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.