Monday, April 25, 2016

Can BMW Fend Off The Charge of the Tesla Model 3? Part 2

My concept 2020 BMW i5. BMW's answer to Tesla's Model 3 (shown in Moloughney Red)
Designed in conjunction with BMWBLOG
In last week's post, we looked at the impact that Tesla's Model S has had on the sales of competing vehicles in the large luxury segment in the US. That set the table for the question of whether or not the Model 3 can have equal or perhaps even greater success in the entry level, premium segment when it hits the streets sometime in the end of 2017 or early 2018. That segment has been owned by BMW's 3-Series for decades, and BMW isn't going to just give it up without a fight.

But what exactly can they do? The Model 3 has captured the imagination of the public and Tesla has received over 400,000 reservations in the first three weeks since the reservation process has opened. That staggering number has undoubtedly caused a few sleepless nights for product planners of various OEMs. In fact, if we look at theory of Diffusion of Innovations, the interest in the Model 3 would absolutely prove that the electric vehicle market has now moved beyond the innovators and early adopters, and we are now well into the early majority phase. That's good news for Tesla, but is BMW also ready to capitalize on the inevitable market shift we are witnessing?

The short answer is yes, they absolutely can. In fact they are probably positioned better than any other OEM to do so because of the tremendous investment that they have made in BMW i. They've poured billions into the i division, and it wasn't just for the i3 and i8. Lessons learned working with CFRP, aluminum and a variety of sustainable materials and manufacturing processes will be carried into future plug-ins. In fact, it's doubtful any auto manufacturer has spent more restructuring the company in preparation for the shift to electrics, than BMW has over the past seven years. However, the remarkable Model 3 reservation list probably indicates that they need to accelerate their EV programs and bring some vehicles to market a little sooner than they might have planned if they want to minimize defection from the brand. The good news for BMW is that Tesla can have a million reservations, and that won't mean they can actually make the cars fast enough to satisfy demand. In fact, every car Tesla has released so far has has been delayed, and even when they initially "launch" the vehicle, it takes them 4 to 6 months before they are making them in serious volume and the first few months of production are usually plagued with quality issues.
The Tesla's Model 3 is predicted to launch in late 2017
So even if Tesla does manage to have a few ceremonial Model 3 deliveries in late 2017 as promised, they probably won't be making them in volume much before the summer of 2018, and I highly doubt they will deliver more than 30,000 to 40,000 Model 3s before the end of 2018. By the time 2019 rolls around, Tesla will likely have any initial quality issues worked out and will be able to begin really producing the vehicle in high volume. So BMW has about three years to produce a vehicle to compete in this segment which will curb mass defection from the loyal 3-Series following, as well as keep the BMW name synonymous with innovation, performance and sustainability.

Does BMW have a vehicle in development that can compete in this class that has already been green-lighted for production? Yes they do, the 2020 i5. We've all read an assortment of i5 predictions from various "BMW insiders" ranging from it being a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, to an EV with a range extender. If BMW is serious about competing in this space than it shouldn't be either. The i5 needs to be a long range electric vehicle, there's no need to mess around with range extenders or fuel cells. The remainder of this post is purely my thoughts and predictions on what BMW should and could do to remain a leader in the industry. I have nothing concrete to base these opinions on, and everything you read below is purely speculative.

The cornerstone of the BMW i will be the 2020 i5 which will launch in mid 2019 with the following specs:

-Five door hatchback w/seating for five
-Aluminum frame, CFRP body same as i3 & i8
-78.75 kWh battery pack, with 70kWh is usable
-EPA rated range of 245 MPC
-Capable of charging at 150kW.
-345 hp and 375 lb-ft torque. 0-62 mph in 5.0 seconds
-All wheel drive option
-Options include HUD, panoramic roof, various "BMW Driver Assistant" autonomous driving features. 

So why doesn't BMW bring the i5 to market sooner and beat Tesla to the punch? Is it because they don't think the market is ready, or they just don't believe in long range electric cars just yet? The answer to both of those questions is no. It's all about the batteries. Tesla knows this, and refused to wait for the market to bring cutting edge battery cells to them. Instead they are building what will be the largest battery factory in the world, to supply their cars with the best batteries as soon as they are available. BMW, along with the rest of the OEMs, will rely on third party suppliers for their battery cells. It's too early to tell which strategy is best, but once the Gigafactory is operational, it should provide Tesla with the advantage of having the best cells available and at a lower cost, but that has not yet been proven.

Why 2019? That's because Samsung SDI, BMW's battery partner is scheduled to bring to market their next generation lithium ion battery cell sometime in 2019. These new cells have been described by Samsung as the "Low Height Pack" cell generation because they aren't nearly as tall as the batteries currently used in the i3 which will allow for a lower seating position. However, the real progress is in the specific energy of the cells and the cost. The current i3 uses 60Ah cells that are believed to have a specific energy of 130 Wh/kg. The 2017 i3 is rumored to be using the latest Samsung SDI cells that are the same physical size as the 60Ah cells, but are 94Ah with a specific energy of about 190 Wh/kg. These new cells are going to increase the i3's range from 81 miles per charge to about 120 MPC. However that still isn't good enough for the long range Model 3 competitor that the i5 needs to be. The 2020 i5 will use Samsung's Low Height Pack cells that are estimated to be about 125Ah with a specific energy of about 250Wh/kg, nearly double the energy density of what the current i3 batteries have and cost less than the current 60Ah cells do. These cells will allow BMW to stuff a 78.75kWh battery pack in the i5 and still keep the weight under 4,000lbs.
A Samsung SDI rep holding their new "Low Height Pack" cells which won't be available until 2019. Notice the energy rating is not listed on the cell as it is on the other batteries on display. Also note the low height as compared to the 94Ah cell on the left. That 94Ah cell is rumored to be in the 2017 BMW i3, and is the same physical size as the 60Ah cell used in current i3s. 
The i5's battery pack I'm designing would consist of 14 modules, each containing 12 battery cells for a total of 168 cells. If BMW allows 90% of the pack to be available, that means 70kWh of usable energy and an EPA range of about 245 miles per charge. It will also accept up to 150kW of DC power and utilize the emerging network of 150kW DC fast chargers that, by then, will begin being funded by members of the CharIn EV association. The network will be minuscule compared to Tesla's Supercharger network, and Tesla still has a huge advantage there, but at least customers will see a path to what someday could rival the Supercharger network, which currently doesn't exist. I'm not even ruling out a partnership with Tesla, where the other OEMs pay Tesla to install 150kW CCS stations at every Supercharger location. After all, at Audi's 2014 LA Auto Show press conference, the automaker promised they would have a network of 150kW DC Fast charge stations installed and operational before they launch the 2019 e-tron Quattro. How else could they accomplish that?

The i3's battery tray
Granted, even if BMW hits the mark with the i5, the Model 3 is going to be a widely popular vehicle as long as Tesla can manage to deliver what they have promised. However, a strong competitor from BMW like what the i5 has the potential to be, can limit the number of sales the Model 3 takes from BMW in this segment. The i5 will cost more than the Model 3, starting at $49,990. However the standard i5 will be better optioned than the standard Model 3, and I believe a loaded Model 3 will end up costing around $60K anyway. Therefore the average purchase price of the two cars may only be $6,000 to $8,000 apart.

That said, the i5 isn't the only plug they'll have in 2020. By then BMW's entire array of models will offer PHEV options. They already sell the X5 40e plus the 330e, and by the end of the year will have the 740e in showrooms. Sometime in 2017 the 540e will be added to the iPerformance PHEV line. These are all very competent PHEVs, and the reviews have been very positive with regards to the driving experience they offer. The only problem I have with these cars is the AER. None of these vehicles boast an EPA range of even fifteen miles per charge, and I just don't find that acceptable in 2016. If BMW wants customers to see the value in paying more for the plug in version of any car in their line, it has to deliver an electric range that can save them a reasonable amount in fuel to offset the couple thousand dollars extra the vehicle costs, and 13 miles of electric range just doesn't do it.
BMW now calls the PHEV line that comes from their conventionally powered vehicles "iPerformance"
BMW needs to upgrade the batteries in their PHEVs to the higher density cells coming to market now, and then again in 2019. If BMW were to use the higher energy cells available later this year, the AER of their iPerformance PHEVs would jump up to about 20 miles per charge without increasing the battery's physical size or weight. Then, in 2019 when the 125Ah cells are available, they can bring the 2nd generation PHEVs to market with a boost to 30 - 40 miles of electric range. This won't satisfy the hardcore EV aficionado, but there will be plenty of people looking to buy their first plug in. These people aren't ready for a 100% electric car, and a PHEV with a respectable AER will bring them (or keep them loyal) to the brand.

The final piece of the puzzle is the 2nd generation i3. Using Samsung's Low Height pack 125Ah cells means BMW can offer a 48kWh i3 which would most likely have about a 180 mile electric range. I expect BMW to stick with the range extender option when the 2nd generation i3 is released so the choices will be the 180 mile BEV and a REx that has about 325 miles of combined range, and both versions will charge at 150kW like the i5. I also expect it to have the functionality to turn the REx on manually when the operator wishes, because BMW will have worked out the issues with CARB and the BEVx designation which is why the current i3's range extender is restricted from using the built in Hold SOC Mode that European i3 owners get to use. Expect the gen 2 i3 to be slightly larger than the current model, and I'm betting BMW will replace the rear coach doors with conventionally opening ones. They will also figure out how to add a third seat in the back. BMW will improve the drivetrain efficiency as well as add about 20 hp and 25 left of torque. 0 to 60 times for the BEV will be in the mid 6 second range.
BMW will bring the MINI Rocketman BEV to market in 2018
One last prediction. In 2018 BMW will introduce the MINI Rocketman and it will be available in pure BEV and use many of the i3's components. It will have about a 100 mile range and at launch be available only as a hardtop. However, the following model year it will also be offered in convertible trim, finally giving the EV faithful an attractive and sporty electric ragtop offering.

While BMW's i5 will be the Model 3's direct competitor, I believe it's going to take an entire portfolio of plug-ins for BMW to remain competitive in the ever expanding plug-in market. While BMW absolutely needs a flagship long distance pure EV, there is no one size fits all in the automobile industry, and the plug-in market is no exception. This is one area where BMW has a clear advantage over Tesla. By 2020, BMW will have no less than seven models with plugs in their showrooms, and most likely that number may actually be closer to ten models. If the incredible amount of reservations the Model 3 has amassed has proven anything, it's that the public is absolutely ready for compelling electric vehicle options. Tesla has captured the imagination of the world. They've proven that it can indeed be done and people want to support them for doing so. Your move BMW. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Can BMW Fend Off The Charge of the Tesla Model 3? Part 1

Two years ago a wrote I post suggesting that Tesla and BMW would eventually face off.  That's clearly going to happen with the launch of Tesla's Model 3.
We’ve all seen upcoming products being described with buzzwords like “revolutionary” and “disruptive” that later translate into something much less successful after the public actually gets a chance to experience them. I can remember the hype leading up to the launch of Dean Kamen’s Segway back in 2001 when Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos boldly predicted, “Cities would be built around (it).” 

While the Segway has enjoyed some success, it never really penetrated the market much beyond specialized uses, like transportation for police departments, guided tours, and theme parks. On the other side of the coin we can look at what the evolution of the cellular phone has done for communication, and what the digital camera has done for photography and the film industry. Both products revolutionized their respective industries and left titans in bankruptcy before they even saw it coming. Electric cars have the potential to do the same thing to the auto industry, and we may just be on the precipice of such an event.

For the past few years, many people have wondered which side of history Tesla Motors will be on in ten or twenty years. Will Tesla revolutionize the automobile and lead the charge to electrification, or will they be a forgotten footnote like so many other companies that have tried to do something special and failed? The auto industry is probably the toughest one to penetrate, proven by the fact that the last American automobile manufacturer to succeed was Chrysler Motors, which started in 1928. Since then, every volume auto manufacturer that started in the US has failed, except for Tesla. 
People camped out in lines many hours before the Tesla stores opened for Model 3 reservations on March 31st
It’s worth noting that Tesla has yet to turn a profit, and in fact is losing hundreds of millions of dollars every year. So they haven’t really “made it” just yet, in fact they still have a way to go. However the prospects of that happening just got much better, better than even the most optimistic Tesla analyst had even imagined. One week after opening the reservation process for Telsa’s next offering, the Model 3, Elon Musk and company had received over 325,000 reservations. By the end of the second week, reservations were at about 400,000.

Reservation holders eagerly plunked down a $1,000 (refundable) deposit to be one of the first to own the car Tesla has been talking about since their inception. This is the electric car from Tesla that is supposed to be affordable (under $30,000 after incentives), have a long range (over 200 miles per charge) can recharge quickly (at one of thousands of Supercharger stations) and is also desirable (fun, fast & stylish). Some Tesla stores had people lining up hours before the 10:00 am opening on March 31st, with hundreds of people waiting to reserve a vehicle that they hadn’t yet seen, didn’t know the exact price, or exactly when it would be available. It wasn’t until 8:30 pm that day that Tesla actually revealed the vehicle and since then reservations have continued to come in at an unrelenting pace. 

Tesla has announced the base Model 3 will start at $35,000, and Musk has said he expects the average Model 3 to sell for roughly $42,000 with options. Personally, I expect the average Model 3 sale to be closer to $50,000, because I'm sure most will want Supercharging (likely not included in the base price), plus expensive options like a larger battery, dual motors, and at least a few other optional goodies. Even if we use Elon's prediction of $42,000 per vehicle, if all of the current reservations were to convert into actual deliveries, that would add up to $16,800,000,000 in sales in just about two weeks. Of course that won’t happen, and many reservations for one reason or another won’t convert. Even if only 50% (about what I expect) actually wait it out and order the vehicle, that’s over eight billion dollars in sales in the first couple weeks. The automobile industry has never seen anything like this. It’s more like the hysteria created over the next iPhone than it is about any previous new car offering. 


The lines at Short Hills Mall stretched from the Tesla store all the way out into the parking lot!
I arrived at the Mall at Short Hills, in Short Hills, New Jersey at 9:30 am on the day reservations opened and was shocked to see the line stretch across half of the mall, down a corridor and out of the building. I expected a couple dozen people, but there were 200 to 300 there people at that point, a half hour before the reservation process opened up. I met a friend and current Tesla owner Michael Thwaite there, and he had just walked along the line of people waiting, asking them if they currently drive an EV or if they had owned one in the past. The results of his informal survey were that about 90% of the people waiting didn’t currently drive an EV, and the Model 3 will be their first car with a plug. 

So these weren’t hardened EV supporters; the vast majority of people there were new to electric cars, and still they were willing to wait for hours on line for a car they won’t actually get for roughly two years. So does it mean that Tesla has made it? Certainly not, they still have a lot of work in front of them. They still need to get their battery factory, the Gigafactory in Nevada open and churning out millions of battery cells. They still need to retool their Nummi plant in Fremont, California for the high production Model 3 line and then scale up like they never have before. 

A recent picture of Tesla's Gigafactory under construction outside Reno, Nevada. Photo credit: Above Reno
Many industry insiders will still say they won’t be able to do it, that this will be the challenge that Tesla cannot meet and if they fail to produce a high quality vehicle in large volume it will be their undoing. The funny thing about that is I’ve been hearing this for five years now. I’ve talked with executives from just about every major OEM, and as recent as only a few years ago nobody even gave Tesla a chance. They laughed at the Supercharger network and how Tesla would need to spend hundreds of millions to build and maintain it. Tesla now has over 3,600 Supercharger stations worldwide and expects to have over 7,000 by the end of 2017. This network is unrivaled in the industry. Every other automobile manufacturer is either hoping EV infrastructure matures, or is just mildly getting involved by subsidizing regional infrastructure projects.  However, they aren't willing to commit to own or manage the stations as Tesla does to ensure that the stations are strategically located and operational when customers need them.

The Supercharger network is only one example of something the industry has been saying Tesla can’t do. Another example is the direct sales model. While Tesla has had difficulty in some states because of archaic dealer franchise laws, they are still selling their cars throughout most of the US without issue. This is something many thought wouldn’t be possible. Then there are the sales of the Model S, Tesla’s first volume offering which has been available for a little over three years now. Many people were doubtful it could compete with the large luxury sedans it would be priced against, cars like the Mercedes S Class, the BMW 7-Series, Audi A7 and the Lexus LS. After all, these vehicles have had decades to build a following of brand loyal enthusiasts. How many people would be willing to plunk down $80,000 to $130,000 for a car from a new manufacturer with no company history, dealerships or in many cases service centers within driving distance?

Well, the Model S hasn’t just been competitive in this class, it is dominating it. Comparing 2014 and 2015 US sales in this class, Tesla had a 51% increase from 16,689 vehicles to 25,202. During that same period, sales for every single competitor in this segment were down, while the total for the entire segment remained about the same. The Model S didn’t necessarily bring new buyers to the segment; instead it took sales from the established competition already there.
Every single vehicle in the segment experienced an abrupt sales decline in 2015 while Model S sales increased by 51%
So what does this mean? First, don’t bet against Tesla. Tesla has been beating the odds all along. Despite being told they can’t do it, they just keep plugging along (pun intended), winning awards and accolades, extending their proprietary network of high-speed chargers and building a fervently loyal following. Musk has repeatedly said the Model 3 will compete head on with the BMW 3-Series. The 3-Series has been the benchmark for the entry level, premium sport sedan market for decades. It’s the king of the hill in that segment and BMW’s bread & butter. BMW sells about 100,000 of them per year in the US - and it's the only car in the class to eclipse the 100k mark per year, domestically.  Now think back to the 400,000 Model 3 reservations Tesla accepted in two weeks. Even if half of those reservations cancel, the Model 3 will not only outsell the benchmark of its class it its first year, but it will likely sell more than double its closest competitor in the segment. That's provided Tesla can scale up to meet demand of course, and while it's unlikely that they will have the capacity to make 200,000 Model 3s in the first year, they will be severely cutting into the sales of competing cars in this segment. 

If the Model 3 does to this segment what the Model S did to the competitors in its segment, the shock waves will be felt through the entire industry.  Who's to say Tesla won't do it again in the other segments? The Model 3 looks to be a formidable competitor so the only answer is for the competition to also step it up. The established OEMs must bring exciting, long range and affordable electric vehicles to market or they risk being the next Polaroid or Kodak. No, they aren't too big to fail, and yes, it can happen. It's impossible for the premium brand automakers to disregard Tesla any more; to do so would be corporate suicide. In fact, last week Daimler held their annual shareholders meeting in Berlin, and no less than four times they were asked by concerned shareholders why they didn't have an answer for Tesla.

However, before we crown Tesla the new champion of the auto industry, we need to realize the other OEMs haven't exactly been sitting on their hands for the past half a decade. They have all, to some degree or another, been working on electric vehicle programs, and they all have the resources to get up to speed quickly. BMW is probably positioned better than any other premium brand, as they have poured billions into the sub brand BMW i, which already has the BMW i3 & BMW i8. But as good as the i3 is today, it won't be good enough to compete head to head with the Model 3 in 2018 unless BMW were to triple the current range and also reduce the current cost, neither of which is likely to happen.
An artist's rendering of the rumored BMW i5
So is BMW the walking dead without an answer for the Model 3? No, not even close, but they do have a lot of work to do. Now that Musk has showed his hand they know where they need to be in 2 to 3 years. In part two of this post I'll lay out my plan for BMW, which will ensure they aren't left behind and wondering, "How'd that happen?" I'll discuss my recommendations for BMW's entire plug in strategy, from the next generation i3 to the iPerformance PHEV line. However the real weapon will be the rumored (upcoming) i5. If BMW has any chance of retaining many the customers who plan to turn in their 3-Series for the Model 3 when it's available, the i5 will be what keeps them from defecting to Tesla, and in part two I'll design the car they need to bring to market sometime in 2018 to keep them relevant in this segment.

Now realize in the time it took you to read this article Tesla has likely accepted about 100 more Model 3 reservations. Sometimes I wonder if the legacy OEMs really understand what's happening here.

Monday, March 28, 2016

BMW i3 Key Fob Fail

Returning to your car to find the windows wide open isn't pleasant - but it's much worse if it had been raining.
Photo credit: Chuck Vossler 
Long gone are the days of a simple key to open your car's door and turn on the ignition. Keys today aren't even really keys in the traditional sense. With many cars, you only need to have the key on you and as you grab the handle of the vehicle the door will unlock. Then, you get into the vehicle and instead of inserting the key into an ignition, you simply push a button and the car will turn on. This is, in fact how the BMW i3 works, as long as you ordered the car with the optional Comfort Access feature.
BMW i3 key fob
Regardless of the other i3 features that you select, all i3 key fobs are the same. With a push of a button, they can lock or unlock the doors, or unlock the rear hatch (for MY 2015 on, the 2014 model key fob unlocked the front trunk).  Like most other key fobs, there is a panic button that sounds the car's alarm, but there is also one more function: If you long press the door unlock button, both front windows will open. This feature is used to cool down a hot cabin that may have been parked for awhile in direct sunlight. While the owner is walking up to the vehicle, they can open the windows to get some fresh air into the cabin before they hop into a sweltering hot environment. While this option certainly has a practical use, it also comes with a potential downside, that being the possibility of the owner inadvertently opening the windows by accidentally depressing the door unlock button.
No one wants to find this when they return to their car. Photo credit: Chuck Vossler
I've read about this being an occasional issue on cars of various makes. Someone with a pocket full of keys, coins or other objects can have the button depress without knowing it and have their doors unlock and windows open without their knowledge. Luckily, you need to be close enough to the vehicle for the key fob's signal to reach the vehicle, and that surely reduces the likelihood of it happening. However it does happen, and the problem can be amplified by a poorly designed key fob.

Unlocking your car door unknowingly is definitely not something you want to do, but the odds are nobody is going to notice unless there is someone actively trying to break into cars where the vehicle is parked. Having the windows wide open is much worse, as it invites passersby who may have nefarious intentions to steal items from the cabin, or even attempt to steal the car.

The edge of the button which sticks out above the key fob is protected by the key cover

This issue of unknowingly opening the windows of the vehicle because of the long press of the unlock button on the key fob seems to happen much more frequently with i3 owners than it does with other cars that have that feature on the key fob. Looking at the key fob closely, I think I know why that is. The door unlock button is located on the center and at the very top  of the fob. It also has a lip along the top edge of the button that sticks up above and beyond the black plastic trim that surrounds the fob. This lip protrudes roughly 2 millimeters beyond the leading edge of the fob, making it very easy to be depressed by accident while in a pocket or handbag that contains other items that can press against the fob.

Soaking wet Tera World interior

Over in the i3 Facebook group, and on a few other online forums, many owners have asked if anyone else has returned to their vehicle only to find the windows wide open. They are certain they didn't leave it that way and many are convinced it is the result of some malfunction on their car. Having the possibility of items being stolen from the vehicle isn't the only concern, though. Some have returned to there vehicle to find the interior soaking wet because this problem occurred during a rainstorm - or even worse, a snowstorm.

A friend of mine, journalist and i3 owner Chuck Vossler was one of the unlucky owners who had the accidental long button press and window open happen to him at a very inopportune time; during a driving rainstorm. Needless to say, he wasn't to happy about it. Here's Chuck's take on it:

"We typically park in a covered parking lot, but on a summer day last year had to park out in the open during a torrential down pour. Grabbed all of our stuff and booked out the car headed for the door at work 100 feet away trying not to get too wet. About an hour later, I had to go back to the car for something and as I was walking up to the car, my heart sank. The windows of our 2014 Solar Orange i3 with the Tera World package were all the way down on both sides. As I surveyed the soaking, was blown away by the amount of water in the car. There was so much, it was literally pooled in the seats and on our floor mats. Fortunately the eucalyptus wood wasn’t too wet.
Soaked! Photo credit; Chuck Vossler
I excused myself from work and took the i3 home. Using large bath towels, sopped up as much as I could and then was surprised to see that the WeatherTech mats caught a bunch and kept the carpets from getting too wet. Then I took a shop vac and vacuumed everything, and set all the mats out to dry and left the doors open for a few days while parked inside our garage at home. I think having leather seats instead of cloth helped it not be worse. The interior dried completely and we never smelled mold or mildew after. I write for a couple other outfits and offered to write the experience up but was told, it was user error and they weren’t interested. I buy that. But the same thing has happened to more than just us, as others have posted the same experience in the i3 Facebook Group.

We must have pressed the edge of the key somehow when running in to work during the massive rain. The i3 key we used that day did not have any covering on it. So since then, using the BMW i blue bumper’d key cover on one key and being vigilant has helped us from a second occurrence. Of note is that in owning and driving BMW’s for over 20 years, this has not ever happened to me before."

The BMW i Key Cover is available at BMW dealers or at many sites online
Luckily there is a very low cost solution which in most cases, eliminates the problem. It does however, cost the owner about fifteen dollars. I'm referring to BMW i Key Cover, accessory number 82 29 2 348 069. I've been using these covers as long as I've had my i3, which is nearly two years now and I've never had a problem. I even know some other i3 owners that have purchased the cover and put their key in it upside down, so all the buttons are covered by the hard plastic of the back of the cover. They cannot press the buttons, but if they have Comfort Access, they really don't need to. As I said above, with Comfort Access you unlock the door and rear hatch simply by touching the handle. The key fob will fit perfectly in the cover either way.
The Key Cover still works, but after a year or so it's no longer BMW i Frozen Blue
One thing to note about the Key Cover is, like most products from the BMW line, it is made with sustainability in mind. The cardboard box is made from recycled sources, and the actual cover is, "Made from sustainable, organic-based plastic & glows in the dark." That's great, and something many BMW i customers are interested in. However, the organic-based plastic also has a downside. The bright BMW i Frozen Blue color doesn't last too long. After about eight months I noticed it was turning a greenish tint, and after about a year and a half is was fully green, and no longer matches the Frozen Blue accents of my car. It grew increasing bothersome to me so I recently broke down and bought a new one. As you can see, the color variation is pretty striking. I can assure you the older greenish colored one did indeed start out looking just as the new one does now. While the plastic itself may be sustainable, the color certainly isn't!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Plug Into a New Guinness World Record!

A recent BMW i3 meet in Southern California. Photo credit: Steve J. Myung
Do you drive a BMW i3, i8 or X5 40e?  Are you a Formula E fan? Do you live in Southern California or can make it to Long Beach at 9:30am on Saturday, April 2nd, and would like to help break the Guinness World Record for the Largest Parade of BMW cars?

After the idea was cooked up by a few BMW i3 owners in Southern California, BMW NA got involved to help organize and promote the effort.  It still very much a grass-roots type of effort with social media the primary force of spreading the word. Participants in the event, will get two grandstand tickets to that day's Long Beach Formula E, compliments of BMW NA.

Organizers need to get 179 or more BMWs to participate to break the record set in 2008, when 178 BMW Isetta owners organized in Rödental, Germany and set the current record.  BMW i will also have on display the i3, i8, X5 40e and new 330e at the Formula E Village for participants to view and learn more about after the record setting attempt. 

The three main organizers, Heather Somaini, Dave Avery and Roman Vazquez aren't new to organizing BMW i3 events. Last year they started what turned into a national effort to celebrate the i3's first year anniversary in the US, and have also organized i3 owners meet-ups.  Roman had this to say about this event:

"After our 1 year BMW i Anniversary Event last year, Heather, Dave and I continued to be impressed with how large and social the community was here in Southern California. With so many more i3 and i8s on road here we felt it was time to take it to the next level and try to break the Guinness World Record. 

We had originally planned an event to coincide with a meet up earlier this year but then this opportunity came up to collaborate with BMW NA at the Formula E race in Long Beach. So we were happy to see BMW's interest in our event and decided to support the event in Long Beach."

So come on out and have a great day with fellow BMW eDrive owners, show your support for electric vehicles and watch the exciting Formula E. You may even end up in the Guinness Book of Records when its all said and done. 

If interested, you can register at this link. Help up make BMW history and have a great time doing so!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Battery Options for the 2017 BMW i3?

A Samsung employee shows of one of the new 94Ah battery cells which I predict the 2017 i3 will boast
Ever since last October when BMW CEO Harold Krueger stated that the 2017 i3 would have an increased electric range, there's been speculation on how they would accomplish it. While BMW hasn't made any official announcements yet, it's widely believed that BMW will be using the new Samsung 94Ah battery cells for the 2017 i3, which I first speculated here, back in November. 

The current i3 uses 96 Samsung 60Ah battery cells which are 3.75v ea. This adds up to a total of 21.6kWh (96 x 60 x 3.75= 21.6). The new 94Ah cells are the same physical size and voltage so an upgrade to these cells would mean BMW could use the same modules and battery tray, greatly reducing the cost as compared to engineering all new packaging for the new cells. Therefore, the new pack should increase from 21.6kWh to 33.8kWh (96 x 94 x 3.75 = 33.8). If the weight of the cells is the same, that should increase the BEV i3's range from the existing 81 miles per charge to approximately 125 miles per charge and the i3 REx's range from 72 miles per charge to about 112 MPC.
The battery pack of my i3 REx. It was removed to replace a faulty battery heating element. 
So we know for sure that the 2017 i3 which begins production this summer will have increased range from improved battery cells, and we believe we've figured out which cells BMW will be using. The next logical question then is:  Will that be the only battery available for the 2017 i3, or will BMW also continue to offer the current 60Ah cells as a lower cost battery pack option? We say the latter.

As a comparison Tesla has always offered different battery pack options for the Model S. That, along with direct sales and the Supercharger network been part of the fabric which has made the Model S so appealing to so many people. But there is another example of an OEM offering battery size options which is an even better comparison, and that's Nissan. Ever since the Nissan LEAF launched in late 2010, it had been fitted with a 24 kWh battery pack. Just past Fall Nissan added a 30kWh battery pack as an option. The entry level "S" model still has the 24kWh battery pack, but if you want the higher level SV or SL trims, you also get the new 30kWh battery pack. 

BMW could do something like what Nissan did and continue to offer the 21.6kWh battery pack, but only on a base i3, to offer a lower cost option. Or they could do like Tesla does and simply allow the customer to choose the battery size they want like any other option. This will however drive dealers nuts because they'll now have to stock four different i3's. Some dealers are already having difficulty deciding how many of each of the current two versions to stock, so four different versions of the i3 definitely won't make their life any easier.  I am however, going to predict this is indeed what BMW does, and if I am correct, here's the 2017 i3 options that will be available as early as this September:

BEV with 21.6kWh battery and 81mi electric range
REx with 21.6kWh battery, 72 mi electric range & 74 mi additional gas range (39mpg x 1.9gal)

BEV with 33.8kWh battery and ~125 mi electric range
REx with 33.8kWh battery, ~112 mi electric range & 93 mi additional gas range (39mpg x 2.4gal)

Note the gasoline range on the 33.8kWh i3 REx increased from 74 miles to 93 miles. That's because in the US, BMW reduced the amount of gasoline available on the car to 1.9 gallons, even though the  fuel tank is actually 2.4 gallons. European customers have had access to the full 2.4 gallons all along, and will continue to do so. The reduced gas availability in the US was so the car would be classified as a CARB (California Air Resource Board) BEVx vehicle, giving BMW the maximum amount of the valuable ZEV credits, and qualifying the i3 for additional state rebates and tax exemptions. However, with the larger battery and longer all electric range, the i3 REx can now utilize the entire 2.4 gallons and still have BEVx designation, so I see no reason why BMW wouldn't remove the gas tank restriction and give access to the full 2.4 gallons. That would increase the overall combined range of the i3 REx from its current 142 mi to 205 mi. 
With the battery tray cover removed, you can see the eight distinct modules that make up the i3's battery pack.
Each module contains twelve 60Ah Samsung battery cells. 
Of course we're still just speculating here, and as we draw closer to the beginning of production for the 2017 model year i3 BMW has been as tight lipped as always on new or improved models. Perhaps the announcement will happen next week at NYIAS, or BMW may wait until closer to the 2017 launch as to not really kill sales of the remaining 2016 i3 inventory. In any event, the improved range will be a welcomed improvement for the i3, if not a necessary one. The new 30kWh battery pack of the Nissan LEAF is only a temporary improvement, as it's been strongly rumored that the 2018 LEAF may have a 60kWh battery. That, coincidently matches the 2017 Chevy Bolt's 60kWH battery pack, and that EV will boast a 200 mile all electric range. Then, in 2018 the Tesla Model 3 will launch, and offer a 200 mile range for about $35,000. So I'm guessing the next i3 range boost will have to happen in 2018 as a 2019 model, perhaps when the 2nd generation i3 is released. 

I'm sure BMW realizes they need to continuously improve the battery in their EV's if they want to be competitive in this space, and this LCI refresh for the i3 proves that BMW isn't going to sit idle and let the competition eat their electrons for lunch. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

BMW i3 Life Hack: Charge Port Snow Cover

Charging in the snow can be problematic when the charge port ices up and won't close
Charge ports on electric cars are similar to the fuel tank filler openings on gasoline and diesel cars in that the fuel or energy is transferred into the vehicle through an opening that is typically concealed by a small door or flap. However, since electric vehicles take much longer to recharge than conventionally powered vehicles take to refuel, the charge port is open much longer than a fuel filler door would be. While a gasoline stop may mean the filler door is open for two or three minutes, an EV's charge port will likely be open for many hours, and even all night long. In adverse weather conditions that may cause problems.
Wind blown snow will pack the charge port full. Photo credit: Andre Hakedal
I'm just about through my second winter with my i3. This winter hasn't been too bad, as it has only snowed a couple times here in Northern New Jersey. Last winter was much worse and we had about a dozen snowfalls. Most of my charging is done at home, with my car nestled safely in a heated garage, so it isn't exposed to the elements while charging. However I also charge at work when I need to, and that's outside in the parking lot of my restaurant. So I do have plenty of experience charging outside in inclement weather.

My charge port was iced up after a recent snowfall and I had trouble getting the charge port door to close.
One thing I've noticed on my i3 is the charge port locking mechanism can get jammed by snow or ice, and refuse to allow the charge port door to stay closed. It's not a monumental issue, since the i3 also has rubber caps to seal the J1772 and CCS inlets so even if you can't close the door, the charge port is safe from water damage. Still, I view this as a problem since I've had it happen a couple of times and other i3 owners have reported experiencing the same issue.

"This is just so extremely bad design! That snow must be removed completely and there are all kinds of tiny areas almost impossible to get to. Cleaned a bit too sloppy the other day, and barely was able to open it again. Why on earth did they not create something better?" 
- BMW i3 owner Are Stig Larsen, Norway.

I wonder if BMW just missed this, and designed the charge port as if it was going to be used like the fuel filler ports are on their gas and diesel cars? It's particularly strange because I never had this issue on my previous EVs, which were also made by BMW (MINI-E and ActiveE). Since charge ports for electric vehicles will be open for many hours every day and exposed to all kinds of weather, I think a higher level of thought must be applied to their design. Based on the issues I've seen, I'm just not sure that was the case with the charge port for i3. To be fair, a simple internet search will reveal owners of Chevy Volts, Teslas and Nissan LEAFs lodging similar complaints, so it's not exclusively a BMW problem. The question is, should we really have to deal with this, or can EV engineers figure out a way to solve the problem without adding too much cost to he vehicle?
A few people have used the cardboard technique as their solution. Photo credit: Are Stig Larsen
Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, and I've seen various i3 owners come up with a couple of different ways to attempt to solve the problem. One person tried using a plastic shower cap with marginal success. There have also been a few cardboard cut outs used, and I think they worked pretty well. The problem is the cardboard gets ruined by the moisture and can only be used a couple times before needing to be replaced.  However there is one solution which seems to be gaining traction as the go-to life hack for this issue, and that involves using an insulated outdoor faucet cover.

Outdoor faucet covers are made to help protect an outdoor hose valve from freezing. They are typically made of styrofoam and have a plastic draw string which latches onto the spigot to keep the cover from blowing away. The higher quality covers have a plastic outer shell with a styrofoam lining on the inside. One such cover is available at Lowe's Home Improvement stores for $2.98. It's made by Creative Plastic Concepts and is a near perfect fit for the i3's charge port opening, making it an excellent choice. You'll want to get one with the hard plastic shell, like this one. The styrofoam covers don't last as long because once you cut them to make an opening for the connector, they tend to gradually crumble and break apart where you made the cut. The covers with a plastic shell are only $1.00 more than the all-styrofoam, and it's a dollar well spent.

Creative Plastic Concepts has two different models available at Lowe's. The hard plastic one is more durable and a better choice for this use. The good news is it only costs $2.98! Similar covers are also available on Amazon.
The only modification necessary is to cut out an opening for the charging connector. To do so you'll need an X-Acto knife, or similar utility knife. The opening must be cut on one of the wider sides of the cover (it's rectangular, not square) and needs to be at least 2 1/2" wide to accommodate different sized J1772 connectors. I cut mine 3" inches wide, to make sure CCS (Combo) connectors would also fit without issue. Make sure you cut the opening just about all the way to the top of the cover, and I'll explain why this is necessary later.

The loop holds the cover in place
The cover fits so snugly it will stay in place by itself under most instances. However in windy conditions, it may blow off but there are two methods to prevent this. First, the plastic draw string which was meant to hold the cover on the faucet can be used to hold the cover on the J1772 connector. Loop the end of the string onto the top of the release button on the connector and pull it through the top until it's tight. There is a small spring loaded locking mechanism on top of the cover which holds the plastic cord in place. The one problem with this is that not all J1772 connectors have the same type of release button. Some just won't accommodate the plastic loop that holds the cover in place.

My answer to this is to simply carry a rubber band with you, and use it to hold the cover in place. This eliminates the potential problem of arriving at a public charging station which uses a connector that won't allow you to loop the plastic draw cord around the release button.  Since I use this method, I no longer needed the plastic draw cord, so I removed it and in its place attached a kitchen cabinet knob which I had left over from my last kitchen renovation. I know a few people who use the plastic loop cord that comes with the cover without problem, but they haven't come across an EVSE with a release button that won't cooperate, but eventually they will.
A rubber band will secure the cover from blowing off and will work with any type of connector. The supplied plastic draw string won't work with some J1772 connectors. 
It only costs you $2.98 if your cover blows away, but it's the hassle of having to buy another one and cut the opening if it does. For that reason alone, I think it's a good idea to make sure you have a few rubber bands handy when you plan to use the charge port cover.

I gave my cover a paint job and came pretty close to matching the color of the red wrap that I have. The cover's stock drab tan color just didn't do it for me so I splurged for another $3.99 and picked up a can of spray paint.  So for under $10 I've solved the problem, and stylishly I might add! I think this is something BMW needs to take a closer look at, and perhaps rethink. Maybe a heated locking mechanism or a redesign that better prevents this icing up issue. This is just another example of how the engineers need to really rethink everything when they design an electric vehicle. The user interaction with an EV's charge port is much different than interaction an ICE owner has with their fuel port. This is just another example of how OEMs can benefit from tapping into the knowledge of existing EV owners through focus groups and surveys. I've long been advocating these methods to help the manufacturers make better EVs.
The finished product. I even found a BMW i Frozen Blue color rubber band. It's pretty amazing how well this cover fits the i3's charge port opening. It's almost as if it were designed purposely for this application.
Until they come up with a redesign or some other solution, I think BMW should make something like this and sell it alongside the other BMW i accessories that they offer. I'm sure i3 owners wouldn't mind spending $20 - $30 for an item like this which can save them a lot of aggravation, especially if they live in a cold weather region. BMW could probably just get Creative Plastic Concepts to modify and make it for them. BMW can then slap a BMW i logo on it, and they have a workable solution until a permanent modification is in place.

I mentioned above that it's important to cut the opening all the way up to the top of the cover and I'd explain why later. The reason is because not all J1772 connectors are created equal. If the top part of the connector is long, it will stick up higher when connected to the car. This requires a longer opening than connectors which have shorter ends. Take a look at the pictures below and compare the ChargePoint Home connector to the ITT J1772 connector used by Bosch on their Power Max 2 EVSE. You can see how much longer the connector is and if you don't extend the opening on the cover all the way to the top the longer connectors won't fit, and they'll push the cover away from the car. You can also see from the pictures how some release buttons won't work with the cover's plastic loop system to hold it in place, requiring the use of the rubber band method.

Bosch's ITT connector

Clipper Creek connector
JuiceBox connector

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

EV Charge Ports: The Quest For The Ultimate Location

Like all of GM's plug in vehicles, the charge port on the upcoming Chevy Bolt is located on the front left side of the vehicle. Did GM get this right?
Over the past six years I've interviewed and had discussions with electric vehicle product managers from just about every company selling EVs today, and a few that will be selling EVs in the near future. One of the more interesting topics I've found has been the subject of where they've decided to locate the charge port, and how they came to that decision.

For example, last month at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, I sat down with Daimler's manager of electric motors and power electronics, Franz Neitfeld to discuss Daimler's current plug in Hybrid offerings, and where they are going in the future. When I brought up the topic of the unusual charge port location that Mercedes is using on all of their PHEVs, he told me they gave this much consideration, and after doing so they decided the right corner of the rear bumper was the ideal location. He went on to explain that the majority of the cars they sell are to left hand drive markets, and when a driver of a left hand drive car pulls into the garage they usually leave more room to the right side of the vehicle, so as to make sure they don't hit anything on that side as they pull in. So they concluded the placement of the EVSE would be best on the right side wall of the garage, where the customer can easily plug in. Also, by placing the charge port there, the customer would be able to walk back around the car and into the house without the cable being in their way. I think the assumption that most Mercedes owners have a private garage for their cars, since it is a premium brand, played a role in this decision making. 
The entire line of Mercedes PHEVs have the charge port located on the right corner of the rear bumper
That's the first time I've heard anyone give me that reasoning for their charge port location. Clearly, there really is no consensus among the OEMs as to where the best place is, with just about everyone finding their own unique place, with their own unique reasoning for why they placed it there. This can't be the best practice. There has to be a location which suits the majority of the people who drive EVs better than the other locations, right? 
All of Ford's electric vehicles, whether pure BEV or PHEV, have their charge ports on the front left side of the car
A few years ago Ford announced that they had researched this topic and after an extensive study, they decided the front, left side of the vehicle was indeed the ideal place. At the time, Susan Curry, Ford Electrified Vehicle Technology Integration supervisor said: After benchmarking multiple competitive vehicles, we found there wasn't much consistency in charge port location. We wanted to give customers a location that made the most sense for them and would seem as simple as filling up at the gas station." And Mary Smith, Ford Electrified Vehicle Technology Integration supervisor said, "The left front fender location keeps the charge port in sight, before the customer enters or exits the car, for an easy reminder to unplug or recharge. It creates an intuitive placement for owners that also has aesthetic appeal. "It's worth noting that GM also locates the charge ports of all their plug in offerings on the front left side of the vehicle." 
BMW decided to locate the charge port of the i3 on the rear right side of the vehicle
For the i3, BMW's first all electric vehicle, the charge port was positioned on the rear, right side of the vehicle. I asked BMW product managers about this at the vehicle launch ceremony in 2013 and was told that there were two main reasons for the positioning. First, this location made the most sense because the car will be sold all over the world, and in many European countries curbside charging would require the port to be on the left side of the vehicle. It would be too expensive to have different carbon fiber passenger cells made to accommodate different charge port locations so they needed one location for all i3s made. Secondly, having the charge port in the rear of the vehicle, close to the power electronics, meant weight and cost savings. During the development process, i3 engineers would fight to cut every gram of weight they could, and having a three foot long high voltage cable instead of one that was eight feet long made the decision easy. However the charge ports of BMW plug in hybrids are located on the front left side of the vehicle, as they are on Ford and GM vehicles. 
Nissan & Audi chose the front of the vehicle for their charge ports
Other OEMs like Nissan and Audi decided to go front and center, using the center of the front bumper and grill for their charge ports. Initially I was concerned that even a minor bump on the front end would result in a disabled charge port, requiring the vehicle to be immediately serviced. However that hasn't been much of a problem for the Nissan LEAF, the world's best selling pure electric car, so I guess my concerns were unwarranted.
Tesla uses the left rear of the vehicle for their charge ports
Then there's Tesla. All of Tesla's cars have their charge ports on the rear left side of the vehicle. The Roadster's charge port is right behind the driver's side door, but the Model S & Model X have their charge ports integrated into the rear tail light lens, where it wraps around the side of the car. It's undoubtedly an elegant design, but it is the best place for it? Some Tesla owners say it isn't, and it can make plugging in difficult on many public chargers, especially if they are in a parking lot that prohibits backing into the parking space. 

I realize the answer might be a little different for European drivers as compared to electric vehicle owners in the US, because unlike in Europe, the US has very few curbside public charging stations. Here in the US just about all public EVSEs are located in parking lots, not curbside on public streets. There's also the fact that most countries which were once British colonies still have right hand drive so that would impact one's preference. Still, I'd like to pose this question to everyone who has experience driving and charging an EV, and I'd appreciate it if you took a moment to answer the poll below. Once the polling is complete I plan to send the results to my industry contacts.