To Custom Plate or Not?

A friend of mine stopped by the other day to get a look at the new Tesla Model S, and probably the second comment out of his mouth was “You need to get custom plates for this!”  I had been thinking about it, but would love others thoughts about custom license plates – your feelings in general, and specifically for a new electric car that has aspirations to change the market.

Thanks for your thoughts, please leave any ideas in the comments!

Image

A New Electric Ride (with heat!)

A New Electric Ride (with heat!)

After a 14-month wait, yesterday i took delivery of a new Tesla Model S – so good to be back running on electrons, and in a purpose-built electric car that really feels like you’re driving the future. Thanks to Tesla DES Nathan (right) and future Tesla owner Leigh Light for being part of the experience.

20,000 Electric Miles

Last night – after my usual 90 mile commute and a 5 mile round trip to a client – I had to run out for an errand several miles away. At about 8:40pm, the odometer on #217 turned over the 20,000 mile mark. I was so happy I pulled over to record the event.

20,000 electric-powered (and solar charged) miles!

This was one of my original goals when I first started this test last June, as I thought that to make this test meaningful (and cost-effective!) I’d need to drive the car to a significant distance.

That errand last night came at a convenient time, as sadly my time with #217 is coming to an end today. It has been a very rewarding 365 days, filled with some surprises and one or two frustrations, but on the whole a very, very satisfying test drive of what I hope and expect will be a mass-market option in automobiles in the coming years.

I took a look back to last June, before I received #217, and uncovered this list of questions that I hoped to get answered:

“…now I have another opportunity to leverage those (solar) panels to help offset what is undoubtedly my biggest personal contribution to global warming: a daily 90-mile commute. And that’s going to be something pretty amazing – generating abundant, renewable, clean energy from the Solar panels on my roof, and putting it into storage in the batteries of my MINI E in order to move me the 45 miles between my Point A & B. It’s a compelling model for us all, and could point to a greener, more peaceful future for ourselves and our children.

But will it work? What will happen in a thunder storm? Can I use the A/C on hot summer days when I’m stuck in a traffic jam and still 40 miles from home? Will I miss stopping by the gas station and picking up a Snapple? Can I zap myself accidentally?”

Luckily I didn’t get zapped, didn’t stall in a lightning storm, was able to run the A/C on hot days (though things did get a little cool on winter days), and ultimately enjoyed about 332 days fun, fast, all-electric driving. I even stopped by a few gas stations to get some ice tea, put some air in the tires and clean the windshields.

I also learned a few other things about driving an electric car:

- ‘range anxiety’ only lasts a week or so (after you get the 32amp wall box installed), and after that you’re  comfortable

- some kind of public charging infrastructure would reduce or eliminate range anxiety, and would be relatively easy to install (electricity already being the energy unit of choice for everything from iPods to Laundry’s)

- regenerative braking = “one pedal” driving control, which is fun, efficient, and saves the brake pads

- only about 3% of the population will notice that you’re driving an all-electric car unaided

- drafting off of trucks can save 5% of your battery pack

- you will forget to plug in…but you will only do this once

There’s no doubt more to share, and I plan on continuing to add to the dialog on electric cars. My hope is that in less than a year I can own one, but we’ll see how that goes.

For now, #217 and I part ways and take different forks in the road. #217 is headed to either China or Europe, whereas tomorrow I’m still headed to work. It just won’t be a solar-powered commute any more.

24 Hours, 426 Miles, Hundreds of Stories

As I have learned, a 24-hour Road Rally in a MINI E requires extensive planning, reliable deodorant, a dash of stubbornness, a bit of “road magic” (aka luck) and a good friend to share it all with. Luckily I had all that last Memorial Day weekend, and was able to finish the rally 426 miles the richer in experience.

My original goal was 400 miles, which I figured by assuming a 4.5 hour recharge every 100 miles. But having discovered the joys of the “95% charge” (which can be achieved in as little as 3 hours on a 32 Amp box), I believe a more dedicated (and less scenic) rally could pass the 600 mile mark. A maniac could probably do 700.

But Scott McDonald – friend, navigator, electric-car newbie – and I decided early on that this was to be a “civilized” rally, with good food, cool history, interesting sights and all the non-alcoholic beverages required to wash it all down. And boy did we enjoy, everything from a visit to a Wizard to a trip up Mt. Fuji.

The game is afoot!

Things kicked off Sunday, at 11:20am at the South Amboy, NJ train station, where I collected Brooklyn’s own S.D. McDonald. We then headed 40 miles north to Montclair, NJ – home to Tom Moloughney’s Nauna’s Bella Casa restaurant, which has become the defacto headquarters for East Coast MINI E pioneers.

#217 dined on some 50amp juice, while Scott & I enjoyed the best balsamic calamari I’ve ever had, some incredible shrimp parmigiana and very tasty stuffed shells. We then took a nice stroll around Montclair, and had time to visit with our ever-gracious host.

Scott & Tom, the two best-looking models I could afford

And then I got to experience something I hoped would’ve happened hundreds of times by now, but just hasn’t for me (hey now, don’t go there…) – a stranger approached and asked why my car was plugged in! Some nice lady from Queens then got the full M&M (Miller & Moloughney) – a 1/2 hour session of electric car nerd talk! Scott was also regaled with the facts, figures and anecdotes, and so he earned his MINI E degree as well. Fun stuff, and a great way to kick things off.

We next headed out to West Orange, NJ – which should’ve been a short 7 miles away, but using the Scott & Gordon GPS system we made it an even 10 miles. Which leads me to another truth about a 24-hour electric car road rally – there are no bad miles, there are only miles, and the need for an outlet before you reach your last one.

West Orange is home to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, and like all National Parks it’s a wonderland that I vow I’ll come

Home to another electric car geek

back to visit again someday. My original plan was to take a quick photo opp, and then get on the road – but visiting the “Wizard of Menlo Park”‘s playpen was like thumbing thru an encyclopedia, and so we spent about :45 minutes longer browsing than I had intended. The library alone is worth a look, as are the many different labs and work areas. Think of what Willy Wonka’s factory would look like if electricity was the main ingredient instead of chocolate.

After Edison we detoured for a quick visit to my daughter’s soccer tournament in Manalapan, NJ (Arsenal, U14 Girls Champs!) and then we spun back around and headed north.

Our first trip to Home Base in Pearl River, NY saw us with 150 miles on the odometer and about 5 hours on the clock. Hardly a blistering pace, but it was a lot of fun making some videos of the experience (which I promise to edit and post soon…).

Our next landmark was to my favorite bridge on the planet – the Bear Mountain Bridge in the Hudson Highlands of New York. My plan

MINI meets BIG

was to get some great pics of what was at one time the longest suspension bridge in the world (it looks like it’s anchored into two mountains overlooking a narrow spot on the Hudson River…which is pretty much what it is) but we didn’t get up there in daylight because we got distracted by this huge Japanese gate on Mt. Fuji.

Actually, it’s just the entrance to the restaurant named Mt. Fuji at the top of a big hill near Suffern, NY – but standing under it you do feel like you’re in Japan. It’s located in a relatively undeveloped area near Harriman State Park, and so this HUGE ceremonial gate drops your jaw the first time you see it. We took a 20 minute detour to head to the top and grab a menu. Chalk up another place to come back to later though, as we’ve got miles on the menu, not sushi.

We hit Bear Mountain around 7pm, parked at the Bear Mtn. Inn and had a really nice walk across the span. One of the bridge attendants came out to make sure we weren’t jumpers, but other than that it was very peaceful, albeit dark.

Next stop was just 9.5 miles north – the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Before 9/11 you used to be able to stroll the grounds like any other college campus, but these days that’s only allowed at certain days and times, so the distraction-ability index was low. We did pull through the first gate

The General would've approved

and headed up the Thayer Hotel for a suitable photo op.

You can’t make out the paper I’m holding, but if you had a really good photographers loop you’d see it says “Stop #5 – West Point   Mileage: 205.5   Hours: 10″

From there we headed over the bridge, and back down the Hudson on the more fashionable Westchester side. Some pretty little towns there, including Ossining – lovely, except for the huge Sing Sing Prison which occupies prime waterfront real estate. We arrived back in Pearl River and went to bed.

My alarm went off at 3am, and I made a solo trip (only fitting that I pursue my dream while Scott pursued his) to Morristown, NJ.

Morristown is where I work, so the trip was a familiar and convenient 90 miles (to which I tacked on an extra 15 miles for good measure). It also has a singular historical draw as it was the headquarters of General Washington back in 1777 and the harsh winter of 1779/1780. Talk about Pioneers, those guys really toughed it out, so it was good motivation to continue the rally.

What's good enough for George is good enough for me

Back home I grabbed a couple of hours of sleep and woke up around 7:30am on Memorial Day. The car was 98% charged, and so we headed into town to fuel up on Pete’s Bagels.

After grabbing a quick breakfast, we swung by our town’s train station, where the local VFW post had set up their annual tribute to the local heroes. After setting up the mini grave markers with the names of the fallen and the wars that they served in, the members of the post stood vigil all night long. I waved

Pearl River, NY's Memorial Day Observation

to the gentleman who was there at 3am, but I wanted to be sure to stop by and pay my respects in the day light. Whatever your politics, whatever your feelings are about war, I think it’s vitally important to not let Memorial Day become just a metaphor for car sales.

We headed south with the intention of squeezing in 200 more miles in the final 4 hours. The plan was to swing by Manhattan and cross the Brooklyn Bridge, then head back home for a quick 2 hour charge and a final dash for the last miles we could eek out.

Coffee on the High Line

But we are weak, and again got distracted. This time by the fantastic new High Line park in Manhattan. I have been wanting to see it since it opened last June, but I never seemed to find the time. Luckily this time we were driving down the West Side Highway, saw the IAC Building and opted to pull over for a photo op (East Coast Pioneers will recall that it was at the IAC building that we all got our first look at the MINI E during the reception hosted by BMW/MINI).

The IAC building is unique, but not quite as unique as the High Line. An elevated train track that runs about 14 city blocks (with longer extensions planned) it is a strolling promenade about 20 feet in the air that transforms the city around it and places visitors in a new yet familiar place.  I can’t do it justice, but like the 24-Hour Road Rally it was an event that demanded I take time out and simply be in the moment. Add another spot to come back to later.

After the High Line, we got to talking about one of the city’s other new parks that is just recently opened, the new Brooklyn Bridge Park. Since the bridge was on our destination list, and since we’d killed our planned timeline already with an hour on the High Line, we decided to check it out.

No Sleep Brooklyn!

I didn’t take a photo at the park, but the sights and walkways of this brand new public space were as inviting as I could’ve hoped for. It’s interesting how cities are reclaiming their old industrial spaces – which often occupy great waterfronts – and turning them into something valuable and sustainable for the public to use and enjoy. Cities, individuals – even car companies – all like to change and adapt, and to try and better themselves. I view this car test as part of that imperative to change, and the Brooklyn Bridge Park – and the High Line as well – are just the newest, more positive examples of wonderful things that change can bring.

From the park we headed up to Williamsburg, which is where Scott makes his bed these days. We parted outside of his home with 390 miles on the odometer and 23

the Newest Electric Car Fan

hours on the clock. It was a fun event, this rally – but it would’ve been so much poorer without his companionship, his interest in the car, and his generally unflappable good nature. It also would’ve been so much less without the good will of the many people we met along the way. For that, I’d like to name them here – Tom Moloughney, the kids and parents at the soccer tournament, the friendly gate attendant who guided us back on the right road in West Orange, the Park Rangers at the Edison Historical Park, the valets at Mt. Fuji, the desk people at the Thayer Hotel, the VFW members in Pearl River, folks at Pete’s Deli (aka Zimi’s), the visitors on the High Line – all of whom proudly wore smiles in this sometimes-too-busy city – and many others I’m sure I’m forgetting.

Finally, I’d like to tip my hat to Don Young for his inspiration. It’s homegrown, made-up events like his tour last fall that I think we all need to take up more often. The daily grind can certainly grind the years by, and can make you cynical and distrustful of your fellow kind. But the fact is that people are great, and fun, and inventive. And we should get to meet them more often.

I wound up in Pearl River with a total of 426 miles at the deadline. That pretty much assures that I’ll pass the 20,000 mile mark

The Checkered Flag

before I turn the car back in on June 17th. But in the end this 24-hour Rally wasn’t so much about the miles, as it was about the incredible places and incredible people I’m surrounded by every day. I’ll learn to slow down a bit and appreciate them all more often now.

And thank you for reading this. If you know me – and especially if we’ve never met – please help me remember all of this.

24-Hour Electric Ride Road Rally

This coming Memorial Day weekend I’ll be driving #217 in a 24-hour road rally to see how many electric miles I can rack up in a full day. My best guess going into it – accounting for battery range and 4-hour recharging stints – is that I should hit somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 miles.

Here’s my plan:
– Start Sunday, May 30 @9am – finish at 9am on Monday, May 31

- Drive 2.25 hours, yield 100 miles – recharge for 4.5 hours, repeat 4 times

- The Rally should see trips to all 4 points of the compass

- The Rally should minimize any duplication of roadway (no running up and down the same bit of highway)

- Every trip should offer a photo op (see partial list of sites below)

LIST OF PHOTO OPS WITHIN 50 miles of Pearl River, NY

– the Bear Mtn. Bridge, the lookout at the top of Perkins Memorial Drive, West Point and the Storm King Arts Center and the Roosevelt home to the North; the Brooklyn Bridge, the Chrysler Building, Central Park to the South, Morristown, NJ and – in an homage to the man who brought us loads of useful electrical devices – the Thomas Edison National Historic Park in West Orange, NJ.

Got any other suggestions – fire away!

Day Trip To The English Countryside

Last Friday I was lucky to be invited out to Hartley Farms, near my company’s Morristown, NJ offices, to meet with owner Nic Platt and view one of his fields as a possible location for our company picnic.

Nic and I both work for the same company, though he works in the Manhattan office and while we’ve spoken a couple of times at company events, I didn’t know that much about his background. Knowing that our shop is located in his ‘backyard’ though, he very graciously offered his “field” for our annual office party, and on a sunny day I was only too happy to shoot out there and take a look.  I didn’t have any expectations, but my curiosity was piqued when his directions included phrases like “turn in at the stone fence…follow Hartley Drive all the way around, past the Polo Field…I’ll meet you by the museum building near the forest”.

Typical English scene...in New Jersey

It turns out that Nic is a descendent of Marcellus & Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge (NPR & PBS fans will recognize Mrs. Dodge from the ‘Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’ sponsorship), and that Hartley Farms is on the National Register of Historic Places. Back in the day (1927-1957) the Dodge’s would host the Morris & Essex Dog Show, when almost 50,000 folks would encamp for the day on the Polo field and take in the dogs and the stunning countryside.

It was a gorgeous day, and just the prettiest place I’ve ever been at with #217 – and to top it all off, there was a solitary English phone booth perched on the edge of the field, like something out of Dr. Who.

I was enchanted by the scene, but also feeling a bit out of my league – old money, an English-style estate, houses with names and a polo field that can fit 50,000+, etc. I half expected Nic to pull up in a chaffeured Rolls with a liveried driver. Instead, he rolls up in a Prius, and couldn’t have been more welcoming. Turns out the entire estate is run on “Green” principles (LED lighting, homes that are built in harmony with nature, old-growth forests administered by the Audubon Society), and he enthusiastically asked about the MINI E program and my experiences with the car.

It was such an unexpected pleasure to find yet another kindred spirit – especially in such an impressive setting. More info on Hartley Farms can be found here – http://www.hartleyfarms.com/6ourhistory.html   (and, needless to say, we’ll be having the party there later this month).

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other…

less is more

Funny thing happened at an office building today  – when I got there, parking was a bit tight. That’s when I noticed the giant SUV taking up two spots (why do some folks think that’s ok to do?). Anyways, I hesitated for all of 2 seconds, and then eased into the crawl space between the two behemoths.

When I came back out parking had eased up a bit, and I got this nice image. It says a lot I think – about the choices we all make with regards to resources (parking spaces, fossil fuels, etc.), about how those choices impact others, and the unexpected gifts and advantages to be had by taking less than what is offered.

But most of all I think it’s just funny.