Thursday, October 16, 2014

BMW Working on a REx Upgrade to Increase Performance

The 650cc twin cylinder engine used in the i3 is borrowed from BMW's Motorrad division and modified for the REx

From the first word that the North American version of the i3 REx would have restrictions not found on its European counterpart, i3 enthusiasts and customers in the US and Canada have wondered how well it would work under strenuous driving conditions.

In fact, it is by far the topic I now get the most correspondence over. I have probably received over 100 emails through this blog from followers that want to know how well the range extender works and how capable it is. People want to know things like what speed the car can maintain in charge sustaining mode and for how many miles can the car maintain highway speeds on a certain percentage upgrade, and so on. I even have had people ask me if I could conduct specific tests with my car to confirm it can do what they need it to. The reason being is the 34hp REx engine can only deliver about 25kWs (although some reports say BMW upped it to 28kWs) of power. That is plenty of power for nearly all normal driving needs, but not enough for continued high speed or long upgrade driving. The problem then arises if you continue to consume more energy than the REx can deliver.
My i3 when the REx turns on. Notice the tiny little bar of electric reserve to the left of the triangle. That indicates the 6.5% SOC position where the REx initiates and tries to maintain. There isn't a lot of buffer there for strenuous driving conditions.

The root of the problem reverts back to BMW's desire to have the i3 REx certified a BEVx vehicle by the California Air Resource Board. This allows BMW to get the most ZEV credits per vehicle, and also allows the i3 REx to qualify for other perks, like sales tax exemption in New Jersey and Washington State. It also allows the owner to get the full $2,500 California CVRP rebate, unlike all other PHEVs which only get $1,500. However this came with a cost, one that everybody with an i3 REx from every state has to endure. BMW had to restrict the REx use to comply with CARB's BEVx classification. The European i3 REx can be manually turned on any time the state of charge is lower than 75%. This is called a Hold Mode and allows the driver to hold a higher state of charge and keep a higher battery buffer which they may need for continued strenuous driving conditions later in the journey. The North American version has no Hold Mode, and the range extender only comes on when the battery is reduced to a critically low 6.5%. For normal driving that is fine, but when really pressed for continued periods, the car cannot maintain full power.
The European i3 REx has a Hold Mode which allows the driver to manually turn on the range extender if they need to. This feature is disabled for North America and is that is the root of the problem.
This creates a problem when the driver needs to drive for an extended period which demands an energy draw of more than 25kWs. The meager 6.5% battery reserve can quickly deplete in these conditions. When this happens, the car goes into a reduced power mode and can only maintain a speed of about 40mph. To make matters even worse, the driver gets no warning and the car just slows down. This is not what you want happening to you when you are on a highway and cars are whizzing by you at 70mph. This is a real issue, and compounded by the problem that most BMW client advisers didn't know how to communicate this to the customers and sold them the cars without informing them how to properly operate the vehicle in REx mode. I've had people contact me that were completely unaware of how the range extender worked and said they were told by their client adviser that "the car can do anything in range extender mode as it can in all electric mode, it just doesn't have quite as much power." That isn't true, and many early i3 REx customers were disappointed when they found out they couldn't drive up that mountain to their summer home, for example. In fact, one the Born Electric guest bloggers here mentioned an instance where he went into reduced power mode with a car full of friends.  
Don Parsons of Denver, Colorado recently took his i3 REx to the summit of Mt Evans which is the highest elevation with paved road in the US. He did experience the REx reduced power mode, but it didn't stop him from completing the14,000 ft ascent to the summit. This, of course is about as taxing on the range extender as it gets!
All that said, I now have over 10,000 miles on my i3 REx and not once have I ever gone into reduced power mode, and I've actually tried to make it happen! The "problem" I'm having is the highways are relatively flat here in New Jersey and the REx can basically handle anything I give it. The times I have tried to make it happen the flow of traffic wasn't fast enough for me to maintain a speed of over 75mph for a long enough period. 75 mph on relatively flat ground seems to be the upper limit the REx can handle for continued driving. There is plenty of energy to go up and down the hills I routinely drive over, and also to have short bursts of power well past 80 mph for passing if needed in REx mode, so for me the car works perfectly and I really don't need a modification. However my friends in California and other areas of the country that have long, steep inclines to negotiate disagree, and want to see some kind of modification to allow the range extender to turn on at a higher state of charge so the vehicle has a larger electric buffer. In fact, there will soon be a two-part post here by an i3 Rex owner in California that has been obsessing a bit over this very topic. (well, I call it obsessing, he calls it studying - I'll let you be the judge when you read his post next week!)
The Chevy Volt has a much more robust range extender engine and can operate under just about any condition without an issue. However it has about half the electric range as the i3 REx, meaning you will need to use it much more, so it has to be more capable. With a 70-80 mile all electric range, most i3 owners will not need to use the REx frequently.

So now that we understand the problem, what is the solution. Should BMW simply give up the value of the BEVx designation and allow the driver to initiate Hold Mode as the European i3 REx owners can? That isn't happening as far as I can tell. What I do believe is going to happen? Well for starters there will be software updates that include better indicators that the car may be headed to reduced power mode if you don't take action to alleviate it. Perhaps by slowing down 5-10 mph you can completely avoid having a problem at all. I also expect there will be a better state of charge display so the driver has more accurate display of how much power they have left. I would also love if BMW could add a display that would show the actual power draw you are using, so the driver can see if they are drawing more energy than the REx is producing. That would be an awesome tool for the driver to use in these situations and I do hope the BMW engineers consider adding it.. However I'm saving the best for last. It is my belief that BMW is working on an update that will indeed allow the range extender to turn on much earlier than the 6.5% threshold if the car determines you will need the extra power. This will work with the navigation system which accounts for topography. Once a destination is entered, the car will determine how early the REx will need to be turned on so it avoids reduced power while climbing an upgrade at the end of the journey. 
The i3's range extender sits next to the electric motor above the rear axle
While this isn't quite as good as having the ability to manually turn on the range extender, it's pretty close. The bottom line is people just want to be able to get to their destination without worry of a reduced power "slowdown" while driving on the highway. If the modifications that BMW are working on do indeed work, I don't think anyone will complain. In fact, I've privately asked this very question to quite a few current i3 REx owners and every one said as long as it works, and they can use the car to drive up long, sustained inclines at highway speeds, then they'll be very happy. From what I understand the update could be available as early as the first quarter of 2015 and will indeed be available as a software update to existing i3 REx owners.Of course it would have been better if this was available right from the launch, but at least BMW is working quickly (the i3 has only been available for about five months in North America) to correct the problem.

Friday, October 10, 2014

BMW i3 Overactive-Active Cruise Control

When activated, the ACC displays an icon of a car on the road ahead of you. That means you are locked onto a vehicle in your path.
One of the coolest features on the i3 is the Active Cruise Control. The Parking Assistant is cool tech also, but honestly I can't see myself ever using it except to show it off to friends. I can park the car just fine on my own, and faster than the Parking Assistant can. The ACC on the other hand is not only really cool, but very useful.

Whether I'm stuck in slow moving traffic or driving long distance on the highway I'm finding myself using the ACC more and more. It's kind of like locking onto the car in front of you with a tractor beam from some sci-fi show and letting it pull you along. However there is one thing that needs to be improved upon with the i3's ACC. It will occasionally disengage by itself without warning. Yes, it does post a notice on the center display screen that it has deactivated, but unfortunately that is already after it shut off so it's not any real help. In traditionally powered cars, this is less of an issue because the i3 has such strong regenerative braking. When the ACC disengages in a gas car, it will go into a freewheel coast and be barely noticeable, other than the fact that it is gradually slowing down. In the i3, when the ACC disengages the car immediately goes into full regenerative braking mode and abruptly decelerates. It actually quite startling and certainly a safety issue because if someone happens to be tailgating you they could easily run into the back of your car.
The ACC seems to have difficulty driving when you are driving into direct sunlight

Knowing this, many of the existing i3 owners and I are always ready with our foot at the accelerator in case the ACC disengages, so we can quickly restore power to the motor and stop the vehicle from decelerating. It's something that you quickly adjust to, but if you aren't ready for it at the very least it's scary, and at worst a huge safety issue. It seems to happen much more when it's raining, and when the sun is low in the sky and you are driving directly into it. These things must confuse the cameras used for the system. I've also noticed that by driving under some low overpasses the system will shut off on occasion. Perhaps the system gets confused thinking the bridge is an obstruction in the roadway. BMW has advised keeping the windshield clean so the system can see clearly outward, but that is never an issue with me as I always keep my windshield clear.
It was raining when it disengaged this time

I believe the answer to this issue would be for BMW to change the software so the car freewheels like a conventional BMW if the ACC disengages by itself. The free wheeling could last for 4 or 5 seconds which could then be followed by the regenerative braking slowly gaining strength. This would prevent the abrupt deceleration that currently occurs when this happens and give the driver a few seconds to realize what just happened and act accordingly. Of course the ultimate goal would be to eliminate the self-disengaging of the system, but that will never be 100%. There will always be circumstances where the system gets "confused" and need to turn control back over to the driver.

I'll continue to use the ACC because it's really a great feature, but I'm always "at the ready" while using it. I wanted to write this post for the new i3 owners out there that follow here just in case you weren't aware of this issue. I was actually inspired by a follower of this blog who recently got an i3 and sent me an email asking about this. He was concerned that it was a problem with his particular car. So if you are new to the i3 and the ACC feature, just be ready at all times to respond with some throttle and you'll have nothing to worry about. I'm sure BMW is aware of this and already working on a solution. I don't believe it can stay like this without some kind of update to eliminate or minimize the abrupt deceleration following deactivation. At some point, it will cause an accident if not addressed.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Nissan LEAF Owner Reviews the i3 After 3-Day Extended Test Drive

I have always maintained that a good number of i3 buyers will be Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF owners that have just finished up the three year lease on their vehicle. Phil Tipper is an EV "early adopter" and leased a Nissan LEAF. His lease will expire next spring so he's trying to decide which plug in vehicle he'll get next. The i3 is on his list of possibilities and when BMW recently offered the i3 extended test drive Phil  jumped on the opportunity to get to know the car a little more. I love this extended test drive offering from BMW. I think it's a great way to give prospective customers a chance to absorb what the i3 is all about. Phil is already an experienced electric car driver so he could focus more on the specific features of the i3, but many others who have never experienced electric drive will find the extended time they have with an i3 intoxicating. Having more than a few minutes during a quick test drive at a dealership will absolutely help convince people that may have been on the fence. It's simple, the more you drive electric the more you like it. That extra time behind the wheel may be all they need to make the decision to go electric for the first time. Phil wrote of his experience and thoughts on his time with the i3 and posted it to his blog. I thought is was interesting to hear what a Nissan LEAF driver thought of the i3 so I asked him if I could post it here and he obliged. Below is the post from Phil's personal blog:

As regular readers of my blog know, I'm actively researching the next electric car to replace our 2013 Nissan LEAF SL when its two year lease expires next June, and that the BMW i3 is on the top of my list of contenders.

I like the BMW because of its light weight for an EV (because of the carbon fiber structure of its "life module"), giving it the potential for good energy efficiency and promising good handling around corners, because it has a relatively powerful and torquey motor making it quick off the line, because BMW has tuned in tight steering and minimal body roll, because it is a rear wheel drive design (for classic sports car handling), because I like BMWs and I like the personal service that a premium brand provides, and because I can get a model with a range extender that offers a total of about 150 miles of range, with more range available with a fill-up of a tiny bit of gasoline. I like the idea that a range extender will let us take trips as far as Santa Barbara and San Diego without worrying as much about the reliability of public charging and the time recharging would take.

I'm also fascinated by the concept that having a range extender as a cushion will actually let us, paradoxically, drive more electric miles because we'll be more likely to take the EV than to fall back on the Prius, and because we'll be comfortable dipping deep into the battery's charge because the range extender will be there as a cushion and we won't risk needing a charge to get home.

On brief test drives of the i3, I had been able to briefly sample the car's quick acceleration and tight steering, but I'd had trouble getting used to the strong regeneration when the accelerator pedal is released, and I had even felt a bit of vertigo, especially as a passenger when the car was driven vigorously. So I had some concerns to resolve. On Facebook and in person, drivers of the i3 had told me that these concerns would resolve themselves quickly after I had gotten more used to driving the car. A longer test drive was needed.

To my delight, some BMW dealers recently began offering three-day test drives of the i3. This was exactly what I wanted. I found a dealer within 25 miles of my home that was offering the long test drives, Shelly BMW in Buena Park, California, and I found their internet team responsive and easy to work with. I thank them and applaud their willingness to take on the bother and expense of offering this program. To me, the BMW i3 is a car that benefits from a longer test drive so that the customer can learn its unusual.driving dynamics. In fact, I think that brief test drives around the block can be misleading, mostly because of the strong regeneration. I picked up a base model "Mega" i3 with the range extender engine and the optional 20 inch wheels and tires last Thursday morning.
Here are some of the comments about my experiences that I posted on the BMW i3 Facebook group.
Random impressions from first 24 hours, 150 miles:
Regen braking:

It's pretty much a non-issue and I beg to retract all of my earlier doubtful and even downright negative comments about it. It is different, but it is manageable and you adjust fairly quickly. I would still like to have the regen strength adjustable for a more relaxed driving experience in certain situations. At low speeds with this car, you WILL brake significantly if you need to lift your foot to readjust its position on the accelerator, and it would be very nice to be able to reduce the regen power if you just want to relax and coast with your foot off the pedal for a few seconds. Also, as many have said, the regen strength is lower at high speeds, so you don't go into full-on braking at freeway speeds if you lift off. My wife's first test drive comes in a day or so, and I expect her to have issues learning to drive the car smoothly, and I also expect uncontrollable giggling at some point during her test drive (from her, not from me). But I was able to drive her on a day trip today without her feeling too jerked about. And that was in both Comfort and EcoPro modes.

Ride and handling:

The car does bounce around a bit more than I like on uneven pavement in situations when I want a smooth ride, especially when I have a passenger. When I'm out for sporty driving by myself, the ride is tight and just fine for me. I put a lot of this down to the short wheelbase that allows the car to bob over bumps, and the 20 inch wheels with low profile tires. I had mentioned getting just a touch motion sick on short test drives before, but I have to say that I really haven't felt that in my first full day of driving the car. I imagine that having a chance for my inner ear and brain to get used to the car has something to do with that. I'll just say that the car is less relaxing to cruise in than my Leaf is because the steering is very responsive to any turning input and I find that I have to pay more attention to where the car is in the lane than I do with the Leaf. Some would say that's the price you pay for responsive steering. Fair enough.

Sporty driving:

Oh hell yes! You owners know this, but I think that the best kept public secret about the i3 is that there is a little sports car demon hiding inside this little thing. When I'm driving alone on a twisty, hilly road, it feels as good as any sports car I've driven (remember that I'm in the Mazda, Nissan, 3-Series class, not the Ferrari, Porsche class). The skinny tires grip on curves like the devil and the torque of the motor just goes on and on. Very, very grin-inducing, and very BMW. For me, this is the one and only reason for ME to get this car. Frankly, a fully optioned Leaf SL or a Mercedes B Class EV would do as good or better job for family cruising duty. They are more spacious and more relaxing to cruise around in. But in my experience, the i3 is more fun to fling around than a Tesla Model S because of its small size, light weight and tight handling. And I've driven a Model S on some of the same twisty roads. Given that I'm limited on parking space and we can't really have more than two cars, my EV has to be my fun car as well as being practical. Since the FUN potential of the i3 is so high, I can probably live with the practical downsides of the car.

Performance on Rex:

I haven't had much time driving the car in REx mode, but I purposely ran the battery down so that the car would go into Rex. There is a slight, almost unnoticeable vibration in the cabin, and you can hear the two cylinder motor chugging a little back there with the windows up. I drove the car fast up a pretty steep hill with the REx running and there was no reduction in power that I could detect. I must say that I do like having the REx there as a cushion. I've been driving EVs for over three years and I know how to handle range issues, but it was very nice to see a 40 mile cushion on the dashboard as we finished our 70 mile trip today (Note: The gas tank was less than 3/4 full).
Driving efficiency:

If the mi/kWh onboard readouts are to be believed, I'm getting no better efficiency in the i3 than I do with similar driving in my 2013 Leaf SL. I expected something like 20% better efficiency in the i3, but as near as I can tell, Nope! (Note: see my revised comment on efficiency near the end of the article.) You might say that I must be pushing the i3 harder, but after a day of cruising with my spouse aboard, I got around 4.2 mi/kWh, which is what I'd expect from my (heavier) Leaf in the same kind or driving. This was a mix of suburban and freeway driving, in a mix of EcoPro and Comfort mode. Go figure.

Random minor observations:
I like having frameless windows on the front doors. Getting in and out of the car is a pleasure when I don't have to contort to get around the upper door frame.

I like the placement of the 12v power plug for a phone charger. My phone sits down there in that well with the charger plug and I don't have wires everywhere.

The door pockets are spacious and handy for carrying all kinds of small items.

Installing kiddie seats in the back seats was a bit challenging. We have two grandkids, a four year-old and an infant. I had to remove the rear seat headrest so that the bigger kid seat would fit properly down into place. The base for the infant seat takes up a surprisingly large amount of space front-to-rear, so when we put in the actual carrier cradle into the base, the front seat will have to be moved forward a lot. Since I'm long-legged and tallish, we'll have to put the infant base behind the passenger and have her move her seat forward, and we'll have the bigger kiddo sit behind me, the driver, and she and I will have to negotiate over leg room.

Finally (after first 24 hours): No electronic or mechanical gremlins, errors, CELs, nothing. Very reassuring.

And here is my summary of my experience after the end of the three day test drive:

I'll summarize by saying that I liked the car very much, and that most of my concerns were eliminated after a few days driving it.


+ The strong regen is a non-issue. It took a long test drive like this to convince me, but I no longer see this as a problem. Even my wife found it manageable. (BUT I do have to mention that she did have a second of unintended acceleration when she wanted to use the brake and forgot that her foot was still on the e-pedal. This was after only ten minutes driving the car for the first time, and we're sure that with more familiarity, this wouldn't be a problem.)

+ The quick acceleration and tight handling were really rewarding and these would be the biggest reasons that I'd choose an i3 over any of the competitive cars. This is really a little sports car disguised as an economical city car, and it's the true standout, as far as I'm concerned, for sportiest small four-door EV. (I know that the Spark is pretty quick, but it's really a tiny little thing and wouldn't work for us as a family hauler.)

+ Material and build quality were very good, even in the base Mega model. I happen to find the interior materials interesting and even the compressed Kenaf panels are fine with me.

+ I liked the maneuverability and tight turning circle.

+ I happen to like the car's unusual styling.

+ We were able to install kiddie seats for our two grandkids and reassure ourselves that the car would work for kid transport duty. This included one rear-facing infant seat and one front-facing kid seat. Space wasn't plentiful. The infant seat base takes up a lot of horizontal (front-rear) space, so it limits how far back a front passenger can move their seat. So we put the infant seat base behind the front passenger so that as the driver, I can get my needed leg space.

Features that I found only so-so:

* Having no keyless entry on the base car is cheesy, especially since the car has keyless-go.

* No option for power seats. That really should be an option for those who want it, with full disclosure that it adds weight and might harm range.

* I still find the seating position too high, and I kept wanting to lower the seat below the lowest setting. Ditto the steering wheel. It feels too high even at its lowest, and the high steering wheel position gives me a kink in my right upper shoulder.

* Loud and uncomfortable wind buffeting with the windows down above about 55 mph. I like to drive with the windows down, and without rear windows to open (or a sunroof) the "air hammer" that happens with the windows down is severe. I found that raising both windows to within about 4 inches of closed helps a lot.

* There was an annoying "reciprocating" thrum that I heard/felt at moderate to low speeds. I was never sure whether it was tire noise or drivetrain noise, or both, but it wasn't a typical EV driveline low howl that changes pitch as you slow to a stop. It was more
of a cyclical thrum that got slower in its cycle as I slowed down. Is this typical for the i3, is it unusual, or could it have been specific to the 20 inch tires? (Update: Tom Moloughney, our i3 online guru, told me that he had confirmed this sound in his own i3 to be coming from the 20 inch tires.)
* The short wheelbase (five inches shorter than a LEAF's) makes the car rock and bob over road imperfections. It's tolerable but it sure isn't a serene riding car. For most of my personal driving, it's no problem at all, but for times when I want to treat my passengers to a smooth ride, it's intrusive.

* I won't get into complaints about the crippled USA REx implementation, but the EV range that I got with the car was an unimpressive 72-ish miles. That's fine for most of my driving, but I'm used to getting about 85 miles with my Leaf, so this felt a bit limited. I do like having the cushion of the REx, though, and I think it would let me drive more EV miles, because I'd choose to take the i3 more often when planned trip lengths are a bit long, and a total range of about 150 miles with the range extender is very attractive after driving a Leaf for three years. It will make the difference between being able to use the car fully and not being able to in the spread-out LA metro area.

* Energy economy was poorer than in my Leaf on the freeway, but better than the Leaf on suburban streets, including with spirited driving. I find this rather disappointing because if I get an i3 REx, I'd like to do more regional driving trips with it, and I was hoping for better freeway economy. OTOH, with the good economy at lower speeds, I can drive it around like a hooligan without any misgivings (free energy from our home's solar roof).
- The "coach" doors. Awkward to move kiddie seats in and out of the back seats unless you have plenty of space on the side of the car. We had to back the i3 out of the garage into the driveway to have enough space to swap the kiddie seats in and out. The maneuver also required removing one rear head rest because it interfered with the upper part of the forward-facing child seat, and this requires partially folding that rear seat forward to be able to remove the head rest. We found that it was also necessary to slide the front seats forward and flip the back rests forward so that we had enough room to get to the child seat restraints and belts.

We wind up needing to swap out the child seats a couple times a week because we have two cars and only one pair of child seats. So this will become a frequent exercise. Not a huge deal, but if it's raining (if it ever does around here again), I'd be either doing this drill in the rain in the driveway, or back the Prius out in the rain to be able to get the i3 doors fully open and move the kid seats in and out. First world problems, to be sure.

- The placement of the charge access door on the right rear fender. I was lucky that I chose a 25 foot cable when I bought my Aerovironment L2 EVSE. Since I mounted the EVSE near the left front fender of a headed-in car, my choices with the i3 are to back the car into the garage or to wrap the cord around the car to get the plug to the i3 charge port. The latter choice was the more appealing one to me, and it worked fine, aided by the i3's short overall length.

* And of course, I find the car's price and value for money proposition disappointing. I'm going to want a good sized discount AND a boost to the residual percentage to feel okay about the lease pricing. We'll see how things are next Spring, when I'm in the market. But BMW really needs to kick in the whole $7,500 Fed rebate, or price the car to make up for the difference. OCF (Owner's Choice with Flex - a purchase program with a guaranteed buy-back at the end of the term) programs are less attractive in California because you're charged sales tax on the car's full cost, even though you're only using it for a portion of its life. Leasing would be more attractive to me, but not at BMW's current pricing, rebate amount and residuals.

Lastly, the only issue or problem I had in three days and 265 miles was a problem with " low cost charging". Even though I had set the car in that mode, it insisted on charging immediately. This was with Level 2 charging with about 15% SOC remaining.

And by the way, my existing Aerovironment Level 2 home EVSE with Nissan badging worked great with the i3.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

BMW M Guy Now Drives an i3

Manny and me when I took delivery of my i3 back in May.
Some of you may recognize the name because Manny Antunes was my client advisor for my ActiveE and my i3. He works at JMK BMW in Springfield and has established himself as the go-to guy for BMW i cars in the New Jersey area and has sold more i3s than anybody on the East Coast. Well he just delivered another one, but this time he was not only the client advisor, but also the client!

While Manny has always been a strong supporter of BMW i and the i3, he never let on to me that he would be interested in getting his own i3. He's an ///M specialist (his Twitter name is m5manny) and I don't think even he thought he would get his own i3 until recently. The first hint that he may be interested was the day my i3 was delivered to JMK. It was the first time he saw an i3 in Laurel Grey in person and I could see how he was staring at it. It was a lustful type of a stare and he even made a remark (I can't remember exactly what he said), but it was something like "Now that's an  i3 I could see myself in" and I remember being a little surprised by the comment. Fast forward a couple months and he sends me an email that he's joining the electric life and just ordered his own Laurel Grey i3. I couldn't be happier for him and I'm certain he won't regret the decision. He may not know it yet, but he just took the first step towards leaving gas behind for good. My guess is it won't take him too long to realize he just doesn't need or want it anymore. He thinks he's doing it for the fuel savings. Little does he know he's going to simply like it better after a couple months.

Below is Manny's story, which he provided to BMWBLOG:

Hi, my name is Manny and I’m a BMW M Certified client advisor, and I just bought a BMW i3. Let me clarify one thing, I’m also one of the first BMWi certified client advisors and have been in the BMW EV program since I delivered the very first ActiveE in January of 2011. My heart still lies with the M cars and spending time at the track, but I simply don’t need a track car as a daily driver, what I need is an i3.

Used To Be An “M Guy”

Living in NJ there aren’t many occasions to drive an M5 or the new M3 and M4 to their fullest potential. And honestly driving a track prepared E39 M5 like I did for many years became a chore. Maybe you can chalk that up to old age (I’m 42 now) but driving this beast regularly began to beat me up physically. It was equipped with KW variant 3 coil overs and Dinan sway bars. Stiff is a word commonly used to describe the ride in my M5. That and the full SuperSprint exhaust with X-Pipe became a nuisance to my neighbors when I’d get home late at night from work.

When the opportunity arose for me to represent my BMW Center back in late 2010 for the then upcoming ActiveE field trial I jumped at it. Being a product guy I love learning about anything BMW, plus the opportunity to meet a new demographic of BMW buyers intrigued me. Who would buy an electric 1 Series I thought, well I would soon find out. The clients I would meet were actually car fanatics, much like myself they loved driving their BMWs as much as any other, but they knew something I didn’t yet, the EV fuel free lifestyle and the instant torque. Oh man that torque!

I’d also like to add that EV owners can afford just about any BMW in our lineup, and most certainly the fuel costs associated with some of our V8 offerings. They buy an EV because they love the instant torque, the immediate throttle response and that thing about not spending money on gas. That last part is important because it’s something that really drew me to owning an EV and in particular the i3.

What Has Drawn Me To The BMW i3

So what do I love about the i3? The fact that its “Life Module” is made entirely of carbon fiber produced at BMW’s Moses Lake plant in Washington State which makes it the lightest BMW currently offered for sale. This Life module is mounted on top of the “Drive Module” which holds the 22.8kW battery, much like body on frame construction. Being that the other components of the car such as the body panels are made from thermoplastic the whole package is very light, 2634 lbs for the BEV version and 2799 lbs for the REx.
Could the i3 be a contender for a class win at a future autocross day? We’ll find out in the spring.

The engine, not your typical engine, but nonetheless a fun one. It won’t win any horsepower wars but at 170HP and 184 lb-ft of torque all available from the second you mash the throttle, provides a rush of power similar to driving a silky smooth BMW V12. In fact the i3’s power-to-weight ratio is a very respectable 15.49 lbs/HP. For comparison the 335i rear wheel drive is 11.98 lbs/HP, a 535i rear wheel drive is 13.19 lbs/hp, and a 228i is 13.72 lbs/HP. But it’s all about the torque with the i3, not the horsepower. 

Is The i3 The Perfect Daily Driver?

So let’s boil it down, why did I buy an i3 for a daily driver? Three important aspects:

  • The lowest weight in any BMW making it a very toss-able car in the turns
  • The instant torque allowing for some interesting stop light Grand Prix
  • For my daily commute I wouldn’t have to buy gas.
Care to try it out for yourself? Put in a call to your local BMWi center, a third of the BMW dealerships are currently running a program for an Extended Test Drive on the i3. You get to experience the i3 and all its virtues for 3-4 days. Much like our own Chuck Vossler did and now he’s getting an i3 of his own, while he still owns a E92 M3 and a Porsche 911. There must be a theme here.

The i3 I purchased is an Range Extender REx “Mega world” with the optional 20 inch wheels and a few options like DC Fast Charge and heated seats. Personally I love the Laurel Grey with the BMW i frozen blue trim, it really sets the color combination off. I’ll have another article out soon on the custom bits I created for my i3 such as the custom painted calipers in BMW i blue and a few other touches.
For now I’m just enjoying passing fuel stops that I used to stop at only to hand the attendant $60 every five days.

Yes, the drive is fantastic as well but I can’t get over my fuel savings costs. Now I have more money to save to buy another track car.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

National Drive Electric Week a Smashing Success!

Back on October 16th 2011, I celebrated the first National Plug in Day at the only event being held within driving range of my MINI-E. That was held in New York City and was one of 29 events held nationally. Last year National Plug in Day was expanded to a weekend (even though we still called it "plug in day") because there was such interest we wanted to have more opportunities to hold events. There ended up being a little over 100 different events and it was indeed so successful, that for this year and moving forward it will be called National Drive Electric Week, and we'll dedicate an entire week to host events.

My MINI-E on display at the very first National Plug in Day back in 2011
This year there were an amazing 152 events taking place in 5 countries, 39 US states and 6 Canadian Provinces. There were 150 different cities in which owners of over 3,000 electric vehicles registered to display their cars and share their electric driving experience with the public. The Cupertino California event set a Guinness World Record with a parade of 507 electric vehicles!

I was the city captain and host of the Montclair, New Jersey event which I held in the parking lot of my restaurant. We had 32 electric vehicles show up and a lot of people stopped by to ask questions and check out the cars. We even had a couple owners allow some people to test drive their car and give the person a chance to experience electric drive first hand.
Mercedes Benz of North America brought a new B-Class Electric Drive for display
Mercedes Benz of North America brought one of their newly released B-Class Electric Drives and had a representative there to answer questions about the car. I noticed it got a fair amount of attention throughout the afternoon as most people didn't even know Mercedes was selling an electric car. However the real highlight of the day was when two BMW i8's pulled up. It was actually the first time in the US that two i8's were together in public other than the initial press drive event a few months ago. Not only did we have the cars, but driving them were the two of the top BMW i executives in North America! Jacob Harb, head of EV Operations and Strategy for BMW North America pulled up in the white i8 and Jose Guerrero, Chief Product Manager for the i3 & i8 arrived in the Ionic Silver one. They both talked to the crowd, answered questions and Jose opened up a couple cases of BMW i pens and key chains and handed them out. It was a great showing by BMW and was really appreciated by everyone.
Why settle for one i8 when you can have two?  :)
The i8 is an awesome vehicle, but I'm perfectly content with my i3. I do however, want the Frozen Blue seat belts from the i8 for my i3. They would go perfectly with my Tera World interior so if anyone at BMW was wondering what to send me for Christmas... just sayin' : )

Of course I had to get some seat time in the i8. I actually got to drive an i8 last month but the i8s at the event were not available to test drive. I want these Frozen Blue seat belts transplanted into my i3!
It's really great to see how far electric vehicles have come in the past five years. Back in 2011 when I attended the first National Plug in Day I couldn't have imagined that in three short years we would be where we are now. In 2011 the electric cars we had on display were a Tesla Roadster, a Nissan Leaf, a Chevy Volt and my MINI-E which wasn't even available to the general public. At my event this year we had: a Tesla Roadster, Tesla Model Ss, Nissan LEAFs, Chevy Volts, a Honda Fit EV, BMW i3s, BMW i8s, a Mercedes B-Class ED, a smart electric drive, a Ford Focus EV and a Toyota RAV4 EV. There is still a long way to go for mass electric vehicle adoption but we are well on the way. Manufacturers are bringing cars to market and EV charging infrastructure is improving. Infrastructure deployment may not be going as fast as many electric vehicle supporters would like, but it is indeed happening.
The owner of this Honda fit offered test drives for those interested. Much appreciated!
2015 promises to be even better with more electric choices coming to market. Volkswagen will release an electric version of their popular Golf, Audi will introduce the A3 e-tron and Mitsubishi will bring their extremely popular Outlander plug in hybrid to the US in the spring. The Outlander PHEV has been a smashing success in Europe and Mitsubishi can't even make them fast enough. In some markets it has even eclipsed the Nissan LEAF to become the top selling plug in vehicle. Yes, the electric revolution is indeed underway. I want to thank everybody who attended this year's event and hope to see you all again next year!

Monday, September 22, 2014

BMW NA CEO Willisch Talks i3 With Lou Ann Hammond on Driving The Nation

Lou Ann Hammond of recently spent some time with BMW of North America's CEO Ludwig Willisch talking about the i3. One thing I found interesting is Willisch said that BMW has tradmarked all of the numbers from i3 through i9 for the use of future vehicles. I had always heard they had tradmarked i1 through i9, and didn't start at i3 as Willisch indicated. A simple trademark search reveals BMW does hold the trademark for all the names from i1 through i9. So either Ludwig made a simple mistake, or perhaps he slipped and let out the fact that BMW doesn't have any plans to ever produce an i1 or i2. This of course isn't earth-shattering news, I just found it interesting that he indicated that the reserved names start at the number 3. 

The other thing I enjoyed was all of the MINI-E and ActiveE footage in the video is of me driving my old cars. You see me plugging in at my restaurant, driving the MINI-E around in New York City and driving my ActiveE up my driveway at home. Willisch also talks about the dealers being excited about carrying the i brand. That's good news to hear because as with other manufacturers that introduce electric cars, BMW has struggled a bit so far to get the dealers up to speed with these new vehicles. They are definitely doing work behind the scenes to improve this, but there is still a lot to do to get their client advisers ready to embrace the i3. It's going to take some time, but I'm happy to report progress is definitely being made. Enjoy the clip!

Hat tip to for finding the video. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Born Electric Guest Blogger: Meet Harold From California

My name is Harold and I was born electric on August 19th, 2014. 

There are two parts to my story here. The first is about my path to selecting and buying the i3, and the second is about my experiences owning and driving the i3.

PART 1:  

When it comes to global warming, I’m embarrassed to say that for far too long my wife and I were part of the problem.  We’re a two car family, and over the years we’ve driven a series of big, luxury, premium fuel guzzlers. As recently as 2007 we each had one of the full-size Range Rovers. Yikes, and yuck!

I gradually realized this was not tenable, but I found it very, very hard to give up the comfort (I’m 6’3 and don’t fit in most cars) and sportiness of a big luxury SUV. The very thought of shoehorning myself into the ugly and painfully boring Prius hybrid was enough to make me puke.

So my first tentative step in the right direction was to sign up to make annual contributions to one of those carbon-offset charities. I even got vanity license plates that said “I OFFSET.” Wow, how big and how brave of me!

Then BMW came out with a diesel version of their X5 so I dumped my Range Rover in favor of that on the theory that at least I would be burning a lot less fuel. As nice a car as the X5 was, it ended up only getting about 16mpg, and I also came to understand that the diesel wasn’t as clean as I had thought it might be.

Meanwhile, there were more hybrid cars coming on the market, but all still seemed to frumpy for me.  I’m sorry, but I live in California and I spend a ton of time in my car and I want it to look and feel great!

And then Audi launched their stylish little Q5, and I dumped the X5 in favor of this smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle. But even that only got around 20mpg. 

So about a year ago I started the search for my next car. I did my first exploration of EV’s. The RAV4 was too clearly a Toyota. The Leaf, which a neighbor of mine happily drives, drove like a turtle to me.  The Volt was claustrophobic – and a Chevy to boot. The Tesla was way cool, but I actually don’t fit very well in it and, at least in the San Francisco area, driving one has already become interpreted as a sign that you are an obnoxious snob.
So, I had resigned myself to getting the new edition of the X5 diesel, which promised to deliver significantly better – and cleaner – mileage than the original one. And then one day while I was checking out the new X5 on one of the BMW forums, I saw something about the coming of the i3. It looked weird as hell in the photo, but it sounded intriguing. I started to follow stories about it. 

I went to a car show in San Jose to see it in person. I fully expected to discover that I could not fit in it, but when I sat down in the model on display I discovered that it had more head room and leg room and better visibility than my Q5. (Of course at this point, BMW was showing it with a sunroof – more about that later….). Plus, the interior design was stunning. And the exterior, while weird, was weird in a sexy way.  So I was hooked.

When the test drives started happening in the Bay Area, I went to them at three different dealers.  Driving the car was a total blast (all the more so with the sunroof open…..) and I had to have one. I went to my dealer and said I’m willing to pay MSRP for one of the first ones you get, I just need to get two key options – the sun roof and the REX. Can you arrange that please?

And then things started to fall apart. For one, it turned out the sunroof was not going to be offered in the US.  No reason for this has ever been provided, but that alone was enough to put me off.  I’m claustrophobic, and I always felt I needed a sunroof to have the feeling of openness they give. And then some negative stories started to appear about the REX – a review in Europe said driving with the REX was like driving in limp-home mode, and then it was revealed that the REX was being modified in the US in ways that made it seem even less desirable.  And,  being new to EV’s, I was at that point too chicken to go the full BEV route.

So, I abandoned my quest for an i3. I signed off of the i3 forums and facebook group. I went back to my dealer and started haggling over prices on the X5 diesel again. But the x5 diesel remained in hot demand,  and I couldn’t get what I thought was a reasonable price. And then the i3’s actually arrived. I saw two in one day “in the wild.” I went behind my dealer’s back and went to another dealer to test drive an i3 again.  I found that even without the sunroof it still felt very open. And it was just as fun to drive as I had remembered. 

So I went back to my CA, said you’re not going to believe this, but I want the i3 after all. He laughed very heartily. We worked the numbers for a while. I ended up doing the two year version of “owner’s choice.” (Went with owner’s choice vs. lease to get the full advantage of the federal tax credit,  and went two years rather than three just because I expect the EV technology is going to advance pretty rapidly over the next couple of years and I may want to move to the next edition sooner rather than later.) And within just a few weeks I was driving my new Andesite Silver Terra i3, loaded up with everything except for the 20” wheels.  And, surprise surprise, I even got over my fear of running out of juice and went with the BEV instead of the REX.

PART 2: 

As I mentioned earlier, a key factor that kept me from switching sooner to a more environmentally correct car was that they all just seemed too ugly, too uncomfortable, and too boring. I wanted to do the right thing for the planet – but I wanted to still be able to enjoy driving at the same time.

Thankfully, my i3 has solved all three of those problems for me. 

While I will admit that the exterior is a bit of an acquired taste, there can be no denying that the interior is stunning. Yes, the materials are all very environmentally friendly, but more important to me – they are gorgeous. The design is very fresh,  very high tech,  and yet very simple. Among the features I like most are the floating high definition screens (one for the instrument cluster stuff, one for the navigation and multimedia stuff) and the eucalyptus dash. I also really appreciate the openness of the cabin and the great sight lines.

The interior is also quite comfortable. I was initially skeptical about the thinness of the seats.  As a veteran business road warrior, I have equated the steady thinning down of airline seats over the years with an equally steady decline in the comfort of those seats. Well, I can only hope that the designers at Boeing and Airbus get to drive an i3 soon so they can see how to make a thinner seat super supportive and comfortable.

And as for the driving experience, well, I haven’t had so much fun driving a car since the very first one I owned.  First comes the peppiness. As the folks at BMW are fond of saying,  the i3 is the fastest car they make from 0 to 30 mph.  And I believe them now!  Zipping in and out of city traffic is as easy as can be – aided by how tight the turning radius is. Likewise, accelerating on to freeway ramps and passing at freeway speeds is also quick and easy. When we had a meet up of Bay area i3 drivers recently,  I had t-shirts printed up for everyone that carried this message: “I drive a BMW i3.  So you can eat my dust, not my exhaust. You’re welcome.” Trust me, the message is appropriate: this car hauls ass.
It's hard to see in the picture, but the blue T-Shirts everyone is wearing are the shirts Harold made up for the Crissy Field i3 meet. He was even gracious enough to send me a couple in the mail. Photo credit: Dino Ignacio
The steering is also very tight. I’m sure it has some degree of electronic assistance, but it doesn’t feel in the least bit mushy or vague. If anything it’s too responsive – you have to be attentive or it’s a bit too easy to oversteer.

The ride is firm, but in a good, BMW way. If you don’t want to feel the road at all, then this is not the car for you. But if you like to get some feedback from your driving, you should like this.

I really like the quietness of the car. If you keep the windows rolled up, it is super quiet; there is of course some wind noise at higher speeds, but I have not found it to be objectionable. And, at the same time, if you drive with the windows open, you can actually hear the sounds of nature!

I’m still learning all the fancy new tech tools.  Love the Harman Kardon stereo, love being able to use apps like Pandora and TuneIn. Appreciate that iDrive has gotten clearer and more manageable, though it still requires a learning curve. Love the collision avoidance system and the adaptive cruise control.  Haven’t yet tried the self-parking thing – but haven’t felt the need either, as this is the smallest car I have driven in ages and I would feel like a total wimp if I couldn’t park it by myself.  : )

As for downsides of the i3, anyone who buys this car has to accept that they are on the bleeding edge of technology and that things may go wrong. And they have for some of the early owners. But, knock on wood, after just about 1,000 miles, the worst thing that has happened to me so far is that one morning while I was driving along a nearly empty six lane freeway a warning message popped up on my screen that said something about “Danger – objects detected in roadway.” There were no objects to be seen, so I ignored the message and kept on driving and the message ultimately disappeared.

Also, if you choose as I did to go with the BEV instead of the REx, you will probably find yourself being more than a little bit paranoid about monitoring how much charge you have left. I have been running somewhere around 75 miles per full charge – a little less than what the EPA says, but then I drive with a bit of a lead foot and I leave the AC on all the time. So far I’ve only once gotten the dreaded verbal warning “you have 15 miles of range left,” and thankfully that happened when I was only about a mile from my house.

One other downside is that, to my way of thinking, the i3 is not practical as a family car. The “suicide”  doors (aka coach doors) make access to the back seat just too awkward for regular use, especially if you are trying to cope with child seats.

OK, so the i3 is good looking, it’s comfortable, and it’s fun to drive. But how does it do on my original overall reason for getting it, which is to help address the problem of global warming?

Well,  for one thing I have not been to a gas station since I got the car. And will never have to go to a gas station with it. Take that, Exxon and BP and the rest of you big oil companies! (The vanity plates I have on order for my car will read: “I86DGAS”) And, at least according to the i3 mobile app, so far I have already saved 530 pounds of CO2 from being pumped out into the air.

So,  in sum, thank you BMW for giving birth to the i3 so that I can at last do my part for solving global warming – but do it in a way that fits my own selfish needs for style, comfort, and fun!

PS- The i3 may not be right for everyone, but there are now plenty of EV’s on the market – surely one of them will be right for you!

Thanks for participating Harold! If you drive an i3 and want to share your Born Electric story here, just send me an email and we'll set it up!