Doh! I need to drive 85 miles/day

One of my goals when I started this program was to try and drive 20,000 miles in an all-electric car. “Why 20,000?” you ask? Because it sounded good, and it seemed within reach -naively I took 20,000 miles, divided it by 365 and figured i’d need to drive about 55 miles a day. Since I have a 90 mile commute 5 days a week, it should be easy I thought.

The first “doh!” that I didn’t account for was that I’d loose about 6 weeks off the calendar because MINI couldn’t get the high-voltage recharger installed at my home – relying on just my standard household outlet, i’d need 2 days of plugging in just to drive one day to work. I also didn’t plan on losing a few more weeks for service calls (1 broken fiber-optic cable, installation & removal of snow tires, 5,000 mile checkups, etc.). Then there were the times I couldn’t drive #217 because she’s only a 2-seater, or I had to travel more than 100 miles, etc.

About a month ago I was doing some more quick calculations though, and I was still comfortably in line with my expected turn-in date of July 15.

That was before I got today’s second Doh! MINI now says my turn-in date is June 15 – which roughly coincides with my pick-up date of June 15, but doesn’t include the extra one month option they’d promised me to ensure I had “12 full months of zero-emissions driving with fast recharging…”. The representative I spoke with on the phone said that I could request my extra month, but “so far I’ve processed two such requests and both were denied. Prepare for June 15.” [why is it that the “end” of anything is always a hard reality? At the glorious and sun-dappled “beginning” of this process I spoke with fun and excited representatives who couldn’t wait to get me in my MINI E – and now at the end, all I get are brusque phone messages telling me to call a number, where the gruff-throated rep who answers sounds like a repo man who has had a bad decade?].

The rational side of me knows full-well that if I make 19,200 – or even something several hundred miles less – I could hardly count this experience as a failure. And yet, there’s something so compelling about hitting that nice round figure of 20,000, that the irrational part of me – which is to the say the single biggest part of me – would be very disappointed.

So from here on out I’m going to hunt for miles like a spoon hunts for ice cream at the end of the carton. By my calculations, I need to make 85 miles per day. I’m good for 90+ during the week for work, but the weekends may be tough…better go download some audiobooks 😉

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Plug-in Tapas

Nothing big to dine on lately, so instead I’ve been saving up a bunch of smaller appetizers of electric car info. None of these are by themselves worthy of your time, but collectively I hope they give you some more insight into what it is like to drive an electric car on a daily basis.

Truth is Funny Walking out of Lowe’s this weekend, I saw an older man looking in the windows of #217. To avoid the awkward-approach-to-a-stranger-who-is-busy-examining-your car, I called out “It’s the future!” as I approached, to which he replied “Not without a backseat”. I almost dropped my lumber.

So Clean, Yet So Dirty As part of our participation in this program, MINI has sent us periodic questionnaires. One of the very first ones asked questions about my expectations and concerns. There was the usual suspects – “Is the regenerative braking system hard to get used to?”, “How does range anxiety affect your driving?”, etc. But then there was one that I never thought of before – “Are you fearful of the High Voltage system?” – to be honest, I hadn’t thought about it. I probably just assumed that, like other electrical appliances in our lives, this one was engineered to be safe to use and I couldn’t accidentally electrocute myself. But ever since reading that question, the fact that I’ve got lots of electrons surrounding me, hasn’t been far from my mind. It hasn’t lowered my enthusiasm for driving an electric car, but it has expressed itself in one funny way – I don’t take it to the car wash.  I have hand washed it – on the theory that I won’t be holding a hose underneath the engine block – but only once (amazing how the right combination of free time on the weekend and sunny weather never come together).

There Are No Stupid Questions Except for maybe these:  “OK, so it’s all electric – but what kind of gas mileage does it get?”   “Can you still drive it if there’s lightening?”   “Does it take A, AA or AAA? hahahahahaha!”    “What would happen if you accidentally put gas in?”  “Do you have, like, a really long cord?”   “Where is the engine? (a: under the hood)…oh, so it’s not totally electric then?”   “If it’s an electric car, why isn’t there a standard outlet then?”  “So what do you do at the gas station then?”   “It’s sooo quiet…I wonder if they’d let you drive it inside the library?”  (I actually love that last one 😉

Parking Garage Guys Know It All – But It’s Nice When They Don’t A few months ago I wrote about how surprised I was when, at a parking lot in Manhattan, I started to explain that the car was electric so it wouldn’t make any noise when it was started. The guy gave me a ‘No s#@t Sherlock’ look and asked “so, you think this is the only electric car in the world?”. Apparently another “Pioneer” parked there regularly. Since then I haven’t taken the trouble to inform any parking lot guys about it, and nobody’s even looked twice at the car either. Until the other day. I was again in Manhattan, and dropped the car off at the same garage. When I went back to get it, it was taking a long time. No one else was around, and I started doing email on my phone. Next thing I knew, it’d been about 10 minutes. I started walking back, when the attendant turned the corner and said in a frustrated voice “it won’t move!”. Together we walked back, and I explained how it was an electric car, silent on start-up, etc. – he was amazed!  Even took it for an extra spin around the lot. I gave him a $2 tip.

Electric Fame

Fellow Pioneer Don Young was recently featured in a NY Times article that spoke about the MINI E program, and included a nice detail about his 1,020 mile trip last fall.  We were honored to be part of that epic run, as Don used our house to recharge en route to the catskills – kind of a 21st century version of the Pony Express system!

Here’s a link to the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/automobiles/28ELECTRIC.html

One of the unexpected pleasures of being part of the first large-scale, national test of an electric vehicle is meeting new people like Don. In today’s society – where we all have to work unreasonable hours, and then rush home (especially if you  have kids) to squeeze in our ‘quality time’, there just isn’t room for meeting and exchanging ideas with other people. And so the list of ‘strangers’ grows ever longer.

I’m forever grateful that this experience has reawakened me to the fact that the vast, vast majority of strangers are fantastic people who – if you have the opportunity to shake hands – will enrich your lives.

Small Joy

I was driving in Manhattan the other day, stuck in stop and go traffic in Chinatown (and btw, stop and go traffic is what an electric car really loves – I drove around 8 miles and my charge only dipped 2%, but I digress as this post isn’t about the electric part of the car…) when I saw a couple of cyclists in my rear-view mirror winding their way thru the stalled cars.

from one efficient vehicle to another.

Anyone who has driven on Mott St. knows how narrow the roads are down there. Add in a row of parked cars on one side and a few box trucks on the other, and things get very cozy.

Which is why I was so appreciative of the cozy dimensions of the MINI. It just always, always, always fits.

It’s one of the unexpected joys of this whole Electric Car Pioneer thing, that I never worry about finding a place to park. It’s a great feeling of entitlement as I regularly pull to the front of just about any place I’m going, knowing that all I need is the courtesy space of daylight between two SUV’s to settle in.

So these two cyclists were wending their way towards me, and they comfortably pulled past my ever-comfortable MINI, when they had to stop. As you can see, another fairly modest car in front of us was still too wide to provide passage.

It made me laugh. And so I snapped the shot and reminded myself that, as the good Dr. Seuss once said, “From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere.”

What’s The Right Price?

I consider myself lucky to have been one of only 450 drivers of a 100% electric MINI E for the past 8 months. It’s been a fantastic experience – I get to drive a peppy sports car, I prevent thousands of pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, and I have a front-row seat on the pros and cons of using electricity to fuel an automobile, which satisfies my curious nature.

It hasn’t been without its costs however.  The MINI E is a crash program – which means they took a base-model MINI, ripped out the backseats and tossed a huge battery pack in it’s place. That’s fine for doing a real-world test of how consumers would use and experience an all-electric car, but it isn’t how you’d design such a car from the ground up. As a result I have only 2 seats, almost no “extra’s” (I miss cruise control and a built-in nav system most), I need to maintain my gas car in case this pioneer-mobile develops a busted flux capacitor (or I need a back seat), and yet I’m paying $800/month to lease it.

Why the high cost? It isn’t the profit motive – an engineer at BMW told me early on that the battery pack alone cost $40,000, and that they’d still be losing money on each lease even at this rate. The fact is, electrical cars still cost significantly more than gas cars. And that’s not surprising, given that gas cars have had years of manufacturing efficiencies built in. So I knew I’d be paying a premium, and they were clear from the start that we were “pioneers” here on the experience – I have not complaints, either on the finances or the use.

But BMW/MINI has now offered to extend our lease for another year, and that has caused me to question the value of an all-electric car – and this car in particular – in a way I hadn’t before.

Here’s the deal: for a reduced rate of $600/month, I can keep driving MINI E #217 for another 12 months. That’d give me about 20,000 miles – and at my current electrical rates that would mean I’d save about a dime for each of those miles in fuel costs. So in exchange for $7,200 in cash, I’d save $2,000 in fuel charges and about $400 in oil change/maintenance costs. Those numbers don’t add up.

If I were able to own the car, I could easily swallow the premium cost of an electric car. But in the lease model, I’d be paying that difference for nothing more than…my earnest desire to do good for the planet. Fact is, I could spend that $4,500 on plenty of other worthy causes, and even save some more $ to buy an electric car (Tesla S, Fiskar, Chevy Volt…they are a comin’).

As much as I love this car, and have really enjoyed this experience, I think I’ll close this chapter in June when this lease is done. I still have a few more weeks to make up my mind, but as of now I just don’t think the price is right for this particular electric car.

Snow Days

Apologies for the long silence, but I had to take an unexpected trip to London for work (where I got to see several of the original Mini’s still driving – and wow, they were mini by about half the new ones!) and all the prep for that sucked most of my free time up this month.

However I’ve been diligently driving #217 throughout, and I can report that the crazy weather swings (one week we’re in the 40’s, next week we have 2 feet of snow) haven’t impacted my all-electric driving.

MINI car, MAXI snow

This week though we were hit with a major snow storm, which closed our office and dumped about 18 inches on the ground. I took the opportunity to test out the electric drive around town on relatively snow-filled roads. Getting out of my side-street was the hardest, as we’ve to about a 25 yard-long 30-degree incline at the top – the wheels did spin at times, but car did well and I got out with relatively little struggle.

One of the joys of an electric car of course is that it has torque at any speed – but in snow that does mean that the wheels will slip. The MINI E’s Dynamic Stability Control system light came on several times, and basically that meant the wheels would only spin for a moment or two before power was re-distributed.

All-in-all, considering it was a day that I probably shouldn’t have been driving in anyways, the MINI E did fine for the limited 5-mile trip I needed it for.

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).