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!


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hey, it's the MINI E guy

If you can get your hands on the print edition of the USA Today, you will find an article entitled "Electric Car MINI E Brings Fun to Max For It's First Driver".

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)
Questions: Countless
Fun Factor: 5 stars
Biggest Problem: Wife driving too fast (just ask the neighbors)