Thursday, September 27, 2012

One Door Closes, Another One Opens

JANUARY 16, 2012
It has been an exciting ride, but the time finally came to give up my beloved MINI E and trade it in for the next car in BMW's field trial and effort to get production EV's on the road, the new BMW ActiveE.  I am certainly sad to see the MINI E leave my driveway as it gave me and my wife many reliable and fun filled miles on the road.  The effortless and smooth driving experience will not soon be forgotten, nor will the countless hours of sharing my experience with onlookers and passersby.  I have come to believe that once people experience an EV firsthand, there will be many converts - it's just going to take some time.

I am told that my MINI E was destined for London to play a supporting role during the Olympics this summer.  I hope the driver(s) were not confused with the location of the steering wheel relative to the proper side of the road.  Eventually, all MINI E's were scheduled to be returned to the mother ship in Germany where they will be closely examined and perhaps autopsied in the name of progress and science.  Photos, videos, press releases, a packed scrap book, and vivid memories will never allow me to forget MINI E #111.

No time to be sentimental.  I got to Bob Smith BMW (great folks) and jumped behind the wheel of my new BMW ActiveE and my love affair with the MINI E was a faint memory.  WOW! What a car.  It not only has 4 seats (the MINI E only had 2), but it's all BMW inside and out.  More refinement.  More gadgets, More BMW.  The MINI E was great, but the BMW ActiveE was a step up to be sure.

A friend pointed out to us that the badging on the ActiveE looked like something out of the movie "Tron".  So, we named our car Tron and got a license plate that says "TRON EV".  Everyone gets it right away.

We get the same range as the MINI E with similar, but slightly slower, performance.  So, about 100 miles of range with a 0-60 time just under 9 seconds.  Plenty fast and predictable range.

So much more to write about the BMW ActiveE and probably cause for a new blog, but for now a great addition to the family.  Be sure to check out BMW's site dedicated to the ActiveE here.  BMW has announced plans to release it's full production EV at the end of 2013 under the name i3 which can be found here.  A whole new design which promises to be an amazing car by any measure.  If you have more cash than most, then you might want to consider the BMW i8 which can be found here.  A search on YouTube will surface numerous videos of all of these cars in action.

Safe, clean driving to you all.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I'm Back

Apologies for the long break. I have a new job and things are a little crazy. It’s been way too long and there is much to talk about. Let’s get right to it.

Several updates:

First, MINI #111 is doing very well and problem free. As I approach the end of my first year (May 22), I still thoroughly enjoy driving this amazing car. It provides all the driving excitement I enjoyed on day 1 along with a level of reliability and ease of use that I don’t seem to get with my other cars. It never ceases to amaze me how quiet this car is. And I still get stopped almost daily with questions about it.

Second, MINI offered a lease extension for one year at $600 per month (plus taxes and fees, of course). While this isn’t as low as I’d like it to be, I love this car and will suck it up for another year. By renewing for one year, we are automatically on the list for the new BMW Active E car due out in Summer 2011. This one has back seats!

Third, I’m turning green. I’m not hugging trees yet, but I did install a complete solar panel system on my roof last November. The system came with 28 panels that put out an amazing 6.5 kilowatts. More on that along with all the techie numbers and photos in a future blog. I would, however, like to thank my new friends at Verengo Solar for their help in getting this system installed quickly and professionally.

Fourth, have you been following the press on EV’s? Virtually every auto manufacturer around the world is developing an electric car. There are a few exceptions. I understand, for example, that VW’s CEO Martin Winterkorn is focused on “clean” diesel as a platform for efficient cars. He doesn't see EV's being viable any time soon. Nevertheless, I believe auto manufacturers have a large task ahead of them as they educate the masses on the benefits and logistics of driving and owning an EV.

Lastly, I promised to talk about the Chevy Volt and GM’s claim for 230 MPG in my last blog. While the Volt may turn out to be an impressive car, the math on 230 MPG is highly misleading and I believe GM is doing a huge disservice by advertising it as such. There are many websites that do an excellent job at explaining the bad math and I encourage you to do a quick search. The bottom line is that when you have a car that can be plugged in and runs on just electricity for the first 40 miles, the notion of MPG is no longer relevant. With the proliferation of alternative fuel vehicles, I believe we need to begin using cost per mile as our new standard of measure with cost being a blend of all inputs (e.g. gas, bio-diesel fuel, natural gas, electricity, etc.). GM: stop misleading consumers, they’ll figure it out and someone will make another documentary about it.


Mileage: 4,948 (Not a big number, but I drive it daily. It’s only 6 miles to work)

Average Range: 97 miles

Tickets: 0 (but a few close calls)

Rides for Friends: Lost count but >100

Door Dings: Surprisingly 0

Impressed Valets: Many

Be well and drive safely.


Monday, August 24, 2009

MINI Space

Our friends at MINI have created a forum for interested MINI-followers to get their fill on everything MINI. The "MINI Space" website is a MINI community, but there is nothing small about this group. They've just added an article about yours truly which can be found here.

Separately, I ran into a MINI fan in the parking garage of my
office this morning. He was exiting his gorgeous Aston Martin DB9 convertible, but began raving about his MINI Cooper S. He told me that he had a collection of cars that also included a Turbo Porsche. However, his favorite "fun car" was going for a drive in his MINI. There's an ad in there somewhere.

Next blog: Chevy Volt claims 230 miles per gallon (let's not forget it's a plug-in). Is MPG still relevant?


Thursday, August 20, 2009

New York Times

Earlier today, Jim Motavalli from the New York Times posted an online article about the MINI E where he describes the program as '[zipping] along after early speed bumps'. You can find his article here.

For those of you visiting my blog for the first time (and you don't mind reading blogs), you may find it interesting to go back to the beginning of my story and follow the media coverage as well as some of the links that discuss early impressions of the MINI E when I took delivery of the first one in the world.

I read many of the comments posted on the NY Times website today and it never ceases to amaze me how many people seemingly refuse to understand that this is a well publicized Field Trial by BMW using prototype vehicles. If you read their press release about the MINI E, you will find that this is part of a larger program that will continue to grow.

A large part of why I decided to create my blog was to discuss a broad range of issues about the MINI E and EV's in general. There is much to understand and much to learn. I am nothing more than a student of the EV.

I hope that you will continue to follow this blog and others like it. Please feel free to write and let me know if there is anything you'd like to learn about the MINI E.


Monday, July 27, 2009

No and No

Don't you just love the DMV? Do you get the same smile I get every time you have the opportunity to interact with them? Some of my favorite memories are: the lines, the backlog, that less-than-cheery atmosphere, and above all, the predictability that comes with knowing my paperwork is nowhere near the office I'm standing in. They are a model of efficiency and customer service.

I could go on, but you get my point. Here is the latest from the land of the lost.

When I took delivery of my MINI E, I immediately applied for the HOV lane stickers that would allow me to drive solo in the carpool lane (you know the stickers). For electric cars, these are silver and there are still plenty to go around. As you can already guess, I got my response from the DMV just the other day. Are you sitting down? They declined my application on the basis that I could not prove that my car is a CNG (compressed natural gas) vehicle. I quickly checked the application to be sure that I had checked the "Electric Vehicle" box - and I did. The letter goes on to say that I need to take my vehicle down to the DMV so that I could get someone to certify that it is, in fact, a CNG vehicle. Imagine explaining this one to the staff at the Santa Monica DMV. Which line shall I stand in? I'll just look for the "Prove Your Car Runs on CNG" line. I'm sure the stickers will arrive just after I return the car to MINI.

This one I care about infinitely more. If you have been reading my blog since the beginning (bless you), you know that I ordered vanity license plates for my MINI E. I struggled with this one for several days before deciding on something that was fitting and of course not already taken. I won't bore you with the long list of ideas, but apparently MINI E (which could also be"MINIE") was undoubtedly taken by a Minie Mouse fan. So, I chose MINI 111. Can you guess what happened? That's right, I got turned down. The letter (singed by someone you cannot reach at the DMV) said that the combination of letters and numbers I selected could be confused with another license plate. Huh? Which one? They added that they will gladly return my fee in the next 60-90 days (translation: we're going to keep it for a while to pay our staff while the state budget gets balanced). Am I surprised? Nothing surprises me any more.

So, when you see me driving down the street, I'll be in the MINI E without the HOV sticker and with the very normal license plate that starts with a 6....

Hey Arnold, I have an idea for closing the budget gap. Let's shut down the DMV! Better yet, do us all a favor and sell it to Nordstrom. Please!


Friday, July 17, 2009

Dan Neil: There is no "rumble". Remember, EV's are quiet.

The following letter is a slightly shortened version of my response to Dan Neil's article in the LA Times today.

Hi Dan,

I just read your article today about the MINI E program and I have to say that I’m pretty disappointed to see what I’m reading. I don’t dispute the facts of the article and I know virtually all the details.

I think the spirit of the article is off base and you place Sam Freeman in the position that many EV1 drivers were in – a handful of radical EV-lovers surround by a world of combustion-engine lovers (translation: oil money). Furthermore, the criticisms about BMW noted in your article are sharply unbalanced against the realities and positives of the program.

BMW has been extremely upfront with us about the program. The suggestion by Chelsea Sexton (whose husband works for Tesla I just learned) that BMW has botched the program is a complete overstatement. Since you are referring people to her organization, she also suggests elsewhere that BMW is somehow plotting to reenact the crimes of the EV1 program which is just ludicrous. We all knew there were going to be delays. There was never the slightest promise that we were going to own these cars and the tax issue was always something we were going to deal with as it developed. The negative comments I’ve been reading and getting on my blog are from people outside the program and usually full of agenda-driven mis-information. Too bad for EV’s. If you look for the positive comments, they far outweigh the negatives.

To the people who criticize me for paying $850 per month to be part of this program, I ask: how many people get a rare chance to drive a hugely valuable prototype vehicle for one year? I don’t know anyone – unless they work for the manufacturer. Besides the fact that this is one of the coolest cars on the road, prototype or not. Every one of the 30+ people I’ve given test drives to, want to know when they can get their own. Prototypes by definition are going to have issues. People that don’t understand that have no business being anywhere near this program.

Were there delays? Yes. Could things have been done better? Yes. But I challenge anyone to run a program where you are putting out hundreds of prototype cars to consumers and get it done without hitches. There are a thousand little details they had to get right. Guess what? I have an amazing car that runs really well and is the envy of thousands of people (almost 21,000 on my blog as of today).

Finally, do people really think that EV’s aren’t worth the effort? I know you’ve driven this car. Can you not to see the future when you’re behind the wheel? Could it be that BMW wants to have EV’s in their product line? Oh, what a crime!

There is no “rumble in the electric-car jungle” of Pacific Palisades. Come on over and I’ll introduce you to the people I talk to. They love the car.

Peter Trepp

MINI E #111

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Testing A Tesla

Saturday evening, my wife and I stopped by the Tesla Motors dealership in West LA on our way to dinner. The last employee was locking up when he noticed my MINI E. Mr. "Tesla", my wife and I spent the next hour talking about EV’s and test driving cars. After crawling all over my MINI E, I let Mr. T get behind the wheel.

It was his first time driving the MINI E and he seemed duly impressed with the performance and refinement of the car. However, he quickly noticed the lag at takeoff (not surprising from a Tesla guy) and cited a lack of traction control in the vehicle; which I had noticed but didn’t fully appreciate until later.

I had heard from a friend that Tesla didn’t let people actually test drive their exotic EV’s. Instead, you were allowed to experience the thrill of potential ownership from the passenger seat. I guess they make exceptions if you pull up in a MINI E. Mr. T took the wheel first in order to expose me to the “full potential of the car” (as if I might not). We got onto an open “private” road and he floored it.

BREATHTAKING! This is the Ferrari of EV’s. The Tesla Roadster effortlessly propels you to 60 mph in less than 3.9 seconds as you are seemingly launched off an aircraft carrier. The torque is monstrous and completely exhilarating. As he threw the car around corners at speed (something I wouldn’t do this aggressively in my MINI E), I could see why he commented on the traction control in the MINI E. The Tesla was glued to the pavement with minimal body roll. The lateral G’s are almost as much fun as the acceleration.

Finally, I got to take over. After a brief overview of the straightforward operations of the vehicle, I found that “private” road once again and catapulted us well into 60+++ mph. I had to catch my breath, but the car is so sure-footed and the manual steering is so fitting to the gobs of power that there was little reason to feel uneasy. The Tesla doesn’t feel as heavy as a 911 (because it’s not) and it doesn’t feel like it’s going to have the power of a Lamborghini (but it does). This is what the future of exotic vehicles feels like.

There are too many technical details to put into this blog, but I will save them for another time. Instead, below are my key impressions of the Tesla Roadster:

- Better than expected power with all the torque/smoothness I’ve come to love in the MINI E – just much much more of what I love
- Well executed traction control system. A surprising contrast to the MINI E and hopefully something BMW & Tesla engineers would be willing to discuss
- Impressive controls with much more data than the MINI E. For example, I don’t have access to real-time electrical use. Also, the Tesla allows you to set the time to start charging the car. One of my favorites, however, is the ability to dictate the power output based on your desired driving style (I would never leave “Performance” mode).
- Charging the Tesla with a 70 amp service combined with a great battery/software configuration means you can charge the battery array in about 2 hours (if I heard that right) and get a 240 mile range.
- Low, tight sports car feel. I only wish I had found an F430.
- Passionate, knowledgeable employees.

- The regenerative braking system required some sort of warm-up routine that I still don’t fully understand. It didn’t operate quite as regularly as the MINI E.
- Tesla is still using much of the interior from Lotus and the ergonomics need to be reworked. The screens are too small and certain gauges are hard to reach. I heard that the layout was changing in the 2010 models.
- The car felt a bit lose to me – as if it wasn’t completely bolted together (just slightly). The car I drove was a development vehicle and I’m comparing it to the MINI E which started life as a production vehicle.
- Speeding tickets and high insurance will most certainly come hand-in-hand with this Porsche killer.

In summary, where do I sign up? Oh yeah, there’s the small matter of $120,000!