Monday, August 24, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
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.
- 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!
Thursday, July 9, 2009
My new friend Chris Woodyard, USA Today's auto journalist, has interviewed me a couple of times with his latest article appearing in today's paper. Chris also maintains an auto blog called DriveOn which appears in the online edition of USA Today.
If you don't have access to the print edition of the paper, you can find the online article here.
While there has been a lot of interest in MINI E 111, and I get a lot of very nice comments from people I know and many I don't, I'm still trying to figure out if being a "local enviro-rock-star" (as Chris puts it) is a cool thing or not. I'll let you know after I get the MINI E t-shirt.
Miles Driven: 960
Current Radio Station: 93.1 Jack FM
Tickets: 1 parking, 0 speeding (luckily)
Parade Participation: 1 parade (4th of July)
Fun Factor: 5 stars
Biggest Problem: Wife driving too fast (just ask the neighbors)
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Monday, June 15, 2009
Today, things are different. With all the press MINI E #111 has received, it’s hard to walk into Starbucks without having a 15 minute discussion about the car. “How is it?” “Is everything okay?” Like I just gave birth or something. “He’s doing fine,” I report. “I’m taking good care of him.” The good part is that I get honks and lots and lots of smiles.
GO FOR A TEST DRIVE – GET SOME M&M’s
My wife, Suzanne, came up with the personalized M&M’s. Yes, they match the colors of the car and you can order your own too. You can find them online at the M&M store here (My M&M’s).
CNBC – DENNIS WON’T ENGAGE
In my live interview on May 28 with CNBC’s Dennis Kneale (link), he posed a final rhetorical question where he asks “…how green are you?”, suggesting that charging my MINI E with electricity requires the burning of dirty coal in order to generate that same electricity. Unfortunately, he did not let me answer this question for which I was fully prepared. Of course, we burn coal in the U.S., but there are so many other compelling reasons why EV’s make sense even if we are burning some coal. In an upcoming blog I will explore the trade-offs between gas-powered, hybrid and pure electric-powered cars. And I will discuss power generation issues including coal, nuclear and solar. Stay tuned.
HOW DOES IT DRIVE?
The most commonly asked question. My response: “It’s fast!” If there is time, I try to take everyone I can for a test drive. Before people leave the car, they want to know when they can get one. Even the “I’m not into cars” women are pleasantly surprised, and they should be. This car looks and feels like a full-fledged production vehicle. I was just lucky enough to find one while it was still a prototype.
Around town, the MINI E is fun enough. However, on the open road you can really enjoy the smooth silence that one can only get from driving an EV. It’s more than the terrific torque you get when you instantly demand it. There is something humanely satisfying about knowing that you’re not adding to the smog layer in Los Angeles. And that people in parking lots and nearby schools are not breathing noxious fumes as you drive by.
WHAT I MISS:
I miss the back seats more than I thought. It’s not like I didn’t know they weren’t there in the first place; but I do miss them.
I miss an integrated Bluetooth connection. I know there are 3rd-party devices I can buy, but I miss the integration.
I miss the center armrest.
WHAT I DON’T MISS:
I don’t miss going to the gas station
I don’t miss touching and breathing fuel
I don’t miss the roar of the engine
CUSTOM LICENSE PLATE
Just in case you’re not sure which one is mine, I’ve ordered a custom license plate. The new plate will read: MINI 111
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Rick Wagoner, former Chairman & CEO of GM, said that his worst decision of his tenure at GM was “axing the EV1 electric-car program and not putting the right resources into hybrids.”
Larry Burns, GM’s R&D Chief, told Newsweek in March 2007 that he now wishes GM hadn’t killed the plug-in hybrid EV1 prototype his engineers had on the road a decade ago. He added, “If we could turn back the hands of time, we could have had the Chevy Volt 10 years earlier.”
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT TO THE MINI E?
The MINI E is not just another EV. A Field Trial with current technology is an incredibly important opportunity for consumers and a huge data collection exercise for BMW. In my view, this significantly improves the chances of this car going into production one day. It is also important to note that the MINI E is the first in a series of cars that will come from BMW’s new “Program i”. BMW is rumored to announce the next car in this program soon. What do you think it will be?
Almost nobody gets into my MINI E and expects it to perform better than a golf cart. I admit feeling the same sense of surprise when I first drove it and thinking that this car feels better and performs better than its brethren. One friend summed it up nicely for me, “…I can see the future when I drive this car.”
Believe it or not, you can see me on TV again this week. On Friday, I will be interviewed by ABC News for a segment that is scheduled to air that evening locally and then may go nationally over the weekend or early next week. Stay tuned for more details.
Many congratulations to the MINI E Pioneers who have started taking delivery of their cars. I never knew I had so many friends. I hope you are all enjoying the car as much as I have. When is the first MINI E road rally?
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Here is the link to my interview on CNBC: Peter Trepp gets the first MINI E
Earlier today, BMW issued a press release about my MINI E. You can find it here on the CNBC website.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
HOW DOES IT HANDLE?
I could describe in great detail the merits of joining a MINI Cooper S with a high-torque electric motor and how the extra 600lbs is a blessing in that it keeps the tires safely planted on the road, but nothing replaces a first-hand test drive. Virtually everyone I’ve taken for a test drive comes back feeling like they just stepped off a roller coaster with that “can we go again?” look on their face.
Here is my simple description of the handling. Lateral motion (e.g. cornering) is much like any well-tuned sports car – tight and fun. However, acceleration and braking are significantly different and require a learning curve to become a smooth driver. From a standstill, you will notice that the electric motor has been “detuned” in order to avoid tire spin at every stop light. Believe me, you can still spin the tires if you want. Once you are above 20 mph or so, however, the MINI E is responsive in ways that you don’t expect. Let me just say that I had some fun with an M3 the other day, and he didn’t have as much fun as I did.
As I’ve explained before, I almost never touch the brake pedal. I have had to reprogram my brain to stop my foot from moving to the brake pedal every time I need to slow down, but I have done it. Not only does it now seem natural, I believe it is a safer way to drive allowing for quicker response times in traffic. I have read comments online suggesting that eliminating coasting significantly reduces energy efficiency but remember that these brakes are regenerating power – up to 20%.
WHAT RANGE DO YOU GET?
I’m still having fun with #111 so I am getting about 95-100 miles on a full charge. But I believe that I’ll be able to increase that by smoothing out my driving habits. In the near future, I plan to maximize the driving range on a single charge and I will of course write about it here.
Charges: 4 (still easy)
Test Drives for Friends: 18
Problems: Not enough time to give test drives
Top Speed: Ask the M3 guy
Speeding Tickets: 0
Visits to the Gas Station: 0
Electric Bill: Too early to know
Thanks for all the congratulations and wonderful comments. They are much appreciated.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
I was also interviewed by Chris Woodyard at USA Today for an online photo and article that will appear in tomorrow's online edition. There may be a print article later in the week. I believe the article can be found in the Money section of USA Today. I will post a link to the article when it becomes available.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
When I first approached the car, someone had just pulled up from another test drive and I heard a fan near the rear of the car. I can remember thinking that this fan is clearly cooling the batteries and that I will certainly hear it inside the cabin. For the record, I was wrong.
Before I got my turn, however, I had to put my name on a list behind 5 other drivers and wait. I spent the interim period getting to know some of my fellow Pioneers and sitting in a few of the "old-fashioned" gas powered MINI's on the showroom floor. They were nice to be sure; but they were no MINI E.
Once I finally got behind the wheel, everything felt natural. With very little instruction from Nadine (my MINI co-pilot), I had the car powered up and ready to go. Just one thing, it didn't sound like the car was on. There was not the least bit of noise - nothing. Besides the lights on the dashboard, the only other indication that the car was ready to go was a slight turn of the steering wheel that caused the power steering to kick in and turn the tires. A push of the pedal and we were off (notice I didn't say "gas" pedal).
There were three things I observed in the first 30 seconds of my test drive. First, the acceleration was extremely smooth. All cars, regardless of power source, should operate and feel like this. Second, you do not need to use the brake at all. Yes, that's right, at all. The foot brake is purely for fast or emergency braking needs, otherwise the regenerative braking system will do all the slowing you need right down to the stop light. Nadine assured me that when you are decelerating in this fashion, the brake light comes on to let other drives know you are slowing down - good thinking. Finally, the car is so quiet.
Once I was on the open road, I was able to really enjoy the full benefit of a high-torque engine and the electricity available to make it run. The acceleration is so incredibly smooth with the noticeable absence of gear changes and the power that comes from this great, albeit slightly de-tuned, engine. It feels a bit like a roller coaster at launch. While highly aggressive drivers might want more power, there is plenty available to scare most passengers at almost any speed. Off the line, the car springs into action if you demand it easily hitting the estimated 0-60 time of 8.5 seconds. However, once you're at 30 mph or so, jumping on the pedal will boost you to 70 mph probably quicker than many exotics.
Gone is the growl of the combustion engine and the sense of speed you get from an increasingly noisy run through the RPM's. Instead, all you hear in the cabin is the slightest jet-like whine coming from the engine compartment (virtually inaudible and certainly unnoticeable if I wasn't seeking out the most subtle of sounds) and the unavoidable noise of the tires running across the pavement. Otherwise, the car slices through the wind as silently as its rounded nose will allow.
The rest of the car is pure MINI fun. Someone at BMW made a promotion-deserving decision to select the MINI as the first EV in their fleet. The spirit of the MINI coupled with the power-to-weight ratio of this vintage rally car is an excellent combination.
Not only will BMW/MINI have no problem selling large quantities of cars like this, they are going to have a difficult time prying mine away from me.
Like everyone else who has been on test drive, my only complaint is that I didn't get to take this one home.
Regarding an official delivery date for my MINI E, I am being told that they are readying a car for me now and that I should be able to take delivery either Tue or Wed of next week.
On a separate note, I've been told that driving a MINI makes you look and feel younger. I guess I better think about the kind of music I'm playing on my iPod at a stop light when someone asks me if this really is an EV. It might be time to hit the iTunes store.
Stay tuned for post-test drive impressions.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
As promised, the power cable was installed to my wall charger box this morning followed by a prompt inspection by the City of Los Angeles - Department of Building and Safety. According to my "cable guy", I am the first person to be 100% installed, signed off and ready for a car on the West Coast. I'm not sure how I got to the top of the list and, more importantly, I'm not sure if it will yield me access to a MINI E any sooner, but it is ready to go.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I've contacted Bob Smith MINI in Calabasas to determine when I could take delivery of my MINI E. No answer yet, but stay tuned.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
In the mean time, here is an interior picture of the Mini E.
Although I have not actually driven a Mini E yet, I did get a chance to sit in one at the Mini E Party on May 5. I don't know about you, but my first thought was bumble bee. Perhaps this could be a marketing vehicle for Wilson tennis balls? Nevertheless, that visual was quickly erased when I discovered how incredibly comfortable the seats are. BMW/Mini makes a very sporty and form-fitting seat that nestles you into thinking you could drive this car across the country. (Of course, you'd need a network of Mini E chargers to make that trip.) For drivers who are 6' 5" or so (I am 6'), you may stay away, but don't. The Mini has plenty of headroom and remains ergonomically friendly.
Having never owned a Mini before, I performed my typical push-button tactile scan of the interior. Why I have to push every button and make sure the lights work, I don't know, but I do. What I found is that this looks and feels like a true rally car with no apologies for being an electric prototype. The low automatic gear shift combined with a perfectly placed tachometer and racing steering wheel position this car for serious rally fun. Who needs back seats when you're a rally car anyway?
I found the speedometer placement unusual, yet strangely familiar. I own a 2008 Toyota Prius (yes, green nerd alert) and the speedometer is also centrally located on the dash. Without any real knowledge about automobile manufacturing, I attribute this to the fact that these cars are sold with both right and left driver positions; thereby helping to reduce manufacturing costs somewhat. However, if we look back at this 1967 Morris Mini Cooper S, you can see a similar dash configuration. The other thing I notice is that the 1967 Mini is missing Bluetooth and a navigation system. I feel much better now.
The rest of the interior has an excellent fit and finish. My only complaints are these. First, I'm not a fan of low button placement (e.g. heat and air conditioning controls) that require the driver to take his/her eyes off the road. Second, I would like to see a better iPod integration given that we're in 2009. An MP3 player interface should be standard equipment (not just an input jack) and allow you to hide/lock the device somewhere un-obvious. Of course this requires a user interface on the dash - more work and cost for sure.
You may be wondering about storage. Mini has already cautioned us to avoid storing anything behind the seats. This is because there are cooling vents located just behind the front seats. These vents serve to cool the 5,088 lithium ion batteries that will inevitably get hot during use. I understand that during testing there were no problems with the batteries overheating; of course I'm hoping for the same real-life experience. There is a "platform" area on top of the batteries and a small space behind the batteries for storage, but Mini reps told me not to put anything on top of the batteries for fear that unstrapped items could fly around the cabin. The small area at the rear is small, maybe enough room for groceries but not much more. However, I don't view this as a problem because it comes with the exciting territory of being a pioneer.
I'll leave you with one last impression...cup holders. In the top picture you'll see 2 cup holders, but in fact there is one more located at the back of the armrest. So here's the score, 3 cup holders, 2 seats. Mini should be doing a marketing deal with Starbucks for sure.One day soon, I'm going to need a name for my Mini E. Any suggestions?
Friday, May 8, 2009
These are not trivial issues, however, the solutions to these and related issues are well known and promise to make economical sense. Here is Marketplace Radio's take on the situation:
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
On Tue, May 5, the Mini E team held a spectacular orientation and party for all Mini E Pioneers in the LA area. The event was held at the California Science Center and for many (myself included) it was our first chance to actually sit in a Mini E. They brought 4 cars to the event including car #007 (you may recall from an earlier post that each car is numbered). It turns out that nobody will get 007 - not even James Bond. These 4 cars are all show cars and will NOT be given out to participants in the program. (The car in the picture is #056)
In terms of design, the cars are identical with one notable exception. The show cars have the large MINI E sticker on the side doors (as you can see in the picture) and the program cars will not have this sticker. However the rest of the car will be the same. They are very comfortable, even for the tallest of drivers. But remember that there are no back seats for passengers. Those seats are instead filled with 5,088 lithium ion batteries. There is a small trunk behind the batteries, but I don't think it's enough to carry even a single golf bag. This is really a 2 passenger commuter car.
What options come on the car?
The Mini E does not come with many frills. For example, there is no navigation system. There is no Bluetooth connection. There is no satellite radio either. The reason for this, is that for now they want to avoid adding features that could significantly reduce the life of the battery. There is an AM/FM radio with CD player and a plug for an iPod - thankfully. There is also heat and A/C on board.
Will movie stars be getting these cars?
The overriding answer to this question is NO. I am an excellent example of that; believe me, nobody is casting me in a movie any time soon. The Mini team has gone to great lengths to make sure that this program is not perceived as only for the Hollywood elite. They poured over applications looking for real people who are passionate about the implications of electric cars in our future society. Several of the team members I met this evening were able to recall details about my application and the reasons for my interest in the program. It was quite impressive. There is one notable exception that I know of, however. There is a very high profile movie star getting a Mini E (whose name I will respectfully leave out of my blog), but was accepted to the program because of his passion for electric cars and environmental issues. Furthermore, I understand that he truly plans to use the car for daily driving. I hope I run into him and if I do you can expect to see a picture with us and our Mini E's here one day.
I have not yet driven a Mini E. However, I learned something very interesting at this event. Because of the regenerative braking engineered into this car, there is virtually no reason to use the brake; even at a stop light. Apparently, when you remove your foot from the accelerator (notice I didn't call it the "gas" pedal), the car immediately begins to slow down. I'm sure this will take some getting used to, but I'm anxious to try it out. Check back for more details.
That's all for now. Thank you for following along.
Friday, April 24, 2009
As you can see in the picture, there isn't much to the box. There are very simple "on" and "off" switches on the front and a place for the power cable to hang. If you look closely, there is no power cable yet. That's because the cables are delayed - still. I don't think it's anyone's fault, it's just one of those thousand little things that are hard to predict when you start a program like this.
I learned from the installers that CFC has a list of 90 people who will receive these boxes in the greater LA area. I'm not sure if that's the complete list because I heard that 200 cars are being delivered to LA. I'll try to get to the bottom of that. However, CFC also told me that I was installation #4. Additionally, Mini tells me that because I was so early on the list coupled with the fact that they don't want to store these cars, I may get my car sooner rather than later.
Why do I need a special box to charge the Mini E?
The answer is time. It simply takes less time to charge the Mini E with a big box. Imagine filling a swimming pool with a fire hose compared to a garden hose - you get the picture. This box is 240 volts and 50 amps of power. Some large home appliances run on that kind of power, but your standard wall outlet is just 110 volts and usually 15 amps or so. With this box, it is estimated that the Mini E will charge in under 3 hours from a completely drained battery. Compare that to a normal outlet that will take approximately 23 hours for a similarly drained battery. These are estimated numbers only. Stay tuned for actual results once I receive the car.
What happens if I run out of battery power when I am not at home?
That is a good question. First of all, running out of battery power should come as no surprise to Mini E drivers. The range of the Mini E is estimated to be at least 100 miles under very realistic driving conditions and possibly 130+ under good conditions. There is a very visible gauge which indicates the status of the battery pack. However, if I do run out, I have some options. If I'm not in a hurry, I can always just plug the Mini E into a normal outlet and charge away. This is not ideal and certainly time consuming, but it does work. I'm told, however, that Mini will come rescue me if I'm really stuck with a tow truck or some similar option. These are valuable cars and nobody wants them left stranded.
When do you get the car?
Another great question and one I do not have an answer for as of yet. Once again, the Mini team is working to get these cables tested and delivered to users. Once I get my cable, and receive the final inspection on the charging box from the City of Los Angeles, I should see my car shortly thereafter. As of the date of this post, I estimate that to be by the end of May. But who knows?
Stay tuned for more updates.
The Mini's have arrived. Is that one mine? 3rd from the right on the top? Who knows?!?!?!?
This spy photo was taken on March 20, 2009 somewhere in "Central California" (probably in Oxnard where BMW has a storage and service facility).
Each car is individually numbered 1 through 500. So if you ever come across a Mini E take a look at the front side quarter-panel. Of course I will let you know what my number is when I get it.
Now, if I only knew when I'll be getting my EEEEEEEEEEEE.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Recently, Jay spent an entire week reviewing electric vehicles. Lucky for us, he took a close look at the Mini E including a test drive with a tire-locking slide at the end. While Jay seems to thoroughly enjoy the car and get the stage of development we're currently in, he can't help but think about how to "hop" up the car to make it faster. Here is the segment on the Mini E:
Earlier today I learned that Jay checked himself into the hospital. Jay, feel better soon!
Keep plugged in for more on the Mini E.
Unfortunately for me, my main electrical panel (400 amp service) is about as far away from my garage as you can get. There is plenty of electricity available for my purposes, but the electricians have to run a long lead into my garage. They should be done tomorrow. After that, the city of Los Angeles will need to approve the final installation of the unit and then we should be good to go.
When it is installed, I will post pictures here for all to see.
Keep plugged in for future updates.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
It all started last November when I attended the LA Auto Show. I noticed that Mini had introduced the Mini E, an all electric vehicle in prototype form (for now). A select group of people were going to be allowed to drive these cars for one year but there wasn't a lot more information than that. I wasn't a movie star. I have no cache whatsoever (as you all know). Nevertheless, I decided to apply for the program with the expectation of being turned down. There were thousands of applicants for only 500 cars and several of those cars had been allocated to cities for testing. After a long wait, I was finally notified that I was selected. What great news!
In case you haven't heard much about the Mini E program, here is what I know so far:
- One year lease with Mini (BMW) for $850 per month (yes, they want it back after a year, but there is a rumor that they might extend the lease beyond one year)
- The Mini E may qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit, but I have not confirmed this yet
- Comp/collision insurance is paid for by Mini (BMW), I have to pay for liability coverage which will be about $400 per year
- Mini (BMW) will install the electric charging station in my garage at their cost (however, I have to pay a bit extra because my main electric panel is so far from my garage - about $1,000)
- The electric box comes from Clean Fuel Connection (CFC), the same folks who installed the charging boxes for General Motor's EV1 and Toyota's RAV4
- My Mini E will be coming from Bob Smith Mini in Calabasas, but other dealerships will be distributing the cars as well
Since I do not have possession of the car yet, I cannot attest to the performance figures. However, I believe they are accurate.
Acceleration 0-60: 8.5 seconds
Top Speed: 95 miles per hour
Range: 100-120 miles in normal driving (150 miles in ideal situations)
Charge Time: 2.5 to 3 hours total
Batteries: 5,088 Lithium Ion batteries
Seats: 2 seats: 1 driver, 1 passenger. The rear seats are occupied with the battery pack. There is a smallish storage area behind the batteries.
Mini E Pioneers in Los Angeles have been invited to attend an orientation and "green" discussion on May 5 (at a secret location). At that meeting, we'll have a chance to sit in one of the 500 Mini E's and meet the other Pioneers.I am expecting to take possession of the car sometime in May. However, no delivery date has been communicated as of yet so stay tuned for more information.
Keep plugged in for more on the Mini E.