Thursday, August 30, 2012

Join ActiveE in the I.E. at National Plug in Day in Temecula, California

September 23, 2012 is National Plug-In day all across America.  Here in the Inland Empire, the Western Riverside County Clean Cities Coalition (that's a lot of "c's") is hosting an event in Old Town Temecula at the 6th Street parking lot.  We know that place well, it's where I park and plug my E every time I am in Old Town Temecula (see post here).

The event lasts from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  There will be EV enthusiasts there showing off their cars, and some real live EV's that you can test drive.  If you haven't driven an EV yet, now's your chance and I highly recommend it.

Here's a link to register for the event and below is the event flyer.  Hope to see your there!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

From an E to a 3: My luxurious fall from grace.

I hate driving ICE'd vehicles.  I have been driving gas-powered jalopies for 25 years, and I have been driving my purely electric Active E for 3 months, but there's just no comparison.  The E is faster, quieter, and far more comfortable to drive.  Not to mention it takes no gas--saving me time and money.

Last Tuesday I took my Active E in for its regular service interval.  BMW is now pulling the electric motor out of every car during servicing to be sure that the connection between the motor and the transmissions (called a spline gear) is in good shape.  (See Tom M's post on the spline problem.)  Some Active E's have experienced a failure of the spline gear (causing the electric motor to spin, but not move the car).  Unfortunately, the entire back end of the car must be taken out to access the electric motor and transmission, so it takes a couple days to do the servicing, leaving me to drive this lovely, light blue 328i loaner:

My blue ICE loaner

The good news: I have no spline damage, the motor looks good.  The bad news: there is a crease running the entire length of the battery cage underneath the car.  Apparently I hit something and the battery cage must be inspected.  They don't think there is any permanent damage, but the dealer is not allowed to open the battery cage, only BMW can do that.  Which requires a trip to Oxnard, CA, where BMW's vehicle distribution center is located for the West coast.  They have specially trained Active E Wizards on staff to work their magic on the battery.  Hopefully nothing major, but we'll see.

In the meantime, I have an ICE'd BMW to drive around.  This time it's a 3 series (see my previous comparison of my E to a 1 series loaner I received last time).  Don't take me wrong, I am grateful that my dealer (BMW of Riverside) provides loaners, and BMW loaners no less--a luxurious alternative to my graceful E.  But nothing cools me off faster than ICE'd cars.


The Good:

The 3 series is a bigger car than my E, which is based on the smaller 1 series. In fact, I can't believe just how big the 3 series has gotten.  It has grown over the years, and it feels much larger inside, and out, than past 3 series.

The 3 handles great, and even with its bigger size, it feels much lighter than my weighted down Active E.  This allows it to handle very well in curves (what you expect of a BMW of course).  And the car is really at its best on the freeway, where it has no problem speeding up to pass when needed.

The Bad:

Around town, however, that's another story.  After driving my E for three months I am used to a car that accelerates immediately, never shifts, is quiet, and slows before braking thanks to the regenerative energy system (I rarely hit the brakes in my E).  The 3 series is another animal altogether.  

The 3 has 6 (yes 6) gears in its automatic transmission.  And it shifts very quickly from 1st to 3rd when going 0 to 35 or 40.  The off-the-line torque and power is abysmal compared to my E.  The 3 may feel great off the line compared to other cars in its class, but it feels downright lethargic compared to the E's electron fueled powerhouse.  

Shiny wheels for a loaner car
The Ugly:

There's really nothing ugly about the 3, except for its thirst for fossil fuel.  I have really enjoyed NOT stopping at gas stations over the past three months, and it's an unwanted interruption to my day (and to my wallet) to have to do so now.

When I first drove the 3 series off the lot I hated it.  Nothing personal 3 series, but you vibrate, your slow off the line, you give me whiplash shifting a million times per second, and you don't have any way to stop without hitting the brakes (very rudimentary).  Now that I have driven the 3 for  a week, I am starting to appreciate some of its more positive attributes, such as handling, lighter feel, and great freeway acceleration when needed.  

If it was BMW's plan to force me to keep the 3 for a while so it would grow on me (it wasn't there plan), then it's working.  I no longer hate the 3 series.  I appreciate its more positive attributes, but I still pity it for not being electric.  If BMW made an electric 3 series, I'd run down to my BMW dealer and buy it tomorrow.  Unfortunately, there is no electric 3.  And I understand why, the added size of the car compared to the 1 series means added weight, which is the last thing the Active E needs weighing in at over 4,000 pounds.  But still, I can dream.     

So BMW, if you're listening, the 3 has grown on me as much as it's going to, you can have it back now.  I can't wait to once again feel the thrill of excitement when rocketing off-the-line in my electric E.    

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Going the Distance...and Beyond

The Active E's range is around 80 to 100 miles on a full charge.  The response I usually hear after saying that is "but I drive more than 100 miles per day."  Well so do I.  In fact, there are days when I will go well over 100 miles.  But with a range of 80 to 100, how do I do it?  By plugging-in during the day of course.

In a typical day, your car sits idle a majority of the time, unless your a traveling salesman or work from your car.  But for a majority of us, we drive to work, park the car, and then it sits for 8+ hours.  Or at least for a few hours until lunchtime.

While idle, an electric car can be charging.  And since the E can be recharged back to full in about 3 to 4 hours (depending on how depleted the battery is), the car is ready to go another 80 to 100 miles by lunchtime, or quitting time.

For example, I have two offices, one in Riverside and one in Temecula.  I can drive from my house to Temecula and log about 40 miles.  Luckily for me, Temecula has free (FREE!) public chargers a block away from my office, so I park and plug.  After a couple of meetings, my E is full (and pre-conditioned).  I then drive to my office in Riverside, another 40 miles.  On the same day I can drive to a meeting in Ontario (about 20 miles away) and then back home (another 20 miles).  So for the day, I can log 120 miles--well over the range of the E.  But because I charged during the day, that kind of range is no problem.  I don't even have to drive all that efficiently.

So the question is not whether you drive more than 100 miles per day, but do you drive more than 100 miles at a time.  If your commute is less than 100 miles, then you simply charge between driving and that doubles the E's range for a single day.

I know what you're saying "but I don't have a charger at my work."  Well that needs to change.  And soon will change.  And once it does, the range of an EV no longer factors into the state of denial so many people have towards adopting EVs.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

To Pre or Not To Pre: There's no question about the Power of Preconditioning

Right now it's hot in the Inland Empire--110 degrees for multiple days.  But hot days don't burn me up because my E knows how to precondition itself.  Preconditioning is a handy little feature of this electric car and it's made possible because the cooling system (the one used to cool the battery and the cabin air conditioning system) can run independently of the electric motor.  Since every system in an electric car is...well electric...they can be activated independently without the motor running (as opposed to a gas-powered car where the engine must run to power the other systems, include the a/c).  And preconditioning can either be used immediately or set to begin at a future time, so the process can happen without me be anywhere near the car; provided that, the car is plugged into an EVSE (the car will not precondition when not plugged in).

The Precondition setting screen--it can be activated immediately or at a set time.

So rather than climbing into a preheated oven of a car, and scalding my fingers on the steering wheel, my E is a comfortable 72 degrees when I'm ready to go.  And the battery can be cooled down to the low 90's or high 80's, which is cool when the ambient temperature is 110 degrees and the temperature on the asphalt is a million degrees (well feels like it anyway).  Preconditioning also works in the winter months to warm the battery and the cabin to optimum temperatures before departure.

The real benefit of preconditioning is the power saved cooling the car and the battery.  Without it, the car has to cool itself using power from the battery pack.  And it takes much less energy to keep a cold car cool than it does to cool it down in the first place.  So not only is it a pleasure to get into a cool car, it also means more miles for my drive.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

I Feel Special: Changing the world one BMW at a time.

Driving the E around nearly everyday makes me feel…well…special.  Sounds strange, I know, but it’s true.  Just look at this thing:

It tends to stand out in a crowd.  It’s quieter, faster, and has more circuit graphics per square inch than most cars.  And when driving it, I can go anywhere, including the carpool lanes, the toll lanes without paying, and special little EV parking spots created just for me (I let other EVs use them too, but I know they did it for me).  Does this make me a self-centered, egotistical, EV snob?  Yes, yes it does.
I wasn’t always this way.  In fact, before the E nearly every car I owned was black.  I would have gotten along fine with Henry Ford (who famously said you can buy a Model T in any color you want, so long as it’s black—thanks Henry, exactly the color I had in mind). 
But when you drive around in an electric car that looks different, sounds different, and does everything a gas-powered car can do only better, you start to get accustomed to standing out. 
So on those unfortunate days when I am forced to drive my ICE’d vehicles (I’m still learning how to share the E with my wife, it’s been a tough lesson to learn), I suddenly feel not so special at all.  I am no longer quiet, I can’t accelerate quickly and effortlessly.  I don’t have any circuit graphics, or special emblems.  I can’t travel in the carpool lanes, I have to pay for toll roads, and there are no special parking spots for a GMC Yukon.  My fame fades quickly. 
I could have had the circuit graphics taken off the E when I received it.  Some Active E drivers did so, and I can understand why.  But the whole point of the car, or at least our point in getting the car, was to show others that EVs are real.  They can do everything a gas-powered car can do on a daily basis, only do it better, faster, quieter, and far cheaper (See fellow Active E driver Peder’s post on how EVs really are cheaper).  For me, this is about raising awareness so EV acceptance can spread far and wide.  The more people embrace EVs the better.

The unintended side effect is that I feel oh so special driving the E.  But what's the harm in feeling good about doing good?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Go Battery!

Finally got the personalized plates for me E.  Stands for Go Battery, but it could also be read as Go B-Try.  Not sure what that would mean.  So if you see GO BTRY, just know it stands for Go Battery.  And know that it's me!

Friday, August 3, 2012

EV Welcome Packet

Driving EV comes with a large learning curve--there's much to know. I didn't realize just how much of that learning curve I had conquered until I recently came across a brand new Nissan Leaf driver.  A rookie, novice, newby of a driver.  We met at a Chargepoint EVSE in Riverside.  The newly anointed Leaf driver wasn't sure how to work the unit, and I unloaded what probably sounded like a tidal wave of information on all things EV.  Like a kid talking about his new toy, I was excited to share all I knew.

It occurred to me as I was driving home that (1) I talk to much when it comes to EVs, and (2) there were a few things I forgot to tell him about.  So why not create an EV welcome packet, something that covers the basics of EV'ing.

Most of what I have learned has come from other EV drivers, those who have come before.  But it takes time to sit and listen.  So I put together my own list of EV info, the stuff you can't live without knowing when you are new to EV'ing:

1.     Public Chargers.  "Chargers" are really called "EVSE" (electric vehicle supply equipment).  Here in Southern California, especially in the Inland Empire, you will primarily find Chargepoint America EVSE's and Blink Network EVSE's.  You should go to the Chargepoint and Blink website to register for one of their cards, which will allow you to active the EVSE units.  Even if you don't think you'll need to use these EVSE's, it doesn't hurt to have the card in your glovebox.

A Blink card and CharePoint "Charge Pass" card

There are a few other types of EVSE units around, such as the Clipper Creek units (which don't require a card or any form of payment), and the AeroVironment units (which also don't require a card or payment usually--at least the units that I have encountered).  There are a few others as well, but in my experience only Chargepoint and Blink require cards.

2.     Finding Public Chargers.  Aside from whatever program your car may have, there are websties, iPhone/iPad apps and android apps for both Chargepoint and Blink EVSE's.  The Chargepoint app will provide you with detailed information about your charging session when you use one of their EVSE units.  The downside to these sites is that they only display their own brand of EVSE.

To get a wider view of all available units I highly recommend either Plugshare or Recargo.  They both have websites and apps you can download.  Both of these sites allow users to upload information about EVSE's and people check-in when they use the units so you will have updated information of whether the units are working recently.  You can even add your home EVSE if you are brave enough to share it.

3.     Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3.  There are different types of EVSE's out there based on the amount of power they provide to your car.  A Level 1 EVSE is just a 120 volt line like you find in a residential home.  Most, if not all, EV's come with their own Level 1 cord, but some public EVSE's also have Level 1 power.

Level 2 is the 240 volt, or 208 volt, EVSE units you typically find at public charging locations.  You may have also had an EVSE installed at home, which is a Level 2 charger.

Two Level 2 EVSE's behind the E

My Home Level 2 EVSE

Level 3 is a high-power, quick-charging station.  Not all EV's can take Level 3 power, but if your EV can then you can use it to charge up to 80% state-of-charge in about 20 minutes.

4.     Freeway Freebies.  When you are driving a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV), there's a few perks to be had that gain you access to HOV lanes and some of the toll roads.

In California, the HOV lane sticker (the little white beauty pictured below) can be obtained from the DMV using Form REG 1000.  This sticker allows for single occupancy in all HOV lanes throughout California.  I love this sticker, may be one of my favorite parts about driving pure EV.

If you use the 91 Express toll lanes on the 91 Freeway, you can apply for a special use transponders using the Special Access Account Application.  The transponder allows you to drive in the Fastpass lanes for free (for FREE!!) at all times, except East bound from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, but even then it's half price.

5.     Tax Credits.  If you bought your EV you have access to a few different types of tax credits.  The Federal tax credit is taken on your income tax returns for the year in which you purchased the EV.  In California there is also a $2,500 State credit.  And if you live in the City of Riverside you can qualify for a local rebate of $2,500.  Restrictions apply as to when you qualify for each credit, so check the website of your local, State and Federal agencies to learn the details.

6.     Social EV.  Forums and Facebook groups are great resources to learn about your particular vehicle and what others are doing and saying.  Plus it's just fun to be connected to other EV enthusiasts.  Whatever type of EV you drive, I'm sure there is a Facebook group for it.  For example, I am part of the Active E Facebook group.  There is also the BMW Active E forum.  Look around for as many groups and forums as you can find, and then check in as often as possible.  You'll learn a lot just by observing.

7.     Getting to know you.  If you're checking under the hood for oil or putting gas anywhere in your EV, then you're doing it wrong.  An electric vehicle is mechanically, and electronically, quite different from a gas-guzzler.  For example, I have been told many times (usually by car salesman when I test drive other EV's) that electric vehicles have no transmission.  Not true.  There has to be a way to transmit the power of the electric motor to the drive wheels, and that usually requires some gear ratio.  But most EV's only have one gear--as in the Active E--so they never have to shift (which may lead to the misconception that there is no transmission).

Also, when charging, EV's take on way more power when the battery is empty, and then decreased the power as the batteries come closer to full.  EV batteries are comprised of many tiny battery cells and each one can only take its fill of power.  As the battery pack reaches full, the cells must be carefully equalized and balanced so less power can be taken.

There are a host of terms that you should know when owning an EV.  Take a look at my earlier post describing some of the Electric Lingo you should know.

8.     Drive, drive, drive.  You want to learn how to drive efficiently, or just have fun, in your EV?  I have a few posts (see Eco Pro vs. Eco Amatuer) on this very blog about how to drive efficiently.  But forget reading those, just go drive and experiment.  The best way to learn it is to do it.  Think slow and steady for efficiency, but use your imagination and see what you can do.

This is a work in progress, but at least it gets the ball rolling.  Welcome to EV'ing I know you'll love it.