Tag Archives: MINI E

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.

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.

IMG_0956

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.

IMG_0955

#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.

High-Octane Recharging

Friday saw my high-voltage cable installed, and I was able to live off the “fast stuff” all weekend. I can’t overemphasize the difference it makes in the usability of an electric car, to be able to recharge it within hours instead of days.

Pre-32A recharging, I would consciously calculate every trip and have to run that distance against the number of hours I’d need to recharge in order to use #217 the next day. So for example, if I wanted to run around town and then out to my daughter’s softball game on a Sunday – and yet still be able to commute with it on Monday – I’d have to run this formula:

• drive about 20 miles, use approx. 20% of the charge

• 2%/hour recharging = 10 hours to FULL

• Must unplug by 7:30am – therefor I have to plug-in at 9:30pm

This weekend, for the first time, I was able to just drive #217 whenever and however I wanted to, knowing that I could  wake up the next day and not be greeted by the blinking yellow recharge-indicator light. On Saturday that meant:

• Run some errands during the day (9 miles)

• Motor into Brooklyn to see some friends (36 miles)

• Give a couple of demo rides (3 miles – revving the engine)

• Stay out late playing pool, make a late-night munchie run (2 miles – really revving the engine 😉

• Drive home at 4am (36 miles) showing 12% charge left

• Make the 9:30am church service on Sunday with a full-battery

IMG_0813Per the program’s requirement I do own another vehicle so I could just use that whenever  the batteries are running low, but in the spirit of being a pioneer I really want to use #217 as my primary vehicle as much as possible. After all, the reason I’m testing an electric car is because I hope to help prove that it is a viable alternative in the very near future. Viable to me means not having to substantially change my life (“Hey guys, how about we hook up next week when I’ll have 100%?”) because of the charge-state of my batteries .

Now, thanks to this fat cable, I’m able to do just that.

The Electric Car That Didn’t Climb Mt. Washington

For the July 4th weekend I met up with my brother and some good friends to hike Mt. Washington & Mt. Madison. I would’ve loved to have taken MINI E #217 up there, and I actually spent a few minutes kicking around some scenarios. But it all came down to one simple fact: Twin Lakes, NH is 332 miles from Pearl River, NY.

A gas-powered vehicle offers the convenience of fast refueling at disparate locations. The fastest that I can refuel #217 will be about 4 hours (from zero), when the high-voltage cable is installed (fingers crossed, this Thursday). And while that can only happen at my house or another similarly equipped location, let’s say that I had such locations spaced about 100 miles away, here’s what this weekend’s trip would’ve taken:  7 hours to travel + 12 hours to recharge = 19 hours.

Now the math still vastly favors the promise of an electric car – I need to drive 90 miles a day for work, 5 days a week. I only need to drive outside of that range maybe once every two months. It’s no contest that the electrical car makes sense for 95% of my needs.

But long-term, what can we be looking at to address that other 5%?  Shai Agassi, CEO of Better Place, thinks he has the answer: replaceable battery packs that can be swapped out in about 2-3 minutes, available at Swap Stations that are as ubiquitous as today’s gas stations are.

This past March, David Pogue of the New York Times interviewed Agassi. Like a Railroad Baron of old, Agassi has a grand vision that sounds almost ridiculous, and yet makes logical sense and is technically viable: sell miles like AT&T sells you minutes, and sell those miles in the form of charging stations (available at your local parking garage, commuter stations, etc.) for daily use, and battery swap stations for that occasional trip up to Twin Lakes, NH.  Here’s the key – those charging spots and swap stations are up and available before you buy the car. You can read the full article here.

This Brother Climbed Mt. Washington

This Brother Climbed Mt. Washington

As I was hiking those miles away this weekend, I couldn’t poke any holes in the thinking: nobody bought a train ticket when there was just one station to go to; nobody bought the first fax machine until there was a second; nobody bought automobiles until there was a significant gas distribution system. Those other innovations took several years to tease out, all Agassi is saying is let’s leap to the logical and inevitable future now.

It’s a bold vision, and there’s a ton of strategic threats to it (a new battery technology that increases range dramatically could come along, or on-board energy generation – solar, wind, fuel-cell – could become far more efficient, etc.), but you have to admire the beauty of the idea.

Meanwhile, my brother and I were admiring the beauty of Mt. Washington on the 4th of July. Unfortunately, #217 was back home in my garage.

My New Favorite Parking Spot

I got a call from Patrick Geary, who is heading up the “Green Initiatives” at the very enlightened Morristown Parking Authority (where they have not one but two MINI E’s running around town). Patrick and his boss have graciously agreed to let me plug in with my 110v cable when I’m at the Bank St. Garage.

IMG_0716 I have to say that I’m still a bit amazed at this – but the more I think about the   more I realize that I’m the beneficiary of timing. The MPA of even a few short   years ago i’m sure would’ve denied this (“Sir, those outlets are for        maintenance use only and have not been cleared by the Assistant Director of Electrical Use as a power replenishment system for out of state vehicles”). And in a few years from now, as Patrick Geary said to me, “We probably can’t accommodate a dozen electric cars plugged into our garage”.

But we’re in a new era now – and “in-between” state, and people from all backgrounds and vocations are recognizing the need to take individual and collective actions to solve our energy and environmental needs. For the MPA it’s about seeing how they would accommodate electrical vehicles as both customers and consumers.

This collective desire for “green experimentation” is an incredibly powerful thing. And in my own little corner of the world I see signs of that – on an even less dramatic level than what this photo shows – everyday. People with reusable grocery bags, parents organizing car pools to kids sports activities, restaurants coming up with less packaging for delivering take-away meals, etc.

The immediate benefit of my newly energized parking spot is unclear. I doubt I’ll be able to recharge more than 20% or so, which would leave me with about a 20% charge left at the end of my day. So as long as I still have only the 110v cable, #217 will be relegated to an “other day” vehicle.

But maybe now I can rev the engine a bit on the way home!

Electric Serendipity

I’m back in #217 again today, and had a great ride in this morning – the sun was out (a rare and special occurrence here in the Northeast lately), the traffic was really light for some reason, and I think I may have gotten my second “stranger wave” (though it could’ve also been someone shooing a trapped fly out of their car, so i’m not going to count it).

Things being so nice, I decided to take a really long-shot at a possible solution to my 110v slow-charge situation. By “really long shot” I mean this: it involves me contacting a government bureaucracy (where I don’t live) about allowing an unusual exception to what are no doubt a long list of rules, safety procedures and protocols, so I can plug my car in at a municipal garage.

Yup, that kind of a “really long shot”. Here’s how my call went:

ringing…Good morning, Morristown Parking Authority, how may I help you.

Hello, i’ve got what will be, no doubt, your most unusual phone call this month…maybe this year…

(silence)

OK, see, ummm…I’m a monthly customer at the Bank St. Garage, and, ummm, I’m taking part in this year long test of an electric car, and…it’s a completely electric car that you plug in and, you see, well it’s funny because where I usually park in the garage there just happens to be this electrical outlet on the column – it has a cover on it, but it’s not locked, and anyways I was just wondering…

Are you driving a MINI E?

(stunned silence)

Sir?

yes! sorry…wow, just…how’d you know? you guys have camera’s in here?

We’re going to be taking part in that test at the De Hart St. Garage as well. The man who is overseeing that for us isn’t in yet however, so I’ll take your name and number and he’ll call you.

ok, oh wow. great. great. Hey, I’m not sure how we’d meter this or anything, but I’d be happy to pay-

He’ll call you back sir, can I get your name and number?

oh right, ya, of course…

I haven’t heard back yet, but even if it doesn’t work out, what an extraordinary moment that was for the concept of electric cars. Here I am “pioneering”, thinking I’m making a completely alien call to an utterly disinterested government agency unequipped to even consider the request, and instead they’re already on it! All credit to the MPA (it was like she had a phone script), but it begs the question – if the Morristown Parking Authority is this far along on electric cars, how much longer can it be until electric cars are mainstream?

1pm – Not hearing from the MPA, I called Dean at Morristown MINI, and he graciously offered their high-voltage recharger (too bad they just recently moved – their old location was in walking distance of my office). So now i’m sitting in their lobby, drinking their soda, working off their Wi-Fi, eyeing their snacks and waiting for #217 to get a top-off. Ahhhh, this pioneer life is hard sometimes. My hope is to get a head-start on tomorrow’s commute – though even with this ‘boost’ I think I’m still going to need a recharge during the day tomorrow…where exactly that will happen, I don’t yet know.

Gas Stations vs. the 110v Recharge Cable

One of the most compelling things for me about driving an electric car is the idea of saving time. Time being the one non-renewable resource we have absolutely no control over, the idea of utilizing it better by not stopping at gas stations every 380 miles, and not waiting for the oil to be changed every 3,500 miles, is powerful.

The concept is I get to fill up every night while I sleep, at the ultra-convenient filling station in my garage. It’s called a high-voltage recharger, and it was installed a week before I picked up #217.

Charging Station/Lax Stick Holder

Charging Station/Lax Stick Holder

It’s promise is to fill my MINI E from zero (or —-) to 100% in 4 hours or less. It’s a great thing. It’s also currently useless, because it has no high-voltage recharging cable to connect it to #217. Apparently there is some delay in getting the cables approved for consumer use.

So while this bureaucratic delay works itself out, we pioneers are relying on the 110v “occasional use cable” to fill up our batteries. Originally intended as a portable “uh-oh” cable (thus the “occasional” in it’s title) this little beauty plugs into any normal, 3-prong household socket, so it’s also very convenient.

Trouble is, it’s also a very slow way to recharge #217’s large battery packs. The literature says it could take 24 hours or more. In my recent experience the “or more” added on another 1/2 a day.

After running the batteries down completely on Friday night, I plugged in with the 110v casual use cable at about 11:30pm. At 8:30am on Saturday, I was at just 24%. I had calculated that I could get 4% an hour earlier, but that was when I had started with a certain % of energy already stored. And I’ve talked about the “chargeometer” being less than a perfect gauge of what energy is present, so I have to assume my earlier 4% experience was a bit of the meter catching up.

I finally reached 100% charge around 11am on Sunday.  35.5 hours – 2.8% per hour – is not a practical solution for me to make #217 a daily vehicle. The Gas Station wins this round.

High Voltage Recharge so close, yet so far away...

High Voltage Recharge so close, yet so far away...

After tooling around town on Sunday afternoon in #217, I plugged back in with enough time to get to 100% for Monday morning. Which was a very fun commute – I gunned the car a bit on the highway (70+ for at least half the ride), knowing that I would have enough juice for the return trip. I also had to lay down some electric torque on two wide-bodies — for some reason, on separate occasions, different Japanese Luxury SUV’s almost sideswiped me.  I was able to make clean getaways both times. Nimble beats big. My ride home was uneventful, though I did take it a little easier just to keep the chargeometer above “—-“.

So here I am on Tuesday with my old gas machine, trying to think about options. I think I’ll contact the local MINI Morristown dealer – they are also participating in the E trial – and see if I can get a charge during the day there. That, combined with my 110v charge at night, should get me working daily with #217 until the high voltage cable comes in.

But I do have to question how the repeated use of the 110v cable will affect the Lithium Ion batteries?  I know in my laptop – which offers a convenient model since it too uses Lithium Ion – there is a warning not to use slower voltage rechargers since it could “damage battery life”. I also know that the more I recharged & discharged the batteries, the less energy capacity they held.

Stay tuned for the answers to these and many other questions….