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...