Tuesday, July 29, 2014

BMW i Announces New DC Quick Charger and It's a Potential Game Changer

The very first public display of the new BMW i DC quick charger
BMW stole the show today at the start of Plug-in 2014 in San Jose, California by not only announcing a new DC quick charger that will charge an i3 to 80% in 30 minutes, but also by saying the use of these chargers will be free for i3 users through the end of 2015. 

This is a huge step forward for BMW i and the EV movement in general. I have consistently contended that the mass adoption of electric vehicles will hinge on the deployment of rapid charging. Even though the majority of charging will be at a slower rate and overnight, for EVs to really be taken seriously by the masses they need to be capable of refueling in less than an hour while making longer journeys. Tesla and Nissan have already demonstrated that they understand this and have made significant investments in DC quick charge infrastructure, and today's announcement from BMW is proof that BMW also realizes this and appears ready and willing to jump into the DC quick charge game.  
The new BMW i 24kW DC quick charger
The interesting thing about BMW's approach is that they didn't just use existing DCQC equipment. Instead, they took a different approach working with Bosch to create an entirely new type of DCQC that is specifically tailored to suit the needs of their car, the i3. One of the barriers to installing DC quick chargers is the cost of bringing the high voltage service to the location.  By limiting the draw to 24kW's the site won't incur the sometimes-astronomical utility demand fees which can make DC Fast charging cost as much as filling up a car with gas. BMW has worked with utilities to agree on a level of supply which would avoid these high demand charges. 

So if these DC quick chargers only supply 24 kW's that must mean they charge the cars much slower than a conventional 50kW DC quick charger, right? Wrong. This is what I meant about these being tailored for the i3. The i3's relatively small battery can't really utilize a higher rate than 24kW effectively. All DC Quick chargers taper off to a lower charge rate once they get close to fully charging the battery to prevent overcharging and damaging the cells. The i3 only has a usable battery capacity of 18.8kW's so on a 50kW quick charger it only will charge at the full rate for about 10 minutes before it starts ramping down to a lower charge rate. In fact, BMW claims the i3 will charge to 80% in about 25 minutes on a 50kW DC quick charger. On this new 24kW unit, it only takes about 5 minutes longer, charging to 80% SOC in 30 minutes. So for only an extra 5 minute penalty, you get:

1) A low-cost solution for DCQC. BMW will sell the unit to their partners for only $6,548 which is less than half as expensive as the least expensive 50kW CCS DC quick charger made by ABB. "Partners" include BMW dealerships, utilities and municipalities that want to provide this service. BMW hasn't decided on a regular retail cost for the units but they are willing to discuss it with interested parties.
2) The unit is small, measuring 31"(H) x 19" (W) x 12"(D) and only weighs about 125 lbs. It can even be pedestal or wall mounted, unlike any other DCQC on the market.
3) The sites won't have to pay the excessive demand charges for electricity. Instead it will be the regular  electric rate, allowing for a reasonable cost to be assessed for use of the charger. 

Even with all this great news, you'll notice the title reads that this is a "potential" game changer. As good as these units sound, they won't do any good if they aren't installed. It's already been announced that in California the NRG eVgo DC Fast Charging network will deploy a minimum of 100 BMW i3 compatible DC Fast Chargers, but what about the rest of the country? Will BMW step up and prove they are "all in" like Nissan and Tesla have and assist (yes that means subsidize) the deployment of these quick charge stations in other markets? Only time will tell, but I have to say I like what I'm seeing so far. Let's keep the ball rolling BMW.
Specifications for the new DCQC unit

Below is the full press release from BMW:
San Jose, CA/Woodcliff Lake, NJ – July 28, 2014… At Plug-In 2014, a conference dedicated to discussing key issues for the long-term success of electric vehicles, BMW of North America launched its BMW i DC Fast Chargers which can charge the BMW i3 all-electric vehicle’s battery up to 80 percent in 30 minutes. A joint development between BMW and Bosch Automotive Service Solutions, BMW i DC Fast Chargers will change the face of public charging as the first compact and affordable DC Combo fast charger. The first BMW i DC Fast Charger will be on display at Plug-In 2014 on July 28 at the San Jose Convention Center. BMW also announced its new ChargeNow DC Fast program in cooperation with NRG eVgo, in which BMW i3 drivers in California can enjoy no cost unlimited 30 minute DC fast charging, at NRG eVgo Freedom Station® sites equipped with DC Combo Fast Charging, through 2015.

Introducing the BMW i DC Fast Charger
Conventional DC fast chargers are about the size of a standard refrigerator, cost tens of thousands of dollars and require a significant amount of electricity. Half the size of a traditional electric vehicle DC charger – measuring 31”H x 19”W x 12”D and weighing approximately 100 pounds – BMW i DC Fast Chargers can be mounted on a wall, a first for electric vehicle DC fast chargers. In addition, BMW i DC Fast Chargers will be priced significantly less than other DC Combo chargers in the market at $6,548 for authorized BMW partners.

“This is a milestone in the development of the DC fast charging infrastructure. With more than five years of real world experience, we understand that a robust network of publicly available DC Combo Fast Chargers is a key part of the mobility of tomorrow,” said Robert Healey, EV Infrastructure Manager, at BMW of North America. “BMW is offering the BMW i DC Fast Charger at an appealing price point, and more manageable size, to make the convenience of DC fast charging more accessible for BMW i3 owners.”

The 24 kW DC Fast Charger feeds the current directly to the vehicle’s battery, resulting in a more efficient and faster charge. BMW i DC Fast Chargers use the SAE Combo 1 connector, the North American automotive industry standard for fast charging; feature a rugged aluminum IP54 enclosure; meet NEMA 3 requirements; and are designed to perform in extreme weather conditions, from -40°F to 185°F. Additionally, the BMW i DC Fast Charger is ChargePoint network-enabled, allowing electric vehicle drivers with the SAE Combo 1 inlet to access the BMW i DC Fast Charger using a ChargePoint or ChargeNow card. Major automakers including BMW, GM, Ford, Chrysler, Daimler, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche have committed to adopting the SAE Combo 1 inlet for DC charging. The BMW i DC Fast Chargers will be available for BMW i Centers across the U.S. beginning in August.

Introducing ChargeNow DC Fast for BMW i3 Drivers
In keeping with its holistic approach to making DC fast charging more accessible and, in turn, increasing the adoption of electric vehicles, BMW, in cooperation with NRG eVgo, will offer no cost charging to BMW i3 drivers at participating eVgo Freedom Station sites equipped with DC Combo Fast Charging in California through 2015.

Using their ChargeNow cards, BMW i3 drivers will have access to unlimited 30-minute DC fast charging sessions with the ChargeNow DC Fast program. BMW i3 owners can sign up easily for ChargeNow DC Fast at chargenow.com/us. In order to receive the full benefits of the program, BMW i3 drivers must use the ChargeNow card, provided with their BMW i3, to charge the vehicle at least once by December 31, 2014, at a participating eVgo Freedom Station. By doing so, BMW i3 drivers will enjoy continued access to no cost DC charging sessions through the end of 2015. Eligible BMW i3 vehicles must be equipped with the DC Fast Charging option (SAE).

“We’re confident the rapidly-expanding NRG eVgo DC Fast Charging network will provide significant benefits to BMW i3 drivers in California,” continued Mr. Healey. “With the cooperation between ChargePoint and NRG eVgo, ChargeNow DC Fast brings us closer to the reality of one card, one account public charging network interoperability.” eVgo will deploy a minimum of 100 BMW i3 compatible DC Fast Chargers across California to support the ChargeNow DC Fast Program.

“This is a milestone in the development of the DC fast charging infrastructure. With more than five years of real world experience, we understand that a robust network of publicly available DC Combo Fast Chargers is a key part of the mobility of tomorrow,” said Robert Healey, EV Infrastructure Manager, at BMW of North America. “BMW is offering the BMW i DC Fast Charger at an appealing price point, and more manageable size, to make the convenience of DC fast charging more accessible for BMW i3 owners.” - See more at: http://www.longtailpipe.com/2014/07/bmw-shows-smallest-and-lowest-cost-dc.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook#sthash.B9P4jL3V.dpuf
“This is a milestone in the development of the DC fast charging infrastructure. With more than five years of real world experience, we understand that a robust network of publicly available DC Combo Fast Chargers is a key part of the mobility of tomorrow,” said Robert Healey, EV Infrastructure Manager, at BMW of North America. “BMW is offering the BMW i DC Fast Charger at an appealing price point, and more manageable size, to make the convenience of DC fast charging more accessible for BMW i3 owners.” - See more at: http://www.longtailpipe.com/2014/07/bmw-shows-smallest-and-lowest-cost-dc.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook#sthash.B9P4jL3V.dpuf

Monday, July 28, 2014

This City Car is at Home in the Country

If you listen to BMW marketing, they'll have you convinced that the only place to really experience the full benefits of the i3 is to drive it in a city environment. Pretty much every description they offer for the i3 includes how it's a car made for the Megacities of the world. Take this from the BMW i website for instance: "Electric and electrifying – the BMW i3 redefines mobililty(sic): with its visionary design and innovative BMW eDrive transmission it’s the sustainably designed vehicle for everyday urban use."

I'm definitely not saying the i3 isn't perfectly capable of negotiating the urban jungle on a daily basis. In fact, city driving is where the i3 is most efficient. Driving streetlight to streetlight, using the regenerative braking to recapture much of the energy used, since you rarely drive for long without needing to slow down, is the type of driving that will allow for better overall range.  Aside from this efficiency advantage and the fact that you usually don't need drive so far (making the limited range less of a concern) and perhaps the ease of parking the i3's tiny frame on city streets, there isn't any other advantage to driving it in the city. I've now been driving electric for over five years and have piled up about 150,000 electric miles on my MINI-E, ActiveE and i3. The crazy thing is, I live in a very rural part of New Jersey where cows and horses are part of everyday life and the bright lights of New York City are over 50 miles away. Like my previous EVs, my i3 has adjusted well to life in the country, even if this isn't the life BMW had envisioned for its carbon fiber halo car.
My MINI-E was a city country car too!

However I'm not satisfied just saying it can do fine in the country and suburbs. I believe it is indeed better suited for a life outside the city limits, so please allow me to defend that statement.

For starters, the vast majority of people who live in the suburbs and in rural areas live in private residences and the exact opposite is true for those who live in cities. Living in a private residence gives you control over your electrical supply and parking arrangements, which as you know is pretty important if you drive an electric car. You simply hang a 240v EVSE in your garage or carport and your refueling issues are mostly solved. The vast majority of electric vehicle charging occurs at home, and having the ability to install a home based EVSE where you live really simplifies things. Conversely if you live in an apartment or condo in the city, establishing a location to park and charge your car can be an enormous challenge. I have had dozens of people who live in New York City reach out to me through this blog asking for help in securing a charging location because they wanted to buy an EV. It's not impossible, but it requires a lot of work and in many cases a lot of money and persistence. Some parking garages have allowed customers to install a private EVSE and separate meter so they can pay for the electric it uses. This usually costs a couple thousand dollars and requires a lot of legwork. Other garages have allowed the person to plug into an existing 120v outlet and pay a small monthly fee for the energy which is the best solution if 120v charging will offer enough energy for the persons driving needs. In any case, it's a lot harder to recharge your car if you live in the city.

Then there is the driving experience. Of course the car drives the same in any environment, however I contend you simply cannot possibly enjoy the full benefits of an electric car while driving it in the city. I can still remember a few years ago when I was driving my MINI-E home from work one night. I own a restaurant so some nights I drive home late at night after closing and the roads by my house are desolate. This particular summer night I had the windows open and the radio was not turned up too loud. I remember hearing a squeaking sound and thinking there was a problem with the radio so I lowered it a bit but when I did the noise got louder. It was then that I realized the noise was crickets. The car was so quiet, I could hear crickets as I drove along at night as clearly as if they were sitting inside the car with me. I promptly turned the radio completely off and finished my drive home to the chorus of crickets. Five years later I still roll down the windows and turn off the radio on some summer nights, and allow the crickets to serenade me on my way home. It's about as peaceful and relaxing as anything I can imagine, and I arrive home calm, relaxed and ready for bed. Open the windows of your car in New York City at any time, day or night and you'll hear horns beeping, people yelling, sirens blaring and car engines racing. You simply cannot appreciate the quietness of an electric car in the city as much as you can in the country because there are so many other loud noises occurring constantly around you that are overwhelming your peaceful retreat to silence. In the country, crickets are about as loud as it gets.

Finally there's the energy savings. City dwellers don't drive much because everything is close so they won't realize the fuel savings as much as those who need to drive farther. I said above that I have driven 150,000 miles in the past five years with my EVs. If I had done that with a car that averaged 30 miles per gallon (which is much more efficient than the average car), I would have spent around $18,500 for gasoline. Instead my electric cars used only about $8,000 in electricity so I've pocketed about $10,500 in fuel savings. A typical person who lives in the city would have driven much less than I have and their energy savings would also be much less accordingly. In fact, most people I know who live in the city don't even own a car, as it is too expensive and just not necessary because of the extensive public transportation system.

So all that's left to discuss is the range. I suppose the main reason BMW and other manufacturers have pointed to EVs as being better suited for urban environments is because they have limited range and require longer refueling time than their internal combustion counterparts. This is a valid point and one that will prevent many people who live in rural areas where destinations tend to be farther apart from considering an EV. I'm certainly not saying that everybody today is ready to go electric or that the current electric offerings would suit the needs of everybody, but I do believe the vast majority of people could definitely integrate one into their life if they want to. The "if they wanted to" is the operative term here because going electric does require some degree of planning and range awareness. You can't just hop in the car and drive without knowing roughly how far you'll be going and the location of possible charge points just in case you need them. That is, unless you have an EV with an extraordinary range (ala Model S) or one with a range extender like my i3 REx has. By setting up charging stations in various locations along the routes that I frequently drive, I've effectively built out my own private network, but I understand the average person will not be willing or able to do that. Having the range extender there "just in case" has completely removed any concern about whether or not I can make any destination and offers that secondary level of support that many considering an electric vehicle are seeking. My previous electric cars were definitely fine for me and my life in the country. The range extender on the i3 only makes it that much better and will allow others in rural areas who may not have been as "adventurous" as I was to go electric. With long range pure EVs like the Tesla Model S and smaller battery, range-extended options like the i3 REx, the electric "Country Car" has definitely arrived.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Breaking: The i3 Rex is Indeed Tax Exempt in New Jersey After All!

My i3 REx in front of my house with my 8.775 kW solar array in view 
In a surprising turn of events, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) reversed a previous decision to exclude the i3 REx from the States Tax exemption for zero emission vehicles. This hopefully ends the nearly six month saga from the time it was originally thought the range extended version would indeed qualify, to the announcement shortly after the launch that it would not.

I actually found out a few days after I bought my car that it would not qualify, and I would have to pay $3,921.00 in sales tax. This was totally unexpected and would have actually made the range extender nearly an $8,000 option for me! As much as I love having it, I wouldn't have agreed to pay that much for it had I known the effective cost would be so high. For $3,875 I think it's fairly priced. But $7,800? No way! I even dedicated a blog post to this issue back in May when the surprising (bad) news was announced. I will say that I never actually ended up paying it all though. That's because my dealership, JMK BMW realized this was a BMW communication error and not the customers' fault. They decided they couldn't go back and charge customers so much more than they had signed contracts for and they honorably worked out a deal which made everybody happy and nobody cancelled their order. My client adviser, Manny Antunes, sold eleven i3s with range extenders so this wasn't an easy decision but the dealership decided it was better to keep the customers happy than to call them all up and tell them they now owed nearly $4,000 more for sales tax. 

However that wasn't the case with other dealerships, and I know people who bought REx cars and had indeed paid the every penny of the sales tax and didn't get any other dealership rebate or credit. They will be very happy when they open the mailbox one day soon and find a nice check in there because this decision is retroactive to May 1st, which is before any i3s were sold in the US. I was actually the first i3 REx delivery in the US, and that took place on May 21st so all i3 REx cars sold in NJ will indeed qualify for the ZEV tax exemption. 

The NJDEP Zero Emission Tax Exemption list has already been updated to include the i3 REx and can be viewed here. Let's just hope this ends the, "It's tax exempt…no it's not," saga we've had here in the Garden State.

Friday, July 11, 2014

BMW i3 Repair Process Deep Dive

Occasionally I cross post content from other websites here (with permission of course) when I think the article is both interesting and exceptionally well done. Such is the case with this post written by Chuck Vossler of BMWBLOG about the repair process of the i3. I think Chuck may have taken particular interest in this story since he recently revealed to me that he has indeed ordered an i3 for his personal use. I have also been talking with him for the past year about his interest in solar electric and am happy to say he has indeed installed a solar array on his home and will soon be joining me in driving his i3 on pure sunshine, or "driving the future" as I like to say. Electric vehicles combined with solar electricity are such a fantastic combination, and adding the second one to your life is such a natural decision to come to once you have the first, as long as it's physically and financially possible to do so.

The entire article and pictures below were written by Chuck Vossler and appeared first on BMWBLOG.

The BMW i3 is truly a revolutionary new car. Revolutionary, however, is not exactly what the repair shop wants to hear when it comes to …

The BMW i3 is truly a revolutionary new car. Revolutionary, however, is not exactly what the repair shop wants to hear when it comes to fixing a totally new car. Never before has any manufacturer made such extensive use of carbon fiber in a mass produced car. One of the main benefits of the Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic used in the BMW i3′s Life Module passenger compartment is that it weighs about 50 percent less than traditional steel and also about 30 percent less than aluminum. The Drive Module houses a 22 kWh battery, the chassis and the 170 hp electric motor. Therefore, the new lightweight materials used in the i3 comes with totally new repair processes.

BMWBLOG had the opportunity to tour the BMW North America training facility where technicians for U.S. dealerships come to learn how to repair the very unique lightweight i3. Most consumers won’t really care about the details of how the i3 is repaired but one thing they will care about is what the BMW i3 costs to insure. The more complex and expensive the repair, the higher the insurance premium. A more complicated and challenging service and repair process directly leads to higher ownership costs which will ultimately impact sales.

Fortunately, BMW states that the cost of repairs for the BMW i3 are similar to a BMW 1 Series. This is intriguing given that once a carbon fiber piece is broken, there just is no repairing of it. The entire part/body panel must be replaced. Nonetheless BMW knew the implication of building a car of CFRP and thus designed specific cut away sections in the i3. These are defined segments that when cut will allow the technician to remove the damaged CFRP piece and then bond the new CFRP segment back in with glue.

BMW constructed the i3 in two segments, the Drive Module and the Life Module. The Drive Module contains the electric motor, suspension, lithium ion battery and is the backbone of the car. This module is made mostly of aluminum and its repair process is very similar to other aluminum chassis components that BMW has been producing and repairing for years.
The i3's mostly aluminum Drive Module

The Life Module is the occupant cabin and its backbone is made of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic. This frame and roof are all CFRP where as attached to the sides of the i3 are composite plastic panels. These panels are designed to absorb what would normally dent a metal car and pop back into shape. Added bonus: your i3 isn’t gonna rust.

Aluminum: BMW states that standard “Cold” repair methods for the aluminum components will be used in repair. These include bonding and riveting. These methods have been used by BMW workshops since 2003.

Panels: BMW designed the panels to be replaced via standard screw/clip on plastic plated parts, so not much different really than a standard car.

Glass: The CFRP body which is surrounding and holding the glass can be damaged by a standard glass removal tool, so there is a special tool required here. Overall the mechanism of removing and replacing is similar. Standard glass removal tool uses a strong metal wire that would damage the carbon fiber, so BMW’s tool has something like a super strong fishing line.
Even replacing the glass on an i3 requires a different process and tools

Carbon Fiber Body: This is where repair techniques change significantly from standard cars. There is no pounding out damaged CFRP. In order to repair the i3, the damaged section will need to be cut out at one of the predefined points. These are located at the top of the A, B, C pillars as well as forward and aft of the floor pan.

BMW requires a specialized cutting device that looks part bone saw on the business end and part Dr Who Villain, a Dalek, to vacuum up the carbon fiber particles. Once the carbon fiber body has dis-articulated at the very specific points, the technician then places the new section on and bonds/glues it back together.
This is where my favorite part of the tour came. “This isn’t very complicated but it needs to be very precise,” says a BMW technician. He further added that the time it will take to repair i3 electric vehicles will actually be less than standard cars and thus decreased labor costs with auto repair.
BMWBLOG is happy to report that the insurance cost for the BMW i3 is similar to a 1 Series Coupe. Adding a BMW i3 to my automobile insurance policy will only raise the monthly payment by $42. Take that with a grain of salt as car insurance policies range all over the place depending on driving history, use and location.

The BMW i3 has a 22kWh battery powering a 170 hp electric motor good for an 80 mile range. It has been tested as the most efficient electric car available on the market due to its low weight with extensive use of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic: 124 MPGe. The Range Extended version has a small generator in it which never directly drives the vehicle’s wheels but rather charges the battery while adding roughly 330 lbs to the vehicle curb weight.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

BMW and Daimler Collaborate on Inductive Charging System For Future EVs

BMW's inductive charging system uses two electromagnetic coils. One attached under the vehicle and the other one is located underneath the car. BMW is using some retired ActiveE's for the test fleet.

Will the next generation BMW i3 have a wireless charging option? That appears very possible with the announcement that BMW is working with rival Daimler on developing an inductive charging system for their electric vehicles.

This follows a recent announcement from Toyota that the next generation plug in Prius would have wireless inductive charging available. Toyota is using technology from Massachusetts-based WiTricity for their system. It's unclear if BMW is also working with WiTricity or if they and Daimler are developing the system on their own.

The two things about inductive charging that have always made me question its viability are the charging losses incurred and the rate of charging. I'm just not willing to pay a 10% premium on my energy just so I don't have to take a couple seconds to plug in my car. Wireless charging will never be quite as efficient as conductive charging, but the technology does seem to be getting better. BMW claims the system they are developing is better than 90% efficient so that's good news. Personally I'd like to see it get closer to 95% efficient though, which would make the energy loss a little more palatable. The charging speed is another issue. The system BMW is working on is limited to 3.6kW which is only half the rate of speed the i3 can charge at. BMW has said that they are working on improving the charge rate to 7kW which would be a great improvement, but would that then lower the efficiency?

Inductive charging for public locations makes sense.
Public EVSE has cables stolen
The issues I noted above with inductive charging are based on home charging where the majority of EV charging occurs. However when you consider public charging, I definitely can see the advantages a wireless charging system would have. For example, you wouldn't have to touch a dirty connector that may have been left lying on the ground. Plugging your EV in on a public chargepoint in the rain or snow can be challenging at times and inductive charging could definitely improve the experience. Inductive charging could also cut down on charger vandalism, as some clever thieves here in the US are beginning to realize they can cut the cables off public EVSE's and sell the copper for a quick profit. Even if it is less efficient, it's likely a better method for public charging, all things considered. The charging rate would have to be faster than 3.6kW though, as larger battery EVs simply need faster charging than that. Take for instance a Tesla Model S. Charging inductively at 3.6kW a typical Model S will only gain around 8 to10 miles of range per hour when you factor in the charging losses and that just isn't good enough to be useful in many circumstances. The more efficient i3 will get around 12 miles per hour charging inductively at 3.6kW which is better, but still not nearly as good as the ~25 miles of range per hour achievable on a conductive public EVSE charging at 7kW.

An answer to a problem that doesn't exist?
One of my home EVSEs
Getting back to home charging I really think a lot of the angst over plugging in at home is generated by people that have never owned a plug in vehicle. When I talk to potential EV owners, they frequently ask me questions about charging. They want to know if it's inconvenient, if I'm always thinking about when I have to plug in or if I forget to do so. Honestly, plugging in your car at home is so simple that it becomes something you do without even thinking about it. It takes all of about 5 seconds, and as long as you position your home EVSE in a convenient location in your garage most people will never have any problems plugging in. If you talk to other plug in car owners the vast majority of them will say the same thing. I really don't see me spending a lot of money for a home based inductive charging system, especially if it charges slower and has greater charging losses than my existing conductive system. I really think this is something that non-EV owners believe they would need, but once they actually get a plug in car they realize it's not necessary. I'm still open to the possibility of home inductive charging, but it has to be fast, efficient, and not cost much more than the existing conductive home charging equipment does. In other words, I believe we are still some years away before I have a system like this in my garage.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Is Empowering. Go EV Now and Claim Yours!

Today's date is July 4th 2014, and here in the US the 4th of July is a national day of celebration. The 4th of July is "Independence Day" and is a federal holiday which commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring our independence from the Kingdom of Great 
Britain. This was of course a great moment in America's history, and one worthy of celebration.

However for me, this date has had a dual meaning over the past five years. I too celebrate the birth of our great nation 238 years ago, but I also have a little extra to celebrate since 2009, because that's when I began driving electric.
My beloved MINI-E and me in 2009. You always remember your first...EV!
Merriam Webster defines independent as follows: "Not subject to control by others; Not requiring or relying on something else," so it's clear why this calendar day has been designated Independence Day in the US. 

I define my personal transportation energy independence as driving an electric car that is powered by sunlight which is captured on my rooftop solar array. Yes, I have a grid tied array and use net metering so I still rely on the utility to provide power when my array isn't producing. However the net benefit is I can drive as much as I want and I'm paying very little for the energy to power my home and drive my car. I am completely isolated from the extreme fluctuations of the cost of gasoline, and I'm not at the mercy of the supply chain of oil. Ask anyone who lives the EV + PV life and they'll tell you it's certainly an empowering feeling, and part of why electrics are indeed the vehicle of the future. 
Me and my second electric vehicle, the BMW ActiveE in 2012
So far I'm averaging a little over 4 miles per kWh in my i3. My solar array produces an average of about 30kWh's every day of the year. That's enough energy to power my i3 about 130 miles. Compare that to a gas car that gets 30mpg, (which is much higher than what the average car delivers) and it would need 4.3 gallons of gas to drive 120 miles. At today's gas prices that would cost about $16.00. Gas prices constantly fluctuate, and are very sensitive to any governmental instability in one of the main Oil Producing and Exporting Countries, but eventually they always go up. Conversely the sun will always be free, and electricity rates from the local utility are mostly stable. Sure, there was an initial investment for the solar array, but with my savings I'll be cash positive in about 8 years and the array's lifespan is about 30 years. 
In 2014 I'm now plugging my BMW i3 into the sun!
Plug into the sun!

So come join me in the electric revolution! Declare your independence from oil and grab a plug instead! There are many ways to generate electricity; many are from clean, renewable sources and some you can even do yourself. You can never make your own gasoline, it will never be clean, and you'll always be dependent on others to provide it to you. There are many reasons to go electric, but energy independence may just be my personal favorite. Have a happy and safe Independence Day everyone!

Monday, June 23, 2014

After 2,000 Miles Part Two: Dislikes

I have to say that overall I am very pleased with my i3. It's living up to what I had hoped it would be, and after a month of ownership I'm convinced it was the right electric vehicle choice for me. However that doesn't mean it's perfect. In fact it's far from perfect, but so is every other car out there. As much as I really love my i3, I can probably list a couple dozen things that I would have done differently. Listed below are some of the top things that I'm not particularly fond of.

I took this picture from an i3 display at the LA Auto Show. Somehow 100 miles turned into 82 miles once the production i3 was revealed.
The Range. So let's just get this out of the way now. I'm disappointed that BMW didn't deliver a real "100 mile" electric vehicle as they had been promising. The 81 mile EPA range on the BEV i3 and the 72 mile rating for the REx, falls a little short in my opinion. If the BEV i3 had an EPA range of 95 miles per charge or greater then I wouldn't have ordered the REx, and I think a lot of others share that opinion. I hope I'm wrong, but I believe this is going to hold back BEV i3 sales significantly. I think 82 miles falls just short of what many US customers will find acceptable for a premium electric vehicle.
Looks like the battery is 3 & 3/16th's out of 4 bars full. Wonderful.

No Proper State of Charge Gauge. When I first found out that the i3 wouldn't display the state of charge in numeric form, I was dumbfounded. Instead, the i3 state of charge display is just four bars that slowly erode as the range diminishes, and it displays the predicted amount of miles the car "thinks" you can travel. In other words, a Guess O Meter. When Nissan initially offered the LEAF, this is basically the same way they displayed the state of charge. Their customers complained so much, that after a couple years Nissan finally realized they made a mistake and added a proper state of charge display. I dedicated an entire blog post to this back in December of last year when it was revealed that the i3 wouldn't display the SOC. Still to this day I am in denial and refuse to believe it's not coming in a future software update. There is absolutely no logical reason for omitting it. It was simply a mistake on BMW's part and like Nissan they will indeed realize that and add it to the display at some point. I'm not saying they need to eliminate the bar system they have, just give us both and let the customer decide which they prefer to rely on.

Like the MINI-E before it, the ActiveE had a clear state of charge and battery temperature display. It's puzzling why both of these important features were omitted on the i3.

No Battery Temperature Readout. Like the state of charge gauge but to a lessor degree, this is a little puzzling. Maybe the majority of i3 owners might not really care what their battery temperature is, but I do and I know quite a few others who do too. It's further puzzling because both of BMW's beta test cars that I drove, the MINI-E and the ActiveE, had battery temperature displays. I like to see how well the thermal management system is performing, how hot the battery may have gotten while baking in the direct sun of a parking lot for a few hours, or how cold the cells are after parking outside overnight in the dead of winter. Knowing the battery temperature helps me know what to expect of the car performance-wise and can also help me to keep the cells from getting too hot in certain circumstances. The car knows the battery temperature, just provide that somewhere on a screen buried in iDrive somewhere and I guarantee many i3 owners will appreciate it.
When you are in "Glide Mode" the white bar is in the position it is shown here. As you use power the bar moves to the right (ePower) and if you are recuperating energy with regenerative braking, the bar moves to the left (Charge) of center.

Glide Position Difficult to Achieve and Maintain. BMW describes the i3's glide feature as such: "The BMW i3’s accelerator has a distinct “neutral” position; i.e. rather than switching straight to energy recuperation when the driver eases off the accelerator, the electric motor uses zero torque control to decouple from the drivetrain and deploy only the available kinetic energy for propulsion. In this mode, the BMW i3 glides along using virtually no energy at all." I've only had the car for a month, but it seems more difficult to find the glide (or coasting) position and then hold it, than it was on the ActiveE. A few years ago I was talking with a BMW engineer about this and I suggested there be a switch to turn off regen completely if the driver wished. I would prefer to do this on long, high speed highway driving where I want to coast as much as possible. I was told that they probably wouldn't offer such a switch to disable it because they would be worried the driver would forget they deactivated the regen, and possibly have an accident because they expected  it to engage later on. I still think this would be a good solution for maximizing efficiency by coasting at higher speeds.  

The kenaf deck in direct sunlight
You can see the reflection of the dash

Windshield Glare. The majority of the top deck of the dashboard is made of compressed kenaf fibers. The use of this material has garnered some criticism because some people think it looks cheap, and not worthy of being in a car made by a premium automaker. I actually like the look of it but what I don't like is that in direct sunlight I can see the reflection of the entire dashboard up on the windshield. After a few weeks I'm getting used to it and it isn't as annoying as it was when I first noticed it, but it definitely isn't ideal. The shiny kenaf surface does cast a pretty clear reflection on bright, sunny days.

No AM Radio. I like to listen to AM talk radio and I am a Mets fan (unfortunately). Mets games are only broadcast on AM so I was disappointed to find out that i3 doesn't have an AM radio. BMW spokesman Dave Buchko recently told Jim Motavalli the reasoning for excluding the AM radio was primarily due to interference from the electric motor: “We learned from our experience with MINI E and BMW ActiveE that the electric motor causes interference with the AM signal. Rather than frustrate customers with inferior reception, the decision was made to leave it off. HD Radio is standard on the i3 and through multi-casting, many traditional AM stations in key markets are available on secondary and tertiary HD signals.” I admit the AM radio in the MINI-E had really bad interference, so much so that I rarely listened to it, but it wasn't bad on the ActiveE. Other electric cars have AM radios and they don't seem to be all that bad. This is a little bit of a head-scratcher to me. I'm learning to live without it, but why should I have to?

Grooves like this in the pavement can be felt more in the i3 than in other cars. I believe it's because of the vehicles light weight combined with its narrow tires.
The Thin Tires Can Get Caught in Pavement Grooves. When roads are paved, unless they are narrow secondary or tertiary roads, they are usually done in multiple strips. This also allows the street to remain open with one lane of traffic flow at a time during the paving process. The problem is, the line where the two sections of the new pavement meet has tiny gaps and over time the road degrades with the help of water and ice and a groove develops. The i3's tires are so thin that they are effected by these grooves and uneven pavement more so than most cars that are heavier and have wider tires. It doesn't present a safety problem; the car doesn't lose any control, you just have to be cognizant of this and make sure you have a grip on the steering wheel when one wheel dips into pavement grooves - which is a good idea in any event. I also believe the very sensitive steering of the i3 adds to this sensation that the grooves are trying to steer the car for you. The i3 has very tight and sensitive steering. You only need to slightly lean in one direction or the other to make a turn, and it is something that takes a week or so to get used to. It has by far the most sensitive steering I have ever experienced on any car. The turning radius is also a freakishly-short 32.3 feet.
The Key FOB will open the front trunk, but not the rear hatch.

Key FOB Doesn't Open the Hatch. This is a minor complaint, and since my i3 has comfort access I can open the locked hatch just by grabbing the hatch handle as long as I have the key in my pocket. I would still prefer to have a button on the FOB that remotely opens the hatch. There is a button that opens the front trunk, which I will rarely ever need to open, I don't know why BMW didn't use that button for the rear hatch, or just add a button and have one for both.

Regen Braking is Less Aggressive. Before I start complaining, let me say that I've driven just about every modern electric vehicle and plug-in-hybrid and I believe the i3 has absolutely the very best regenerative braking system on the market. Telsa probably comes in second and the Volt, when driven in low mode, is right behind the Model S. BMW dialed back the regen on the i3 a bit, probably in the vicinity of about 10% when compared to the ActiveE. People who never drove the ActiveE or MINI-E won't understand what I'm complaining about because the i3's regenerative braking is still strong and very smooth. It can bring the car to a stop without using the friction brakes faster than any regenerative braking system on any other EV will. Still, I liked it stronger like it was on the ActiveE and MINI-E. I guess regenerative braking is like coffee. Some will prefer the Blonde Roast with cream while others want the Dark Roast served black. Give me my regen as strong as possible please. I recommended to BMW that they offer different regen settings and let the customer decide how strong they like it, but that didn't come to pass on the i3. It's still very good, and integrates seamlessly when decelerating, I would just prefer it a bit stronger.

When the car is locked the connector will not release, even when charging is finished

Locking Connector. While charging, the connector is locked to the car as long as the vehicle is locked. The connector cannot be released unless you unlock the doors, even when the charging session is complete. I've found this very annoying and so have many other i3 owners. The ability to lock the connector to the car should be configurable in iDrive, giving the owner options like "Unlock when charge is complete" and "Do not lock connector". Allow the owner to decide what works best for them. Many people like to share chargers, especially in EV-friendly California. These people will leave a note on their dashboard telling others it's OK to unplug them and use the EVSE once they have finished charging or after a specific time. The locking connector prevents any charger sharing unless you leave your vehicle unlocked, which is not a viable option in most circumstances. I can understand this locking feature would be necessary in Europe because the charging cables are not tethered to the EVSE like they are here in the US and this prevents theft. It seems BMW may have built the i3 for the European charging process and didn't consider the inconvenience it would cause for US customers. This is another feature I believe we'll see changed in a software update at some point in the future.

When I navigate this bend in the road by my house, the regenerative braking disengages. Since the road is also downgrade I find I have to use the friction brakes to keep from accelerating down the  hill. I didn't have to do that in the past while driving my MINI-E or ActiveE as both would allow the regenerative braking system to hold back the car during turns like this.

Regen Braking Disengages During Hard Turns. I'm a little surprised with the second complaint I have with the regenerative braking. While negotiating turns, the regen sometimes disengages which will give the sensation that the car is actually speeding up. Of course it isn't (unless you are going downhill), but when you are in full regen and it suddenly disengages, it does feel like the car is accelerating when if fact it just isn't being slowed down by the regenerative braking. During the MINI-E and ActiveE programs, I personally spoke to dozens of people who contacted me asking if my car ever suddenly surged ahead. What was happening with those cars was different though. If the regenerative braking system was operating and the car hit a pothole or a bump that caused the wheels to lose traction, the traction control would disengage the regen in an attempt to prevent the loss of control. When this happened, it would give the driver the sensation of sudden acceleration, especially when driving downhill. This was unsettling if you didn't understand what was happening and typically when this happened the owner would take the car to the dealer for service. The dealer would look it over and find nothing wrong and give it back to them. Frustrated, many of the drivers then contacted me to ask if anyone else had complained of this sudden acceleration problem. After explaining what was actually happening to them they understood what was going on. I would also caution them to always have their foot ready to press the friction brake when they were using regen to slow the car down, especially if they were approaching the car in front of them as they were decelerating.

BMW has indeed improved the whole traction control/regenerative braking system communication and the i3 performs much better than the MINI-E or ActiveE did when the tires lose traction during regenerative braking. However it now disengages during cornering, and neither of its predecessors ever did this. I can tell by how it's working that it isn't a flaw in my system, it was intentionally designed to do this, perhaps to prevent the thin tires from losing traction while negotiating hard turns. Again, it's not a problem as long as you know it's going to happen and you are ready to use the friction brakes if necessary. I've found it mostly happens while I'm taking a highway off-ramp that circles down under the highway overpass. It seems the speed I'm traveling combined with the sharp, constant turn is too much and the traction control preemptively disengages the regen in an attempt to prevent the loss of traction. I believe this is something the dealers need to communicate to the customer. It can be a safety issue if new i3 owners aren't prepared for it. Just like with the MINI-E and ActiveE, I'm certain there will be customers that believe there is something wrong with their car and will take it to the dealer for service. And just as I'm sure that will happen, I'm sure the service departments won't have a clue what the customers are talking about and will tell them they checked it out and car is fine. Unless the service manager happens to read this post ;)

I haven't had this happen to me, but a couple people have reported it.
Software Bugs and Various Glitches. There have been a number of various software bugs and other issues reported since the car launched here in the US about two months ago. For example, all of the i3s with the range extender option have had their check engine light (CEL) come on sporadically. Evidently there is nothing actually wrong with the engine, it's just a software bug and BMW has just released a patch to stop the light from coming on, but it's still not something you want to see on a new car. I've also heard of a couple people have their onboard charger fail, and a few others report that the car flashed a "Drivetrain Malfunction" warning. In the cases I've heard about, it just cleared itself and the owner was able to take it to the dealer to be checked and there was no problem found. Honestly I did expect there would be some initial glitches, and it's really too early to tell if these are isolated cases or if it's an indication that there are indeed going to be more problems to come. Other than the phantom CEL warning, my car has been perfect so far, but I'll be watching it closely and reporting on what I experience as well as what I hear from other i3 owners as time passes.

Minor Annoyances:
There are a few things that really don't bother me that much, but I know other i3 owners who have complained about these things:
The dangling plastic charge port cap seen here isn't really too high on my list of annoyances, but I have heard quite a few other i3 owners complain about it. I even know a couple that have cut it off.

1) Charge port plastic caps. After you open the watertight charge port door you need to remove a plastic cap before you plug the car in. It really doesn't bother me, but I agree it isn't the best solution. a spring loaded cover that flips over and snaps in place like the ActiveE had would be better. Is this really even needed though?

2) The adaptive cruise control system will sometimes disengage for no apparent reason. When it works, it's really a great feature, but it does have a tendency to disengage by itself. It seems like driving in the rain, in direct sunlight and going under overpasses give it the most trouble. I have used it a couple dozen times now and it has disengaged four times by itself. Not a big issue, but one that BMW will hopefully improve.

3) The "Door Ajar" warning light is very sensitive. If you don't close the doors pretty hard, the door ajar warning light will come on while you are driving. The doors aren't in any danger of opening, I just think the warning trigger is just too sensitive.

4) BMW advertises that for home charging "a maximum charging power of 7.4 kW can be reached".  I have yet to be able to crack 7kW's and usually see my charge rate at around 6.7 kW to 6.9 kW. Sure, this is a minor complaint, but my supply is more than adequate to accommodate at least 7.2 kW, so why won't the car pull it? I've talked to other i3 owners about this also, and 6.9 kW is about the most anybody has seen the car pull.

5) No programmable button on the key FOB to initiate battery and cabin preconditioning. The European i3s have this feature, but for some reason it was left off the US i3s. You can still initiate cabin and battery preconditioning via the smartphone app, but having it on the key FOB is easier. Some people (you know who you are!) have told me it was a deal breaker and wouldn't buy an i3 without it.    

I'm sure I'll come up with more dislikes as time goes on, and I'll continue to post them here. Even considering everything I've detailed here, I'm thoroughly enjoying my i3. I drove it a total of 162 miles today and less than 2 miles was with the REx running. The range extender allows me to really push the range limit without worrying if I'll make my destination. Oh yeah, that reminds me of one more complaint. I want the ability to turn the range extender off if I know I'll make my destination. Twice so far the range extender turned on when I was less than a 1/4 mile from my house and once it turned on while I was pulling up my driveway! I believe the European i3s do allow the operator to turn it off manually, so that's just another feature (sunroof, programmable key FOB, REx hold mode) that we don't get here in the States. Yeah, I know... first world problems. :)