Sunday, November 18, 2012

If you can't be with the one you love...

Concentration slips away, cause your baby is so far away...

'So far away' is 54.7 miles to be exact.  I dropped the ActiveE off at New Country BMW yesterday for a regularly scheduled service.  You might recall the last time it was in for scheduled service that my expectations received a dash of 'reality' also known as a 3 series loaner. And when I was towed in for an unexpected issue, I didn't bother to go get a loaner due to the distance to the dealer.

Fast-forward to scheduled service number two.  I dropped off the car at the dealer after flying back from an expected ass-whuppin' on the football field (oohh, how the mighty have fallen).  After dropping the car off with the service department I headed off to the transportation desk.  Upon arriving I learned that they somehow hadn't reserved a courtesy loaner for me.  As they began entering my info into the system, I asked 'any chance you have a Mini Cooper available'?  With the receipt of a quick affirmative, I moved on to the more important question.  "Do any of them have a manual transmission?"  As my heart raced, I got the answer I desired.  Yes, we have two of them - a Hardtop and a Clubman.  'Hardtop' came out of my mouth before he had the chance to ask which one I wanted.  And there it was, no dash of reality ruining my expectations this time.

Driving the Mini is a blast.  It reminds me an awful lot of the VW Corrado I had back in the 90's.  I was actually a little depressed that I was only going to have the Mini for the two days necessary for the regularly scheduled service.  Then I got a call from my BMW service advisor.  They had just received their shipment of 'fix' kits for the drive gear wear issue, and would have to keep the ActiveE a few extra days.  As much as I miss the ActiveE, a few more days in a car that feels like a driving a go-cart is definitely welcomed.  Plus eight months in the ActiveE clearly had me jonesing for a manual transmission.  The Mini has been the perfect fix.

As fun as EVs are to drive, I crave a more interactive experience like that of driving a stick. Audi engineers had a stroke of genius when converting an A3 to an EV that can definitely help with this.  They took the paddle shifters resident in the A3 and made them the controls for regenerative braking level.  While not quite a manual transmission, it does add back some interaction and control over the driving experience. Plus, it should maximixe the amount of energy recouped during panic braking situations.  Hopefully other EV manufacturers will learn from Audi.

Driving this Mini also has me wishing that I had had the opportunity to drive the Mini-E.  Even though by all accounts it is much less refined than the ActiveE, the thought of an electric Mini is particularly alluring.  Perhaps one day Mini will consider building a 'born' electric Mini.  Heck, they've exhausted almost every other possible Mini variation, so why not an electric Mini designed from the ground up?

I've got a bit of time until I've got to decide on what my next EV will be, and apparently several more days before I get the current one back.  So for now, I'm going to love the Mini I'm with...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunshine go away today, I don't feel much like dancing

Wait, what?

No offense to Jonathan Edwards (either of them - the singer-songwriter, or the CT based winemaker of the same name whose winery I spend a little too much of my free time in).  Although I'm pretty sure the winemaker doesn't want the sun to go away any more than I do.  Why do I want the sun to keep on shining?  Two reasons.  Sunshine was an anti-war song that still 'plays' well today.  Today, however, many of our wars are oil based.  My solar array has finally been installed, approved and is now live (Shhhh! Don't tell my installer.  I flipped the switch after I noticed CL&P swapped out my old meter with a net meter).  This means that I am no longer a liar, and that I am now driving without a single dollar going to big oil (at least on our primary vehicle).

Although we signed a contract for a 17 panel SunPower SPR-240E array with inverters in each panel, it didn't play out as hoped.  This was due to the complexity of the roof on our 110+ year old home.  Because of wind speed where we live and the height of our roof, the setback for the panels from the edge of our roof ended up larger than we had hoped.  As a result, we had to reduce our array size to a mere 12 panels to keep the panels far enough away from the edge.   This resulted in a 2.88 kW system that will likely generate ~3200 kWh each year here in southern New England.  Perhaps I should have just installed a Vertical Access Wind Turbine like the one Jay Leno put on his garage...  

SunPower PV Array
With the average American home using 11,496 kWh each year, you might wonder what's the point of installing a PV system that only generates 3200 kWh per year.  We're not what you would call average as we're using a bit less than average currently - 8000-8500 kWh is the range we've been in for the past 6 years.  More importantly, however, is the ActiveE.  Even thought the ActiveE is a load, we're still averaging 3.5 miles/kWh.  Ooooh - 3.5 miles/kWh, big deal.  Why is that important related to a solar array install?  There have been plenty of attempts to explain cost per mile of an EV, but every one of them that I've read breaks it down by cost to drive a certain number of miles.  I'd like to try a something a little different here.

Correcting for charging losses, those 3200 kWh/year will power our ActiveE ~10000 miles.  After a little over seven months and 7300 electric miles driven with it we are right on track for 12,000 miles per year.  So our system generates a shade over 83% of the energy we need to power our annual driving habits.  And to be honest, if we had the roof space, we would have built a large enough system to completely offset our annual mileage.  That would have cost us $11900 after all rebates.  So here's the question - would you be willing to spend $11900 today to never have to pay for gas again?  Think about that - if your current car gets 20 mpg, paying $11900 is like prepaying 5 years worth of gas (at today's gas prices) for the benefit of never having to pay for it again - and that's with an inefficient ActiveE.  The BMW i3 is expected to yield an estimated 5 miles/kWh.  The system size necessary to power it 12000 miles in southern New England is only $8350 (or 3.5 years of pre-paid fuel costs). 

The fact is, now even more than most people, I want the sun to shine constantly and watching the meter on my array when the sun is shining makes me feel like dancing.  Sorry Jonathan...

P.S. - I've always enjoyed 'Sunshine'.  Its just that it played so well as an antithesis for this topic that I had to use it in the title.  Having said that, here's my real plug for both JE's.  If you've never experienced it, I highly recommend Jonathan Edwards singing at the [other] Jonathan Edwards Winery.  He plays there almost every summer.  Great wine & great music - almost as good as free electricity from the sun and an EV...

Monday, September 17, 2012

They see me rollin', They hatin'

After six months of driving an electric vehicle, I think I've learned more about people than I have about EVs.  One thing I've found is that people can be dropped into three buckets.  Those that are actively excited about EVs, those who haven't formed an opinion, and those that are haters.  Not surprisingly, the haters are the most vocal group of the bunch. 

Amazingly, a lot of the haters that I've run across are on a car enthusiast forum that I frequent.  I have to admit, I really didn’t see that coming.  Being a car guy and being into EVs, I would’ve figured others were like me.  Don’t get me wrong, many are, but there are also a lot of haters.    On the forum in question, one of the longer running threads is entitled, ‘The Volt is a PR stunt, makes GM no money”.  It was started 2 years ago and has 2000 replies at this point.  Somehow these folks can’t see the future.  I wonder how long it took them to get smart phones.

In addition to being the most vocal of the groups, haters have something else in common.  They are always on the offensive and have an 'answer' for why the virtues of EVs not only won't ever work for them (or the rest of the country for that matter - amazing how these folks 'know' what would work for their neighbors).  You can always see them coming too.  On line or in person they are bashing the cars with their perceptions of the facts.  They never ask intelligent probing questions to understand the vehicle or it's abilities.  This also isn’t EV specific.  They also tend to be haters of anything that doesn’t fit into their definition of the way things should be.  

Not surprisingly, I've yet to come across a hater that actually owns (or leases) an EV.  It isn't hard to do the math as to why that is the case.  First, haters generally take their stance due to a lack of experience and a distortion of the facts.  Makes it unlikely that a hater would be an early adopter of ANYTHING, let alone something like an EV.  Plus, once you take the plunge into an EV, you quickly realize how much better of a vehicle they are.  Nobody that has one expects to ever have an ICE as a daily driver again.  This is completely the opposite of the hater philosophy.  Haters don't like change and look for ways to bash the thing they are hating.  Well, at least until they get one, fall in love and become a super annoying evangelist for the product.  And by super annoying, I mean worse than most of us early adopters.

Another hater trait I've observed is they move from one argument to another desperately trying to find something to prove their point, e.g., directing the conversation from the middle east to the environment to costs to how they would never drive one because it wouldn't work for them.  Seriously people, learn the facts before becoming a hater, it’ll keep you from becoming that person who should’ve chosen to stay silent and be thought a fool, to one who opened their mouth and removed all doubt.

Hater quotes that almost every EV driver or proponent has heard at some point:
·        My daily travels exceed the range of an EV.
·        They’re not that green, I remember reading how the Prius is worse for the environment than a Hummer.
·        You’re just moving the emissions from the tailpipe to the power plant, and those are ‘dirty’ coal emissions.
·        The national grid is shaky as it is and can't handle the extra draw of EVs.

The list goes on and on of these misconceptions.  The truth is, if you are open minded, you can understand how all of these points are false if you are presented with the facts.  The fact is, however, haters are anything but open minded.  So much so that most will likely hang on to their ICE until long after its smart to do so.

Eventually these ‘quotes’ about EVs will end up being similar to these now humorous ‘hater’ quotes about other groundbreaking items:

The Impossible
"You would make a ship sail against the winds and currents by lighting a bon-fire under her deck? I have no time for such nonsense."
— Napoleon Bonaparte on the steamship.

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication."
— Western Union internal memo, 1876.

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."
—Lord Kelvin, President, Royal Society, 1895.

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” 
—Ken Olsen, Founder of DEC, 1977

“It’s a $500 cell phone, what could be so great about it to drive Apple stock higher?”
—Me, at a stock club meeting, March 2007 (AAPL was in the $90s at that point)

Until that day comes, they’ll see me rollin’ in an EV.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Musta Got Lost, Somewhere Down the Line

A Cautionary Tale of a Range Anxiety Cause
“I think I’ve finally got some material for writing that guest blog post we talked about me writing”, she said.  “Actually you don’t have any material, but I do,” as I uncorked a bottle of wine.  So went the conversation when a certain someone returned from a shopping trip recently.

Five Hours Earlier
One of her friends was in town for the weekend, and they wanted to do some shopping.  She told me of their intended stops (four of them, including a necessary stop for dog food as we were going out of town the next day and it would be good if the dog sitter [aka Mom] had some food to give the dog) and asked if I thought she could make it.  Even without calculating exactly how many miles her trip was going to be I knew it would be close – not for your average ActiveE driver, just for her or Don Louv.  Overall our ActiveE is averaging about 3.5 miles/kWh, and someone is bringing that number down despite significantly less than 50% of total seat time.  Once I determined the miles I concluded that with her normal driving habits she’d have somewhere between 2 and 6 miles remaining when she got home.  After warnings about not driving with her normal vigor, they set off.

One Hour Earlier
The phone rings.  “Hi”, she says.  “I’m near your mother’s house and am wondering if I can make it home or if I need to stop by and charge up a bit.”  “What?  You’re where?  None of your stops were within 20 miles of her house.  How did you get there?”  “Long story”, she says – “we’re in Norwich and just want to know if we can make it home – the range indicator shows fewer miles than it is to get home.”  “Its notoriously inaccurate, we’ll need to calculate it ourselves.” I say.  How much battery do you have left an what is your average miles/kWh?”, I ask.  “Where do I check those?” she asks.  Frustration level rises.  While she and her passenger struggle to find the info, I begin plotting a route home from their location to determine how much range they will need.  Eventually they are able to find the information and I calculate that they should be able to make it home with a few miles to spare.  Warnings are again given about driving style and we hang up.  I then ponder how my afternoon may be disrupted by the need to jump in the ICE to head off to some as of yet unknown location to pick them up and wait on BMW to rescue a stranded ActiveE.

Now (OK – actually last Saturday)
Car pulls into driveway, big smile on her face.  “I made it 114 miles!” she says.  “We even had enough range to make a stop at the package store to pick up some wine and sangria!” Good thing, because I’m going to need a glass. “I think I’ve finally got some material for writing that guest blog post we talked about me writing”, she said.  “Actually you don’t have any material, but I do,” as I uncorked a bottle of wine.  Her infamous Beaker frowny face ensues.  “I hate to break it to you, but the trip odometer wasn’t reset before you left – you only went about 98 miles.  On the upside, that’s fairly impressive considering you normally average about 2.9 miles/kWh.  It’s good, but not exactly guest blogger material.”

“So, was your last stop at Kelley’s Pace the only one you didn’t get to make?” I ask.  Long pause.  “No, we only made it to the Westbrook outlets.”  “No Clinton Outlets, no dog food?  Why didn’t you stop for dog food?  It’s right off the highway on the way home.” I say confused.  “We used the GPS to navigate around some traffic on the interstate and for some reason it took us back roads all the way to Norwich.” she says.  “Guess you didn’t realize the GPS won’t bring you back to a highway once you try to route around it. Afraid you’d get lost if you deviated from the GPS directions, I take it?” “Yes, and by the time I recognized where we were, I wasn’t sure I could make it home” she responded.

So there it was – a little more than five months after a bout of inverse range anxiety, it took getting ‘lost’ for somebody to finally develop a case of actual range anxiety.  

Sunday Morning
Fortunately the dog sitter was more than willing to stop at the pet store and pick up dog food on the way to our house for the aforementioned dog sitting stint.  Of course that’s probably because Amelia is her only grandchild.

With anything that doesn’t go as expected, it’s always good to look back and assess what you would do the same or differently so the next time things play out better.  Here are our (I really don’t mean ‘our’) learnings.

  • Don’t proclaim “You know we can’t get gas in this like we can in a ‘normal’ car.  When we run out, we run out.” to your car mates who don’t have much EV experience.  Especially before having any idea as to whether you’re going to make it home.  “I could never own an electric vehicle” is the likely retort just before they decide to take an in car nap.
  • Don’t ‘Count it as a Win’ when you thought you made it 114 miles (but didn’t) after an adventure like this shopping trip.  Good chance someone else views it as good blog fodder.
  • When you are lost, be sure to understand the equation (remaining battery capacity x 27 x average miles/kWh) and compare the result to the distance the iDrive Navigation System indicates to get you to your destination.  The likelihood of this information being useful is 100%.
  • Do stop at the package store – while not preventing a less than flattering blog post, a bottle of wine does make an excellent peace offering.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Almost everyone who was lucky enough to have received an ActiveE has opted to personalize it in some way.  Those personalizations have ranged from stripping the car of its circuit board styled vinyl stickers to adding EV related pin striping to the car.  Most have blogged about their personalizations, or at the very least, added a post or a photo to the BMW ActiveE Facebook Group page.  I’m a bit late to the party with showing off all of the things I’ve done to the car (although there have been photographic hints of a few things in this blog), mostly because it took FOREVER for my vanity plate to finally come in from the CT DMV – well, that and its summer so I’m not blogging as much as I might if it were the depths of winter.
After seeing some of the creative things that many others have done with their ActiveEs, I’ve come to the conclusion that my analytical nature stifles my creativity, or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.  Not that I don’t like what I’ve done, it just amazes me the level of creativity some of the folks with ActiveE's possess.
In my case, I picked up a couple of ‘Powered’ badges from, some chrome letters that spell ELECTRIC, a personalized license plate bracket and one vanity plate.  Not exactly creative genius type stuff.  Of all of these things I’ve done, the one I’m most happy about is where I opted to locate the ‘Powered’ badges.  By chance they fit perfectly inside some of the circuit graphics on the doors – I like them so much in that location that I find other ActiveE’s look naked to me because there’s just open space there.
The other modifications that I’ve made are all on the back of the car – that way anyone following me knows it’s an EV – which is important, because most folks I run across have no idea that BMW has produced an EV, albeit a limited edition field trial EV.  After peeling a few of the circuit board stickers, I added ‘ELECTRIC’ to the upper corner of the trunk lid, a license plate bracket directing people to this blog, and the pièce de résistance, my ‘Solar Power’ vanity plate.  Since CT only allows six characters on a license plate it actually came out SLR·PWR, but you get the point.   

If only it weren’t a lie.
You see, the car isn’t solar powered, at least not yet.  Living in a historic neighborhood threw a bit of a monkey wrench into getting a PV array.  In the end it wasn’t too difficult to get approval, but it did add two months to the process.  And once I got the approval, my roofer’s schedule was filled for most of the summer.  So here we are five and a half months after getting the ActiveE and six months after signing a contract for the solar install, wasting all this fabulous summer sunshine.  On the upside, at least my derriere is staying warm.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Things that go bump in the night (well, anytime really)

The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray – Robert Burns
My ActiveE was back at the dealership recently for its first service appointment.  Like so many others before me, I was provided with an ICE loaner.  I was already working on a blog post comparing and contrasting a BMW EV to a BMW ICE that mirrored the content of a certain beer blog, when an EV guru beat me to the punch.  Throughout this blog I’ve striven (not entirely successfully) to make sure that my posts are unique, or at least don’t infringe too much on others that have blogged about their ActiveE or other EV before me.  But in this case I was stuck - not only was the content too similar, but it was written by a Rock Star (at least in the BMW EV community).  There was just no way to publish that post without looking like a chump.  I guess it could have been worse – I could have hit publish right around the same time as 'It's True, I've Become an EV Snob!' hit cyberspace and/or it could have been written by Ed Begley, Chelsea Sexton or Michael Thwaite (no offense Tom).  Anyway, enough about what could have been and on to what ‘is’.  And by 'is' I mean a post that ended up the complete opposite of the original plan...

From ghoulies and ghosties and wayyyyy too heavy EVs
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!

It was with great anticipation that I drove to the dealership to drop off the ActiveE for its first service.  That anticipation was around what my loaner would be.  I had visions of a 6 series (serious optimism), a Z4, or a Mini.  Mostly though, I wanted a manual transmission.  My hopes were dashed, however, when I got to the transportation desk.  No manual transmissions in the Courtesy Vehicle fleet, and all they had left when I got there were 3 series.  Anticipation, meet ‘reality’.  Reality wouldn’t have been quite so bad if I didn’t have a 60 mile ride home (aka a $20 round trip fuel cost) to think about how I got stuck with the one vehicle I really didn't want.  On the upside, regardless of what vehicle I had gotten (other than a Mini) it provided me the opportunity to drive a current BMW ICE to see how it compared to the ActiveE. 
Still having some ICE in the driveway that gets driven occasionally, I was well aware of the short comings they have that are quickly highlighted when driving an EV for any length of time.  Vibrations, awkward automatic transmission gear changes, noise, tailpipe emissions, brake wear, oil changes - the list goes on and on.  What I was interested in were the differences when it was apples to apples rather than Audis or Ford Rangers to BMWs.
Oddly enough, when I subtracted out those things that are onerous about an ICE I learned something I really didn’t expect.  I learned that the ActiveE isn’t a BMW.  Sure, there's a Roundel and it looks, feels and smells like a 1 series (at least until you start it), but it’s not a BMW.  The conversion from ICE to EV stripped the car of its soul.  You may remember me saying that the ActiveE weighs as much as an Abrams tank.  While I’ve always found that weight very noticeable, I didn’t realize how bad it actually was compared to the rest of BMW's models.  I’m not sure if it’s just the weight or a combination of the weight and rigidity, but it’s immediately apparent when moving from it to a BMW ICE.
As noticeable as this issue was just driving around, I was really surprised when I got to work in the 328.  Employees here seem to love to speed on site, and with the amount of pedestrian traffic we have, the company was forced to install more speed bumps than are probably necessary to control speeds.  I go over at least 7 of them in the tenth of a mile that I drive on site, and in the ActiveE you essentially have to come to a stop to traverse them otherwise the shocks/struts can’t deal with it.  If you chose to go over those speed bumps any faster, it is at your, and the vehicle’s peril.  When I came to work in the 328 I wasn’t really paying attention and hit the first speed bump at speed (i.e. 15 mph).  And you know what?  You could barely tell that I went over a speed bump.  It is a physical impossibility to have the same experience in the ActiveE, and it doesn't even require a speed bump.  Typical bumps that are present in manys road can be filling rattlers in the ActiveE.

As I've said before, this is a field trial so it's not surprising that compromises  were made with the ActiveE, and we've known that weight was one of those compromises since the beginning.  Even if it were a permanent compromise, I'd still choose it over a BMW ICE because the pluses outweigh the minuses (at least to me).  I fully expect, however, that these issues won't translate into the i3 and that it will be a real BMW.

Until then, I'll continue to drive around in a 'long-leggedy beasty' that goes bump in the night.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Who are you? Who, who, who, who? 'Cause I really wanna know

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – my plan is for our household to always have an EV.  Of course, I have no idea which EV that will take up residence in our driveway when my ActiveE lease expires.  The reason being is that at the moment it doesn’t look like a single manufacturer will be building and selling the EV that I want by 2014.

Lamborghini 350 GTV
One thing’s clear about participating in this field trial, you quickly learn what you do and don’t want in a production EV (in fact, there’s even a Learnings for BMW i subforum in BMW’s ActiveE Forum so that Electronauts can publish their likes and dislikes for BMW to utilize for the i3 and future EVs).  Clearly this situation is that same for anyone who buys anything – you determine what you do and don’t like about your current product, and next time you’re in the market you look for one that best meets your needs.  In this case, for a product that is relatively new and for which manufacturer’s are still guessing what the consumer wants, it’s quite possible that nobody makes what you do want.  Since I’m not one of the Ferruccio Lamborghini's of the world, I don’t get to tell Carlos Ghosn how to build the Leaf, and then form my own EV company when he scoffs at me.  I pretty much have to settle for what’s out there if I want to continue driving electric. 

Me - when it comes to EVs
So when it comes to an EV, who am I?  Oddly enough, I’m a pretty simple creature.  Sure there are plenty of minor things I’d like to see improved upon from the ActiveE but would live without just to have an EV – ability to charge to a pre-specified battery percentage rather than just ‘filling up’, tweaks to the digital displays related to energy useage, adjustable regenerative braking, memory seats, etc.  Ultimately though, there are those things I want or need that I’m not [currently] willing to compromise on.  Some are technical aspects of the vehicle, while others are more about the ‘essence’ of the vehicle. 
Of the things I’m not willing to compromise on, all are currently included on at least one of the EVs that are already on the market, or planned to be marketed by 2014 - its just that none of them have everything I want.  Well, sort of.  From a technical aspect there are only three musts.  A 7.2 kW charger, minimum (to ensure minimal charging time), a large battery capacity (one that would be expected to deliver 140 miles of pure highway driving) and ability to charge from a DC Rapid Charger.  You might argue that the Chevy Volt and the upcoming BMW i3 have range extenders that would meet my range needs, and technically you would be correct.  In this case, however, my ‘must’ is battery capacity.  I have no interest in having to put gas in my EV.  Why?  Because infrequently used gas engines are a PITA.  How easy is it to get that snow blower running at the beginning of the winter, and how much maintenance does it need?  Thanks, but I’d rather have extra battery capacity in my EV than having to deal with that in my car.

From an ‘essence’ standpoint, I want a driver’s car that looks like a driver’s car – are you listening, Carlos?  I don’t want to be driving around in a bubble on wheels, even if it performs like a BMW.  Technically, the Telsa Model S meets all of these EV musts – but there’s one requirement that isn’t EV specific that it doesn’t meet – proven track record for the company.  I prefer not to buy the first model year of a vehicle, let alone the first of its kind vehicle from a company that to this point has hemorrhaged money. 

So where does that leave me?  I know who I am, but I’m pretty sure that today’s EV manufacturers don’t know me and are catering to a different audience.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Welcome to the Dead Zone

dead zone
Pronunciation: /ded zōn/

1. Ecology. an area in a body of water, especially an ocean,  having oxygen levels that are not adequate to support life: e.g., shellfish threatened by an annual dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
2. an area where a mobile phone does not receive a signal
With this being a blog about the 100% Electric BMW ActiveE, odds are you’re wondering why I’ve started this post with a definition of oceanic and mobile phone dead zones.  Perhaps he’s lost his mind or forgotten which blog he’s posting in, you might be thinking.  Contrary to what others might tell you, nope, I still have all my faculties.  Assuming that’s the case, then why a dead zone definition?  Because I’d like to add a third option to this definition.

3. A geographical area, typically a less densely populated area, having no or few publically available EVSE that are not adequate to support appreciable travel outside 50% of the EVs range from the owner’s home (if this ever ends up in Webster's, I expect at least a footnote giving me credit).
Much like definition #2 has over the past decade, this should slowly get better with time.  EVSE infrastructure is increasing as we speak, but unfortunately for me (fortunately for those that live in SoCal or NNJR/NYC), most of the public EVSE installs are occurring in these and other metropolitan areas.  Clearly this makes sense, install the infrastructure where the need is.  This gives the EV drivers that live in these metropolitan areas the ability to venture outside their normal ‘range’, i.e., distances further from home than half the vehicles range.  In fact, in some areas there’s enough charging infrastructure that a Nissan Leaf owner is currently attempting to drive from Mexico to Canada.
Two Chargepoint EVSEs within range of my house
Here in Eastern Connecticut, however, there’s a dead zone.  To put it in perspective, there isn’t a single public EVSE within range of my ActiveE (other than the one at Cardi’s in West Warwick, RI – two big thumbs up to the folks at Cardi's) that is useful for my driving habits.  Sure, Norwich Public Utilities just installed four of them, but alas, they are too close to me to be of any use.  Further from home we have the EVSE at New Country BMW in Hartford where I got my ActiveE, but that location is generally only useful for when I have it in for service. 

I'm not complaining, however, just stating the facts.  I understood the situation when I signed up for the ActiveE - these are the early days and EV adoption and infrastructure installation will be slow.  Plus I knew the situation before deciding to participate in Phase 2 of Project i.  As a result, the lack of Eastern CT infrastructure hasn’t really impacted me.  I fully expected that unlike many of my fellow Electronauts, I would have to rely solely on charging at home – and so far it has worked out fine.
As we move into the future, this will be less and less of an issue.  More EVs will be sold, so more EVSEs will be installed at businesses, rest stops, and friends houses to accommodate the increasing numbers.  When that happens my EVs range will increase exponentially, and more and more people will be willing to consider an EV.
Until then, "can you hear me now?"

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A chicken in every pot, and [an electric] car in every garage

While Herbert Hoover personally never made that famous promise, it’s hard to imagine that in the prosperity preceding the Great Depression that the premise of such a promise would need to exist.  Especially considering the world was in the throws the roaring 20’s – how could there not be a car in every garage yet (or ‘in every backyard’ as the Republican National Committee actually posited)?  Fast forward to today and most garages have not one, but two or more cars in them.  Chalk the need for two cars up to commercialism and increasing dependency in the US on individual transportation.  The fact that most garages have at least two cars in them nowadays is an extremely important point though as we move to the ‘Future of Mobility’.
 Two cars in every garage – why would that be important?  While price is still the primary sticking point, the second biggest *perceived* issue as to why an EV won’t work for people is driving range.  Most folks just can’t wrap their mind around a daily range of 35-100 miles that they feel is restrictive (unless of course you can afford a Tesla).  Even if these ranges cover their daily commute, people worry about those atypical days when they will need increased range – you know for things like picking up the kids at lacrosse practice after work.  This is where the second vehicle is so important – what are the odds in most families that both primary drivers in the family will need to exceed the EVs range on the same day?  In our case it hasn’t happened once in the three months we’ve had the ActiveE.  As Ed Begley said, "the electric vehicle is not for everybody.  Given the limited range it can only meet the needs of 90% of the population."  While that's likely a bit of an overstatement, it does beg the question of what percent of typical American households (rather than people) can have its needs met by an EV? 

This idea does require a fundamental change in the way many Americans think though.  In most households each person has ‘their’ car.  We were like that before the ActiveE.  I had an Audi A4 Quattro, and a certain someone had an Audi A6 Avant.  It was extremely rare for one of us to take the other’s vehicle unless I needed the cargo capacity of the Avant for something.  Today that dynamic has changed.  While the ActiveE replaced my A4, it’s not really ‘my’ car.  Having an EV and the benefits associated with its low cost per mile to drive has changed our behaviors.  If we both need to go somewhere at the same time, the person that has to go further (but still within the EVs range) takes the ActiveE.  In our case nothing has really changed (still two cars in the driveway), other than our perception of ‘his’ and ‘her’ cars.
In these early days of EVs before a charging infrastructure is built that reduces or eliminates the fear and anxiety associated with battery range, two cars in every driveway is huge.  As long as you can embrace the premise of ‘household cars’ that are selectively driven by whoever needs them each day. 
Sidebar – EVs are fun to drive (other than that lack of a manual transmission issue).  As a result you can expect to have debates about who gets it on days when you both have similar distances to drive.  Fortunately, the ActiveE replaced my A4 so those debates tend to be short in this household.

In the end, two cars in the driveway allows people the flexibility to do something they may not have otherwise done out of range fear – actually consider an EV.  When we signed on to get an ActiveE I’m not sure we actually understood there wouldn’t be ‘his’ and ‘her’ cars any longer.  Turns out that’s ok, though, and it’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made - and that's why there will always be at least one electric car in our garage. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

After 2 ½ months and 2800 miles behind the wheel of the 100% Electric BMW ActiveE, one of the many questions that folks ask me related to the ActiveE isn’t even about the car itself.  It’s ‘how did I get one of the 700 ActiveEs’?  The short answer is ‘I got lucky’.  Prior to taking delivery, I’d been driving the same ’96 Audi A4 for 14 years.  It was still a dependable daily driver that rarely required fixing.  I had no car payment, few repair bills, minimal property taxes and cheap insurance as I didn’t have collision or comprehensive on the vehicle.  I also tend to think of myself as being ‘green’, and my Audi was the ‘ultimate’ green vehicle – it already existed, so I didn’t need to get a new car and put more demand on the earth’s resources.  My plan was to drive it until it needed to be towed to the scrap yard.

Not scrap heap worthy yet, so donated to the Yosemite Conservancy
With a 16 year old vehicle, even a dependable one, you never really know when the day is going to come when it needs to be scrapped.  As a result, I’d frequently contemplated what car I might get when that happened, but could never really put my finger on what would be next.  As previously documented, while the concept of a ‘green’ car excited me, none of the green vehicles I could afford did –I’m just not a Prius or Leaf type of guy.  So how did I get here – you know, being the guy that’s perfectly happy with his current daily driver that wasn’t yet ready for the scrap heap, to the guy with a shiny new EV and this blog?

It comes down to one thing – somehow I ended up on a BMW mailing list.  I’d never owned a BMW, but somehow my name and address ended up on a promotional mailer from BMW detailing the field trial, the ActiveE and asking me if I wanted to be one of the 700.  Prior to receiving that mailer, I was completely unaware of Project i, the Mini-E or the ActiveE, but my decision was made almost instantaneously – this was my next car, it was electric and had the looks and performance characteristics I desired.  Of course, it would only be my next car assuming I could clear all the hurdles BMW had lined up faster than all but 699 others.

So clearly I was able to clear those hurdles fast enough as I’ve got the car.  But why a blog?  I’d never even read a blog before, let alone written one.  In the end, starting this blog really came down to one thing – EVs are TOO IMPORTANT to the future of this country.  We can’t let them fail or be killed again – and as an early adopter and an Electronaut I’m effectively an ambassador for the EV movement.  It’s my responsibility to do everything I can to show people (friends, family, coworkers, strangers – at least the ones that approach me anyway) how well an EV can fit into their life.  If this blog helps convert one person from an ICE to an EV, then I’d like to think that I’ve lived up to my responsibility as a BMW Electronaut.

And that, my friends, is how only a mere six weeks after finding the BMW promo mailer in my mailbox I found myself blogging about my experiences behind the wheel of this [not so] large automobile.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It’s half past four and I’m shifting gear

Actually I’m not, and therein lies part of the problem.  As the proud owner of an ActiveE, there are many things that I love about this car, and other things that I wish reflected it being the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’.  It’s great for everything that it was designed to be – it has a high enough charge rate so that you can charge from ‘empty’ in 4-5 hours with a 240V EVSE.  Its range is 100 miles (although some folks have approached 140 miles on a charge) which is high enough to meet typical driving needs for most people – and the number will only increase once EVSE infrastructure has increased.  And most importantly, it eliminates gas dependency (and in doing so costs a lot less per mile to drive, and significantly reduces emissions versus an ICE while using less electricity in the process).

Most of the ‘issues’ (as I see them anyway) have to do with the performance aspects of the vehicle.  And most of these are a result of it being an ICE platform that was retrofitted to be an EV.  Its handling is ok as a result of it weighing as much as an Abrams Tank.  Ok, not really, but it does weigh about as much as a Jeep Liberty.  The elevated curb weight is due to the need for structural reinforcement necessary when removing a combustion engine and adding batteries that need protection – and you can really feel the extra weight in corners and on bumpy roads.  As an EV, it’s got plenty of torque to get off the line quickly, but it would never be confused with the performance of an ICE sports coupe. 

None of these ‘issues’ give me any pause, however.  The next generation of Project i will have eliminated the performance issues as those cars will be ‘born’ electric.  Even if these performance issues weren’t addressed, after having the ActiveE for just 5 weeks I know that I will always have an EV in my driveway from this point forward.
There is one area of EVs that I will always struggle with though.  In the almost 30 years that I’ve been driving I’ve never had a daily driver that didn’t have a manual transmission.  While most Americans have been buying cars with automatic transmissions for decades, I’ve never been able to make the switch.  For me there’s something magical about connection between car and driver with manual transmissions that doesn’t exist with an automatic that adds to the sheer pleasure of driving a car.  While the ActiveE is fun to drive, I can’t help but miss shifting gears.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Confused Dog Head Tilt

Once you have an EV, people inevitably want to talk to you about it.  Your friends, your family, your neighbors and even people you’ve never met.  In general it seems that people are intrigued by EVs, but many also have a bias towards EVs.  It seems to be due to a variety of things – from perception of range, whether an EV would meet their needs, battery replacement costs to the Chevy Volt being the GOP’s whipping boy.  None seem easy to overcome (only real world EV experience or an app like BMW Evolve can likely achieve that), but I do wonder if even us EV proponents are doing EVs a disservice in regards to promoting them.  What???  How could EV proponents be part of the issue?
Most people I’ve talked to are primarily exposed to EVs via the mainstream media - when they’ve approached me, it’s their first time seeing an EV up close or speaking to an owner of an EV.  These conversations have led me to believe that the way we present information isn’t helping the EV cause.  After the routine questions about range, battery replacement cost and the now prevalent ‘will it catch fire following an accident’, cost to drive is usually where the conversation leads.  And this is where I think we have a problem.  Finding common ground to discuss cost isn’t always easy.  MPG comparisons are difficult because most folks don’t understand MPG for an EV that doesn’t use gas.  While it’s not an industry standard, cost per mile is another of the typical means for comparison.  It hasn’t taken me long to come to the conclusion that quoting costs in $/mile confuses the heck out of your average person.  It seems straightforward enough, but somehow it just doesn’t resonate with most folks.
I’ve found that the cost question typically boils down to “How much does it cost to run compared to a ‘regular’ car?”.  Initially my answer had been ‘it depends’.  The factors are the mpg of that ‘regular car’, gasoline costs as well as the cost your utility company charges you per kWh.  On average you can expect it to cost anywhere from $0.10-0.20 per mile at current gas prices, while EVs typically cost $0.03-0.08 per mile depending on your utility rate and the efficiency of the EV and its driver.  And the reaction I get?  You know that look the dog gives you when it doesn’t understand what you just said?  This Confused Dog Head Tilt (CDHT) is usually followed by the statement, “Gee, it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of savings there.  I thought EVs were supposed to be cheaper to operate.”  It’s a damn good thing I wasn’t just handing people the DOE’s Comparing Energy Costs document – it could have turned into a scene from David Cronenberg’s Scanners.

I’ve seen the CDHT enough to know that I needed to change my approach to convey the point that EVs are cheaper to operate.  Today I’ve simplified my answer to something that at least seems like it’s resonating, and better conveys the operational cost savings.  My response is now, “My ActiveE has a typical range of 100 miles and it takes 28 kWh of energy to charge the batteries.  Since my utility company charges $0.14 per kW it generally costs <$4 to go 100 miles.  My previous vehicle got 20 mpg so it currently costs $4.23 x 5 or ~$21 to go the same 100 miles.”  A $17 savings per 100 miles seems to get people’s attention a whole lot better than 'you’ll save $0.02-0.17 per mile'.
With all the bias against EVs, it seems to me that we proponents need to be able to tout the benefits of the EV in ways that most people can identify with and that helps overcome their media induced perceptions of EVs – otherwise all we’re left with is the CDHT and a world full of ICE.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Lord please please please, Take away my anxiety

I'm not sure it's what the Black Eyed Peas had in mind, but I'd be happy if someone took away my ActiveE anxiety.  When you read the title to this blog post, I’m betting that you were thinking that this would be a post on Range Anxiety.  Guess again!  Rather, its a post about ‘fault anxiety'.  'Fault anxiety' you say?  What on earth is 'fault anxiety'?

First a bit of background.  We took delivery of our ActiveE on March 12th.  Until last Thursday we had 2 ½ weeks of problem free driving in our EV.  We had a trip planned to Augusta National to attend Monday's Practice Round at the Masters and were flying out last Friday.  While we weren’t planning on driving the ActiveE to the airport as the roundtrip drive was outside of the car's 100 mile range and we had no way to charge at the airport, we had typically used it for every other trip we’ve made since we took delivery.  Then came last Thursday.

Amen Corner
A certain someone (you might remember her from my “Somebody don’t got no stinkin’ range anxiety” post) had driven the car to work, and got a warning indicating that the transmission could not be put into "park" mode and to use the parking brake and visit the nearest dealer immediately.  While this fault didn't prevent her from driving the car home (and ultimately cleared itself), it did have another affect.  As a result of the fault we opted not to drive the ActiveE to work on Friday out of fear, even though our flight out wasn’t until after 6 PM that day.  The last thing that we wanted to deal with on a day where we absolutely had to be somewhere at a certain time was a debilitating malfunction.  Welcome to the world of 'fault anxiety'. 

Since this is a field trial where BMW is working out the ‘bugs’ in preparation for the i3, these bugs are much more prevalent than would be the case for an actual production vehicle.  And now that it’s almost three months since the first ActiveE was delivered, a few bugs are becoming well known.  One of them is a drive train malfunction that could result in the vehicle being easily restarted, taking up to an hour to reset and be restarted, or worse, requiring a tow back to the dealer for resetting.

Clearly we didn’t want to deal with the stress of such a malfunction on a day that we were flying somewhere.  Fast-forward to this week, and the ‘fault anxiety' struck again.  I had meetings yesterday that I absolutely had to attend.  Guess what?  I drove the ICE, even though the meetings were well within the ActiveE's range.  While the i3 should have none of these issues when it is released, participating in a field trial where anything can happen will make you adjust your behaviors.  And for us that means dealing with ‘fault anxiety' until these bugs are exterminated by the good folks at BMW.

Such is the life of an Electronaut - until I'm confident that a fix has been implemented, sadly we won't be driving the ActiveE on 'critical' trips.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

“Yes, Grasshopper. But can any man afford such arrogance?” – Master Po

Before taking delivery of our ActiveE, I voraciously read everything I could find from the Mini-E Pioneers.  I read the Facebook posts; I read the forums, and most of all I read the blogs.  Mini-E blogs as well as ActiveE blogs.  Since the Mini-E Pioneers were the first to take delivery of ActiveEs, their blogs were a great place to get information about the EV we would soon be receiving.  I just couldn’t get enough.

'93 VW Corrado
In retrospect, I should have known better.  These were folks with a wealth of experience in the realm of EVs, and I respected that.  But I was a car guy – my garage has housed a Dark Green Metallic Corrado, a Red Autumn Metallic A4 Quattro as well as cars that were Bright Caramel Metallic, California Sky Blue, and Kasan Red, so I must know about some things that these Pioneers do not. 

By the time we took delivery of our ActiveE, Electra Girl had washed her ActiveE 11 times.  Eleven times in 3333.3 miles.  Once every 303 miles.  How could a car need to be washed that often?  My Dark Green Metallic VW didn’t need washing that often, and I was meticulous about keeping that car clean.  If a car that’s almost black doesn’t show dirt that badly, there’s no way a white car, electric or ICE (see EV Acronym definitions here courtesy of Keith Davidson) would show dirt worse than a black car, right?

250 miles behind the wheel of the ActiveE and I owe Electra Girl an apology.  We’ve never met, and I’d only thought she was crazy for washing her car that often - I’d never even shared my thoughts on the topic with anyone, until now.  Due to my arrogance, I owe her that apology.  It’s been a lot of years since I labored to keep that Corrado clean, and I’m not as diligent or meticulous about my cars as I was back then.  But clearly the ActiveE needs to be washed. 

At this rate I’ll be washing it 20% more often than Electra Girl – and as such, this grasshopper bows to the wisdom of Master Po – a.k.a. Electra Girl.

It's a Dirt Magnet