Tuesday, November 17, 2015

i3 Software Update 15-11-502 Fixes Flaws, Adds Features

Details of the November software update (15-11-502) for the i3 and i8. Click to enlarge or download.
BMW has just rolled out another software update (15-11-502) for the i3 in the North American market. Since the i3 launch, these updates have been coming out about once every six months, and as with previous i3 software updates, they are free of charge. Hopefully this time around BMW dealers know these updates are indeed free. Last year when BMW introduced an i3 software update, for some reason there were some dealers that charged their customers for the service. Once BMW realized what was happening, they reached out to their dealer network to inform them that these i3 updates are indeed free, and they were instructed to refund the money to anyone who was charged for it. If you were one of the people who unfortunately paid for an i3 software and wasn't reimbursed, please contact your dealer and they will refund what you paid.

This new update is a combination of fixing some nagging issues, as well as adding a couple of new features. Below is a detailed description of what the added enhancement and fixes of this update are all about.


"Broken motor mount potential"

There have been a few cases since the i3 has launched, where the left side motor mount has failed.  Basically, this failure is caused by an excessive shock to the driveline, such as a sudden loss of traction or underbody impact, during hard acceleration. For instance, if you get the rear axle airborne (going over the bump while accelerating) while still keeping your foot on the acceleration pedal, the electric motor, without any load, will quickly reach very high speeds - up to 11,000 rpm. When tires hit the ground while the motor is freewheeling at such a speed, the impact force from the drivetrain may compromise motor mount bolt (it's the left side mount in a BEV and possibly both sides in REX). It's obviously bad if this happens, but if you continue driving then extensive damage to high voltage components (EME, KLE) can occur. The 15-11-502 update will reduce the electric motor speed when the rear axle freewheeling situation is detected. 
Picture of a broken motor mount from an i3. Photo credit Roger Klemm
Some i3 owners, upon seeing this line item in the update were concerned that BMW's solution may have been to reduce power in an effort to reduce the strain on the motor mounts. Luckily, that isn't the case. This update is not going to affect motor output or torque during normal driving; only when the car has lost traction and the wheels are spinning without load. 
"Low Cost Charging complaints"

This issue concerned the Low Cost Charging feature which allows the owner to set a delayed charging session so they can take advantage of lower cost electricity pricing. There were complaints that for some customers it only worked sporadically, and for others it didn't work at all. This is the kind of feature that many people won't use, but for those who do, it's very important because it can lower the cost of charging their car significantly.

One i3 owner posted a video of his EVSE clicking. This should be solved with the software update.

"Clicking noise from Level 2 charger during charging"

This issue was definitely strange and annoying. When i3 owners set their car to precondition, often it would cause a contactor in the EVSE to open and close every few seconds. It would happen with various brands, including the BMW i branded Wallbox Pure, which was made by Bosch. Depending on the brand of EVSE, the clicking noise would vary from every couple of seconds to clicking once every 15 or 20 seconds. It didn't present any immediate problem, but the contactor would eventually wear out and fail if this were allowed to continue for years unresolved. Besides that, it was really annoying and many customers could hear the clicking noise throughout their house. The video above was made and posted on YouTube by i3 owner, George Betak.

"Various fault codes will set a check engine light (CEL)"

Basically, BMW cleaned up some errors in the code that have caused the check engine light to illuminate when there really wasn't a problem. Phantom check engine light warnings have been an ongoing problem with the i3 REx cars since the launch. The majority of the time when they happened there wasn't anything wrong with the vehicles. Hopefully with the new software update these false warnings will be a thing of the past.


"Addition of Hospitality Charging Feature"

This is a feature that owners of other electric vehicles will appreciate as much as the i3 owner does. This issue centered around the fact that the i3's connector would lock itself to car if the doors were locked and wouldn't release until the doors were unlocked. On the surface it sounds like a good idea. Nobody wants someone else to be able to unplug their car while it's still charging at a public charging station, right? Well, in in the majority of instances most people don't, but there are exceptions.

The issue of charger sharing dates back to the early days of the recent generation of electric cars in California. Back about a decade ago when GM had the EV1, and Toyota had the first generation RAV4 EV, there were very few electric vehicle charging stations, and the small group of EV drivers took it upon themselves to come up with methods of sharing the few stations available. They would leave notes that would say something like, "You can unplug me anytime after 1:00," or "I'm opportunity charging. If you really need to charge, just unplug me." These charger sharing methods allowed the users to get the most out of the few stations available.
Hospitality Charging in action! These hang tags help make hospitality charging possible and efficient. But that's only if the connector will unlock.
Fast forward to today. There are hundreds of thousands of plug in vehicles on the roads here in the US, and not nearly enough public charging stations, especially in EV hotbeds like California. So charger sharing has continued in many different forms, especially for workplace charging. Often, the number of plug in cars in a workplace parking lot greatly exceeds the number of charging stations they have. So by playing nice, and sharing the chargers, everyone gets their fair time on the plug. However, if the connector is locked to your car, even when the car is finished charging, then the charging station cannot be utilized by the next person.  One electric vehicle owner, realizing the need for them, created hang tags specifically to assist in public charger sharing and now sells them on his website.

Also, if an i3 owner is charging in a public parking lot, they cannot leave a note allowing the next person to unplug them and use the station at a certain time, when they know the car will be finished. BMW fielded many complaints about this issue, and I've even heard people call the i3, "The most hated electric car at the office," because of this. Earlier in the year, when the last i3 software update came out, this issue was addressed, and the cars then unlocked the connector once the vehicle was finished charging. However, for some reason the update only worked on cars with a build date after March of 2015. This update corrects the issue on all i3s built before March, so all the i3s now have Hospitality Charging. This was the first thing I checked when I had the software update, and I have confirmed it does work.
BMW i European Type 2 charging cable. Notice it has connectors on both ends. We don't use cables like this in the US - though I think we should. Personally, I prefer this method of public charging rather than having the cables tethered to the unit as we use here.
However this feature will not be added to European i3s. That is because the majority of public charging stations throughout Europe do not have the charging cable tethered to them as they do in the US. In most European countries, the owner of the car brings the cable which one one end plugs into their car, and the other end plugs into the EVSE. If the connector automatically unlocked, than the cable could be easily stolen. I believe this is the reason all i3s were initially delivered without the Hospitality Charging feature. BMW, being a German based company, was just more in tune with the charging needs of European customers than they were with US customers. However thankfully, they listened to their US customer base and added this feature.

I'm glad BMW added this, but there is one thing about it I'd like to see them improve upon. As it is, you cannot turn off Hospitality Charging. Once the car has finished charging, the connector will unlock, you cannot stop it. I would prefer a setting in iDrive where I can check or uncheck a box that will determine if Hospitality Charging is utilized. I want this for the times I may plug into a basic 120v outlet with my Occasional Use Cable while the vehicle is in a public space. As it is now, once the car finishes charging, the connector will unlock and someone can steal the portable EVSE which is worth a couple hundred dollars. There are ways to lock the OUC to the car, but that means carrying a padlock along with you and taking the time to lock it to your car whenever you use it which is cumbersome and time consuming. Adding the option to iDrive would be the best solution, giving the driver full control over when the connector unlocks or not.

Charge Port Flap Open Warning

Interestingly, this new feature isn't included on the 15-11-502 service bulletin list, but it is indeed part of the new software. I like this feature a lot and am happy to see it now added on the car. There have been many times in my six years of driving electric when I did not realize that I left the charge port open until I arrived at my destination and needed to plug in. Usually that doesn't really present a problem, but it can. In fact, back in 2010 I left the charge port of my MINI-E open while driving home from work one night in a pouring rainstorm. So much water got into the charging socket that even after a couple of days of letting it air out (and even taking a blow dryer to it), I had to take it to the dealer where they replaced the charge port. This new added warning is really appreciated and I believe it should be standard on all electric vehicles.

I'm happy to see BMW updating the software frequently to fix issues, and actively adding features that the customers have asked for - you may remember that last year they added the numeric state of charge and low battery warning after receiving numerous customer requests. Tesla in particular has been praised for how they offer frequent updates, and over the air no less. While the i3 needs a trip to the dealer to perform the update, the fact that they are pushing them out, and frequently, is good news indeed.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Breaking: BMW i3 "Shadow Sport" Special Edition to be offered in US

The i3 Shadow Sport Limited Edition is coming
Thinking about getting a BMW i3? Do you like to own low-volume special edition cars? When it comes to cars, a special edition where only 50 copies are made guarantees the owner will be in pretty exclusive company.

That's exactly what BMW is doing with a special version of the 2016 i3. BMW is calling it the "i3 Shadow Sport" and they are using social media for the public unveiling. Tomorrow (Monday, 11/16) at 8:00pm EST, you can tune into the live BMWUSA Periscope event to find out the details on the i3 Shadow Sport.
BMW's teaser of the new limited edition i3 Shadow Sport
From the teaser picture it looks like the car has a moonroof, which has yet to be available in the US, and is the new color, Fluid Black. It has the 19" Cyclone wheels which only come with the top-of-the-line Tera World package, so it's likely loaded with all the options the car offers. So far, all BMW has said was "With only 50 available to purchase, the all-electric 2016 BMW i3 Shadow Sport is every bit a BMW i3 with new features – available for the first time in the US." Nothing else is known about this special edition i3, so if you're interested in the i3, and like owning rare cars, made sure you tune into tomorrow's live Periscope event. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

First Public CCS DC Fast Charger in New Jersey Getting Action

This CCS DC Quick Charge station is located on my property at 148 Valley Road, Montclair, NJ
Back in August I posted an article that announced the opening of the first DC fast charger in the East Coast Express Charging Corridor. That station was installed in Hartford, Connecticut. The Express Charging Corridor when completed will connect Washington, DC to Boston, Massachusetts with CCS DC fast chargers, located no more than 50 miles apart, and is being funded by a joint venture between BMW, Volkswagen and ChargePoint.

About three weeks after the station in Hartford was installed, I installed one on my property in Montclair, NJ. It was the first public CCS station in the state that wasn't installed on BMW property. BMW has had a few CCS fast chargers at their North American headquarters for a few years now, as they have been testing CCS since 2012, when they were using a modified BMW ActiveE with CCS capability as a test mule for the then yet-to-be-released i3.
So far the DCQC station is getting plenty of use from i3 owners
CCS fast charge infrastructure had a slow start, frustrating many i3 owners. It was difficult to watch the Asian standard CHAdeMO stations and Tesla Superchargers continue to proliferate, while CCS stations were as rare as White Rhinos. However the pace of CCS deployment has really picked up, and with the East and West Coast Express Charging Corridors beginning to take shape, it's starting to look like CCS is finally getting some traction.

The station I installed is the smaller of the two that will be used in these corridors. I have the 24kW, CCS only DC fast charger but there is another unit that will also be deployed on many of the direct highway locations. That unit is a dual head, CCS and CHAdeMO station and is capable of delivering up to 50kW. Because of the location on my property (not situated on a highway), and the primary tenant is a restaurant where people typically spend an hour or more, the 24kW unit made more sense, and it costs a LOT less. The lower power draw will also help me to avoid or minimize demand charges from my electric provider.
The eGolf owners were very pleased when they realized the DCQC in my lot was close to the route they planned to take to Massachusetts. They only had to drive a few miles off of their route to stop by and Quick Charge
I installed the station a little over two months ago and it's definitely getting use. I've had at least a couple dozen different i3 owners stop by and use it, and I recently had an eGolf owner who was driving from Delaware to Massachusetts stop by to charge up. I was talking to them about the trip and how long it would take to stop and charge at level 2 stations and how happy there were when they saw my DCQC station pop up on the Plugshare map.

Fast charge infrastructure is monumentally important for the mass adoption of plug in cars. Tesla knew the success of the Model S, and probably even the entire company, would hinge on how quickly they could cover large swaths of the US and other key markets with Supercharger access. They have been installing them at an incredible rate, and have installed more than 500 worldwide in under 3 years.

Nissan has also done their fair share with regards to DC fast charge infrastructure and has subsidized much of the costs of hundreds of CHAdeMO installations. Personally, I'm hoping Volkswagen steps up and commits to installing even more infrastructure than the current plan in light of the current dieselgate scandal. Making a commitment to assisting the proliferation of cleaner electric cars would be a good first step in restoring public confidence at this point.

We are getting there. EV charging infrastructure, both level 2 and DC fast charge, is still really in its infancy, but we're definitely making progress in some areas of the country (mainly the coasts). I remember back to 2009 when I was driving my MINI-E and there wasn't a public charging station within a thousand miles of me. In fact, the closest one may have even been 3,000 miles away in California.  Now there are tens of thousands of them in the US. I can only imagine how things will look in another five or six years.

The Plugshare map on the left shows only CCS DC Fast charge stations on the East Coast. Just a year ago at this time there were none in this view. Within a couple of months, there will be dozens more of them as the Express Charging Corridor locations are finished. The large gap south of my restaurant (the blue dot) will hopefully be closed by year's end. The pace of CCS deployment is definitely picking up, and I believe will only continue to accelerate from here on.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Road Trip Refueling a BMW i3 REx

Fill 'Er up!
I know many readers here have spent countless sleepless nights pondering the the age-old question: How long does it take to refuel a BMW i3's tiny gas tank?

Well maybe not, but I have had people argue that driving the i3 REx on an extended trip would be very inconvenient because they would have to stop to fill up the gas tank every 50-60 miles. I've done quite a few road trips with my i3 REx, and stopping once an hour for a couple of minutes to refill the tank never really bothered me much.

I wrote a post last year which detailed a 462 mile round trip I made to Vermont from my home in New Jersey and refueling was one of the topics that many people commented on. On that trip, I had to stop for gas a total of seven times, as I only recharged the car once, which was at my destination. I drove 111 miles on battery, 351 miles on the range extender and used a total of 9.87 gallons of gas, averaging 35.5 mpg.
It was snowing in Vermont when we arrived

In that post, I wrote that I found it funny how quickly the gas tank fills because it's only 1.9 gallons. My wife started timing how long it took to stop for gas and we averaged a little over two minutes. I remember wishing we had recorded one of the gas breaks so we could demonstrate just how quick you can pull off the highway, fill up, get back into the car and back out onto the highway. I made a note that the next time we drove back up to Vermont, we would do just that.

So last week we made the Vermont trip again, and as planned we recorded one of the gas stops:

As you can see, I started the stopwatch before we exited the highway, and stopped it when we were back on the highway. I didn't jump out of the car and rush like a NASCAR pit crew filling up. I took my time and even spent a couple extra second topping off so I'd get every drop that I could into that tiny tank and we still did it in under two minutes.

The point of the exercise was to demonstrate that it's really not that inconvenient to make a quick gas break about once every every hour. I will qualify that statement with the fact that here in the Northeast there are gas stations everywhere. It seems that I'm never more than a couple miles from one, so when I'm doing these long drives I can plan the stops at convenient intervals when the tank is nearly empty. While that is the case for many large city and suburban areas throughout the country, there are plenty of rural areas where gas stations aren't as prevalent, and the small gas tank would be a problem. The i3 REx most likely isn't well suited for use in those areas. But hey, BMW calls it a "city car" after all.

As I mentioned above, when I made the trip last year I only did 111 miles on battery and drove 351 on the REx. This year I was able to drive 270 miles on battery, and needed only 184 miles with the range extender maintaining the battery state of charge. This was possible because of the always improving charging infrastructure. I was able to stop twice (once each way) at Prestige BMW in Mahwah, NJ and use their new DC fast chargers. Also, on the way home I stopped for a couple hours at a friend's house who just recently installed a 240v level 2 EVSE in his garage. These stops allowed me to more than double the all-electric miles for the trip, and I only needed 4.9 gallons of gas for the 184 miles I drove with the range extender running, as I averaged 37.5 mpg.
I used the recently installed DC Fast Charger at Prestige BMW on both legs of the trip. 
I now have over 36,000 miles on my i3 after seventeen months of ownership, and only about 1,750 of those miles were on the REx. The range extender has been a great feature and I'm still very happy I got it. It does what it is supposed to; it gets you home without worrying about finding a charging station on the rare days that the electric range isn't enough, and it enables the occasional long road trip. There are limitations though, and extreme hill climbing while the REx is running for prolonged periods at highway speeds, can result in reduced power. Fortunately I've never had that happen to me but I don't really have any big mountains which I need to climb. On my Vermont trips I set the Active Cruise Control to 70 mph and have never had an issue yet, even though there are some prolonged climbs at the end of the trip. I did get the "Reduced Power Possible" warning once though, as the state of charge hit a low point of 2% once. However it held there until I crested the climb and once I was on flat ground the SOC climbed back up to about 6%. I left the cruise at 70 mph because I actually wanted to see at what point it would go into reduced power mode, but it never happened.  
On one climb, I was able to get the SOC down to 2% and at that point the car warns you that reduced power may occur if you continue without altering your driving. Basically it's saying "Slow Down!"
Still, in a perfect world I'd prefer a 150 mile, all-electric-range i3 combined with adequate DC fast charge infrastructure. Personally, I really don't need 250 or 300 miles of range, and I'd rather not pay for it. However, even though the infrastructure is improving, I think 200 miles of range is probably more acceptable until DC fast chargers are ubiquitous. It appears with Nissan and Chevy poised to bring 200 mile EVs to market in the coming year, the "affordable" electric vehicle market is going to get very interesting. BMW's CEO recently announced that the 2017 i3 will have a longer all electric range also, but didn't comment on exactly how much more. That's good news because as much as I like how the REx works, and how quickly I can refill the gas tank, I'd still much prefer going on battery alone. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Krueger: BMW i3 to Get "Battery Facelift" in 2016

BMW CEO Krueger revealed plans to increase the i3's range in 2016
It's no secret that if BMW wants the i3 to continue to remain relevant they will eventually have to increase its all electric range. In fact, in about a year there will be no less than two electric vehicles available in North America that have double the i3's all electric range and also cost less. Nissan will be launching the second generation LEAF, and Chevrolet will bring the Bolt EV to market by the end of 2016 and they are both rumored to have approximately 200 miles of electric range.

I think it's fair to say most people expected BMW to up the i3's range to stay competitive, but when they would do so was not known. Until now. BMW CEO Harold Krueger in an interview with Die Zeit recently said this about the topic:

“Battery cell technology continues to evolve. The range of the i3 will be increased in 2016. A further technological improvement is to be expected in three or four years: Then you’ll be able to go twice as far on a single charge without any further increase in the weight of the battery."
This is the first time anyone from BMW has offered a clear statement about increasing the range of the current i3. Personally, I didn't expect this yet, but welcome the news. I had always maintained that the i3's range would be linked to the progress made by BMW's battery partner, Samsung SDI. So the news that the MY2017 i3 will have increased range is interesting as well as exciting. It's interesting because Samsung has maintained that they wouldn't be bringing the next generation of large format, automotive grade batteries with increased energy density to market before 2018 - 2019. See timeline produced by Samsung SDI below:
Samsung SDI Battery Technology Roadmap
So the question is: How is BMW increasing the i3 range? Here are some possible explanations:

1) They are sourcing higher energy density batteries from other suppliers. This could very likely be the answer. The i3's 130 kW/Kg battery cells are not nearly as energy dense as the cells Tesla uses for instance. BMW could have a partner to supply them with cells which have considerably higher energy density and accomplished the increased range using the same battery tray as the current i3.

2) Samsung SDI provided BMW with a battery which is incrementally better than the existing cells they provide BWM with, but not quite as energy dense as the cells they plan to have in three or four years, according to their technology roadmap. Again, this would allow BMW to use the current battery tray and not need any major structural re-engineering. 

3) BMW redesigned the battery tray to accommodate more battery modules, or used the area where the range extender goes to add a second, smaller battery pack. Either of these options would have required a lot of engineering, testing and validation. I just don't see BMW doing either of these for a mid-cycle refresh. Certainly when the next generation i3 comes out in 2018 or 2019 there will likely be new redesign of the battery tray area, but not for a refresh, it's just too expensive to do that only two years after the initial launch.

Another benefit of the increased electric range will be increased gas range for the REx i3s in the US. Unlike in Europe, the US i3 must have a shorter range when driving on gasoline than it does on battery alone. This is a complicated issue which is tied to the amount of ZEV credits BMW gets for every i3 they sell, but in short by increasing the i3's all electric range, they can then allow the gas range to increase and still qualify for the maximum ZEV credits they get. The current i3 REx is EPA rated at 72 miles per charge and the range extender's gas tank is software limited to 1.9 US gallons which provides another 70 miles of range. If BMW were to increase the i3's REx's electric range from 72mpc to 92mpc. They could then allow US customers full use of the 2.4 gallon gas tank, and the combined range would go from about 142 miles to roughly 182 miles.

BMW employee working on an i3 battery pack assembly
Krueger was also asked if current i3 owners would have the ability to upgrade their cars with the new batteries and his answer was: "We are currently looking into that." Personally I believe that will be possible, but not economically viable, for now at least. I know current i3 owners will be asking about an upgrade but it just doesn't make sense to replace a battery pack that is two years old for just a little more range. I think it's more likely that in four or five more years when some of the original wave of i3 owners have 120,000 to 150,000 miles on their car they will be looking at the next generation of battery cells which will be available and these "new" battery cells will already be obsolete. I would be surprised if BMW didn't engineer those new cells to fit in the same modules the current i3 uses, so a complete replacement with the upgraded battery cells would then be possible.

What effect this will have on i3 sales from now until this new longer range i3 is available is unknown, but there is at least some comparable data to use. Both the Chevy Volt and the Nissan LEAF launched in late 2010 and are just now releasing upgraded range models. The Volt is a complete redesign and the LEAF is doing more of what BMW is now by keeping basically the same vehicle and offering it with an incremental longer range. The 2nd generation LEAF which will be completely redesigned and offer much more range won't be available for about another year. In both cases these cars experienced greatly reduced monthly sales in their final months as customers waited for the new model with longer range. Like Nissan and Chevrolet, BMW will likely have to offer some favorable financial incentives to clear the remaining 2016 stock once the new battery i3 is nearing availability meaning this should be a good time to pick up an i3 for a great deal.

In any event, this is all great news. It further proves BMW's commitment to electric cars and their willingness to upgrade the i3 as battery technology improves. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

i3 Owners: Be Prepared For Reduced Range

With the temperatures dipping into the 40s this week, I'm quickly reminded how much the cold effects the range of my i3. Just a couple of weeks ago I was averaging between 70 and 80 miles per charge. I'm now down in the 60s and it's only October! I figure it's a good time to remind the seasoned i3 owners - and inform newbies, what to expect in the coming fall and winter months.
It's the time of year when the leaves start turning color, when Sundays mean most televisions in the US are tuned to football games and the Holidays are just around the corner. However something even more grim than the best Halloween costume is also making its return: Reduced range for EV owners.

I think back six years ago to my first year in the MINI-E program. It was 2009 and there weren't many electric vehicles on the roads, especially outside of Southern California. About five months into the MINI-E Trial Lease program there was suddenly a rush of owners bringing the cars to their MINI dealer for service, telling them something was wrong with their cars. This occurred in late October...

Suddenly, the cars couldn't go as far as we were used to, and the range drop off seemed to happen very quickly, without notice and without reason, leaving many people to assume their car was malfunctioning, and perhaps had a bad battery. Some of the people even swore the range drop coincided with their last service visit, so there had to be something done at the dealership that caused the loss of range. I had read quite a bit about electric cars before getting mine, and knew there would be some range degradation in the cold winter months of Northern New Jersey, but I really didn't know how much the range would drop. Evidently many of the other participants were completely in the dark about what to expect once the winter months arrived. Some were so put off by the range degradation, they insisted that BMW take the car back and allow them to leave the program. I remember one particular person tell me that drop in range meant they could no longer make the round trip to work every day, so the car was of no use to him for three months of the year.

When the MINI-E program ended in 2012 I joined the BMW ActiveE lease program. By then some of the participants were aware of the effects the cold weather has on EV batteries since mainstream EVs like the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt had both been available for over a year. However there were still quite a few ActiveE drivers who were caught off guard by the loss of range once winter rolled around, and this became a major topic of discussion among the ActiveE discussion forums. Just as with the MINI-E drivers, many believed their car was experiencing some kind of battery problem, and couldn't believe the range would be affected so much by the cold weather.
My ActiveE wasn't immune to the cold weather either. Many owners weren't happy when the first winter rolled around. 
This issue affects all electric cars, even those with sophisticated thermal management systems. Tesla for instance, like the i3 has a state of the art thermal management system, and the Model S is just as susceptible to cold weather range degradation as any other EV. The good news for Model S owners is that the range is so great, you usually don't miss the miles you lose in the cold. However there are times you do. Last fall I had a Model S pull into the parking lot of my restaurant, the owners plugged in, came in and sat down to eat. As I usually do when an EV owner comes in, I went over to their table, welcomed them and asked about their car. They told me they were new owners, and traveling from  Upstate New York State to South Jersey. They had planned to stop at the Edison Superchargers but realized they wouldn't make it without stopping to charge. They said they were getting 250 miles per charge in the summer, but on this trip, which was all highway and temperatures were in the 30s they were only getting 185 - 200 miles on a charge. The cold effects us all...
With temperatures in the low 20's, my i3's predicted range is usually in the 50's for a fully charged battery.
Not Much Progress With Education

So here we are in 2015 and not much has changed. The US i3 launch was a year and a half ago and for many owners they are about to witness for the first time how the cold will reduce their range. I am the admin in the i3 discussion forum over at mybmwi3.com and the reduction of range in the cold is a frequently discussed topic. Just as with the MINI-E and ActiveE programs, there are people who are convinced that there is something wrong with their car. There's always the possibility there could be a problem with a particular vehicle, so I would recommend anyone concerned to take their car in for service to have it checked out. However I'm sure most everybody is going to get a clean bill of health, and at that point they are going to have to come to grips that the reduced range is due to the temperature, and learn how to live with it.

I will say I believe BMW (and most other OEMs) aren't doing an adequate job of offering educational information for new owners. It wouldn't have been too difficult or expensive to prepare an information card which would help new owners understand how temperatures can affect their range. I've had many i3 owners reach out to for information about this, many concerned they have a problem with the car. I think BMW should make a "Battery 101" information card and hand it out to all new owners at the time of delivery with their other vehicle documents. This could cover temperature issues as well as tips to help extend the life of their battery, offer advice for long term vehicle storage and offer a brief explanation on how the battery system works. I believe owners would appreciate this kind of information. It feels a little like Groundhogs Day with the same questions about range coming up every winter. There has to be a better way to prepare the customers before it becomes a problem. BMW has the educational information available, and they have posted it (see charts below) on the BMW i Circuit Forum.  However, I believe this information should be included with the car, and explained to the customer along with all other pre-delivery documents.
Charts like these would be helpful to new i3 owners. They should be included with new purchase documents and fully explained by the client advisers.

That said, there are techniques which can help offset the effects the cold weather has on the battery and improve your range. Here are some of my recommendations to help get you through the cold winter months:

Precondition: Use the precondition function as much as possible. The i3 will preheat the battery and passenger cabin off grid power, so you don't drain the battery performing these functions. By doing so, you will use less of the stored energy in the battery, which will allow that energy to be used for its main purpose, to propel the vehicle. You can set the preconditioning to begin every day at a set time so your car is ready for you when you leave in the morning. Make sure the car is plugged in to a Level 2 (240v) charging source while you precondition because a Level 1 (120v) EVSE cannot provide enough power  for preconditioning. If you use the 120v Occasional Use Cable that came with the car, you won't be 100% charged when you leave, as the preconditioning function uses more energy than the OUC can supply. To precondition properly, you need a 240V Level 2 EVSE.

*Read my detailed post on preconditioning the i3: Understanding How Preconditioning Works

Cabin heat: Limit the use of the cabin heater as much as possible. The BEV i3s are equipped with an advanced heat pump which is much more efficient than the resistance heater used for the REx i3s. However it still can use a fair amount of energy and will indeed cut into the range. If your i3 is equipped with heated seats I highly recommend using them as much as possible. By doing so you can use the cabin heater less which saves energy since the heated seats use much less energy than cabin heater; heat pump or not. If you simply dress a little warmer and use the heated seats you can really cut down on the use of the cabin heat, and this will definitely have a positive effect on your range. If you are wondering why i3s with the range extender do not have a heat pump, there are two main reasons. First and most importantly, the actual heat pump on the BEV i3 is located where the gasoline tank is on the i3 REx, so there isn't room for it. Secondly, squeezing every mile possible out of the battery isn't quite as important with the REx i3, since you can still continue driving once you exhaust your battery. With the BEV i3, those extra 3 or 4 miles the heat pump may add might make the difference in you getting home or not on a cold night. 

Properly inflated tires: Tire pressure falls as weather turns colder. Some tire experts say that for every 10 degrees of temperature drop your tires can lose 1-2 lbs of pressure. Under-inflated tires create more road friction which will reduce efficiency. Some EV drivers I know actually add four to five pounds of pressure to all of their tires before the winter months begin. Always make sure to check the recommended and maximum pressure for your tires, as proper tire pressure is different for every tire and car. 

Park inside: Whenever possible park the car in garages, especially if they are heated. If you park outside for an extended period like while you work, you should find a spot that will be in direct sunlight for as much as possible. By parking in direct sunlight you’ll have a warmer cabin and battery when you return to your car later.

Slow down: Besides preconditioning and conservative use of the cabin heater, driving a little slower is perhaps the best way to extend your range. This is true regardless of the ambient temperature, but during the winter months driving a little slower can help offset the range you lose to the cold. If you do knock off a few miles per hour on the highway, make sure to move over into the right lane so you don't hold up traffic. Also, try to accelerate slowly form a standstill. Jack-rabbit launches are definitely fun with the i3 but they do consume a lot of energy. 

Charging times increase: While you're charging, the thermal management system will also be working to warm the batteries. This takes some of the energy that would have gone directly into the battery and uses it for the thermal management system. On really cold days I've noticed it takes my car 30 to 45 minutes longer to fully charge. Knowing this you may have to adjust the delayed charging setting on the car and allow for more time before you can unplug.

Use Eco Pro Modes: The i3 has two Eco driving modes to complement the default "Comfort" driving mode; Eco Pro and Eco Pro+. Both modes reduce power supplied to the motor and energy consuming features like the cabin heater. Most features work fine in Eco Pro mode, but Eco Pro+ restricts the power so much to them that some no longer even function. Another benefit to using Eco Pro and Eco Pro+ in the winter is by reducing the power to the motor the car accelerates slower and helps to reduce the possibility of wheel spin. I definitely recommend using Eco Pro mode whenever driving on ice or snow covered roads, it definitely improves traction.  
The i3 is more than capable in cold weather. However owners need to understand, and plan for the affects that the cold has on battery performance.
Below is an interesting chart prepared by FleetCarma. It compares the effects of the cold on the fuel efficiency of an electric car and a gasoline car. It isn't i3-specific and not exactly what I'm discussing here today, but it helps to see how both gas cars as well as electric vehicles are effected by the cold. It's interesting to see that the cold affects the EV more, but the actually energy cost of the reduced efficiency is less on the EV. So while it may be a greater inconvenience for the electric car driver, the cold weather inefficiencies actually costs the gasoline car driver more money.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

2016 Brings New Colors to the i3

2016 i3 color options. Wheel choices remain the same.
BMW has added three new color options for the i3 in 2016. At the same time though, they have deleted three colors, so the i3 is still available in six different colors. The pessimist may say, "It's still only available in Solar Orange, and fifty shades of grey," and while they wouldn't be entirely incorrect in saying so, I think the changes are an improvement over what was previously offered.
Fluid Black really looks great. 
The best addition in my opinion is the new Fluid Black. I had the opportunity to see a Fluid Black i3 in person earlier in the year and I was instantly sold. I believe this is going to be the top selling i3 color in 2016, and I would have ordered my car with it if it were available in 2014. So the i3 color options in 2016 will be as follows:

The original Capparis White, Ionic Silver and Solar Orange remain available. Arravani Grey, Laurel Grey and Andesite Silver have been dropped and Fluid Black, Platinum Silver and Mineral Grey have been added. You can download the 2016 i3 PDF brochure which has the color chart from this link.
Andesite Sliver (seen above) is being replaced by a new color called Platinum Silver
The changes are really not too dramatic, but do make sense. The two least popular colors, Arravani Grey and Andesite Silver have been dropped, along with the very popular Laurel Grey. Andesite Silver was replaced with what appears to be (in pictures at least) a very similar, Platinum Silver. Arravani and Laurel Grey have been replaced with a single grey color option called Mineral Grey. From the pictures, it looks like it's a combination of the two previously offered grey colors. It's lighter than Laurel Grey was, closer to what Arravani Grey looked like, but it's metallic like Laurel Grey.  
Laurel Grey looked black in certain conditions. This picture is of me on my delivery day back in 2014.
These changes to the grey offerings make total sense, especially when you consider that there is a black paint option now.  Laurel Grey was very dark, and even looked like it was black if you were standing at a distance, or if it was parked in the shade. I believe that the Fluid Black color would decimate sales of Laurel Grey because it would be so close. By combining Arravani and Laurel Grey, and offering a lighter colored, metallic grey which is clearly different than Fluid Black, there is enough color separation for both colors to coexist.   
Arravani Grey (or Battleship Grey as I called it!) will no longer be offered.
One of the things I like about the new Fluid Black is that the car is monochromatic with it. I'm not totally against the i3 having a black hood as an accent for certain colors. In fact, I think it looks great with Capparis White and Solar Orange in particular, but I also think that the i3 looks good in certain colors without the black accent, or "Black Belt", as BMW calls it. I wrapped my car red the first week I got it because I wanted a color that popped and also wanted to see how it would look in all one color without the black hood. I'm happy I did so and have had many people ask me about it. I think the bright red really gives the i3 a more aggressive look, something I know that many i3 owners would like.
My red wrapped i3 next to an Andesite Silver one. 

When I was first told that BMW was considering new color options for 2016 I (somewhat) jokingly asked if "Moloughney Red" would be offered sometime in the future. The BMW product manager quickly responded "Don't hold your breath, Tom" - with a smile. I may be partial, but I think it would go over pretty well if it were offered, what do you think?