Category Archives: battery range

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!

A Heated Commute

I took the challenge by fellow pioneer Tom Moloughney (#250) to try and drive my 90 mile commute while using the heater (previously I made the drive comfortably, albeit on the cold side).

I’m happy to report that I completed the task yesterday:

– 85 miles total* (not my usual 90 mile commute, I had to go into NYC – enjoyed a heated garage during the day)

– Used the heat 5 times (2 on the way in, 3 on the way out) for approx. 6-8 minutes each time

– Heat was in the middle dial, fan was set at 2 (also middle dial)

– I made it home with 2% on the SOC meter (State of Charge)

– Battery temperature never got below 55°

– Ambient air temp was between 24° – 38°

In the summer and spring I was regularly making 90 miles, showing 8-15% SOC at the end of the day. So the results here show that heater use does have a significant tax on the batteries (~10% with fairly conservative use).

Knowledge is Power

When the temperature drops, so does the power capacity of a battery. Anybody who has left a cell phone or ipod in their car on a freezing night knows this, and all of us MINI E drivers who hail from the colder climes have seen this in the reduced charge-o-meter readings we’ve been seeing.

But as I talked about in my last post, I’m starting to think that the 15-20% hit in the battery capacity that many of us have seen has more to do with the algorithm used to calculate the remaining charge, and the temperature of the batteries, than with an actual loss of capacity due to cold temperatures. And a test I ran last week seems to back this up.

First, here’s the theory – as long as the High Voltage battery pack temperature doesn’t fall below 40°, then I don’t think the battery looses much capacity, if any.

To put this to the test, I decided to pioneer-up last week and follow my warm-weather routine – which is to not plug in #217 after my usual 45-mile morning commute. In the past this would mean I’d show about 52% battery left when I parked in the AM, 60% showing when I’d start my evening commute home, and  anywhere from  5-15% of battery range left when I pulled in at home.  If my theory held water, I’d be fine – though running very low on battery power when I returned home 92 miles later. If however the 15-20% “cold deficit” was in fact accurate, then I’d be sitting on the side of I-287 waiting for a tow truck.

So last Wednesday morning I pulled into Morristown after a modest (no faster than 60mph) and heater-free trip, showing 48% of battery power left. The high that day was 38° , and by 4pm I was reading a 55% charge – but the battery never got colder than 42°.  I drove back home (again very conservatively, 65mph max), and also without the heater. The charge-o-meter showed 0% with about 8 miles to go, but as happened in the summer and fall I just kept going without a hiccup. After getting off the highway, the meter did the usual recalculation and I gained 5% more by the time I got home. The battery temp when I pulled in was 72°.

After 2 hours of sitting in an unheated but insulated garage, the meter read 11% charge, with the battery at a fairly cozy 68°. Which is right around what I was getting in the fall.

Ironically though, my ipod  – which was 50% full when I parked in the municipal garage in the morning and left behind in the car – did drain pretty quickly, and powered off about 10 minutes into my evening drive, even thought it’s powered by a Li-ion battery just like the MINI E. Sadly the iPod doesn’t tell me its battery temp, but I’m guessing that without insulation (as the MINI E has) it must have been around the mid-30°s.

So the conclusions that I draw are:

1) The magic number to stay above – battery temp wise – is 40°. Keep that temperature, and at most you’ll be shorted 5% of the battery.

2) The Charge-O-Meter needs a new calibration, so that we don’t any get unnecessary range anxiety.

Knowledge really is power – about 15-20% more power when you’re driving an electric car in the winter!

A Cold Mirage?

Brrrrrr. There’s no doubt about it – when the thermometer dips, so does the range on my MINI E’s high-voltage batteries. And it’s been a hot topic of conversation among the MINI E pioneers in the northeast for over a month now that the weather has been so cold.

Most drivers are reporting anywhere from a 15-20% hit on the range displayed. And that’s in line with what I’m seeing as well – at least for a couple of hours. After that, I’m seeing some evidence that this “cold tax” is just a temporary reaction, and that those missing electrons aren’t really “gone”, just in hibernation (excuse the wordplay fun on all things cold…I can’t help myself).

During the summer and fall, my 45 mile morning commute would generally leave me showing 52% or so on my charge meter as I parked my car. I’d then plug in using the 110-volt cable, work all day (wink) and come back to a 75% charge at night, which meant I was getting between 2-3% recharge per hour.

Now I sometimes pull in to my parking space in the morning showing just 35% left on the meter. But when I come back in the evening – with the batteries still exposed to the same frigid temperatures – I still am greeted with a 72% meter. So either my recharging capability has more than doubled, or those extra 10-15 percentage points were really there all the time – just not being seen by the meter.

Charge accuracy, you may recall from earlier posts, is a pretty fuzzy thing, at least with this model of electric car. The algorithm tasked with calculating the charge isn’t yet smart enough to be more than a general gauge of the state of charge. What is interesting however is that the settings seem to over-estimate the actual drain that the cold weather will have, anywhere between 15-20%.

Baby’s Got New Shoes

Woa, the holidays knocked me out!  But i’m back, and will be updating more frequently now that December is done.

The big news to report is that MINI has swapped out all of our tires for new snow tires – GoodYear Ultragrip 7 to be exact. I hear that, because they are run flats, they had to be special ordered from Germany. It had to have cost BMW/MINI a pretty penny, but clearly safety is a potential issue with such a relatively heavier vehicle on icy roads. I noticed that the dealer, who installed them, only inflated them to 38 psi (max is 51 psi) – the question is what this will do to my average mileage range. So far I’ve noticed about a 5% dip, but it’s only been a few days.

In other news, we’re going through a serious and prolonged cold front here (mornings are in the teens, high’s during the day don’t reach much past the mid-20’s) but there hasn’t been a huge decrease in the battery performance. I do regularly plug-in during the day (thanks again Morristown Parking Authority!) now, but that’s more so I can feel easy about running the heater, etc. – I did a test a few weeks ago and made it home fine with only a few less % points than the summer commute.

Lastly, I had to go on an all-fossil diet for the past 2 weeks because we were traveling out of the area. It’s good to be back!