Monday, September 22, 2014

BMW NA CEO Willisch Talks i3 With Lou Ann Hammond on Driving The Nation

Lou Ann Hammond of recently spent some time with BMW of North America's CEO Ludwig Willisch talking about the i3. One thing I found interesting is Willisch said that BMW has tradmarked all of the numbers from i3 through i9 for the use of future vehicles. I had always heard they had tradmarked i1 through i9, and didn't start at i3 as Willisch indicated. A simple trademark search reveals BMW does hold the trademark for all the names from i1 through i9. So either Ludwig made a simple mistake, or perhaps he slipped and let out the fact that BMW doesn't have any plans to ever produce an i1 or i2. This of course isn't earth-shattering news, I just found it interesting that he indicated that the reserved names start at the number 3. 

The other thing I enjoyed was all of the MINI-E and ActiveE footage in the video is of me driving my old cars. You see me plugging in at my restaurant, driving the MINI-E around in New York City and driving my ActiveE up my driveway at home. Willisch also talks about the dealers being excited about carrying the i brand. That's good news to hear because as with other manufacturers that introduce electric cars, BMW has struggled a bit so far to get the dealers up to speed with these new vehicles. They are definitely doing work behind the scenes to improve this, but there is still a lot to do to get their client advisers ready to embrace the i3. It's going to time, but I'm happy to report progress is definitely being made. Enjoy the clip!

Hat tip to for finding the video. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Born Electric Guest Blogger: Meet Harold From California

My name is Harold and I was born electric on August 19th, 2014. 

There are two parts to my story here. The first is about my path to selecting and buying the i3, and the second is about my experiences owning and driving the i3.

PART 1:  

When it comes to global warming, I’m embarrassed to say that for far too long my wife and I were part of the problem.  We’re a two car family, and over the years we’ve driven a series of big, luxury, premium fuel guzzlers. As recently as 2007 we each had one of the full-size Range Rovers. Yikes, and yuck!

I gradually realized this was not tenable, but I found it very, very hard to give up the comfort (I’m 6’3 and don’t fit in most cars) and sportiness of a big luxury SUV. The very thought of shoehorning myself into the ugly and painfully boring Prius hybrid was enough to make me puke.

So my first tentative step in the right direction was to sign up to make annual contributions to one of those carbon-offset charities. I even got vanity license plates that said “I OFFSET.” Wow, how big and how brave of me!

Then BMW came out with a diesel version of their X5 so I dumped my Range Rover in favor of that on the theory that at least I would be burning a lot less fuel. As nice a car as the X5 was, it ended up only getting about 16mpg, and I also came to understand that the diesel wasn’t as clean as I had thought it might be.

Meanwhile, there were more hybrid cars coming on the market, but all still seemed to frumpy for me.  I’m sorry, but I live in California and I spend a ton of time in my car and I want it to look and feel great!

And then Audi launched their stylish little Q5, and I dumped the X5 in favor of this smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle. But even that only got around 20mpg. 

So about a year ago I started the search for my next car. I did my first exploration of EV’s. The RAV4 was too clearly a Toyota. The Leaf, which a neighbor of mine happily drives, drove like a turtle to me.  The Volt was claustrophobic – and a Chevy to boot. The Tesla was way cool, but I actually don’t fit very well in it and, at least in the San Francisco area, driving one has already become interpreted as a sign that you are an obnoxious snob.
So, I had resigned myself to getting the new edition of the X5 diesel, which promised to deliver significantly better – and cleaner – mileage than the original one. And then one day while I was checking out the new X5 on one of the BMW forums, I saw something about the coming of the i3. It looked weird as hell in the photo, but it sounded intriguing. I started to follow stories about it. 

I went to a car show in San Jose to see it in person. I fully expected to discover that I could not fit in it, but when I sat down in the model on display I discovered that it had more head room and leg room and better visibility than my Q5. (Of course at this point, BMW was showing it with a sunroof – more about that later….). Plus, the interior design was stunning. And the exterior, while weird, was weird in a sexy way.  So I was hooked.

When the test drives started happening in the Bay Area, I went to them at three different dealers.  Driving the car was a total blast (all the more so with the sunroof open…..) and I had to have one. I went to my dealer and said I’m willing to pay MSRP for one of the first ones you get, I just need to get two key options – the sun roof and the REX. Can you arrange that please?

And then things started to fall apart. For one, it turned out the sunroof was not going to be offered in the US.  No reason for this has ever been provided, but that alone was enough to put me off.  I’m claustrophobic, and I always felt I needed a sunroof to have the feeling of openness they give. And then some negative stories started to appear about the REX – a review in Europe said driving with the REX was like driving in limp-home mode, and then it was revealed that the REX was being modified in the US in ways that made it seem even less desirable.  And,  being new to EV’s, I was at that point too chicken to go the full BEV route.

So, I abandoned my quest for an i3. I signed off of the i3 forums and facebook group. I went back to my dealer and started haggling over prices on the X5 diesel again. But the x5 diesel remained in hot demand,  and I couldn’t get what I thought was a reasonable price. And then the i3’s actually arrived. I saw two in one day “in the wild.” I went behind my dealer’s back and went to another dealer to test drive an i3 again.  I found that even without the sunroof it still felt very open. And it was just as fun to drive as I had remembered. 

So I went back to my CA, said you’re not going to believe this, but I want the i3 after all. He laughed very heartily. We worked the numbers for a while. I ended up doing the two year version of “owner’s choice.” (Went with owner’s choice vs. lease to get the full advantage of the federal tax credit,  and went two years rather than three just because I expect the EV technology is going to advance pretty rapidly over the next couple of years and I may want to move to the next edition sooner rather than later.) And within just a few weeks I was driving my new Andesite Silver Terra i3, loaded up with everything except for the 20” wheels.  And, surprise surprise, I even got over my fear of running out of juice and went with the BEV instead of the REX.

PART 2: 

As I mentioned earlier, a key factor that kept me from switching sooner to a more environmentally correct car was that they all just seemed too ugly, too uncomfortable, and too boring. I wanted to do the right thing for the planet – but I wanted to still be able to enjoy driving at the same time.

Thankfully, my i3 has solved all three of those problems for me. 

While I will admit that the exterior is a bit of an acquired taste, there can be no denying that the interior is stunning. Yes, the materials are all very environmentally friendly, but more important to me – they are gorgeous. The design is very fresh,  very high tech,  and yet very simple. Among the features I like most are the floating high definition screens (one for the instrument cluster stuff, one for the navigation and multimedia stuff) and the eucalyptus dash. I also really appreciate the openness of the cabin and the great sight lines.

The interior is also quite comfortable. I was initially skeptical about the thinness of the seats.  As a veteran business road warrior, I have equated the steady thinning down of airline seats over the years with an equally steady decline in the comfort of those seats. Well, I can only hope that the designers at Boeing and Airbus get to drive an i3 soon so they can see how to make a thinner seat super supportive and comfortable.

And as for the driving experience, well, I haven’t had so much fun driving a car since the very first one I owned.  First comes the peppiness. As the folks at BMW are fond of saying,  the i3 is the fastest car they make from 0 to 30 mph.  And I believe them now!  Zipping in and out of city traffic is as easy as can be – aided by how tight the turning radius is. Likewise, accelerating on to freeway ramps and passing at freeway speeds is also quick and easy. When we had a meet up of Bay area i3 drivers recently,  I had t-shirts printed up for everyone that carried this message: “I drive a BMW i3.  So you can eat my dust, not my exhaust. You’re welcome.” Trust me, the message is appropriate: this car hauls ass.
It's hard to see in the picture, but the blue T-Shirts everyone is wearing are the shirts Harold made up for the Crissy Field i3 meet. He was even gracious enough to send me a couple in the mail. Photo credit: Dino Ignacio
The steering is also very tight. I’m sure it has some degree of electronic assistance, but it doesn’t feel in the least bit mushy or vague. If anything it’s too responsive – you have to be attentive or it’s a bit too easy to oversteer.

The ride is firm, but in a good, BMW way. If you don’t want to feel the road at all, then this is not the car for you. But if you like to get some feedback from your driving, you should like this.

I really like the quietness of the car. If you keep the windows rolled up, it is super quiet; there is of course some wind noise at higher speeds, but I have not found it to be objectionable. And, at the same time, if you drive with the windows open, you can actually hear the sounds of nature!

I’m still learning all the fancy new tech tools.  Love the Harman Kardon stereo, love being able to use apps like Pandora and TuneIn. Appreciate that iDrive has gotten clearer and more manageable, though it still requires a learning curve. Love the collision avoidance system and the adaptive cruise control.  Haven’t yet tried the self-parking thing – but haven’t felt the need either, as this is the smallest car I have driven in ages and I would feel like a total wimp if I couldn’t park it by myself.  : )

As for downsides of the i3, anyone who buys this car has to accept that they are on the bleeding edge of technology and that things may go wrong. And they have for some of the early owners. But, knock on wood, after just about 1,000 miles, the worst thing that has happened to me so far is that one morning while I was driving along a nearly empty six lane freeway a warning message popped up on my screen that said something about “Danger – objects detected in roadway.” There were no objects to be seen, so I ignored the message and kept on driving and the message ultimately disappeared.

Also, if you choose as I did to go with the BEV instead of the REx, you will probably find yourself being more than a little bit paranoid about monitoring how much charge you have left. I have been running somewhere around 75 miles per full charge – a little less than what the EPA says, but then I drive with a bit of a lead foot and I leave the AC on all the time. So far I’ve only once gotten the dreaded verbal warning “you have 15 miles of range left,” and thankfully that happened when I was only about a mile from my house.

One other downside is that, to my way of thinking, the i3 is not practical as a family car. The “suicide”  doors (aka coach doors) make access to the back seat just too awkward for regular use, especially if you are trying to cope with child seats.

OK, so the i3 is good looking, it’s comfortable, and it’s fun to drive. But how does it do on my original overall reason for getting it, which is to help address the problem of global warming?

Well,  for one thing I have not been to a gas station since I got the car. And will never have to go to a gas station with it. Take that, Exxon and BP and the rest of you big oil companies! (The vanity plates I have on order for my car will read: “I86DGAS”) And, at least according to the i3 mobile app, so far I have already saved 530 pounds of CO2 from being pumped out into the air.

So,  in sum, thank you BMW for giving birth to the i3 so that I can at last do my part for solving global warming – but do it in a way that fits my own selfish needs for style, comfort, and fun!

PS- The i3 may not be right for everyone, but there are now plenty of EV’s on the market – surely one of them will be right for you!

Thanks for participating Harold! If you drive an i3 and want to share your Born Electric story here, just send me an email and we'll set it up!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Join The BMW i3 Owners Map!

A screen shot of the current i3 owners map
A few posts ago BMW i3 owner Scott Lawrence Lawson was featured in our Born Electric series and gave up some insight into his reasons for going electric and how he's doing with his i3 after a few months of ownership. At the end of the post I mentioned that he created a BMW i3 owners map where i3 owners can register their location and see where other i3's reside.

It's not a commercial site that is trying to collect your data or sell you anything, Scott only created it because he though it would be fun to see where other i3's live. This is how he explains it on the site where you sign up:

I thought I'd give back to the growing i3 community by making a map of BMW i3 owners and owners to be. This is an opt-in map so if you want to be on it, fill out this form below. The more specific you are, the better the data will represent our community. Maybe you'll meet someone new who made the same great choice in mobility as you did! If you are an i3 owner, fill in the this form and I'd be happy to add you! 

There are currently 378 i3 owners listed from twenty five different countries and the list is growing every day. If you have an i3, please use the link below to go over to the site and add your car to the map.

BMW i3 Owners Map

Friday, September 12, 2014

EV Owners Shun ICE Loaners

Hopefully more dealers will understand that their EV customers want an EV loaner when their car is in for service and add them to their loaner fleet.
I've been lucky enough to own some nice cars in my life. Like most people, bringing my car in for service was never something I looked forward to. However one thing that I did like was when I got an interesting car as the service loaner. I remember one time when my Mercedes ML430 was being worked on I got a black E430 4matic and I liked it so much I almost told the dealer to keep my car and trade it for the loaner.

Today, many dealers have only a small fleet of in-house loaners and use rental car agencies for the overflow of cars that they need. They do it to save money, and I'm sure it does, but they do miss out on the opportunity to show off the other cars that they sell. I still don't fully understand why a BMW dealer for instance would want to put their customer in a car from another brand while they are getting service, it just seems wrong.
I tried plugging in the 135i loaner I had a when my ActiveE was being serviced. That didn't work too well.
However dealers that are beginning to sell electric cars are now finding they have another problem to deal with. Their EV customers don't want to drive a gas car while their car is in for service, regardless of the make or model. I wrote a blog post about this over two years ago when I was driving my ActiveE and now that the i3 has launched I'm watching many i3 owners say the same thing.  One person recently posted this in the i3 Facebook group:

"Most people would love to drive a new BMW 3-Series for a few days as a loaner. Not me. It vibrates, burns gas, I have to use the brake pedal, makes noise and is slow. All this found during the 2.1 mile drive home. Very much so ‪#‎firstworldproblems‬. Think I'm going to bribe my wife for a ride to and from work."

A 2014 BMW 328i loaner? No thanks.
 Imagine that. The BMW 3-Series is considered one of the best cars on the road. In fact, it has was recently awarded Car & Drivers coveted "Ten Best Cars" distinction for the 23rd consecutive year. One would think just about anyone would love to have a new one for a few days while their car was in for service. That's not so if your car is an i3. After driving an electric car for a while, ICE vehicles seem antiquated. You feel the engine vibrations right up through the steering wheel, you hear the engine noise when you accelerate, gear shifts feel clunky and jerky. Yep, once you get back in an ICE vehicle after driving electric you realize what you've left behind and you don't miss it. You've evolved now, and you don't want to go back to the dark ages of the ICE.

Some BMW dealers have already realized this and are including i3 loaners into their in house fleet. This is a great idea for a couple of reasons. First, they can keep their i3 customers happy while their car is in for service, and secondly they can expose some of their other clients to the electric driving experience. Any electric car owner can tell you, getting people to try electric drive is the hardest part. Once they experience the smooth linear acceleration, the quiet vibration-less cabin and the excitement of the instant torque of an electric motor they too will be thinking about going electric. I'm happy to report my dealer (JMK BMW in Springfield, NJ) - perhaps with the help of some encouragement from me ;)  has decided to include an i3 to their stable of loaners. I think this is a great move and will pay dividends for them in the long run.

Like your Model S loaner? Just keep it!
However this certainly isn't just a BMW issue. I've seen Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt owners lament the fact that they get an ICE loaner car and wish they had an electric option available. Tesla only sells electric cars so they only have electric loaners. In fact, not only do you get a Tesla loaner, but all Tesla loaners are the top of the line P85 Model S. Plus, if you really like the loaner, Tesla allows you to keep it. Of course you have to pay the difference in your car's value and the P85 loaners that you want, but it's a simple process where you just tell them your keeping that car and they tell you how much you owe them for the difference. That's another example of how Tesla is bringing new ideas and improved customer service to the industry.

I am sure that the savvy dealers who provide electric loaners for their EV customers will definitely benefit. The electric vehicle community is pretty close-knit and does communicate amongst themselves. It doesn't take long for a specific dealer to be labeled a "bad" dealer for not being very "EV friendly". Conversely, the dealers who have provided good service to their EV customers have benefited from a high number of referrals. The dealers who train their staff to understand these new cars, provide free on-site charging, and offer electric loaners are the ones who are really going to succeed in the new electric frontier.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Born Electric Guest Blogger: Meet Fred From California

My name is Fred and I was born electric on July 30, 2014. 

Today I have just a little over 1,000 miles on my i3 REx—over 1,000 happy miles I should add. I live in Huntington Beach, California and use my i3 regularly for running local errands, for meetings of 80 to 120 miles across the Los Angeles basin, and for pure pleasure. Indeed, it is now the only car I own. I sold my Lexus LS460L and my Lexus SC430 for the i3, and while both are great cars, the i3 meets my needs so well that I have no regrets about giving up either of them.
I never intended to own an electric vehicle and paid little attention to them believing that they were in general impractical. I was raised on the internal combustion engine and had no intention of doing anything other than sticking with what I knew and what worked for me. Adding to my mind set were two facts:  first, America is awash in fossil fuels with the potential of freeing us from the importation of foreign oil; second, cars that once swigged gasoline are now increasingly fuel efficient.  So, why change?

Then one sunny Sunday morning my son, who traded in his Hummer for a big Infiniti SUV, came knocking on my door, roused me from bed, and said, “come with me,” informing me that we needed to be somewhere in a hurry. Before I could find out where we had to be, we were racing down Pacific Coast Highway to what I discovered was the BMW dealer in Newport Beach. My son wouldn’t tell me where we were going or why we were rushing to be somewhere, keeping this news from me until we arrived. As we pulled into Sterling BMW, my son informed me that I was going to do a test drive—a drive so I learned that he took the day prior.   

Smelling the roses

I had trouble believing that this was what all the fuss was about. My son has owned big vehicles for many years. He is a diver, and carts around lots of dive equipment. Also, we used his vehicles for towing our boats. Why in the world was he interested in this little car?  Besides never giving a moment’s thought to an electric vehicle, I never considered a small car. Except for the BMW 320i that I owned in the 1980s and my little Lexus sports car which I used on weekends, my driving experience consisted mostly of large cars--heavy metal objects that surrounded me with lots of steel and horse power. I assumed that I would be safer in an accident in a large car than in a small one. Once behind the wheel of the i3, my fear disappeared.  It is not true that in all things, small is beautiful, but in the case of the i3, it truly is.

The test drive was badly organized and although my son had signed us up for a specific time, we sat around for what seemed to be forever until we got our test car. Wanting my breakfast, I almost left. Further, when I tried to engage officials in charge of the test drive with questions about the vehicle, they seemed to know as little as I did. We were not off to a good start.
Once behind the wheel, everything changed. I immediately liked the clean lines and the airiness of the cabin. I especially liked the elevation of the seats with a firmness that secured my poor body against the discomforts of my arthritis. I abhor soft seats into which you sink, seats that require lowering yourself into position and then hoisting yourself out. I also liked the easy adjustment of the seats. While the seats in my Lexus vehicles are powered electrically, moving me like a belly dancer into every conceivable position, I  never got the setting I wanted. By comparison, once into the i3, I knew I found a home.

The clincher was the drive itself. As we pressed the button to start the “ignition”, I listened for the rev of the motor only to hear quiet, blessed quiet. I thought to myself, this is too good to be true. My son took the wheel first. He likes to drive fast and once onto the road way, we took off with a punch that left everyone on the road in our rear view mirror. As a senior citizen I drive more cautiously, but when it was my turn at the wheel, I couldn’t help but accelerate to the max. What a ride! I also liked the steering—firm, nimble and responsive. The slightest turn moved the car decisively, making me realize that it needed two steady hands on the wheel. A quick U-turn in the middle of Pacific Coast Highway—something not recommended by good sense or the police—was a delight.  I also liked the tight, firm ride—nothing spongy about it. The regenerative braking, I confess, made me nervous. Would I need a  learning curve to master it? Well, as it turned out, I didn’t need much of a learning curve. Once I obtained my car, I felt comfortable and in control of the braking by the time I got the vehicle home.

This test drive made me know that the i3 offered a superior way of driving from anything I had known before. By the end of the drive, I announced to my son that I would put down my deposit early in the week and surrender my Lexus vehicles to CarMax. My son said he would also do the same and give up his Infiniti SUV.  The decision to downsize and to go electric was a big one for our family, but after driving the i3, it left us little choice. The joy of driving the i3, the interior space and comfort, the responsive steering, the firm ride and the  regenerative braking sold us on our first electric vehicle. In every respect the i3 felt, looked and drove like a BMW. We both decided on the REx, knowing that it would meet 90% of our driving needs—and indeed it has.

The drive’s the thing and that’s what sold us. Since I had zero knowledge and experience with electric vehicles, just to make sure that I hadn't confused lust with love, rushing into something I would later regret, I arranged a test drive with a Volt later the same day. The Volt had good acceleration but nothing like the punch of the i3.  Also, the seats were a tad too much like all the GM seats I had known before as was the ride itself—a tinge on the soft side. Further, the interior seemed old and not very inspiring. Driving the Volt reaffirmed my decision to purchase the i3.

Only after the decision was taken to purchase the i3 did I begin to investigate the world of EVs and their multiple advantages. Entering into an intensive period of study, I became like all converts something of a zealot which I continue to be at the time of this writing. I am in conversation with several solar panel companies to get the best equipment at the best deal. My son and I each put down our deposit on the Launch Edition of the i3 believing that this was the only vehicle that would be available in the states in the near future.  The roll out was long and contained all too many disappointments; near the end of our wait, my son decided to throw in the towel and purchased the John Cooper Mini Countryman in place of the i3. At least he is driving a more efficient gasoline powered engine than when he was behind the wheel of his SUV. 

All the things I liked about the i3 that led me to buy it I still like—and like even more than when I did my test drive. I’ve come to appreciate the Harmon Kardan sound system which in a cabin that is quiet (except at freeway speeds), enhances my listening pleasure. Speaking of the quiet cabin, it is not always as quiet as I would like. At city-street speeds, its as quiet as a church mouse. But on the freeway, especially as I approach 70mph plus, wind noise is noticeable, sometimes quite noticeable. If BMW can dampen that in the next iteration of the i3, it would make the drive even more enjoyable. 

Sometimes it’s the little things that are most distressing. My biggest problem and that of my guests is getting the tongue of the seat belt into the buckle. While I am older and have lost strength in my hands, younger and abler persons also have difficulty. Sometimes it takes quite a bit of hard pushing to buckle up. Do I wish for a battery with greater range, of course, but I’ve learned to live with it. I like the light weight of the vehicle which contributes to the i3’s acceleration, handling and efficiency. If there was one thing I would say to BMW it is, resist all the calls for significant additions if it means making the vehicle heavier. 

In light of the limitations of the battery, the REx has been indispensable to my driving needs. The smooth transition from being on the battery to the point when the REx kicks in is quite remarkable. I never feel or hear it nor do my passengers (actually one passenger in the back seat thought he heard a slight hum).  I did have a significant loss of speed coming up a long, steep incline at the end of a 211 mile round trip. My companions and I couldn’t help but laugh as we knew this might happen but had not experienced it at any time earlier in the trip when we encountered steep inclines and were still on battery. What this means is that, understanding the limitations of the REx (all cars have their limitations in one respect or another), I need to plan my trips more carefully which I will in the future. The “slow down” neither diminished my ardor for the car nor my appreciation for its overall abilities and quality.

I’ve set the vehicle to charge at midnight when electricity rates are at their lowest. I purchased a ClipperCreek HCS 40 which works like a charm and cost me considerably less than the charger BMW is selling.  From the standpoint of technology, this was the easy part. I confess that I find the i3’s software daunting and even after 1,000 miles, I am still only half way through learning the software’s mysteries.

One of the most delightful aspects of owning the i3 is the number of people who wave me down on the street, or give me a thumbs up on the freeway, or stop me at my favorite coffee shop or at the market, or encounter me in other ways asking me questions about the car or just admiring it. Recently an eight year old English boy on vacation in California approached me with his mother gushing facts about the i3. He is a devotee of Top Gear and knew much more than I about the car. I know that some commentators think the i3 is an ugly little beast, but the people who come up to me all seem to be intrigued by its looks. I hope that their inquisitiveness turns into sales. 

My own private "gas station" in my garage. How great is that?!
Several people helped me throughout the roll out of the i3. My dealership went out of its way to find answers to all my inquiries even when they had little experience with the vehicle. Stephan, my Client Adviser (salesman in ordinary English) actually knew something about the i3 and was an anchor keeping me from drifting away. BMW North America, despite the glitches in the roll out, was enormously helpful when I reached out to them. No sooner did I reach out to them than they reciprocated frequently, reaching out to me. I want to thank Jacob Harb of BMW North America who, put in charge of the roll out, became the focus for everyone with a grievance, all too many of which were legitimate but many of which were not of his making. Jacob reached out to me after I contacted BMW, giving me reassurance and easing the process.  Good communication is more than fifty percent of addressing problems even when solutions are not readily available. Like the oak in a gale, Jacob may have bent but he did not break and he saw the roll out through to fruition. Finally, without Tom Moloughney who captained the ship during the long process, leading the charge for the i3 against its frequent critics, providing answers to questions no one else seemed to have, defending the vehicle even while the process was discouraging, providing a communication link to BMW and giving us certainty that there would be an i3 in our future, I say without Tom I would have and I think many others would have said, nice try BMW but now I am going back to what I know and can rely on--a gasoline engine. Thank you Tom.

And thank you Fred for participating in the Born Electric series. For those that don't know, Fred has been a  follower for a while now and has commented on this blog and it's really great for me to see him finally take delivery of his i3 and now tell us his story here. I appreciate the kind words he had for me at the end but honestly I wanted to remove that part. Fred insisted it remain and told me that he didn't want me to post the story if I deleted it. I know I've said it before but one of the great things about maintaining my electric car blogs has been the interactions I have with the followers through the years. I'd like to take a moment to thank all of my followers for their continued support. Without your comments, emails and encouragement I would have stopped doing this a long time ago!  

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Born Electric Guest Blogger: Meet Scott From California

Hi, my name is Scott Lawson and I was Born Electric on August 11, 2014.

I confess: I am not a ‘car guy’. For me, cars are dirty explosion factories full of toxic liquids and endless grime. Oil changes, frequent fill ups, dusty air filters, and a noisy engine seemed to be an unnecessary evil. If I was to get an EV, I wanted it to be 100% electric, no engine, no gas, no oil, no going back! At times, I have even thought that if I lived in the city I would outsource my transportation to taxis, buses, and trains. But living in the so-called mega-city of SoCal (from San Diego to Santa Barbara) with inadequate public transportation options, a car is required. And since I am confessing, I should say I love traveling fast and zipping around in a driver’s car. Over the years BMWs have fit my needs well but were still powered by gas. I considered the LEAF for a fleeting moment and the Tesla Model S seemed like a car for executives or super models! And costs twice as much as any car I have ever owned.

My i3 in the mountains
BMW decided several years ago to create the BMW “i” sub brand and delve into creating a new kind of transport which they call ‘sustainable mobility’. More than just making an electric car, BMW is looking to change how personal transportation is defined. When the i3 hit the market I was excited to learn more; and the more I learned, the more I felt one with the design principles and philosophy. I am a system architect and strive to make technology useful to people and efficient for business. As I discovered more about the BMW i project and their first product, the all electric i3, I appreciated the innovative use of technology both in the machine and for the consumer.

At the San Antonio dam
The i3 driving machine’s body is made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) including fibers from the Kenaf plant (Hibiscus cannabinus), a form of hemp, for the interior. The manufacturing of the car is computer-controlled and ultra clean using robots, clean rooms, heat-activated glue welds, an all aluminum body, and powered by wind and hydroelectric power. As I read how BMW designed the car as ‘electric first’, I appreciated the lack of a large front hood, the use of tall skinny tires for less rolling resistance, that the ultra-light CFRP and aluminum construction allowed more efficient range. The opposing doors are possible because of the structural integrity of the material and the short overhangs on the front and rear help parking the car in a busy city. All of this adds us to a futuristic design not only in looks but in function. All of the thought that was put into the sustainability and design impressed me even before the first torque-filled test drive.

As an explorer of new technology I was impressed with the consumer technology built into the car. Integrated sensors and computers help in safety and convenience from the door locks to the theft protection to active cruise control to the integration with internet applications. The maps not only have traffic, but charging stations, mass transit stations and other points of interest. The i3 can listen to you with voice commands and read news and social media updates. The iDrive controller even has one-finger handwriting recognition so you can spell destinations or peoples names. The 20 GB music storage is fast and you can even play video from a directly connected USB drive (while parked, of course!). All of this adds up to the i3 being more than just the ultimate driving machine and turns it into the ultimate transportation machine. I feel it can transport me in time by delivering information to keep me efficiently connected to my social circle and work activities.
Up at Mt. Baldy
This is a new way of thinking. Just as cloud computing and mobile have changed the way we think about file storage, applications, installing software, and upgrades, the i3 alters the way we think about driving. It is something you have to not only experience, but something you have to work with and adapt to. It is a new way of driving. The “one pedal” experience is awkward at first, almost annoying, until you get the feel of it and think about electric propulsion. Driving one pedal is the best way to accelerate and decelerate and you begin to think about gliding to a stop and working with the force of the car. Your right foot is always active but never leaves the main accelerator pedal.

You have to change your thinking about “fuel” and trip planning. You can charge in your garage with a ‘level 2’ 240v charging station. While it relieves you of having to get gas, you do have to remember to plug the car in when you get home. This behavior is becoming familiar as many, if not all, i3 owners will have some form of mobile phone or mobile device that they plug in everyday. When it comes to trip planning, that requires a deeper shift in thinking. With an EV you just cannot ignore this aspect. Most technological shifts require new modes: you have to plan to record your show if you want to watch without commercials, you have to sync your laptop files if you want to work on them while on a flight, you have to schedule a PC virus check at night to avoid malware. Going on a trip up a mountain in the i3, you need to plan to see if there are charging stations, what kind they are (to make sure you are able to charge on them), and to figure the most efficient path there. The i3 itself helps with this by warning you on your state of charge (SOC) and showing you charging locations near you. But with only 25 miles of range to every 1 hour of charge, this is a slow process. More ‘level 3’ charging stations (also called DC Fast Charge) are coming and the i3 can be configured to use them to get charged up in 20-30 minutes. Unfortunately only in some places in the world today have a large enough concentration of DCFC stations to make longer trip travel carefree.
Cooling off in the shade for a bit
To get the most out of the i3, subtle shifts in thinking make all the difference. To save your potential range you can pre-condition the cabin for comfort while it is plugged in. To save on electricity you can set it to charge when your electricity rate is low. To more easily find your destination you can search online at your desk and send the address to the car via the internet. How you navigate these subtle shifts in thinking is the key to success in the modern EV world.

The i3 has taught me that driving an EV is not just changing how your vehicle is powered. It requires that you accept a new type of mobility and adjust how you approach your car. Many people will say an internet news site is just an electronic newspaper or that Google is just an electronic yellow pages, or that cloud file storage is just a “hard drive in the sky”. All of these ways of thinking miss the point that new paradigms like the i3 are a leap into something new. James May of Top Gear recently wrote this about the i3: “Being a car is just one of its apps”. A famous petrolhead, he sees the paradigm shift, too. You have to challenge yourself and think different. And owning an i3 will help you do just that.

I'd like to thank Scott for sharing his i3 story here. One last thing I'd like to point out is that Scott created a BMW i3 Owners map. You can enter your location and add yourself to the map HERE.  I'm going to do a dedicated post on this soon though because it was a great idea and something I think other i3 owners will enjoy. 

Scott is the tenth Born Electric guest blogger I've featured here and I appreciate the time everyone has spent to tell the readers about their i3 experience. Previous Born Electric posts can be found below:

Andy from The UK
Hil from Holland 
Toni from Belgium 
Jan from Belgium 
Steven from The Netherlands
Jon from Norway  
Ross from The UK

If you own an i3 and would like to participate here in the Born Electric guest blogger series, email me at:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Norby's "Driving to Net Zero Energy Challenge" Starts off Strong!

My i3 is powered by electricity generated by my home solar array. EV+PV is really a fantastic combination and one that I believe will be fairly common in the near future.  So how can you possibly top that? How about by getting two i3s and powering both of them plus your entire household's energy use by your  solar array! That's exactly what the Norby's are attempting to do.
I have frequently written on my blogs how one of the best part of being in BMW's e-mobility test program for the past five years has been meeting and interacting with many of the other people in the program. Together we learned how to live with the issues that test cars frequently have, we built up our own support network and we simultaneously realized how fantastic driving electric was. It was a really a great experience and one that was nothing short of life changing for many of us. 

While I've literally made hundreds of acquaintances in the program, there are a few people who I've really connected with and now consider friends, and one of them is Peder Norby. Peder and his wife Julie live in Carlsbad, California and went from MINI-E to ActiveE to BMW i3, just like I did, only they went one step further and got two i3s! Like me, the Norby's power their electric cars with clean energy from their rooftop solar array. However even though our systems are about the same size, their array provides about 1/3 more energy than mine does because of the location (sunny Southern California) and orientation of the arrays. 

This year, Peder and Julie began a year-long net-zero energy challenge. They are attempting to live the entire year with their solar array providing all the energy they need to power their home and both of their cars. I believe this is a fantastic story and a glimpse into what the future has in store. Peder has been updating the progress on his i3 blog but now that he is one quarter of the way through the year, I asked him for permission to post his progress here and he happily agreed.  Below is a little introduction to what the Norby's are doing followed by the three month update. 

It’s hard to get this down to a sentence or two, but when we built our home in 2005,  our ethos was to partner with nature, harvesting the gifts of nature, building the most efficient home possible.

In doing this, we wanted to elevate, we refused to compromise or lower the enjoyment of our life and the caliber of our dwelling, we refused to reduce our life to living in a small cave with one solitary light bulb, solely for the sake of efficiency.

Our desire was to express ourselves artistically, with the highest quality materials, design and comfort in the size home needed to accommodate our family and friends, while partnering with nature, being as efficient as possible. We wanted to live in a net zero energy home, harvesting food and drink from our land. Not big or small, not right or wrong,  just our home.

The idea is a simple one: Harvest sunshine from the roof of your home to provide 100% of the power needed for your home and the two cars in the garage. That is our goal in this "Driving to Net Zero Challenge.
The 12 month documented journey began May 15, 2014. Three months in, things are looking pretty good:

Update Month Three. We're killing it!

The idea is a simple one, harvest endless sunshine from a small portion of a roof to provide 100% of the energy needed to power a home and two cars with zero utility cost, and zero gasoline cost.

  • 1/4 of the way through the year,  -167 kWh and a $468 credit.
  • Stats, Stats, Graphs, Graphs. 
  • We're killing it! Ready to make a projection!
  • Our French import.
We estimate that we will be -$800 by Oct/Nov
Solar PV production holding steady at 1326 kWh

Electricity use for the two BMW i3's rose to 478 kWh for the month
We have a credit of $315 for the first seven months of the year

1/4 of the way into our "Driving to Net Zero Energy" challenge and as they say in political election coverage:
"I am ready to make a projection and call this race"
We will be below zero in utility cost and gasoline cost providing the energy for our home and guest house, and the two cars in the garage driven a total of 24,000 miles a year.  In fact we are so far ahead we will accomplish this goal four months earlier than planed with the January 2015 true-up bill from our utility. 
Our natural gas cost for a year is $301.27
We estimate at the true-up bill that we will have a credit of $400 to $450 for our electrical use and a cost of natural gas of $301 for the year thus  -$100 to -$150 in total energy cost for the year.

How about total cost?

As I mentioned in my first post in May, an asterisk is required regarding the cost of energy as our utility does not let us carry over our electricity credit to our natural gas cost.  Essentially our valuable peak hour electricity that we do not consume will be a gift to our utility.  As the years go by we will most likely convert one or two of the natural gas appliances at the end of their useful life to electric in order to reduce the natural gas bill by using our excess electricity credit.

Where are we with energy usage and gasoline cost now compared to 2007 when we began this path to energy independence?

In 2007 our energy cost were:

$3,800 a year in electricity
$   300 a year in natural gas
$2,800 a year for Julie's Infinity G35 gasoline
$2,400 a year for my Volvo S60R gasoline

Total:    $9300 a year in energy cost.  ($792 per month)

This is not far off the statistical norm for a US family which uses an average of 11,000 kWh per year ($3,060 at SDG&E rates) and $2912 for gasoline according to the 2012 EPA statistics.
In 2014 our energy cost are:

$      0 a year in electricity*
$  300 a year in natural gas
$      0 a year in fuel cost for Julie's BMW i3
$      0 a year in fuel cost for my BMW i3
Total $300 a year in energy cost. ($25 per month) 
* we donate $450 worth of electricity back to SDG&E.

You can see how quickly that $9000 a year in energy cost savings will pay off a $30K Solar PV system, $15k in extra construction cost for a thick well insulated home, efficient appliances and led lights and $1000 for a EV charging station in the garage.  We have calculated from the installation in January of 2007 we reached the payoff point in April of 2012.

From April 2012 and for the next few decades, we will have essentially zero or de minimus cost for energy saving us $200k to 300K in energy cost with escalating utility and gasoline cost.

How about total usage?

Julie and I live normal lives, things come up and situations change. The interesting part of our Drive To Net Zero Energy challenge is that we are real people with a real life and not some demonstration house with nobody living in it.

We have been doing really great using a net total of -167 kWh of electricity (generation vs consumption) for the first three months of the challenge. We can extrapolate the prior four months of usage pre i'3s, assuming we had the efficient BMW i3's and the extra 1kw of solar pv production which would have saved us 225 kWh per month. We estimate that by May of next year we will be very close to a net of 0 total kWh used, +- 250 kWh per year which is a normal usage and weather variable.

The French Import.

I bet you thought it was a car :)

Julie and I have decided to make an impact on two young adults lives.  We are hosting through Rotary Youth Exchange, a 17 year old French student named Peroline for a one year exchange. By doing so, an American young man is traveling to France to begin his year as an exchange student in France living with Peroline's family.

Our household has now risen to four and the extra electricity that our 17 year old exchange student will use will most likely push us into the positive use territory.

Hosting a 17 year old young lady French exchange student for a year was not contemplated and is not a very good idea for the Drive To Net Zero Energy Challenge!

But life is life, unpredictable, wonderful and real.  We are very happy to have Peroline as part of our family for the next year and we're looking forward to driving her everywhere, using lots of electrons, to see the sights of our great nation.

Our goal remains Net Zero Energy usage as well as Net Zero Energy cost.
We'll see how the the next 3/4 of the year goes.

Imagine a better future and your participation in it.

Next Month:

  • Charging stations and what's on the horizon.
  • Our CHG emissions 
  • Our version of GHG offsets
Thanks for reading and commenting.

(Past "Driving To Net Zero" articles on Peder's blog)

Energy Challenge Introductory Article

Bonus video:
Below is one part of a series of videos that Peder and I participated in. The video series is called "Wherever You Want to Go" and was produced by BMW back in 2011. BMW recruited Buzz Aldrin, Marissa Meyer, Robin Chase, Syd Mead, and many others to participate and Peder, Todd Crook and I were also chosen to because of our high level of participation in BMW's e-mobility program. The four-part series is available online and did a good job of opening the up a conversation about where we are going with regards to personal mobility. Take a look and see if you can spot Peder and me.  :)