Tuesday, April 1, 2014

She's Gone

She's gone, she's gone
Oh I, oh I
I'd better learn how to face it

It's been a month since we took delivery of our 2013 Tuxedo Black Ford Focus Electric (FFE), and three weeks since we turned in the ActiveE. Seems like as good a time as any to compare the two vehicles. Mind you this isn't going to be a Car & Driver type comparo. It's a 'What's important to me' comparison. My blog, my rules. If these things aren't important to you, feel free to discount my opinions. You wouldn't be the first...

Entry Fee 
No matter how you slice it, its going to be tough to beat out a compliance car in regards to price - even for a limited production field trial vehicle where owners are expected to put up with the challenges associated with a beta test vehicle. And before you beat on me for labeling the FFE a compliance car when some don't consider it one, while some others do, in my mind it's clearly one. Why? Ridiculously low volume, not available in all markets (even though you could theoretically order one anywhere in the US), combined with price slashing and lease deals on existing inventory to move the cars.

Anyway, back to the comparison. For us the down payment was 5x higher for the ActiveE than the FFE, and the monthly payment was 3x higher. And this doesn't even include property tax and insurance differences that also favor the FFE.

Winner: By a landslide - FFE 

It's been previously documented that the ActiveE was a dirt magnet that required routine bathing. Prior to its arrival, I had convinced myself that the FFE would be different with the battery and motor locations being the opposite of the ActiveE. While my theory about static charge attracted dirt that would be swept away from the FFE at speed seems to have held, the FFE being black essentially negated the design induced hygiene benefit.

Winner: Push 

In the ActiveE, internal temperature is essentially the same as external temperature. Two winters in the car, and I never figured out how to consistently get the cabin warm before setting out. Even with preconditioning I never figured out why sometimes the cabin was warm, and others not so much. I'm going to guess that it was a function of how cold it actually was on some days, but never obtained enough data points to confirm. Suffice it to say, there were a lot of miserably cold drives this past winter. On the upside, the ActiveE did have the ability to limit precipitation to the outside of the vehicle. The FFE on the other hand, gets plenty warm inside (warmer than I actually like it) after just 10 minutes of preconditioning.

Winner: Score another one for the Folks from Dearborn - FFE

Clown Car Attributes
Four doors with actual rear seat legroom. Tons of hatch space even with the battery intrusion. The FFE is completely capable of accommodating your shopping and people moving needs. The ActiveE, on the other hand, requires the skills of a contortionist to get into the back seat and those of a Tetris Master to get a week's worth of groceries in the obstructed trunk.

Winner: FFE 

Nomadic Wanderings 
Neither of these vehicles is going to be mistaken for a Tesla or RAV4 EV in their ability to travel long distances with relative ease. While the ActiveE provides about 20 more miles per charge (in the summer), neither vehicle can get us to Boston or NYC without an interim charge en route. Due to the greater range of the ActiveE, said interim charge takes less time as the two vehicles have similar charging rates (or did before BMW stepped the rate down late in the program).

Winner: ActiveE 

Internal Opulence 
This one was a lot closer than I would have expected. Why? Most of the Focuses (Foci?) that I've been in were apparently base models. As a result, I didn't expect the interior of the FFE to be as nice as it actually is. The FFE essentially being clad in the Titanium trim package makes a huge difference. Clearly Ford knows something about designing a vehicle interior that the folks over in Detroit would do well to learn. That being said, even in 'Tuxedo Black' the FFE is not up to the level of luxury found in the ActiveE. When you are a luxury car brand that charges a luxury car premium, you'd better have a nicer interior than an econobox. 

Winner: By closer than the experts predicted, ActiveE 

Geek Squad® Worthy Tech 
Switching from the known and comfortable world of driving ICE to an EV will turn even the most carefree, fly by the seat of their pants driver into becoming a data geek. Why? The lack of adequate charging infrastructure combined with the time penalty associated with running out of charge results in drivers becoming more focused on the State of Charge and Driving Efficiency information provided by the vehicle.  Some of the cool stuff that the FFE can display with regards to range and efficiency can be found on JamieGeek's FFE Blog.  The ActiveE had nothing anywhere near this cool.  Having said that, I still prefer to just know my current State of Charge % and do the calculations in my head.  Not sure if that makes me more or less of a geek.

Winner: For me, the ActiveE with its SOC gauge, for everyone else, the FFE 

Driving Hedonism
Depending on who you talk to, 'The Ultimate Driving Machine' tagline may or may not be valid when referring to the current lineup of BMWs.  BMW purists say BMW sold out years ago and recent cars feel too detached from the driving experience.  They say BMW did it for the sake of moving metal.  To those folks I say, drive a Ford, you'll complain a lot less.

In every way, shape or form the ActiveE is more comfortable and enjoyable to drive.  From the lower seating position, to the regenerative braking, to the way that the car handles (regardless of its similarities to a certain DoD vehicle), the ActiveE is a car that's fun to take out for a drive.  Don't get me wrong, due to the electric drivetrain, the FFE is also fun - to a degree. But it just doesn't compare to the ActiveE and its spectacularly aggressive regenerative braking.  I had both cars in the driveway for almost two weeks, and I took the ActiveE preferentially every single time I left the house.  Did I mention the regenerative braking?

Winner: ActiveE.  Winning this category is the primary driver for why I'm still planning on an i3 in the driveway

Envy Factor 
Which car would you rather tell people you own: A limited edition prototype BMW where you are a test pilot for the Phase II field trial of their EV Project, or a low production volume econo-hatch with an electric drivetrain built by Ford to keep the folks at CARB off their backs? It's no coincidence that more people asked me about the ActiveE on the first day that I had it than have asked about the FFE in a month.

Winner: ActiveE

Clearly some of these things are more important to me.  However, weighted by importance or not weighted, this comparo yields the same outcome.  I find the ActiveE to be a much more enjoyable car to drive, and in the end, isn't that the most important thing - that we enjoy the car?  For some its price, for others efficiency, but in my case its about the drive, although a slightly warmer winter drive would've been nice...

Overall Winner: ActiveE

She's gone, she's gone
Oh I, oh I 
I'd pay the devil to replace her 

Wanna guess who the devil is???

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I Don’t Know Why You Say Goodbye

It’s hard to believe that more than two years have passed since I was patiently (not really) waiting to see if I’d been accepted by BMW’s Project i as an Electronaut. It really has been an amazing couple of years. From having almost no knowledge of what was going on in the world of EVs, to pouring over the blogs of the MiniE Pioneers as well as any other information that I could find on EVs, to being an EVangelist with two years behind the wheel of an ActiveE – it really has been quite exciting to be part of the change in personal mobility in the US.

As exciting as it’s been, sadly our first leg in this journey has come to a close. After 2 years and exactly 20,000 miles (don’t laugh Tom) we turned in the ActiveE tonight. For the first time in my life I’ve had to move on from a car that I’m really going to miss.

Why? Two reasons really. First, in a lot of ways it feels like BMW is breaking up the band. It took sooooo long to get the final financials from BMW that many Electronauts have moved on to other vehicles (including us – more on that later). While many of us are likely to continue to keep in touch over time (like the  annual West Coast Electronaut meet at Morro Bay), BMW missed a real opportunity to have close to 700 ‘sales’ people driving around in and proclaiming the virtues of the i3. And the net result for our community is that we will drift apart to some degree. I’ve been an active participant on several forums and a lurker on some others, and none of them compare to the ActiveE group in terms of helpfulness and the sheer lack of trolls. With all the struggles many of us had with the ActiveE, I'm pretty sure that every member of the forum would agree how much they learned and gained as a result of being part of the community.

Second, there has always been some shiny new car that captivated my attention more than my previous car. This time, not so much. Sadly, no EV available today meets our needs as well as the ActiveE does. As a result, every EV option that is available to us is a compromise in some way. For most of them, range is the compromise – at the moment only the Tesla Model S and Toyota RAV4 EV (not available here in New England) provide the range that we desire. Sadly the Model S is a lot more car than I desire, both in terms of cost and vehicle size. So because driving electric has become the single most important element of whatever car we have, we compromise. And that compromise means more time sitting and charging at public EVSEs, not being able to take the EV on certain trips, the need to install EVSEs in relative’s homes, and countless other challenges that I've yet to foresee.

With it still being this much of a challenge for us, it isn’t hard to understand why EV sales aren’t taking off quicker than they are here in the US. People are afraid – they don’t want to pay more for a vehicle that could leave them stranded, they don’t want to get caught without enough charge if there’s an emergency and they need to get to the hospital, and they sure don’t want to pay significantly more for a car that has less utility than the one they currently own. Most EV drivers already understand this. What’s funny is most manufacturer’s don’t seem to. If they can somehow find a way to build an EV that can go 120 miles even in the winter without the need for a gasoline range extender, the market for EVs will take off. One manufacturer gets it, and others are starting to, but it will be several years before we’re where we need to be in terms of all electric range for EVs to become mainstream vehicles.

While I railed against BMW a bit in the preceding paragraphs, I guess in some way, I should thank them. The preliminary lease information they released took us out of the market for an i3. And if not for the snail’s pace at which they released the final details of the Owner’s Choice with Flex plan, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Where are we you ask? On the verge of becoming a two EV household.

Since we just didn’t know if we’d be getting an i3, we began searching for viable EV options for our ActiveE replacement. And we found it in the Ford Focus Electric. Ford seems to be actively trying to move these vehicles now, and in addition to the $4000 price drop awhile back, they also gave us a ton of other incentives that brought the price down to a similarly equipped ICE Focus. As we have no intention of keeping this car beyond 2017, we opted to lease and found that our payments were almost identical to gas costs each month in my old Audi A4. It was one of those no-brainers, and we took delivery twelve days ago. And now, with reasonable acquisition rates for the i3, we won’t be canceling our i3 Production order, and will in all likelihood be taking delivery of the UK’s 2014 Car of the Year.

You say goodbye and I say hello, Hello, hello, I don’t know why you say goodbye.  Oh wait, I do know - because BMW says I have to.  So long ActiveE, we sure are going to miss you...