Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thank You CNBC

A big thank you to the producers and staff of "CNBC Reports" for inviting me to be on their show this evening. Thank you also to Dennis Kneale for an upbeat look at the MINI E. Next time Dennis, let me answer that last question on burning coal to charge EVs (stay tuned to a future blog where I talk about this - I'll try to get a Q&A with Dennis).

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

CNBC Reports

Tune into CNBC Thursday, May 28 at 5:00 pm PDT to see me interviewed about my MINI E. The program is CNBC Reports and they will be discussing the future of the automobile and the impact alternative fuel vehicles are having on the auto industry. They will ask me about my decision to join the MINI E program as well as other questions centering around my impressions of the car.


Week 1, All Fun

Press coverage aside, very few people notice anything different about MINI E #111. I have come to expect a double-take from most MINI drivers, but nobody has stopped me on the street so far. Even my kids aren’t that impressed. “…it doesn’t have back seats, where I am supposed to sit?” However, once people understand that the MINI E is an all-electric, zero-emissions car, it’s hard to leave the conversation without a look under the hood and a test drive. Below are answers to the two most common questions.

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%.

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.

Miles: 146
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

MINI E #111

The very first MINI E has been delivered to its very first customer. I am excited and humbled to report that the first MINI E was delivered to me this past Friday. As you will read below, these last few days have been a thrilling kick-off to my one year pioneering experience. There have been many pleasant surprises along the way including a very special car number - 111. Pictured above is my MINI E #111 on my front lawn near sunset this evening (more pictures will follow soon). However, being first to get the car means that I will be the first to return the car one year from now - but I'll try not to think about that right now.

Last Thursday, I went to Bob Smith MINI for my first test drive. Just before my test drive, the MINI team pulled me aside to give me several bits of good news. First, I had been selected to take delivery of the very first MINI E. While it wasn't clear why I was "the one," it didn't matter much as I was too shocked to ask questions.

As if that wasn't enough, the next bit of good news was that they were going to delivery my MINI E the very next day. I didn't care that I had to navigate ugly Friday traffic before a 3-day weekend in Los Angeles; I was going to be there no matter what.

Now the hook. With my permission, MINI wanted to put me in front of local and national media outlets to announce the new car. Of course, I was happy to oblige. They also asked me to hold off announcing this news on my blog until the press had a chance to begin their coverage (sorry for the delay). At no other time has BMW or MINI asked me to modify or script my blog in any way, but I could understand this request.

They told me that I would be getting a good car number, but I didn't know the number until I arrived at Bob Smith MINI on Friday around noon. Walking up to the dealership, I saw it. It had just rolled off the transport truck and had not yet been "dealer prepped." Nevertheless, all I wanted to see was the number. And there it was: 111. It seemed an appropriate number for the first delivery.

Friday turned out to be a busy day. Not only was I picking up my new car and going through MINI's first delivery of a MINI E, I was also being interviewed by NBC TV. Although I was unmistakably nervous, it was largely a stress-free experience and a lot of fun being a MINI E ambassador.

Once it was all done, however, I was rewarded with a nice long, slow but fun drive home. Again, it didn't matter to me that there was traffic; I enjoyed it the entire way. You might think that everyone would notice this special car. So far, no one has noticed. But that's okay, I know.
For you MINI E Pioneers out there, you will quickly get used to not having to use the brake pedal. It's not bad at all.

If you live in the Los Angeles area and want to see my interview, it will air on Tuesday, May 26 on KNBC Channel 4's Today in LA between 5:00 am and 6:00 am. There may be more after that, but that's all I know for now.

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.

I was also interviewed by the Palisadian Post, a local news paper here in Pacific Palisades. Their paper is out on Thursday's and will hopefully feature a picture of MINI E #111.

Finally, I was interviewed by the Manhattan Beach Sun for an article that will go out later this week.

I owe some big thank you's to the people at BMW/MINI not only for selecting me to be the first recipient of this amazing car, but also for making the delivery process run so smoothly. The customer service and apparent preparation was very well executed. Thank you especially to Nadine at MINI and Kirsten at Bob Smith MINI for all your help. Thank you also to PM (you know who you are) for being my chauffeur.
Miles: 81
Problems: None
Charges: 2 (very easy)
Test Drives for Friends: 11
Top Speed: Undisclosed
Speeding Tickets: 0
New Car Smell: Still there
Visits to the Gas Station: 0
Stay tuned for much much more.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Post Test Drive Impressions

I still have a smile on my face hours after my exhilarating test drive in a MINI E earlier today. I did my best to leave behind any preconceived notions about how the car might handle or feel given what I have read and heard about it. After my relatively brief 12 minute drive, I must say that it blew me away. It exceeded every possible expectation I had for the car.

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.


Test Drive Day

Later today I will be visiting Bob Smith MINI in Calabasas for my first test drive of the MINI E. From everything I've read and heard I expect this to be a fast and nimble car with a learning curve around the regenerative braking system. I have been told that there is literally no need to touch the brake pedal when approaching a stop light - this should be interesting. By the way, I understand that the brake lights will come on during certain periods of deceleration even without touching the brake pedal (more on that later).

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

Cable Ready!

Hurray! I am officially cable ready.

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.

If you look closely at the picture, you'll notice that the connector to the car looks identical to the prototype plugs shown at the auto shows and in the pictures online. Also, there is a black sticker on the charger box (top left corner) with step-by-step instructions on how to charge your MINI E.
In case you work for BMW/MINI and are reading this, I am ready to get my MINI E.
Stay tuned for more detailed photos of the charger accessories along with (hopefully) a picture of my MINI E.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cable Installation

I am happy to report that Clean Fuel Connection has contacted me and are coming tomorrow morning (Wed, May 20) to install the charger cable to the wall box. This is the last piece of the puzzle that will allow me to charge the car in my garage. They have also scheduled a visit tomorrow from the City of Los Angeles to issue the final permit on the charger box. This means that the charger box will be 100% ready to go by the end of the day. Now all I need is the car and one of those cool MINI baseball caps.

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

No Car Yet. Interior Impressions.

Still no ETA on the Mini E. I assume that the cable is the holdup. It's interesting to consider that the car is ready, the charger box is installed, and yet there is no cable. Why can't I just go down to Cables-R-Us and buy a cable? I wish.

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?

Stay tuned.


Friday, May 8, 2009

What Will Power the Car of the Future?

This week, the U.S. government pulled the plug on funding hydrogen fuel-cell research. It is widely felt by both analysts and scientists that ethanol is less efficient than electricity. So if electricity is the heir apparent, how do we address the many issues facing electric power such as clean generation, delivery, management and cost?

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:

Marketplace Radio


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mini E Orientation Party

I know what you're thinking...get out of the damn picture Peter so we can see the car. I had had a drink and couldn't help myself.

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.

Driving impressions:
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.
Here is the blog from Edmunds about the event:
Here are the pictures from the Mini E website:

That's all for now. Thank you for following along.