Progress report from BMW on the Mini-e

As noted elsewhere on this site, I try to separate prediction and anticipation of what kind of vehicle could be built from analysis based on actual electric cars on the road.  This narrows the field considerably, because only two (currently available) electric cars have been shipped in any volume:  the Tesla Roadster and Mini-e.  I have drawn on results from the Tesla fleet, including Tesla’s data and reports from owners, in several of the articles on kilowatt-car, but it’s only recently that BMW started releasing information on the Mini-e.

The slide show is here if you would like to to through it yourself.  And to add some colour, here’s an owner’s blog.

To give the bare bones, BMW had 450 Mini Coopers converted using a design and components from AC Propulsion in  Southern California.  AC Propulsion is a small company but a significant player in electric vehicles – as well as providing know-how used in the Tesla, the founders had a hand in the EV-1 and several other seminal electric cars.  AC Propulsion provides the motor, controller and the battery pack design (35 kWh gross, 30 kWh usable for a 100 -120 mile range).  The car apparently drives like a petrol Mini, but the battery pack takes up the rear seat space, so it becomes a 2-seater.

Since the  Minis were delivered in June, the report covers the first 4-5 months of use for about 200 drivers in the New York/New Jersey area and another 200 around Los Angeles.  There are two main conclusions:  setting up charging points is difficult, and range anxiety is significant.

First, the charging.  The BMW comment is “BMW/Mini is in the car business, BEV (battery electric vehicles) put us in the infrastructure business”.  As it can take 24 hours to fully charge the Mini-e from a 12A 120V domestic wall outlet, they set out to install a 240V outlet in all garages where a Mini-e would be parked overnight.  This brought up all the usual permitting and contractors’ issues for installation, and also some helpdesk-type issues when the cars wouldn’t charge for whatever reason.  While it’s easy to dismiss objections, I would hope that these were teething troubles that loomed large at the beginning of the programme, and will be forgotten at the end of the 12-month lease period.  And perhaps the owners (and fleet/municipal operators) expected BMW to take care of it, as the cars were leased not purchased – I have not detected anything like the level of concern from Tesla owners, who are indeed owners rather than renters of their cars.  But the concern must be noted.

The second major concern was range anxiety.  This is a well-documented trait:  I discuss different aspects in a ‘changing behaviours’ piece on kilowatt-car, but it has not yet been overcome.  Even though the Mini-e has a practical range of 100 – 120 miles (around 250 Wh/mile with the 30 kWh power pack) drivers were concerned they would be stranded.  BMW’s suggestion is to increase the number of charging stations at work and other spots where people might park for some hours while away from home.  This could certainly help, but I would also be interested to hear whether range anxiety can wear off over time:  will Mini-e drivers get more confident the car will last through the day once they have a few months’ experience?  We must hope they will, or electric cars will be heavier and more expensive than they need to be, because of excessively large battery packs.

The third interesting topic is what is not mentioned in the BMW report – the driving experience.  To be fair, BMW seems to be actively surveying their user base, and probably has this information, but one must assume there were few customer complaints about performance and handling.  This is to be expected in a well-specified electric vehicle (a 150 kW, 200 hp motor), but it should be celebrated.  The blog I linked above makes special mention of the very smooth acceleration and deceleration (under regenerative braking) with a ‘Cadillac ride’ and no gear shifting.

The conclusions?  Great to drive, we need to see whether 100 miles is an adequate range, and electricians should be prepared to install many 240V outlets at homes and office parking spots.

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