Tuesday, May 7, 2013

One Year Anniversar…E

One year ago today, I became the proud new owner (well lessee anyway) of the BMW Active E.  It’s been the best year of my automotive life.  And the start of what I hope is a long and happy life driving electric. 

For me, the E has been the most reliable car I have ever had (knock on electrons).  It just works.  I plug it in, I go, sometimes I go fast, and I stop without brakes.  Quiet, clean, fun mobility.  I have had one error message that prevented me from starting the car (about two months ago), but it cleared after about ten minutes and never brought it up again.  When I took the E in for service last month, BMW decided to change the battery pack due to that single error.  Didn’t seem like a big deal to me, but I have no problem with new batteries either.  Since getting the car back, it has run like a charm.
And the infrastructure for electric cars is improving too.  Over the last year, I have seen a number of charging stations installed in locations near where I work and shop.  With this influx of new charging infastructure, the future looks bright for EV ownership.
The best part of driving electric: EVERYTHING.  I have written about the pros and cons of EV’s many times before, but it never gets old.  EV’s just drive better in every way than gas guzzlers.  Smooth acceleration, easy braking, no shifting gears, quiet operation, easy “refueling” (I don’t miss the gas station stops).  The ease with which a person can simply go is far superior to gas-powered cars…well not in every way I guess.  There is one small drawback to quick smooth acceleration: speeding tickets. 
Objects in Mirror are more expensive than they appear
I got my fist speeding E ticket last month.  While flying by a “slow” minivan, I was suddenly reminded how hard it is to tell how fast you are going in an electric-powered car.  There is no engine revving up, or multiple jolting shifts between gears to remind you that you may be going 62 in a 50 mile per hour zone.  The E keeps its speed a secret as you whiz down the road.  But that secret was suddenly revealed to me by an outside influence—hello officer.  Luckily, it was my first time speeding (caught?) in the E, so after promising never to do it again, and insisting that I had learned my lesson…the officer issued me a ticket anyway.  Lesson learned, my fault for not buying a fuzz buster.
Not every E owner has had smooth sailing unfortunately.  There have been a few problems along the way with motor replacements and software errors.  All to be expected on a field trial, but still not pleasant when you’re the one being tried.  Luckily, my experience has been more wide open field than trial.  Like a kitchen appliance, the E just works for me.  And it seems the same is true for a majority of my fellow Electronauts. 
Overall, I love driving electric and can’t believe the first year has gone by so quickly.  I look forward to the launch of the BMW i3, which should be a far superior car to the E in terms of technology and weight.  The E’s 4,000 pounds is its one big draw back.  Not only does it suck power to move that much mass, but it limits the E’s handling in corners.  Whenever I have a loaner 3 series BMW, the difference in cornering becomes immediately apparent due to the substantially decreased weight of any 3 series over the Active E.
Tipping the scale between good and evil
The i3, by comparison, is expected to weigh in around 2,700 pounds—1,300 pounds lighter than the Active E—thanks to extensive use of carbon fiber and aluminum.  That change alone will make the i3 an attractive ride. 
For now, I’ll keep enjoying my electric bliss in the Active E and hope that the second year doesn’t pass so quickly. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Active "E"asy Service

Three months or 5,000 miles, that’s the service schedule for the ActiveE—I always bump up against the three month requirement.  And while I would like to sneak by a service, my E is a big tattle tale—calling the dealer behind my back to request a service visit (“Mr. Davidson your car contacted us to schedule a service visit.”  “Really?  He didn’t talk to me about that…”).  Last week marked another three-month window, so into the dealer I went.

I go through the same cycle each time I take my E in for a service visit and pick-up the loaner car (poor me, I have to drive a new 328i around for three days—the agony).  First, I hate the loaner car—its noisy, vibrates, and shifts…a lot.  With an eight-speed transmission, it ticks through the gears like a kid through candy.  Then I begin to appreciate the handling of the lighter than my E 328i—wow this takes corners nicely.  I start to grudgingly appreciate the great gas mileage the car receives—not as good as electric, but impressive for an ICE’d car.  And then I become acclimated to the new environment and make the best of it—I think I like this car.
Well what’s not to like, it is a BMW loaner after all.  But then, my E is discharged and the minute I get in and drive away I suddenly remember everything I love about driving EV.  It’s hard to explain, and much easier to demonstrate by a test drive, but my electric BMW drives better in every possible way than the ICEy alternative—and it does so with such quiet and finesse. 
Luckily, I was told by my service advisor that this would probably (big probably) be the last service visit where they will have to pull the motor.  For the last several visits, BMW has required the dealers to pull the electric motor from the car and inspect the “splines.”  Those are the gears that connect the motor and the “transmission.”  Some motors have experienced moister seepage into the gears, causing rust and ultimately spline failure.  I have been lucky, so far, in that I have had no problems with moisture or splines.  Apparently some new fangled lube is being applied and then the whole thing is bundled up tight against the elements—not that there are many “elements” in Southern California, but still….
The problem with pulling the motor is that the entire backend of the car has to be dropped out since the motor resides between the two rear wheels.  Makes the car efficient from a power delivery standpoint, but a bit difficult for motor pulling. 
And don’t forget the software upgrade, each service visit comes with a new set of codes to download into the car.  The E is really a large, rolling computer, requiring a reboot and software update each time it is serviced.  Although most cars today are heavy on electronics and software too, the E takes it to a whole new level.  Makes me wonder why we still call the service people “mechanics”—more like electricians and techies since there’s not so many mechanical parts left under the hood…or under the trunk…or wherever they keep them.
Anyway, all’s well that ends well.  The E is back in my garage and tranquility is back in my heart.  Even my home EVSE is happy to have my E back, someone to talk to on cold California nights.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

It's Cold in California

Cold is a relative term of course.  Yesterday the high temperature was 56 degrees, which in California we call “freezing.”  It may not be anywhere near the actual freezing point, but when we have to stop wearing shorts and put on a longer pair of shorts—that’s cold. 
Cold and battery life don’t mix well, neither do extreme heat and battery life, but cold seems to zap a battery faster than heat for some reason.  The ideal battery temperature is in the low 70’s.  Recently, the outside morning temperature has been in the low 40’s—meaning the battery has to be heated in order to operate at its maximum capacity. 
The Active E has an active battery management system that both heats and cools the battery when needed.  The only problem is that the battery management system is powered by the battery.  So the more it’s used, the less power for driving.  That means fewer miles on each charge.  Preconditioning the battery before leaving home can help tremendously in these situations.  The E has the ability to use the power from my home charging unit to warm the battery before I unplug.  This gets me started on a warm note, without having to deplete battery power to do so. 
The other power drain in cold weather is the heater, and the wipers when it rains.  Unfortunately, when I use Eco Pro mode in the E, the heated seats are disabled—presumably to save power.  But the cabin heater is a big power drain on efficiency.  It seems as though the heated seats would be a better alternative than the cabin heater to keep me toasty warm, but that’s not going to happen in Eco Pro mode.  Instead, the heater stays on and the efficiency falls short of the mark. 
So far I have seen my efficiency drop from around 3.1 to 3.2 miles per kilowatt hour, to 2.5 or 2.6 miles per kilowatt hour.  That translates into 13.5 miles I can’t drive when in cold weather.  Truth be told, I’m not all that efficient to begin with.  But when my meager efficiency dips, it is a noticeable difference—but not unmanageable.  I still drive roughly the same routes at somewhat slower speeds, and have not been stranded yet.  That’s because I have learned how to manage my driving.  I am either driving well within range, or I know where to charge mid-trip when needed.
It could be worse, I hear some Electronauts are living with snow back on the East Coast—I bet they wear really long shorts.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Staying Alive at 35...Percent SOC

It’s a comfortable feeling starting your day with a fully charged EV.  Even though every EV has its range limit, a full tank of electrons gets the day off on the right foot.  But lately, I have picked up the annoying little habit of forgetting to plug in.  So I decided to experiment yesterday when I only had 35% state of charge when I began the day—can I survive my day on 35%?

I had a little extra distance to travel because I had meetings in various places.  I was not going to make it without some charging along the way, and some highly efficient driving too (which is not my strong suit).

The first leg of my trip took me from Corona to Riverside, a distance of about 16 miles all on surface streets.  I usually burn up 20% to 25% of my battery making this drive when not trying to be efficient.  Instead, I hunkered down, kept the accelerations slow and steady and stopped well in advance to collect as much regeneration power as possible.  I made it using only 17% of juice—leaving me with 18% of battery in the tank.

The next leg of my trip would take me from Riverside to Ontario, a distance of about 22 miles.  18% wasn’t going to cut it, but I know all the EVSE’s in downtown Riverside so I juiced up during my meeting.  After about an hour and 20 minutes I was back up to 45% state of charge—more than I had hoped for.

I hit the road, mostly freeway travel this time, and paced a few big rigs along the way to increase efficiency—and increase the risk of a rock chip in my windshield.  Upon arrival in Ontario, I had 28% state of charge left—meaning I used 17% of my battery on this leg of the trip also.  Luckily this stretch of freeway is mostly flat and the day had warmed up.  Combined with a little drifting behind big rigs, it really boosted the efficiency.

Time for lunch and another 6% to 7% drain.  I tried charging at my usual lunch spot, but two Chevy Volts ruined that plan.  So I plugged in at Kohl’s across the street.  The problem is that I don’t really like to shop.  So what to do while the car charges?  Wait…and wait…and wait.  After what felt like an hour, but in actuality was only 15 minutes, I had to get back to the office.  My state of charge was back to 28%.

Finally, time to go home, Ontario back to Norco, about 15 miles, all freeway.  Usually I can burn up 25% making this drive when I am carefree.  But a Friday night commute in Southern California saved the day because of the excessive stop and go (charge and go) traffic.  I made it home with 16% state of charge—meaning I used 12% of the battery on the way home, a personal record.

While it’s never enjoyable to start the day with a drained battery, it is possible to survive.   If you know where EVSE’s are located, and you know how to squeeze out the efficiency when needed, you can survive at 35…percent.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Clear Sailing in the Carpool Lane

I spend a good deal of time driving on the freeway in Southern California--as many of us do.  And I really enjoy occupying the carpool lane whenever it is available.  Funny how a little lane change can brighten your day.

Unfortunately, the car pool lane is not all wine and roses--there are some unwritten rules.  In california, people seem to believe that the carpool lane has an unlimited speed limit.  So if traffic is moving along at 75 or 80 in the regular lanes, then the cars in the carpool lanes have to be going faster than that.  That's a problem when trying to drive the ActiveE efficiently--anything over 70 is not efficient.

Also, people seem to think you can enter or exit the carpool lane whenever you like.  However, crossing the double yellow line to get into or out of the carpool lane prematurely is a moving violation--complete with points on your license.  As opposed to driving in the carpool lane with only one occupant (for cars without our lovely white stickers), which is a civil fine but not a moving violation so no points.

The point is, you have to choose wisely.  It is great to be able to enter carpool land, but not so great to be pushed down the freeway by an impatient driver while trying to maintain an efficient speed.  But on days when the regular lanes are stopped, or nearly stopped, then its clear sailing in the carpool lane.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Mystery of Miles per Gallon Electric MPGe

What does gasoline, Kilowatts, and British thermal units have in common?   They all are used to determine miles per gallon electric (MPGe)--whatever that means.

MPGe was devised by the EPA to explain the level of efficiency electric cars have to the motoring public.   We have become accustomed to miles per gallon (MPG) being the universal standard of efficiency as listed on the window of every new car. But the efficiency rating of EV's doesn't naturally translate into MPG because there are no gallons of anything being consumed per mile.

Once you drive an EV, you get used to the term of miles per kilowatt hour (Mls/kWh).  For example, in my ActiveE I commonly achieve 3.2 Mls/kWh.  Whereas someone else may achieve 4.0 Mls/kWh, which tells me they're a far more efficient driver.

But Mls/kWh doesn't have a universal meaning outside the EV world, so MPGe was invented instead.  I find MPGe to be a confusing standard, but here goes with an explanation: it starts with a gallon of gasoline, which when burned generates 115,000 British thermal units of heat.  If using electricity, it would take 34 kWh to produce the same amount of heat.  So one gallon of gas equals 34 kWh in terms of the energy generated.  The EPA then determines how far an EV can travel on 34 kWh under differing conditions and that distance is reported as MPGe.

The problem with this conversion is that not every EV has a 34 kWh battery.  The ActiveE has a 32 kWh battery and an MPGe of 102, but its range isn't always 102 miles on a single charge (although the BMW is probably closest to the 34 kWh mark).  Other EV's (aside from Tesla) range from a low of 16 kWh in the Volt to around 24 kWh in the Leaf.  So the MPGe reported for those cars is not the distance they can travel on a single charge, but rather the distance they could travel over multiple charges until using 34 kWh.  The Chevy volt for example is reported at 98 MPGe, but it can only travel about 35 to 38 miles on pure electric on a single charge.  The Honda Fit EV has an MPGe of 118, but has a range of 80 miles or less on pure electric.

Also, while a gallon of gas may cost less than a "gallon" (or 34 kWh) of electricity--it doesn't last nearly as long.  A gallon of gas in Southern California may cost $4.00 to $4.50 on any given day, whereas a typical kWh when purchased through Southern California Edison costs between 16 to 25 cents, making a "gallon" of electricity (34 kWh) cost $5.44 to $8.50.  It sounds higher, but not when you consider how far each gallon will take you.

Since EV's are far more efficient with the energy they use, a "gallon" of electricity goes a long way.  In a gas-powered car, a single gallon will allow you to travel about 25 miles.  In contrast, a "gallon" of electricity will take you 100 miles or more.  So $5.44 in electricity is roughly the same as four gallons of gas, or $16.00 in gas costs.  Why aren't they the same?  Because MPGe only measures the amount of energy generated by gas versus electricity.  It does not measure the cost of each energy source when put into practical use driving down the road.

Is MPGe a helpful measure?  Not entirely once you know the right questions to ask about EV's.  But it does look impressive to have 100 or more MPGe on the window of every new EV and hopefully it helps the gas-driving public understand just how powerfully efficient EV's can be.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pure Energy--The First 6 Months of EV Bliss

November marks my six-month anniversary with my Active E.  I love this car!  And I have learned how to drive electric--really not that hard.  Best of all, I think BMW is doing EV's the right way.

Love at first sight!
The Right Stuff

For example I drove the Ford Focus EV and found it to be a nice EV, but not great. Unlike my ActiveE there was no regenerative breaking engaged when releasing the accelerator.  Why not?  I was told by the Ford representative that they want the Focus EV to drive like a "regular" car.  Bad answer.  EV’s are NOT regular cars. They are way better than gas powered jalopies, and EV’s should be considered the new “regular.”  When a car offers something better, use it.  Don't do away with it. 

This is where BMW has gotten it right.  By using the characteristics of electric driving to the best advantage possible, the car is a joy to drive.  It can literally be controlled with just one pedal most of the time.  It has the strongest regenerative breaking that I have experienced so far and it’s a great attribute when driving.

Creepy EV’s

And BMW did NOT build in any creep into their vehicle.  Creep is what an automatic gas car does when in drive, slowly moving forward on its own volition.  EVs don't creep by nature because when the car is stopped nothing's moving.  Unlike a gas car where the engine keeps whirling around when stopped.  

So if an EV doesn’t creep why add it artificially?  Because it makes it feel more like a "regular" car?  Bad answer. Don't do that.  Let EVs be great for all the right reasons, there's no need to dumb down these cars to make them feel “regular.”  Especially since the motoring public is not stupid (hear that car manufacturers), we get when something is new, different and better.  Just drive the Active E once and you'll get it instantly, it's better to drive.

Efficient and Rage Anxiety

Charging Not a Problem
Range anxiety has largely left my conscious mind.  After driving for just 6 months I have gotten accustomed to how far I can go and how I need to drive to get there.  And I know that I can squeeze a little distance just by changing my driving habits. I've learned how to change too. It's really not that hard.  I have never ran out of juice or been stranded anywhere.

Yet, range is the number one reason why people say they are reluctant to try an EV.  Range is a false concern because it can be easily managed--especially with the installation of new charging units all over town.  Although, most of the time, I don’t need to charge away from home.  But when I do, chargers are widely available. 
Charging still not a problem

I like that BMW went with a range of between 80 to 100 miles.  It is just right for me.  Of course, 200 miles would be nice, but it’s rarely necessary.  In talking to a few Nissan Leaf owners, their range of about 75 miles (or a little less) is hard to live with.  The extra 20 to 25 miles that I get in my E makes a big difference and allows me to travel even beyond 100 miles when I charge during stops in my day. 

Charging some more

Too Sexy for my Circuit Graphics

Plug me in!!
BMW built a good looking EV.  Whether you like or hate the funky circuit graphics on the side (I’ve grown to like it), the car looks unlike an other EV out there!  And when I have had the opportunity to show it off at the National Plug-in Day event in Temecula, CA or the Alternative Fuels Expo in Riverside, CA, people stop and take notice of a good looking EV.  I like that I don’t have to drive a car that looks like an egg, or a shoe, or a dinner roll.  This looks like a sporty BMW.  EV’s can be great to drive and great to look at too.

No Gas, Mo Money

In six months I have a little over 8,000 miles on the E’s odometer.  In my gas guzzling GMC Yukon (that gets 15 MPG—or maybe less when I’m driving it) that would translate into 533 gallons of liquid gold in six months.  At an average of $4.25 per gallon (which again is being generous) that equals $2,265.25, or $377.54 per month in wasted money.

Driving the ActiveE for 8,000 miles I spent…let’s see…carry the one…NOTHING.  Since I have a home solar array I generate far more power than the E can consume.  However, even if I was sipping electrons from Southern California Edison, it would average somewhere between $50 to $75 per month—far lower than $377.54.  

Considering the E’s monthly lease payment is $499, I’m getting $377.54 of that back in gas savings, for a net monthly cost of $121.46.  Cheapest BMW I’ve ever owned!

Not to mention I have yet to do an oil change, injector flush, use a fuel additive, replace spark plugs, you get the idea.  The maintenance is far less cumbersome than an ICE’d vehicle.  In fact, it’s largely nonexistent. 

That brings me to my final topic: why are you waiting?

Why Are You Waiting???????

I know the ActiveE is not generally available to the public yet, but when BMW does release its full production BMW i3, why wait to get one?  The benefits of driving electric outweigh a gas car in every way.  Wait did I say every way?  Yes I did, and I mean it wholeheartedly.  EV’s drive better, feel better, have more power, are more confortable and take less gas…as in NO GAS.  I never have to stop at a crowded, noisy, dirty, expensive gas station.  My “refueling” occurs in the comfort and quiet of my own garage.

I can safely say that I will never drive an ICE’d vehicle again, if I can help it.  And the costs of owning an EV reduces the overall cost of ownership so drastically that it actually pays to drive electric.  It’s a “no-brainer” all the way around—a better car that costs less overall! 

What are you waiting for; it’s time to charge up!!