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Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Long, Long Way to Go

On the way to work today I stopped at Lowes Home Improvement store to pick up a couple things. As I quietly rolled into a parking spot I could see a guy that was walking towards my car looking intently at it and and then making eye contact with me. After driving my MINI-E for 2 1/2 years and now the ActiveE for nearly 2 years I can immediately identify the people that are just curious about my car from the people that are not only curious, but want to ask me about it and this guy was definitely the latter.

So I hopped out of the car once I parked and looked right back at him and before he could say anything I said (as I usually do in these instances) Yep, it's all electric and it's a real BMW. With a big smile he said that's what he thought be didn't know BMW made an electric car. I then proceeded to give him the whole MINI-E and ActiveE history and how they are leading up to the i3 which will be available in a few months. So we chatted about electric cars for a bit and he then tells me a little story about his personal EV experience that occurred about 8 months ago. He was at a Nissan dealership buying an Altima and while the paperwork was being completed he walked around the sales floor and was checking out a LEAF. His salesman came over to tell him he was all ready to see the finance department so he asked the salesman about the LEAF and if they were selling. His salesman rolled his eyes and said sarcastically "Oh yeah, like hotcakes. Everybody needs a car that only lets you drive 25 or 30 miles from your house".

As much as I know this is happening I still get depressed when I hear stories like this. A little over a year ago I did a long blog post here that discussed the less than stellar marketing and poor dealership experience that has been in my opinion really hurting electric car adoption here in the US. There are enough obstacles to overcome already without getting hit with "friendly fire" like this, but regardless it's just another road block that EV's have to get past.

Tesla has talked at great length about why they don't think the dealership model will work successfully when electric cars are sold alongside gasoline or diesel powered cars. They claim it's just not possible to extoll the virtues of electric vehicles without simultaneously criticizing the rest of their product line, which just happens to generate the bulk of your profits. However Tesla is in a different position than the other OEM's. They don't currently sell any gas powered cars so it's easy for them to say you can't sell both in the same showroom. The others have no choice, it's either sell them side by side or don't sell electric vehicles at all.

Another problem is it takes a salesperson three times longer to complete a sale of an electric car than it does a conventionally powered vehicle and time is money in the sales biz. Customers that are interested in an EV are going to ask a lot of questions that the sales person just doesn't have to deal with when they sell a "regular" car. So while I completely understand why so many car salesmen seem uninterested in selling the EV that their brand makes, I don't excuse it because it's really just a matter of being lazy. If they took even a small amount of time to learn more about electric cars, and specifically the ones they sell, they could probably sell one nearly just as fast as they can a conventional car. After all it is their job to have at least a reasonable understanding of the products they sell. Not having the knowledge or information on hand is part of why it takes longer. I'm sure that manufacturers could also do a better job of preparing the sales force and providing comprehensive point-of-sale literature to help assist the sales process.

What is encouraging though is that even despite the less than stellar dealership experience that many people encounter, plug-in car sales continue to rise. In 2011 there were a little over 17,000 plug in car sales in the US. That number increased to over 52,000 in 2012 and this year we are on pace to sell over 90,000 plug-ins. I can only imagine how much higher the numbers would be if the majority of the client advisers in the dealerships were enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the plug-in cars they sell. There definitely are people that get it and do a great job selling the EV their brand offers, but I find those to be the exception more than the rule. BMW has an advantage with bringing the i cars to market a couple years after some of their competition started selling cars with plugs. They have had the chance to observe and see where others have made mistakes. Hopefully they have watched, listened and learned. I know it won't be perfect, but I at least hope the client advisers don't steer their customers away from the i3 and i8 and towards their conventionally powered offerings because there may be a bit more work involved in completing the sale. We'll find out soon enough!   :)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Old Meets New

The 1917 Detroit Electric was the hit of the car meet
Cars and Croissants is a local, informal gathering of rare car owners who meet on weekends in Northern New Jersey. Fellow ActiveE driver Chris Neff has been going to the meets for the past couple years to show off his electric ActiveE. While the parking lots where the events are held are filled with Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and other rare and very expensive cars, the ActiveE and other electric cars attract a lot of attention from the other car owners. These are car buffs (some would say car "nuts") so they are very interested in anything rare or different, both of which the ActiveE is.
My ActiveE with a Ferrari on one side and the Detroit Electric behind it was in nice company!

Chris has also recruited other EV owners to attend so now there is usually an "electric section" every week and I go whenever my work schedule allows it. This week we had a special treat. Just before I arrived a completely restored 1917 Detroit Electric silently rolled into the lot and parked right next to a Model S. Needless to say this made the electric section the busiest area of the whole parking lot. However they weren't there to see the Model S, the Roadster, the Ford Focus electric or the two ActiveEs, everyone wanted to check out the Detroit Electric and I don't blame them as it was gorgeous.

The owners recently bought it and spent a lot of time and obviously money restoring it back to the original form. They even had to have some of the parts like the decorative wheel hub covers custom made. The owner said he has driven it over 30 miles on a charge and that it still had a lot more in it but he didn't want to push it. The original Detroit Electrics were known to go up to 100 miles per charge depending on which battery they had but the top speed is only about 25 mph which was typical of cars back then.

It was great to see such a piece of electric car history up close. Chris got the contact information from the owner and hopefully we can get him to come to some of our New Jersey Electric Automobile Association meetings and other electric events. The car was just brilliant to admire in person and the pictures here don't even do it justice.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

New ActiveE For National Plug in Day

My "new" ActiveE
Shortly after I had my accident BMW let me know they would find a way to get me another ActiveE for the remainder of the trial lease period, which will coincide with the release of the BMW i3. The timing worked out perfectly because the BMW i program managers will soon begin getting i3 company cars to drive so they had an ActiveE they could spare. We were able to get everything worked out just in time so I could bring my new-used ActiveE to National Plug in Day.

My "new" ActiveE had only 5,900 miles on it and compared to my old car which had over 53,000 miles and it feels like a brand new car. It's still early, but my measurements so far indicate it still has 27kWh's usable for me which would be expected with such low mileage and use. My old ActiveE with 53K and having been charged 1,325 times only had about 25kWh's available, having lost about 8% of its original capacity. So I'm good for a few more miles per charge now and that's not a bad thing!

We had 4 or 5 LEAF's show up
This weekend I brought it to the North Jersey National Plug in Day event held at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ. It was a great place for the event and kudos goes out to Michael and Pamela Thwaite for scouting the location and getting permission to have it there. The Liberty Science Center recently installed solar canopies over most of their parking lot and also installed twelve electric vehicle chargers, making this a prime location for such an event.

This is the third annual National Plug in Day and it was so great to see how far we've come in only three years. The first NPID was held in 2011 and there were only a few events held in mostly the big cities in the country. I was at the one in New York City, since there were none in New Jersey that I knew of. There were a few Volts, one LEAF, a Tesla, my MINI-E and a plug in Prius in attendance that day back in 2011. This year there were over 95 events, with thousands of cars on display across the country. At our event we had about 25 EV's including a few Model S's, a Tesla Roadster, a few ActiveE's, a few LEAF's, a couple Honda Fit Ev's, Volts, Ford Focus EV's, a smart Electric Drive, a Ford C-Max Energi plug-in, a Plug in Prius, a Rav4 EV, an iMiEV and a Zero electric motorcycle.

One of the only RAV4 EV's in NJ
We were there most of the day, talked to many of the visitors coming to the Science Center and even gave out some test rides. What is so encouraging to me is how the attitude of the public is beginning to change. A few years ago people looked at me with great hesitation when I would tell them my car is 100% electric. I could tell they were thinking I must be some kind of weirdo or extreme environmentalist, but that perception is changing. As more and more electric vehicles are becoming available and more people see them on the roads and parked in their neighbors driveways they are slowly becoming "normal". Sure it will be a long, slow process to get the majority of the public ready to embrace ditching their oil burner for an electric vehicle, but the tide is definitely turning. I can clearly see that in how people approach me with questions or comments about EV's now. They are much more open to discussing them and they look genuinely interested and ask questions. Back in 2009 or 2010 when I had my MINI-E on display and would talk to people about it, many people looked at electric vehicles as almost like a science project, and something perhaps for the distant future. Now many people are asking me about them because they see one in their future, and that's awesome. Yes, it's really happening!