right? Stay tuned...



Wednesday, August 7, 2013

More Electric Choices on The Horizon

The Mercedes B-Class EV will be available in the US in early 2014
Back in 2008 when I first applied to lease my MINI-E, there were very little electric vehicle options. If you wanted to drive an electric car you could build one yourself,  you could buy a $109,000 Tesla Roadster or you could do as I did and apply to lease the MINI-E. A lot has changed in the past 5 years. Today you can buy or lease one of about 10 cars that plug in, and the good news is more are on the way.

I was paid a visit yesterday by some nice men from Daimler who stopped by my restaurant for some lunch and just happened to have one of the few Mercedes B-Class EV's made. It's basically a standard B-Class that has been fitted with a powertrain and battery pack that is supplied to Daimler by Tesla. It has a 28kWh battery, a 134 hp motor with 228 lb-ft of torque. Mercedes says it will go 0-60 in "under 10 seconds",  it has a top speed of 100 mph and has a city range of 115 miles. I expect the EPA range rating to come in pretty close to what the BMW i3 does (about 90 miles per charge).
The i3 with the rear seats down
It seats 5 and has a lot of cargo room in the back, especially with the rear seats down, although it didn't look like they will lay flat when down like the BMW i3's rear seats do. While this is really a different vehicle from the i3, it is inevitable that comparisons will be made. They are both electric vehicles with similar range from premium German auto manufacturers that will be released about the same time. They will probably be similar in cost, although I believe the Benz will cost a few thousand dollars more. However they couldn't be any more different
Parked out in front of Nauna's
if you look at how their manufacturers produced them. Mercedes took an existing gas car, outsourced the drivetrain and battery system from Tesla and put it together. BMW basically reinvented the car with the i3. It's a purpose designed and built electric vehicle, the first volume production car ever to be made mostly of aluminum, carbon fiber and thermoplasic and has an entirely different manufacturing process from any other car ever made. BMW has incorporated mostly all renewable energy, materials and processes in the entire manufacturing chain. It is indeed a giant leap forward in car manufacturing. All that said, do customers really care about all that? Some do for sure, but I suspect many feel that they are already doing their part by buying an electric vehicle alone, so they really may not care how it was made. They want a car that's fast and fun, has utility and is affordable. So how much the sustainable manufacturing process impacts sales is yet to be seen. 

These are just a couple of the new electric offerings coming to market within the next year. I hadn't really given the B-Class much consideration but after seeing it in person and talking with the folks from Daimler it seems like they are really making a go at it. That's good news because the more electric choices the better!
The 2014 BMW i3

The 2014 Mercedes Benz B-Class EV

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Past 52K & Still Rolling Along Quietly

With only about 6 months left of the two year lease, things have been getting a little quiet around here. I haven't been posting here as frequently and have instead been paying more attention to my BMW i3 blog because there has been so much news about the i3 lately. I haven't lost interest in the ActiveE and I still love driving it every day, but the newness has worn off a bit and realizing I was only "borrowing" it for 24 months I can't help but look forward to the car that the ActiveE was really designed to help refine for production, the i3. No more Trial Lease programs. I'll own my i3 and won't have to worry about a countdown 'till they take it back like I did with the MINI-E and now the ActiveE. Don't get me wrong, I've loved being involved in these programs. They have allowed me to drive great electric cars that were very rare, rack up as many miles as I wanted to and just hand back the keys without any worry of a mileage penalty. It's just now I'm getting ready to move on to what BMW has been working on all of this time; their first production electric vehicle, the i3.

I recently passed 52,000 miles on my ActiveE and recorded my 1,200th recharge. That's pretty intense usage for only 18 months of driving and no doubt the data BMW is getting from my car has been useful. That's really about 3 1/3 years of driving for the average US driver. By my calculations my battery has lost only about 8% of its usable capacity. This is well within reason for this amount of use and is encouraging to me for long term battery life, although I realize battery degradation is not perfectly linear.
Other than that everything has been pretty much status quo. The car is running fine, although I had to have the communications COMBOX replaced recently. That didn't effect my driving it at all, I just couldn't use the BMW Assist if I needed to while it was not working. It's interesting to me that I no longer have as many things to report on here because now that I know pretty much everything about the car, and reported the features here, it's just a regular car to me. That's a good thing though. It's just a car that I drive to work and to run errands. It's not some special, strange thing that people need to adjust to. EVs need to be "normal" for mass adoption. They can't be something that's filled with drama where there's always something interesting to write about. They just need to be reliable cars that do what's needed and allow the driver to enjoy the time they spend in them and the ActiveE is doing just that. In fact for me it's doing it very well.  :)

Side Note: I was fortunate to be invited to the BMW i3 World Premier last week and did a blog post about it on my i3 blog. You can read about it HERE if interested.