Tag Archives: MINI E road test

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.

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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.

Can’t You Smell That Smell?

With MINI E #217 in the shop for the past week (a “battery communication” fault) I’ve been driving a gas-powered loaner car, and I had déjà-vu moment with it that we all may be experiencing in the future.

To appreciate it, let’s head back to remember what life in the 70’s was like.

I grew up in a happy, leafy neighborhood where just about everyone shared the same experience: a house with a ¼ acre lot, a fridge with Peanut Butter, Jelly & Wonder Bread, a Mom & Dad who both worked, and at least one who smoked cigarettes.

That was our world, the only one we knew possible, and we weren’t inclined to question it much. We didn’t give any conscious thought to why our bread was bleached white, and we didn’t take any special notice of cigarette smoke.

I continued not to notice it when I grew up and worked in a bar, or sat in a cube at my first “real job”, surrounded by people working on the R.J. Reynolds account and smoking Camel cigarettes. I didn’t smoke, but it didn’t bother me that others did.

And then the bans on smoking came. And soon afterwards, when cigarette smoke was no longer common, I began to really notice it. Where once I was oblivious to it in an airless bar, I can now pick it up coming from the window of a car ahead of me on the turnpike. And I change lanes.

The déjà-vu I had the other day is identical to the above, only replace cigarette smoke with the smell of gasoline.

I’ve been driving an all-electric car since June, and I haven’t been to a gas station in months. But filling up the loaner car, I realized how little I missed the smell.  And where once I didn’t notice it, there I was rolling the window down in 40 degree weather trying to get rid of it as I pulled out of the station.

Where once I was only aware of the smell of gas while I was at the station, there I was at night putting my shoes out on the front porch hoping to air them out, and repeatedly washing my hands. My sensitivity to it has clearly shot way up.

I’m not suggesting we “outlaw gas fumes”, nor am I ignorant of the reality that gas offers a tremendously convenient way to power things like cars, boats, lawnmowers, etc. I’m just saying that once your reality no longer includes a weekly dose of gas fumes, you’ll be accustomed to it.

Just chuck this on the pile of reasons why for me, as soon as I am offered a reliable, cost-justified electric vehicle, I’m going to get it.

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.

A MINI E “Pony Express” Trip

Don Young, MINI E #364, took an amazing trip last week – traveling almost 700 miles over 4 days from his Shelter Island, NY home on the eastern end of Long Island to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in the Hudson Valley, and several other stops in-between. To get there and back, Don organized a “Power Support Team” to recharge his MINI E #364’s batteries every 70 miles or so with high-voltage pit stops.

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Original Art by Lea Miller

But Don didn’t just stop with the idea to take a high-mileage round-trip, he made an event out of it. Dubbing his journey the “MINI E E*TOUR”, he had custom window wraps and car magnets created to advertise and celebrate both his tour and “Power Support Team”, and also created his own t-shirts to give out to the many people he’d meet along the way. He also contacted a local newspaper in Bethel and did an interview there; plus he took the time to meet with strangers and bartenders (and probably some strange bartenders too) to show off the car and relate his experiences driving it.

I just love these kind of individual, people-powered quests, and my wife and I were very proud to support Don and fill him up on some solar-generated electrons last Thursday and Sunday. Infected by his enthusiasm for the project, my teenage daughter and I put together a poster to welcome Don and mark his journey to our home. Creating the poster gave us a chance to talk about things… like how weird it was that we were going to welcome a “complete stranger” to our home while most of us were away so he could plug his car in; about how normally we wouldn’t do such a thing; about how it was OK this time because we were all part of a broader community of people involved in the same thing – so while Don may or may not be strange ;-), he was driving a MINI E just like us, for all the same reasons and with all the same desires for a better future, and that disqualified him as a stranger.

As Don himself noted, “On my MINI E E*Tour, I’ve had great experiences with 8 MINI E’ers, 2 companies, 3 corporations, and 1 foundation. I also learned that stopping once in a while to make new friends, and talking to bystanders about GP? (#364), is as nice a way to travel as I can imagine.”

At the risk of sounding corny or melodramatic, I imagine his experience was very similar to the old Pony Express system – Don too set out on the road in full awareness that his journey would only be complete if a group of people he’d never before met came together to help him. He too had to rely on faith in an unmet community. And in this day and age – where we rightly teach our children to be wary of strangers, and where we rely on standardized systems for everything from dining to refueling – what a unique experience that is.

In the few short years ahead, at just about the time my daughter will learn how to drive, electric cars will no longer be the domain of a few hundred pioneers. The frontier of “limited range” will be closed with the solutions of public recharging at the old ‘gas’ stations, battery swap technology, electrified liquid, or some other kind of innovation which will be hugely convenient and enable our modern and mobile lifestyles – but which will also be a bittersweet signal that this particular kind of unique, individual, community travel experience is unnecessary.

Don’s promised to post photos and tales of his experience, and I’ll be sure to link to them here.

5,000 Miles

I really wanted to catch the moment when it clocked over on Monday, but I missed it – a Springsteen song came on the radio and all attention to detail vanished. But here are some facts and details about driving 5,000 miles on electricity:

– In a tank at the Boonton Hess station, there are currently about 222 gallons of gas that I didn’t burn.

– People who know it is electric always get an excited tone in their voice, like when they first hear the family is going to Disney: “Really?!? So it doesn’t take any gas, at all?!?  Wow.” The few who have been able to drive it all marvel at the regenerative braking, the silence of the motor, and the torque, but after that the most amazing thing is that it drives and acts exactly like a gas car.

– People who don’t know it’s electric don’t give it a second look. On the one hand I feel good that I’m not a traveling sideshow and can sing loudly, or even do the other most popular thing to do in a car, without having all of I-287 looking at me; but on the other hand, part of this experiment is to try and show my neighbors that an electric car is a viable thing. So a wee bit more recognition would be good – more on that coming soon.

– It took me a little over 3 months to reach 5,000 – but for the first month I wasn’t driving it everyday (see High Octane Recharging). My goal is to put on a total of 25,000 miles before the year is up. So I need to average about 100 miles a day for weekdays, and 50 miles/day on weekends.

– My early impressions of the pros and cons still hold up (see 1,000 Mile Review) – I love the “one-pedal” driving, I still don’t miss my old gas station, and I’m still pleasantly surprised at the difference a near-silent motor makes. I’m also still doing a lot more calculations then I ever had to do with gas (“If I drive to my son’s baseball game, and then to my daughter’s soccer game, will I have enough juice to get back home?”).

– I’m really interested to see what the next 5,000 miles bring – and I’m pretty sure that I’ll reach one of my goals during this period: to run out of juice and have to call in the MINI Roadside Assist crew. Why now?  Because winter is coming, and I’ll need to use the heater – which might just take the last 10-20% of my battery range out, and there goes the “safety” on my daily 90 mile commute. Gotta remember to put a pioneer blanket and some snacks in old #217…

Back In The Electric Saddle

Taking our family vacation in upstate NY (300 miles from home), I’ve been a gas-only driver for the past two weeks – including both land and water vehicles. So this morning’s trip was a nice reunion with #217, and I was reminded of some of the reasons why I enjoy driving an electric-powered car so much:

– Sound: just a gentle, electric whirring, and then it’s mostly just background road noise (tires on asphalt) until I hit the highway. And even then when I turn down the radio, it’s really interesting to hear the different sounds of other cars & trucks. Not having a loud engine noise is like occupying a parallel universe – everything is very familiar, yet fundamentally new & different.

– Smell: while I don’t hate the odor of gas, it’s really nice to not have to smell it. Today, passing by my “old” Hess station, it was a good feeling knowing that I don’t have to pop in there twice a week. It also led me to think about the various boats I got to tool around in over the past two weeks – a Jetski, a big 28-foot cruiser and a 6-seat powerboat – and how great they would be without the noise and chronic fumes. I wish I could read German, because it looks like the company AquaWatt had the same idea.  Can’t wait to ride in an electric-boat.

– Power: I love the pick-up/torque/”go” that #217 has – maybe it’s because I was guiding a minivan for the past two weeks, but power that I get from the MINI E is just plain fun. The biggest difference between this and my 2007 Infiniti G35 is that I there is no “power-curve” with the MINI – it just keeps accelerating at the same rate. Ironically, right about the time I was zipping up to speed on the highway, there was this cool story on NPR’s Morning Addition that profiled how electric vehicles are dusting gas-powered Ferrari’s and the like at drag races.

– Feel: Instead of burning 4.2 gallons of gasoline to get to and from work today, and run around my town, I’ll be using some stored electrons that the solar panels on my roof helped to generate. And maybe some of the other electricity was generated hydro-electrically, or by the Upstate NY wind towers I saw on my vacation. It just feels good to be part of the future solution now.

It was a great vacation, and I’d normally be mourning it right now. But getting to drive #217 again softens that a bit – it’s good to be back driving electric.