Tuesday, October 6, 2015

i3 Owners: Be Prepared For Reduced Range

With the temperatures dipping into the 40s this week, I'm quickly reminded how much the cold effects the range of my i3. Just a couple of weeks ago I was averaging between 70 and 80 miles per charge. I'm now down in the 60s and it's only October! I figure it's a good time to remind the seasoned i3 owners - and inform newbies, what to expect in the coming fall and winter months.
It's the time of year when the leaves start turning color, when Sundays mean most televisions in the US are tuned to football games and the Holidays are just around the corner. However something even more grim than the best Halloween costume is also making its return: Reduced range for EV owners.

I think back six years ago to my first year in the MINI-E program. It was 2009 and there weren't many electric vehicles on the roads, especially outside of Southern California. About five months into the MINI-E Trial Lease program there was suddenly a rush of owners bringing the cars to their MINI dealer for service, telling them something was wrong with their cars. This occurred in late October...

Suddenly, the cars couldn't go as far as we were used to, and the range drop off seemed to happen very quickly, without notice and without reason, leaving many people to assume their car was malfunctioning, and perhaps had a bad battery. Some of the people even swore the range drop coincided with their last service visit, so there had to be something done at the dealership that caused the loss of range. I had read quite a bit about electric cars before getting mine, and knew there would be some range degradation in the cold winter months of Northern New Jersey, but I really didn't know how much the range would drop. Evidently many of the other participants were completely in the dark about what to expect once the winter months arrived. Some were so put off by the range degradation, they insisted that BMW take the car back and allow them to leave the program. I remember one particular person tell me that drop in range meant they could no longer make the round trip to work every day, so the car was of no use to him for three months of the year.

When the MINI-E program ended in 2012 I joined the BMW ActiveE lease program. By then some of the participants were aware of the effects the cold weather has on EV batteries since mainstream EVs like the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt had both been available for over a year. However there were still quite a few ActiveE drivers who were caught off guard by the loss of range once winter rolled around, and this became a major topic of discussion among the ActiveE discussion forums. Just as with the MINI-E drivers, many believed their car was experiencing some kind of battery problem, and couldn't believe the range would be affected so much by the cold weather.
My ActiveE wasn't immune to the cold weather either. Many owners weren't happy when the first winter rolled around. 
This issue affects all electric cars, even those with sophisticated thermal management systems. Tesla for instance, like the i3 has a state of the art thermal management system, and the Model S is just as susceptible to cold weather range degradation as any other EV. The good news for Model S owners is that the range is so great, you usually don't miss the miles you lose in the cold. However there are times you do. Last fall I had a Model S pull into the parking lot of my restaurant, the owners plugged in, came in and sat down to eat. As I usually do when an EV owner comes in, I went over to their table, welcomed them and asked about their car. They told me they were new owners, and traveling from  Upstate New York State to South Jersey. They had planned to stop at the Edison Superchargers but realized they wouldn't make it without stopping to charge. They said they were getting 250 miles per charge in the summer, but on this trip, which was all highway and temperatures were in the 30s they were only getting 185 - 200 miles on a charge. The cold effects us all...
With temperatures in the low 20's, my i3's predicted range is usually in the 50's for a fully charged battery.
Not Much Progress With Education

So here we are in 2015 and not much has changed. The US i3 launch was a year and a half ago and for many owners they are about to witness for the first time how the cold will reduce their range. I am the admin in the i3 discussion forum over at mybmwi3.com and the reduction of range in the cold is a frequently discussed topic. Just as with the MINI-E and ActiveE programs, there are people who are convinced that there is something wrong with their car. There's always the possibility there could be a problem with a particular vehicle, so I would recommend anyone concerned to take their car in for service to have it checked out. However I'm sure most everybody is going to get a clean bill of health, and at that point they are going to have to come to grips that the reduced range is due to the temperature, and learn how to live with it.

I will say I believe BMW (and most other OEMs) aren't doing an adequate job of offering educational information for new owners. It wouldn't have been too difficult or expensive to prepare an information card which would help new owners understand how temperatures can affect their range. I've had many i3 owners reach out to for information about this, many concerned they have a problem with the car. I think BMW should make a "Battery 101" information card and hand it out to all new owners at the time of delivery with their other vehicle documents. This could cover temperature issues as well as tips to help extend the life of their battery, offer advice for long term vehicle storage and offer a brief explanation on how the battery system works. I believe owners would appreciate this kind of information. It feels a little like Groundhogs Day with the same questions about range coming up every winter. There has to be a better way to prepare the customers before it becomes a problem. BMW has the educational information available, and they have posted it (see charts below) on the BMW i Circuit Forum.  However, I believe this information should be included with the car, and explained to the customer along with all other pre-delivery documents.
Charts like these would be helpful to new i3 owners. They should be included with new purchase documents and fully explained by the client advisers.

That said, there are techniques which can help offset the effects the cold weather has on the battery and improve your range. Here are some of my recommendations to help get you through the cold winter months:

Precondition: Use the precondition function as much as possible. The i3 will preheat the battery and passenger cabin off grid power, so you don't drain the battery performing these functions. By doing so, you will use less of the stored energy in the battery, which will allow that energy to be used for its main purpose, to propel the vehicle. You can set the preconditioning to begin every day at a set time so your car is ready for you when you leave in the morning. Make sure the car is plugged in to a Level 2 (240v) charging source while you precondition because a Level 1 (120v) EVSE cannot provide enough power  for preconditioning. If you use the 120v Occasional Use Cable that came with the car, you won't be 100% charged when you leave, as the preconditioning function uses more energy than the OUC can supply. To precondition properly, you need a 240V Level 2 EVSE.

*Read my detailed post on preconditioning the i3: Understanding How Preconditioning Works

Cabin heat: Limit the use of the cabin heater as much as possible. The BEV i3s are equipped with an advanced heat pump which is much more efficient than the resistance heater used for the REx i3s. However it still can use a fair amount of energy and will indeed cut into the range. If your i3 is equipped with heated seats I highly recommend using them as much as possible. By doing so you can use the cabin heater less which saves energy since the heated seats use much less energy than cabin heater; heat pump or not. If you simply dress a little warmer and use the heated seats you can really cut down on the use of the cabin heat, and this will definitely have a positive effect on your range. If you are wondering why i3s with the range extender do not have a heat pump, there are two main reasons. First and most importantly, the actual heat pump on the BEV i3 is located where the gasoline tank is on the i3 REx, so there isn't room for it. Secondly, squeezing every mile possible out of the battery isn't quite as important with the REx i3, since you can still continue driving once you exhaust your battery. With the BEV i3, those extra 3 or 4 miles the heat pump may add might make the difference in you getting home or not on a cold night. 

Properly inflated tires: Tire pressure falls as weather turns colder. Some tire experts say that for every 10 degrees of temperature drop your tires can lose 1-2 lbs of pressure. Under-inflated tires create more road friction which will reduce efficiency. Some EV drivers I know actually add four to five pounds of pressure to all of their tires before the winter months begin. Always make sure to check the recommended and maximum pressure for your tires, as proper tire pressure is different for every tire and car. 

Park inside: Whenever possible park the car in garages, especially if they are heated. If you park outside for an extended period like while you work, you should find a spot that will be in direct sunlight for as much as possible. By parking in direct sunlight you’ll have a warmer cabin and battery when you return to your car later.

Slow down: Besides preconditioning and conservative use of the cabin heater, driving a little slower is perhaps the best way to extend your range. This is true regardless of the ambient temperature, but during the winter months driving a little slower can help offset the range you lose to the cold. If you do knock off a few miles per hour on the highway, make sure to move over into the right lane so you don't hold up traffic. Also, try to accelerate slowly form a standstill. Jack-rabbit launches are definitely fun with the i3 but they do consume a lot of energy. 

Charging times increase: While you're charging, the thermal management system will also be working to warm the batteries. This takes some of the energy that would have gone directly into the battery and uses it for the thermal management system. On really cold days I've noticed it takes my car 30 to 45 minutes longer to fully charge. Knowing this you may have to adjust the delayed charging setting on the car and allow for more time before you can unplug.

Use Eco Pro Modes: The i3 has two Eco driving modes to complement the default "Comfort" driving mode; Eco Pro and Eco Pro+. Both modes reduce power supplied to the motor and energy consuming features like the cabin heater. Most features work fine in Eco Pro mode, but Eco Pro+ restricts the power so much to them that some no longer even function. Another benefit to using Eco Pro and Eco Pro+ in the winter is by reducing the power to the motor the car accelerates slower and helps to reduce the possibility of wheel spin. I definitely recommend using Eco Pro mode whenever driving on ice or snow covered roads, it definitely improves traction.  
The i3 is more than capable in cold weather. However owners need to understand, and plan for the affects that the cold has on battery performance.
Below is an interesting chart prepared by FleetCarma. It compares the effects of the cold on the fuel efficiency of an electric car and a gasoline car. It isn't i3-specific and not exactly what I'm discussing here today, but it helps to see how both gas cars as well as electric vehicles are effected by the cold. It's interesting to see that the cold affects the EV more, but the actually energy cost of the reduced efficiency is less on the EV. So while it may be a greater inconvenience for the electric car driver, the cold weather inefficiencies actually costs the gasoline car driver more money.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

2016 Brings New Colors to the i3

2016 i3 color options. Wheel choices remain the same.
BMW has added three new color options for the i3 in 2016. At the same time though, they have deleted three colors, so the i3 is still available in six different colors. The pessimist may say, "It's still only available in Solar Orange, and fifty shades of grey," and while they wouldn't be entirely incorrect in saying so, I think the changes are an improvement over what was previously offered.
Fluid Black really looks great. 
The best addition in my opinion is the new Fluid Black. I had the opportunity to see a Fluid Black i3 in person earlier in the year and I was instantly sold. I believe this is going to be the top selling i3 color in 2016, and I would have ordered my car with it if it were available in 2014. So the i3 color options in 2016 will be as follows:

The original Capparis White, Ionic Silver and Solar Orange remain available. Arravani Grey, Laurel Grey and Andesite Silver have been dropped and Fluid Black, Platinum Silver and Mineral Grey have been added. You can download the 2016 i3 PDF brochure which has the color chart from this link.
Andesite Sliver (seen above) is being replaced by a new color called Platinum Silver
The changes are really not too dramatic, but do make sense. The two least popular colors, Arravani Grey and Andesite Silver have been dropped, along with the very popular Laurel Grey. Andesite Silver was replaced with what appears to be (in pictures at least) a very similar, Platinum Silver. Arravani and Laurel Grey have been replaced with a single grey color option called Mineral Grey. From the pictures, it looks like it's a combination of the two previously offered grey colors. It's lighter than Laurel Grey was, closer to what Arravani Grey looked like, but it's metallic like Laurel Grey.  
Laurel Grey looked black in certain conditions. This picture is of me on my delivery day back in 2014.
These changes to the grey offerings make total sense, especially when you consider that there is a black paint option now.  Laurel Grey was very dark, and even looked like it was black if you were standing at a distance, or if it was parked in the shade. I believe that the Fluid Black color would decimate sales of Laurel Grey because it would be so close. By combining Arravani and Laurel Grey, and offering a lighter colored, metallic grey which is clearly different than Fluid Black, there is enough color separation for both colors to coexist.   
Arravani Grey (or Battleship Grey as I called it!) will no longer be offered.
One of the things I like about the new Fluid Black is that the car is monochromatic with it. I'm not totally against the i3 having a black hood as an accent for certain colors. In fact, I think it looks great with Capparis White and Solar Orange in particular, but I also think that the i3 looks good in certain colors without the black accent, or "Black Belt", as BMW calls it. I wrapped my car red the first week I got it because I wanted a color that popped and also wanted to see how it would look in all one color without the black hood. I'm happy I did so and have had many people ask me about it. I think the bright red really gives the i3 a more aggressive look, something I know that many i3 owners would like.
My red wrapped i3 next to an Andesite Silver one. 

When I was first told that BMW was considering new color options for 2016 I (somewhat) jokingly asked if "Moloughney Red" would be offered sometime in the future. The BMW product manager quickly responded "Don't hold your breath, Tom" - with a smile. I may be partial, but I think it would go over pretty well if it were offered, what do you think?

Friday, September 25, 2015

VW: Das-eption and the path to Redemption

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned on Wednesday.

While this blog's primary focus is the BMW i3, I occasionally sprinkle in some featured EV products and discuss topics not necessarily i3-centric, but are instead just general electric vehicle information. In light of the recent revelations that Volkswagen has been deliberately cheating on emissions testing for many years now, I wrote the following article for Green Car Reports.

So far, no other automaker has been caught as VW has - with proof that they purposely installed a "defeat device" on the vehicles so the cars would curb their emissions only during actual emission testing. However it's fair game to speculate if other OEMs may also be exposed as cheaters now that the EPA knows what they have to look for, and how to expose it. It will certainly be interesting to watch this all unfold.

In any event, Volkswagen is going to face huge fines for intentionally violating Federal emission standards and I wanted to offer my thoughts on how I believe some of that money should be used. If we don't use at least a portion of that money to help reverse the damage done by these heavily polluting "clean diesels", I believe we will have missed a great opportunity to improve the quality of air we all breathe.

 How VW Can Atone For Diesel Deception: Electric-Car Advocate's Thoughts

The full impact of Volkswagen's diesel-emission cheating scandal has yet to be realized, but what it has apparently already admitted to doing could result in the largest civil fine ever levied by the Federal government on an automaker. And that's just the beginning.

Besides paying civil penalties, and coping with a spate of criminal actions, and class-action lawsuits, and investigations by multiple levels of government, VW also needs to deal with the 482,000 cars it sold--plus more in limbo at dealers--that clearly do not comply with emission laws.

In real-world use, these vehicles emit 10 to 35 times the allowable legal limit of certain pollutants, so they're not just slightly out of compliance. They will need to be modified to comply, or VW will have to buy them back. And if owners don't like the modified cars, they'll likely have to buy those cars back too.
After all that, VW has to figure out how to regain the trust of the public.

There are lots of aspects to this debacle, and all will undoubtedly be discussed ad nauseam over the coming weeks. But the aspect I find most interesting is how Volkswagen can best right the wrongs it has done. How does paying fines, settling lawsuits, and bringing highly-polluting vehicles into compliance really undo the damage done? It doesn't. All it does is punish Volkswagen. And I believe the public deserves more.

Make no mistake: If VW is guilty as charged, it absolutely deserves to be punished--and severely.
It turns out they aren't as clean as we were told - not nearly, actually.
But I hope the Justice Department also considers what can be done to offset the damage to air quality created by the offending so-called "clean diesels." And I hope VW, separately, does the same. We've seen penalty estimates as high as $18 billion dollars (the maximum allowed of $37,500 per vehicle for intentionally violating the Clean Air Act. I doubt the actual penalty will be anywhere close to that, but it will likely be in the billions. I think it's not unreasonable to expect the fine to be somewhere around $2.5 billion, or about $5,000 per non-compliant vehicle sold.

Why not use a portion of that civil fine to invest in a nationwide DC Fast Charge network for electric vehicles?

If just half of a $2.5 billion fine were dedicated to this purpose, we could blanket the majority of Interstate highways and major high-traffic corridors with DC fast chargers that would make switching from gasoline and diesel cars to zero-emission electric vehicles a much easier decision for many buyers. Here's why I believe that is what should be done. Helping to advance the proliferation of cleaner electric vehicles would, over time, more than reverse the emissions damage that has been done, and further improve the quality of air we breathe, instead of just punishing the offender. And shouldn't that really be the goal here?

A second thought: As well as using the fine to build out a national DC fast-charging network, how about Volkswagen getting out in front of this crisis itself and telling us how it will do its part to help clean the air it polluted?

BMW, Volkswagen and ChargePoint teamed up to create "Express Charging Corridors" on the East and West coasts. While it's a good start, much more fast charge infrastructure is needed to allow the average electric car of today to be a viable choice for long distance driving.
Rather than just declaring that it will be a leader in electric mobility, as the company has done before, show us the proof that it's serious about how it plans to expand its zero-emission vehicle offerings? VW Group could combine that with a generous investment in public charging infrastructure, on a much greater scale than last December's partnership with BMW and ChargePoint to install approximately 100 DC fast chargers.

That program in just now starting to get under way, but it's really only the beginning of what's needed. VW should commit to expanding it to 400 or 500 stations, including high-volume corridors not only on the East and West coasts but across the country--essentially following the Tesla Supercharger road map.
Tesla North American Supercharger map.
Yet another idea to consider: Give the owners of the affected vehicles the option to replace their car with a new electric Volkswagen e-Golf. Some current Volkswagen TDI diesel owners have said they now feel guilty for having driven their diesel for the past few years, with a main reason for their purchase having been both fuel economy and because it was a "clean" diesel.

Offering those owners the option to return the polluting car for a much cleaner Volkswagen could demonstrate that VW understands and is concerned with its customers' desire to drive clean cars. Many owners won't take advantage of such an offer--diesel partisans can be just as committed to their technology as electric-car advocates--but the offer would send a powerful signal about the company's intent. I believe these are the sort of things Volkswagen must consider if it wants to convince the public it is serious about making proper restitution for this egregious deception.
How about offering eGolfs to the customers that don't want their dirty diesel anymore?
There are plenty of ways to make some good come out of this shameful episode. No matter how you slice it, it will be very painful for Volkswagen AG. How well or poorly the company manages this crisis will  have a lingering effect for years to come, even decades.

It appears VW intentionally deceived both the American consumer and the U.S. government, and put public health at risk, by knowingly planning and executing a fraud. To me, and I think to many others, that's much worse than a carmaker trying to delay or prevent a vehicle recall.

But Americans are forgiving people, and sin followed by redemption is a part of our national myth. As long as we believe the offender is genuinely remorseful for what it did, and is taking steps to prove it hase learned from the offense, recovery is possible--perhaps even lauded and held up as a shining example of redemption.

Now that we've found out the real truth in German engineering, the ball has moved into VW's court to decide on what it can do to begin to offset the damage it has done to itself, its customers, and the environment.
Let's hope Volkswagen is smart enough to make the right decisions.

*Edit: BMW released a statement regarding the recent discussion of diesel engines and emission compliance. You can read it HERE.

Monday, September 21, 2015

ChargePoint Home: Connected EV Charging with Style

The ChargePoint Home 25 EVSE is the latest addition to my EVSE collection
When most electric vehicle owners think of ChargePoint, they likely are thinking about public charging infrastructure. That's because for the past five years, ChargePoint's focus has been on installing and maintaining the largest network of public EVSEs in the US, with well over 20,000 locations currently in use.

Back in 2012, ChargePoint did release an EVSE for home charging, the CT500 made by Coulomb Technologies, but it was priced a bit above the market at $2,495. At the time, it was the only home EVSE that was networked, so that was a major advantage. However, the price was prohibitively high and competitive units were selling for half of that, so the CT500 never sold in any serious volume.

That won't be the case with ChargePoint Home, ChargePoint's new entry in the home EVSE market. I've had the opportunity to test this product for a month now, before the official launch and I've been really impressed.

There are two power levels offered, a 16 amp unit (The ChargePoint Home 12) and one which can deliver up to 32 amps (The ChargePoint Home 25). If you're wondering why "12" and "25" are used in the product names it is because ChargePoint is advertising that the 16 amp unit is capable of adding 12 miles of range per hour to the typical EV, and 25 miles of range per hour for the 32 amp unit. I'm not particularly fond of using that method to name them, since every EV is capable of achieving different levels of efficiency. Plus, I think it may confuse some people who think the number is the amps the EVSE is capable delivering. However, this is only the name so it's not really a big consideration.

Since I'm discussing the power delivery, this brings me to one of the few criticism I have for the new ChargePoint Home. While 32 amps is above the maximum charging limit for any currently-offered electric vehicle that isn't a Tesla or that uses a Tesla onboard charger (Mercedes B-Class ED), some of the competition is now offering 40 amp and 50 amp home charging solutions. These would be attractive for Tesla owners, and perhaps someone who wanted to future-proof their garage. I suspect ChargePoint would be ready to offer a higher powered version in the future if there are any new electric vehicles offered that can accept more than 32 amps. However, considering the current electric vehicle offerings, 32 amps is fine.

I got the optional 25' cord
After selecting whether you want the 16 amp or 32 amp EVSE, you then have the option of choosing a hard wired unit or one that plugs in. The 16 amp plug-in version uses a NEMA 6-20 outlet and the 32 amp plug-in EVSE uses a NEMA 6-50 outlet. Once that is decided you can choose the length of cable you want, but that's only if you buy the 32 amp version. For some reason, the 16 amp version only comes with a 12' cord, you cannot order it with one longer. That could be a deal breaker for some people whose garage is set up in a way that twelve feet of cable won't reach their charge port. On the other hand, the 32 amp unit comes standard with an 18' cord, and has an optional 25' cord for an additional $50. It's a bit puzzling why the lower powered unit isn't available with a longer cord, and I believe this will steer many potential customers to the higher powered EVSE, even if they originally considered the lower powered unit (maybe that's the plan!).  I did reach out to ChargePoint about this and was told that a customer can order a replacement cord of either 18' or 25' length and replace the 12' standard cord that comes with the 16 amp EVSE. I didn't get the pricing, but I assume it will cost considerably more than the $50 up-charge when you upgrade from an 18' cord to the 25'cord on a ChargePoint Home 25 (32 amp). The rep also told me that if there is demand for longer cords on the 16 amp unit, then ChargePoint will consider offering it at a later date.


Drill bit & nut driver
If you choose to go with one of the plug-in versions, you'll need to have an electrician install the appropriate outlet in your garage. The 16 amp unit requires a 20 amp, 240v dedicated circuit with a  NEMA 6-20 outlet and the 32 amp EVSE requires a 40 amp circuit with a NEMA 6-50 outlet. I chose the 32 amp hard wired one, with a 25 foot cord. Since I was replacing one of my older EVSEs with the Home unit, it was an extremely simple process, and that wasn't by accident. ChargePoint made every effort to make installing the Home EVSE as easy as possible, especially if the owner was swapping out an older EVSE for the new Home unit. In that case, it's so easy to do that the average person can probably complete the installation in less than an hour. I had mine installed in about 30 minutes. A drill bit and nut driver for the supplied wall mounting screws are even included. One aspect of the installation I found curious is that all three mounting screws run down the center of the unit, as opposed to the four corners. This could possibly cause the EVSE to rock a bit from side to side if the wall it's mounted on isn't flat. I'd prefer if the mounting screws were in the four corners, which would provide for a more secure mount on uneven surfaces.

                                  ChargePoint Home installation video

Another great feature is how compact, lightweight and portable the ChargePoint Home is. At only 11.2" by 7" it's stylish and not bulky. It has a back-lit connector holster which swivels up and down and that helps to make returning the connector to the base easy, even in the dark. If you choose the plug in version, you can easily take this EVSE with you for charging away from home. All you would need is the appropriate outlet at your destination. The ChargePoint Home is indoor and outdoor rated and is UL listed.

The ChargePoint app displays useful charging information such as current and cumulative energy draw. You can also set a "Remind Me to Plug in" notification, so you never wake up to an uncharged EV.


Perhaps the best feature of ChargePoint Home is that it can be integrated with your ChargePoint account which allows the user access to information from the ChargePoint mobile app. This includes viewing information on the current charging session, remotely start and schedule charging, set notification reminders so you don't forget to plug in, review data on past charging sessions, and it even works with Nest thermostat products which can help save energy.

ChargePoint Home EVSE pricing starts at $499 for the Home 12 hard wired station and goes up to $749 for the Home 25 plug in station with a 25 foot cord. Full pricing details are below. ChargePoint Home has a three year warranty and is available through Amazon.

ChargePoint Home 12: 16A Hardwire station with 12' cord$499
ChargePoint Home 12: 16A Plug station with 12' cord$549
ChargePoint Home 25: 32A Hardwire station with 18' cord$649
ChargePoint Home 25: 32A Plug station with 18' cord$699
ChargePoint Home 25: 32A Hardwire station with 25' cord$699
ChargePoint Home 25: 32A Plug station with 25' cord$749
Slim, compact design

I've been using my ChargePoint Home 25 for a few weeks now and I really like it. ChargePoint has a winner with this EVSE, and I predict it will sell very well. I've been driving electric for over six years now, and I've seen the evolution of EVSE products. It's good to see the products continue to improve just as the prices continue to go down. The ChargePoint Home delivers on size, portability, quality and ease of installation. It's stylish, competitively priced, and best of all connected to the ChargePoint Network which allows the user mobile access to effective tools which can enhance their electric lifestyle. This all adds up to great news for EV owners.

Note: I received for free, one ChargePoint Home 25 EVSE from ChargePoint for testing, feedback and product review publication before the consumer launch. No other compensation was made.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

First DCQC Unit in the East Coast Express Charging Corridor Installed

An i3 sits next to a 24kW DC Fast Charge unit during the announcement of the BMW, VW & ChargePoint joint venture earlier this year. 
It's been seven months since BMW, along with Volkswagen and ChargePoint announced a joint venture which would install roughly 100 DC fast charge units on the East and West coasts. While there's been a lot of work identifying potential locations and negotiating with site managers, there hasn't really been any tangible progress that electric vehicle owners could see.  

The plan is to create "Express Charging Corridors" on both coasts, with DC Fast Charge stations placed no more than 50 miles apart. The East Coast Corridor will connect Washington DC to Boston, Massachusetts and the West Coast Corridor would extend from San Diego, California to Portland, Oregon.  There would be two kinds of DC Fast Charge stations utilized. The stations placed directly on the highway locations of the corridors would be 50kW units, most of which will be dual head CCS & CHAdeMO stations. Then, on secondary locations slightly off the direct corridors, 24kW CCS-only units will be placed. While these 24kW units aren't necessarily quite fast enough to be convenient for long distance travel of hundreds of miles, they are very useful for intercity travel and charge at three to four times the speed of standard level 2 public charging.
ChargePoint's East and West Coast Express Charging Corridor Infographic
I applied, and was recently approved under the program guidelines to have one of the 24kW units installed on my commercial property in Montclair New Jersey.  I'm currently awaiting the permits to be approved and hope to have the station installed and working before my National Drive Electric Week event on September 12th. Always the competitor, I was also hoping to be the first East Coast public location in the program to get a station installed, but I'm actually happy to report that won't be the case. That's because a friend of mine and fellow BMW i3 owner, Bruce Redman Becker has beaten me to it. Bruce, and architect and developer, is responsible for 777 Main Street in Hartford Connecticut, a newly developed 285 unit apartment building with a 250 car parking garage. In describing the location to me, Bruce had this to say:

"The site is just two blocks from exits off I-91 and off I-84.  We have one SAE combo DC fast charger and 10 level 2 chargers (3 duals in the surface lot and 2 duals up the ramp within the covered garage).  Power  for all 11 Chargepoint chargers comes from a 400kw fuel cell adjacent to the chargers that also provides renewable clean energy to heat and power the apartment tower.We have three coffee shops on our block, including a Blue State Coffee on the first floor of 777 Main opening in September.  And there are over a dozen great restaurants nearby as well as a great camera shop, CVS, banks and the Hartford Atheneum museum to enjoy while charging."
An i3 using the DC Fast Charger at 777 Main Street, Hartford Connecticut 
So while none of the main corridor, 50kW units have been installed yet, it seems the secondary, 24kW stations are beginning to materialize here on the East Coast, which is welcome news. I know some i3 owners have been frustrated by the seemingly lack of action with regards to the DC Fast Charge roll out, but I also know first hand that BMW and ChargePoint have been working very hard to locate potential locations, negotiate site agreements and collect bids for the installation. They've been at it for half a year now and I believe we're going to begin to see some real progress made in the next couple months. Getting the first one up and running can sometime seem like the biggest hurdle in programs like this. Well, now that that's done I'm optimistic that in the next six months we'll see dramatic progress made on both coasts. 
Three 24kW DCFC units have been up and running at BMW Headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ since January. They are open to the public and free to use.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

BMW i3 A/C Compressor Noise: Yes, That's Normal...

Turn the volume up to hear the A/C compressor at work

Now that dog days of summer are upon us, I've noticed quite a few i3 owners popping up on social media sites like the i3 Facebook Group, the MyBMWi3 Forum and the BMW i Circuit Forum asking if the loud noise they hear coming from under their car is normal. Like all EVs, the i3 is very quiet most of the time so when you hear a loud noise coming from the vehicle which you've never heard before, it's understandable to assume there may be something wrong.

However in this case there is nothing to worry about. The loud noise you hear when you park the car or when you plug in to charge is just the air conditioning compressor running. The car's thermal management system is working to cool off the batteries. Keeping the batteries cool is vital to prolonging their life, and preventing early capacity loss. Some early Nissan LEAF owners who lived in warm weather climates experienced unacceptable battery capacity loss and actually sued Nissan over it. The LEAF uses a passive thermal management system which doesn't actively cool the batteries like most modern EVs do, and in extreme cases the batteries were damaged from the heat. There are different types of systems used in today's EVs, and the i3's is likely the best one out there. The thermal management system is just another reason the i3 has been called the most advanced vehicle on the planet.

The i3 has a sophisticated thermal management system which uses R134a refrigerant to cool the batteries. It's actually the only EV to employ this type of battery cooling method. Some electric vehicles from other manufacturers use fans to blow air across the batteries to cool them, while other more advanced systems use a liquid based thermal management system. Liquid based systems work well, but they use more energy than the i3's system does, and using an inert gas is also the safest way to cool the battery. If the i3's battery pack is somehow compromised, the gas will simply and harmlessly dissipate. One potential problem of liquid based thermal management systems is in the rare case of a catastrophic rupture of the battery pack, the liquid could act as an accelerant if the battery has a fire, spreading the fire to other parts of the pack. I don't see this as a serious flaw in liquid based thermal management systems, and I'd feel perfectly safe driving or owning an EV which had one. It's just that I believe the i3's TMS is simply better than the competition's.

So if you're an i3 owner and are wondering why the car has been making this loud buzzing noise recently, now you know. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

BMW i3 REx One Year Review

Delivery day: May 21st, 2014

Well that went by fast. After waiting patiently for years for BMW to bring the "Megacity" car, their first production electric vehicle to market, my first year of ownership really flew by quickly. On May 21st of last year I was the first i3 REx delivery in the US. My one year review is about a month late, but that has only given me some more time to gather my thoughts about it.

About a month into ownership last year, I authored two posts dedicated to my initial likes and dislikes. Many of those initial thoughts still hold true, but I've also had some changes of opinion as well as discovering new annoyances and new attributes which I appreciate.
One of the few pictures I have of my car in its real color; Laurel Grey. I wrapped it red the first week I had it.

Overall I'm very happy with my i3 and there isn't another car I'd prefer to have. It really suits my needs while offering the perfect balance of performance, utility, comfort and efficiency that I desire. I managed to pile up a little over 25,000 miles by my first year anniversary (I'm up to about 27k now) with 23,700 miles on battery alone and 1,300 miles with the REx engine running. That equates to about 95% all electric miles. I'm sure some will question whether I needed the range extender option at all since I only used it for about 5% of my driving and that's a valid question. I guess I didn't really need it, but I definitely don't regret spending the additional $3,850 for it and I'll explain why.
The REx performed perfectly on my 462 mile road trip from New Jersey to Vermont. Going there and back I drove a total of 111 miles on battery and 351 on the REx, needing a little under 10 gallons of gas for the trip. I'll gladly replace gassing up on long trips with a couple 30 minute quick charge stops once the infrastructure matures, but for now the REx is my best option for the occasional long trip.

First and foremost, the range extender allowed me to take the car every day without even thinking twice about whether I had enough range or whether or not I would have the opportunity to plug in during the day. Back when I did my initial likes and dislikes, the first thing I pointed out was that I think BMW missed an opportunity to separate themselves a bit from the pack of "80 mile EVs" out there. The 81 mile EPA range rating for the BEV i3 was just a little too low for me so I went for the REx. As it turns out, there weren't too many days which I needed the REx, but having it there allowed me to take the car on days I may not have because I wasn't sure how far I might need to drive that day. So in reality, the range extender allowed me to drive more electric miles than if I didn't have it. I'd say I probably only needed the REx about two or three times a month on average, and even then it was usually for less than twenty miles. There were a couple long road trips which accounted for the majority of miles, and a few times I needed it for 30 to 50 additional miles. When I first got the car I took it to get wrapped and the shop was about 130 miles from my house. The drive back was nearly all on the range extender. I took a couple 150 to 200 mile round trips, my wife took the car on a business trip to Pennsylvania and I also made a 462 mile round trip to Vermont. It's true I could have managed without the REx, but having it there increased the utility of the vehicle immensely and if I had it to do all over, I would definitely get the REx again. However, if BMW had optioned it with a 28-29kWh battery pack (33% larger), I would definitely choose that over the REx.

The car is holding up well and there are no squeaks or rattles to report. My interior still looks brand new, even with heavy use and high mileage for one year. I'm pointing that out because I have heard a few i3 owners report their leather seats showed premature wear, and even a couple people say the eucalyptus wood dash panels developing cracks (which BMW replaced under warranty). I have nothing negative or unusual to report on this though. Since I wrapped the car shortly after getting it, I can't really comment on how the exterior painted surfaces are fairing. Since this is the first BMW with all plastic body panels, and since BMW developed an entirely new way of painting the panels which uses 70 percent less water and 50 percent less energy than painting systems employed for their steel body panels, I think it's fair to wonder how well the painted panels will hold up over time. I have had a few people ask me how the wrap is doing and I can say that after a year of driving in New Jersey (including a harsh winter with a lot of snow and ice) the wrap is beginning to show signs of wear and even peeling on some of the corners. You really have to be looking at it hard to find the problem spots, but small issues are surfacing which I'm sure will only get worse. I really only intended to keep it wrapped for a year or so, so I'm not concerned. I figured this would happen after about a year. Just keep this in mind if you are planning to do a vehicle wrap. 
The wrap is bubbling a bit on the side mirrors
Wheel well beginning to peel

The redesigned fuel sensor
Over the year I had a couple of maintenance issues which needed service. The good thing was my dealer, JMK BMW, has i3s in their loaner fleet so I was able to drive an i3 even when my car was in for service, which amounted to a total of 14 days. The first issue was one that all the early i3's had, a blown onboard charger, or as BMW calls it, a KLE (Komfortladeelektronik or Comfort Charging Electronics in English). One good thing about the way BMW engineered the onboard charging is that there are two 3.7kW on board chargers, one in the main EME (Electrical Machine Electronics) and the other, the KLE, is installed separately from the EME. So if you do have a KLE failure, you can still charge the car, albeit at half speed. I can't give BMW a pass on this issue though. They had five years of field testing with the MINI-E and ActiveE, and to come out of the gate with a faulty on board charger is inexcusable in my opinion. To their credit, they quickly resolved the issue by re-engineering the KLE, and installing it in the existing i3 fleet. I've had the new KLE  in my car for 10 months now, and it's been working fine. There was another issue that all i3's with the range extender had, which was a faulty fuel pressure sensor. Almost immediately after the i3 launched, REx owners were getting a Check Engine light, even if they never fired up the REx. It turned out a fuel pressure sensor was getting corroded by the gasoline used in the US. Evidently the mixture is different from the gas used in Europe where the i3 had launched 6 months earlier without this issue, and the additives in the US gas were creating havoc with the sensor. Again BMW quickly made a new fuel pressure sensor, this one actually has gold plated connectors to resist corrosion.
My battery pack dropped from the car. The heating element is inside, below the battery modules

I also had a flaky voltage regulator for the battery heating element which was occasionally sending an error message. I don't think BMW was sure if the sensor was bad or if the regulator was bad so they just replaced both. That required removing my entire pack to replace the regulator. I was surprised that this major service was accomplished by my dealer in less than two days. The only other issues I had were flat tires; four of them to be exact. It's difficult for me to really assess blame on this, since flat tires are usually the fault of the driver for running over debris or adverse road conditions, but four flats in one year is a little troublesome. Could it be related to the rubber compound Bridgestone used to make these unique tires, or related to how tall and thin they are? The two main problems I have with this are the fact that since the i3 doesn't have a spare, you are left stranded unless the mobility kit (an air compressor and tire sealant) can temporarily seal the hole and allow you to drive home or to a repair shop. Secondly, the tall thin tires are unique to the i3, so they aren't always in stock at the dealer. One time I had to wait four days for the dealer to get one. 
With no spare tire onboard, a flat means you're getting towed

At least with a sidewall bubble you can drive to the dealer, but you still need to buy a new tire and hope it's in stock
Three of the four flats I had were caused by sidewall bubbles, which happen when the inner liner of the tire is damaged. Sidewall bubbles typically happen when you hit a pothole, curb or road debris. In all three cases when I had this happen, I hit a good sized pothole and immediately figured I'd have a problem. Pulling over once it was safe confirmed what I had expected. The other flat I had was caused by a large metal screw. In that case I was actually only a couple blocks from a BMW dealer who actually had the tire in stock and I was able to wait there and drive off about an hour later. A few years back I had a Porsche Boxster with low profile Pirelli tires and had sidewall bubble issues with that car also, so I know this is something that is common with low profile tires. The difference was the car had a spare tire and the Pirellis were available everywhere. If I could go back in time I probably wouldn't have gotten the $1,300 optional 20" sport wheels and I certainly would have paid the $1,000 for the tire and wheel insurance. I definitely like the look of the 20" wheels, but they are lower profile than the 19" stock wheels, and that makes them more susceptible to bubbling. 
91 miles on a charge is my personal best to date

As for the range, in warm weather (over 65 degrees) I can usually beat the EPA rated range of 72 miles per charge. In fact, I average about 78 miles per charge in these favorable conditions. The cold weather takes its toll and the worst range I ever got was 48 miles on a full charge before the REx turned on. This happened back in January when the temperature was below zero with ice covered roads and I didn't precondition the cabin or battery. I actually wanted to see just how bad the range could be in those conditions. However most of the winter when temperatures were under 30 degrees I averaged about 58 to 60 miles per charge. The furthest I ever drove before the REx kicked in was 91 miles, which I did shortly after taking delivery.

I'll now list the top ten things I either find annoying, would like to see corrected or added features to future i3s.

1) Configurable regenerative braking. I'd like to select how aggressive or weak the regenerative braking is. Other manufacturers offer this and the owners I've spoken with appreciate having control over their regen. The i3's regen does increase in strength when in Eco Pro and Eco Pro+ modes, but I'd prefer the ability to manually adjust it.

2) The car needs an extension flaps on the sun visors. There is a huge gap between the visors and early morning drives can be difficult when heading East. 

3) The charging connector needs to unlock from the vehicle when the charging session ends. BMW had said this would be part of the March 2015 software update (which I have) but it still doesn't work. 
The large gap between the visors allows the blinding sun to get through. Visor extension flaps would be appreciated.

4) The front storage compartment (frunk) should be waterproof. If that is problematic then install a snap-on or hinged cover to keep dirt and water spray out. 
The current configuration allows leaves, water and dirt to get into the frunk storage compartment. Anything stored up there gets dirty and wet. A cover would solve the issue. 

5) Remove the annoying disclaimers and seat belt gong every time you turn the car on.  The seat belt warning should give you ten or twenty seconds to buckle up before it sounds the alarm. I might code my car just to remove these.

6) Fix the windshield wiper. It currently pulls water back into the drivers view when it changes direction. During heavy rains there is a significant obstruction to the drivers view of the left side of the windshield. 
The wiper leaves a line of water on the windshield, and actually pulls it back into the drivers line of vision when it changes direction.

7) Add a battery temperature readout. BMW can bury it in iDrive if they don't want it on the main display screen, but put it somewhere. Many experienced electric vehicle drivers want to see their battery temperature.

8) Add a heated steering wheel. In my opinion heated seats and steering wheel should be standard on all EVs, especially ones from premium brands. I would have really appreciated it last winter.

9) Include an AM radio. Other EV manufacturers have figured out how to reduce the interference and offer it in their vehicles. I'm sure BMW can figure this out too, even if the reception isn't perfect. 
When the ACC disengages, you get this warning. The problem is by then it's already disengaged and the car is applying the regenerative braking.

10) Fix the Adaptive Cruise Control and Parking Assistant. These are really great features, and this kind of technology is expected in a car like the i3. The problem is the ACC disengages suddenly and doesn't recognize certain vehicles because of their tail light configuration. The car will drive right into the rear of a Dodge Charger for instance, because the Charger's taillights (which extend across the entire rear of the vehicle) for some reason confuse the ACC. Direct sunlight and sometimes overpasses also cause the system to shut off without warning. I dedicated a post to this issue a few months ago. The Parking Assistant is an automated parking feature which does an incredible job of parking the i3 in very tiny parking spots. It only needs an opening which is 22 inches longer than the car to park it. The problem is, I've had numerous people report to me that the car rubbed the curb during the automated parking, scratching the rims. I've had enough people tell me this happened to believe it wasn't just a couple cars malfunctioning. I believe there is an inherent flaw in this feature which needs to be fixed, so for now I recommend not using the Parking Assistant until we get word that the issue had been corrected. 

OK, so by now you must be thinking I must really hate the i3, considering all these things I've pointed out that I don't like. That wouldn't be correct. I actually love the car and wouldn't trade it for anything, but nothing's perfect, and BMW can definitely make adjustments which would improve the i3 in my opinion. Now I'll dive into my top ten i3 likes

1) Spacious interior. For a car that is only 13 feel long, it has a lot of interior room. It actually has nearly the same interior volume as a 3-Series which is more than two feet longer than the i3.
Spacious, comfortable and well laid out. The i3's interior is definitely one of its strong points

2) Beautiful interior. In my opinion the i3's interior is stunning and laid out perfectly. The seats are very comfortable and the outward vision is excellent.

3) It's incredibly fun to drive. The instant torque, combined with the light weight make the i3 the most fun to drive electric vehicle this side of a Tesla P85D. The low end acceleration (under 60mph) is fantastic and it's actually the fastest one of the fastest BMWs from 0-30mph. Somehow the tall, thin tires do their job and keep the car under control in hard turns. While it doesn't corner like an M3, it really does just fine when it needs to. I've let dozens of friends and family members drive it and they all walk away with an ear to ear grin. It's really a blast to drive.

4) Futuristic, sustainable construction. I love the fact that I'm driving the only volume production to ever be constructed with a passenger compartment primarily made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic, an all aluminum frame and thermoplastic body panels. There is absolutely nothing else like it on the road today. Plus, every stage of manufacturing and assembly was developed with sustainability in mind.100% of the electricity used in the Leipzig assembly plant is derived from the wind farm BMW installed on the site. It actually generates so much excess electricity that BMW sells the excess to the Volkswagen AG. Even the carbon fiber plant in Moses Lake, Washington where the CF is made is powered 100% by renewable hydro-power. 
BMW's Leipzig plant where the i3 is made. The on site wind turbines produce more energy than the plant uses.
5) The charging rate. I can consistently pull 7.2kW at home (30 amps @ 240v) and now that there are finally some CCS DC fast Chargers being installed I can look forward to fast charging on the go. I'll soon be installing a 24kW CCS DC Fast charger at my restaurant so I'll have access to it every day. One of the advantages of having a relatively small battery is it charges quickly! I can fully recharge in a little under four hours while charging level 2, and I can be at 90% in about three hours. Tesla is the only EV manufacturer in the US making on board charging equipment which can deliver more than 7.2kW from a level 2 (240v) source.

6) The efficiency. According to the EPA, the i3 is currently the most efficient car sold in America. Over the entire year I averaged 3.9 miles per kWh. In the warmer weather I'm usually around 4.5 mi/kWh and in the winter I was averaging about 3.5 mi/kWh. I should note that I don't drive the car softly, and I'm certain many other i3 owners see much better consumption figures. It's way too much fun to drive it like it was a Prius. Averaging 4 mi/kWh the i3 would cost the average American about $400 per year to drive 15,000 electric miles.
I needed to drive over 200 miles on the range extender when I drove it to Vermont last winter. I set the cruise control to 70 mph and the REx was able to sustain the charge level the entire trip without any issue, even with needing to make a few elevation climbs.
7) The range extender. I know above I said I'd prefer a larger battery over the REx, but that just isn't an option at this time. As far as range extenders go, I like how BMW set this one up. It's truly an auxiliary power unit, one that has no physical connection with the wheels and cannot drive the wheels under any condition. It's sole purpose is to maintain the battery state of charge and allow the driver to continue along until they have the opportunity to plug in. You'd never buy an i3 REx and not charge it, simply driving on gas all the time. It's not meant to drive just as well on gas as it is on electric and I like that. It's an electric car with a secondary power source meant for occasional use, and in that vein it works perfectly - well for me at least. In all of my REx-ing, I never had the vehicle go into reduced power mode which can happen if you are using more energy than the 650cc engine can deliver. This can happen under long sustained hill climbing at highway speeds. BMW is currently working on a solution which will allow for more robust range extender use. This feature will be called Hill Climb Assist and will be available in the Fall. All current REx cars will get the update. There is another option which some owners have done, and that's coding the car to allow REx-on-demand. I have not done that to my car because the range extender has been able to do anything I've called for it to do so far, and I've found that as long as I set the cruise control for 70 mph or lower, I can drive indefinitely, provided I keep refueling every 60 miles or so. Probably the best thing I can say about the range  extender is it's allowed me to never even think about my range anymore, I just get in the car everyday and drive. 
Resting at home. You can see the winter tire/wheel combo on the rack above the car. The Bridgestone Blizzak tires were excellent in the snow. I suspect this was an instance where the tall, thin tires actually improved the traction.
8) The attention. Everywhere I go people stop and ask me about the car. I understand many people might not like that, but I do like talking about it and having a discussion about why they should consider driving electric too. I know there are people who think the i3 is ugly, but the response I get from the majority of people is they think it's cool. I don't think the i3 is the best looking car on the road, but I definitely don't see it as ugly and neither do most of the people who stop me to ask about it. When I'm working I can see it through the windows in the parking lot. Every day people walk up to it, look inside and many take pictures of it. Like it or not, it generates a lot of interest.
9) Battery management system & preconditioning. The i3 has a sophisticated thermal management system which works with the preconditioning feature to keep the batteries within the optimum operating temperatures. Which, for the Samsung cells used by BMW is 67 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. When the batteries are much cooler than 67 degrees, you begin to lose range and when the battery temperature is above 104 degrees the cells degrade and begin to lose capacity. Excessive heat can be one of the biggest enemies for prolonging lithium ion battery life so a good thermal management system will help extend the battery's life. The i3 uses R134a refrigerant which not only works very well, but also is extremely safe in the event of an accident. Liquid based thermal management systems have an elevated risk of fire in the event of a battery module rupture. In many of these systems it's possible for the liquid to act as an accelerant, and intensify the fire. R134a is an inert gas and simply dissipates in the event of a ruptured pack or fire. It's actually the same refrigerant used in most car air conditioning systems. I'm not saying I think liquid thermal management systems aren't safe, because that's not the case. I just believe using an inert gas is better, and the i3 is the only EV to employ this technology so it's worth noting. It's just another aspect of the car which demonstrates how far outside the box BMW went when engineering the i3, and a perfect example of why the i3 has been called "The most advanced vehicle on the planet".

The i3's navigation "spider map" offers a pretty accurate visual display on the cars current range in the different driving modes.
10) A lot of small things add up to really enhance the ownership experience. Besides the usual attributes expected in all electric vehicles like the quiet cabin and the smooth linear acceleration with instant torque, the i3 has some extras that really seem to make the whole car exceed the sum of its parts. I love the hill hold feature which keeps it from rolling like many other EVs do while stopped. The absence of artificial creep is a welcomed "addition" that some other EV manufacturers just don't seem to get. I've done more than one poll on this topic and the vast majority of people say they don't want artificial creep in their electric vehicle and BMW got this right. I love how the aggressive regen really allows "one pedal driving". While I did mention above that I wish the regen was adjustable, the level it's set at now is just about perfect for me in most driving conditions. Adjustable would be better, but as is the regen level is very good, probably the best of any electric vehicle in my opinion. The soft speed limiter helps to coach you to drive more efficiently if you want to, and the three different driving modes (Comfort, Eco Pro & Eco Pro+) gives the driver the ability to extend their range significantly. The "spider map" display in the navigation system shows how far the car can go in each driving mode, and alerts the driver if their selected destination is beyond the range, pointing them to possible charging stations along the desired route. The brake assist will sound an audible alert if it senses the car is rapidly approaching the vehicle in front of it and it will even apply the brakes automatically if you are going under 30 mph and it determines you are about to have a possible collision. I also really appreciate that most BMW dealerships now have i3s as loaner cars so i3 owners can continue to drive electric even if their car is in for service. Finally, the large center display screen is as crisp and clear as any I've seen. It is positioned so there is almost no glare issues and the HD rear view camera is television-quality clear.
The "Secret Service Menu" shows I have 19.1 kWh available when fully charged
So that pretty much sums up my thoughts after one year of ownership. I listed ten positives and ten negatives and hope the information above helps to paint a picture of what I believe are the i3's strengths and weaknesses. One more topic I'd like to touch on though is battery degradation. There are a lot of people curious about how well the battery is holding up over time and use. I'm going to be doing a more comprehensive post on this soon, but I'd like to at least mention what I've observed after 13 months and 27,000 miles. Fortunately, the i3 has a "secret service menu" in the OBC which allows the battery capacity to be displayed. While BMW officially states the i3 has a usable 18.8 kWh of the 21.6 kWh total battery pack, the service menu indicates we get a little more to access. An entire kWh more in fact. When new, the service menu shows approximately 19.8 kWh available. I've had others report seeing slightly less, but the majority of people who know how to access this info have told me the highest capacity figure they've seen was 19.8 kWh. I have been checking my capacity and watching it slowly decrease. It's currently showing that I have 19.1 kWh available, which would mean I've lost about 3.5% of my capacity in 13 months and 27,000 miles. I've plugged about 700 times during the year and virtually always charge to 100%. I'll be keeping an eye on this and will report back on the capacity loss here from time to time.
I have an 8.8kW solar array on my home in Chester, NJ. It generates most of the electricity I use for the house and charging needs.

I'd like to also point out that during the year, BMW added a numeric state of charge display. This was something I, and many other i3 owners asked for. It might seem like a minor detail, but what's most encouraging is BMW responded to their customer requests and through a software update added the SOC display. Of course there was always a SOC display there, in the form of a bar graph, but many people wanted to see it displayed more precisely, in a numeric value as well and BMW delivered. Now let's see if we can get the battery temperature display in year two...
By toggling through the OBC options, you can see the SOC of 47% in the upper left hand corner of the drivers display screen.
In closing, the i3 pretty much ended up as I expected. It's far from perfect, but so is every other car I've ever driven. I wish it had a larger battery (or a larger battery option), a few monochromatic paint scheme options (like I did with the wrap), offered in a "sport" version with the coilovers that come standard in the Japanese market and a few other sporty upgrades and I think BMW needs to address the issues with the ACC and Parking Assistant features. I don't mind that the moonroof isn't available in the US, and the unconventional exterior styling doesn't bother me. I am much more concerned with the car's interior since that is what I interact with while driving. Speaking of driving, for me it really all comes down to that. The i3 delivers more fun than you should legally be allowed to have at 4 miles per kilowatt-hour.