Tag Archives: electric car

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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.

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.

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!

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!

A Halloween Trick, and Treat

So there I was, on All Hallows Eve, driving back from the store to go set up for our annual Halloween Party, when all of a sudden – after nearly 7,500 miles of issue-free driving – my experimental MINI E pulled an electric muscle and I suddenly lost almost all of my power.

I was on Veteran’s Highway in Orangeburg, NY – very near my house – when the “Noticeably Reduced Motor Power” icon came on. This is a feature that is meant to kick in when you’re very low on battery, and is intended to give you enough juice so you can limp off a busy freeway or drive ahead to a safe location before all the power is exhausted.  The trouble was, I still had about 80% of my battery charge remaining, so there was no good reason for this…except, this being Halloween, maybe I was meant to be forced off the road so I could meet a nasty end at the hands of a frightening, bloodthirsty monster.

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Me (left) and Jay on Halloween

Instead, I met Jay.

About a minute after pulling off the road, while I was looking under the hood for an unplugged wire or some other obvious reason for my situation, I heard a beep – and I couldn’t believe my eyes.

After months of driving a MINI E without seeing another one on the road, there was MINI E #365 pulling off to join me. I knew there was only one other E in all of Rockland County, NY, and that one was 15 minutes away in Suffern – while this meet-up occurred not even a mile from my house!

Out popped Jay – who lives in the next town to our south, Park Ridge, NJ. He and I spent a about 10 seconds looking at the engine (“Uh…I dunno”), and then a couple of minutes exchanging stories and admiration for the car. He hadn’t experienced any problems so far (though he hasn’t driven as many miles yet) and he too was enjoying the silence of the drive, the pep of the motor and beauty of no visits to the gas station.

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#217 meet #365

I took another photo of #217 & #365 together on the side of the road before Jay took off again. Then, weighing my options to get home – either call the MINI Roadside Assistance crew or try and coax it up and over the last hill, then coast down to my house – I decided to give the engine one more try. I put the key in, pressed the start button and – like magic – the “Noticeably Reduced Motor Power” icon was gone.

I hightailed it home, laughing at my first MINI E trick and treat of the year.

The New Glossary of My Daily Commute

As part of the MINI E program, we get weekly emails containing driving suggestions and bits of insight from MINI on life in the prototype electric car lane. This week’s edition contained this handy little glossary and a tip on efficiently using the heater that I found interesting (who, for example, knew that a gallon of gas = 36.5 kWh!):

V: Volt; from the 17th century Italian physicist, Alessandro Volta.

In simplified terms, voltage is like electrical pressure. If an electrical wire were a water hose, the pressure or force of the water exiting the hose would be akin to the voltage level in a wire.

A: Ampere (Amp); from the 17th century French physicist, Andre-Marie Ampere.
Using the same water hose analogy, the Ampere is a measure of current flow. The volume of water which can flow through a hose is related to how wide the hose is – narrow hose, low volume, wide hose, high volume. Larger wires are able to carry a greater amount of current than smaller ones, and this current is measured in Amps.

kW•h or kWh: kilowatt hour
Those of you who are in tune with your electric utility bill are probably familiar with the kW•h because it is the unit measure by which you are charged for your energy consumption. A Watt-hour is the total energy used over time. Some of you have calculated your energy costs to drive the MINI E by using your kW•h rate to determine cost per mile. Your kW•h costs can vary based on such factors as where you live, when you charge and what your total monthly consumption is. A single gallon of gasoline contains approximately 36.5 kW•h of energy.

HV: High Voltage
There are two electrical systems we interact with on the MINI E. The low voltage system covers the 12V (Volt) components which are common to other MINI models. The power windows, windshield wipers, and map lights are examples of low voltage items. High voltage items are what sets the MINI E apart and typically runs in the range of 390V. The HV system is what propels the car, and provides heat and air conditioning.

SOC: State Of Charge
The amount of energy stored in the MINI E HV batteries, displayed as a percentage.

PEU: Power Electronics Unit
The magic gold box under the bonnet of the MINI E. It is the “brain” of the HV system and coordinates a variety of parameters such as power delivery and charging.

Module: High Voltage Battery Module
The HV battery in the MINI E is comprised of modules, each of which contain 106 cells. There are 48 modules in total which are individually monitored. Using a modular battery configuration enables more efficient packaging. If necessary, servicing the HV battery can be accomplished by replacing only modules which need to be, instead of the entire battery pack.

OUC: Occasional Use Cable
The 110V, or 12A cable which many of you keep with your MINI E, is commonly referred to as an OUC.

TIP OF THE WEEK

Heater Efficiency
This one works a lot like Goldilocks. Getting the warmest air from the cabin heater is achieved by setting the fan speed to the second setting. The lowest setting won’t take full advantage of the output of the heating element. The highest setting will blow so much air past the heater that it won’t have time to pick up all the heat. The middle setting is just right.

Hmmmmm – the closer we get to winter, the more I get nervous about this heater and it’s impact on my ability to get home….