Friday, March 24, 2017

Incorrect State Of Charge Readings Causing Problems For i3 Owners

With the i3 REx, Reduced Power can occur if the operator continues to use more energy than the REx engine can produce. Examples of this would be continued high speed (over 70 mph) driving or long, sustained hill climbing. However this new problem that has plagued some i3 owners isn't caused by over-taxing the REx. 
Someone once said, "You could always tell the pioneers by the arrows in their back."  A recent software bug has cropped up that seems to be affecting many of the early build and higher mileage i3s that are mostly driven by the early adopters. The problem causes the car to go into reduced power mode, or in some cases shut down without warning when the display shows about 5% - 6% battery remaining.

In mid 2016, BMW released a software update, (version 16-07-501) that was supposed to correct the issue, but for some unknown reason it didn't work on all of the vehicles. They then sent out letters to the early buyers to inform that they need a software update. Recently though, the problem seems to have become more and more common, with many owners reporting it. I'm not 100% sure if that initial software update did what it was intended to, or if it actually exacerbated the issue, because it really seemed that the problem became more widespread once people had the new software installed. 

Perhaps it was just timing that made it seem that way because the cars are getting older and natural battery capacity loss is occurring. Also, the colder weather came and that could have played a role in magnifying the issue. BMW did realize the new software didn't do what it was supposed to, and quickly issued a new version, as well as a service bulletin (B61 20 16) which informed the service centers of the problem and how to correct it. However, some centers haven't been quick to pick up the problem, and I've had more than a few i3 owners ask me for help getting this problem resolved. 

There are probably dozens of service bulletins issued by BMW every month, so it's understandable that some centers might be a little slow to catch every one, but it's now more than six months into the problem and there are still many centers that aren't able to diagnose the problem when a car comes in with it, and that's just too long. One potential reason they were having trouble diagnosing the problem is that the symptoms of this issue are very similar to how the car may act under normal operation when the range extender is over-taxed. It's been well documented that the range extender has limits. If you drive at highway speeds up continuous steep inclines then there will come a point that the range extender cannot supply enough energy to maintain the speed. The car will then go into reduced power mode and slow down to about 40 mph. However, speed or excessive hill climbing isn't the root cause of this issue, it's actually an incorrect adaption value of the battery's state of health, even though the results are similar. 

A simple explanation of the problem is that the affected cars are incorrectly reading the battery's state of charge (SOC), and slightly overestimating it. This doesn't present any real problem unless you discharge the battery to well under 10%. At such a low state of charge, it's very important to have as accurate of a reading as possible, since every percent counts when you're trying to make a destination. Calculating the precise state of charge of a battery is very difficult, and with all EVs, the displayed SOC is a close approximation of the actual SOC, it's not a perfectly accurate value. 

The 2014 to 2016 i3s have about 19 kWh of usable battery capacity, when new. Like all batteries, as they age they lose capacity. If an i3 battery loses 10% of its original capacity, then the usable capacity is roughly 17 kWh. If the car doesn't properly recognize the loss of capacity, it can miscalculate the remaining state of charge. That is what's happening with some of the older i3s. The onboard battery management system (BMW calls it the SME High Voltage Battery Module) isn't adjusting quickly enough to the capacity loss, and it is overestimating the actual remaining level of charge. 

What this means is, if you drive an older i3, you may think you have slightly more range left than you actually do. There have been reports of a few i3 BEV drivers having the car slow down to reduced power mode, then crawling to a halt when the SOC gauge states that there is another 5% or 6% battery available, and 4 or 5 more miles of range still "in the tank." Most i3 BEV owners don't drain the battery to such a low state of charge, so they'd never even know their car is affected by this issue. 
A quick look at the display tells you all you need to know about this issue. My car states that it is at 5% state of charge, but  most of the 11 power blocks on the right side of the ePower gauge are grayed out. That means the car is in reduced power. At 5% SOC, I shouldn't be in reduced power unless there was a severe temperature issue (way too high or too low) with the battery or motor, which wasn't the case.  These power blocks shouldn't start disappearing until the state of charge is below ~2%. Since the power blocks are nearly all gone in this picture, my true SOC was probably at or below 1%. Even with the range extender running I could only do about 40 mph. 
It's not as simple for the i3 owners that have the ranger extender option, and the majority of people reporting the problem are indeed i3 REx owners. That's because unlike BEV owners, it's not unusual for them to drain their battery way down to only 6.5%, since that's the set point for the range extender to turn on. Because the SME module is slightly misreading the battery's state of health (capacity), the REx is actually turning on at around 1% to 3% while the car thinks it has 6.5% remaining. Once the REx does turn on, it doesn't operate at a high enough output to sustain driving at highway speed because it thinks the SOC is at 6.5%, while the battery is struggling to supply power at less than 3%. In some cases the car will continue to drive along at reduced power mode, but others have seen the car simply slow down and shut off shortly after the range extender operation began. 

In most cases a BEV owner will be very close to their destination when they realize they have the problem, since they only had a few miles of range remaining anyway - or so they thought. On the other hand, REx owners could be many miles from their destination, as they were relying on the range extender to allow them to complete their trip. Either way, it's not a pleasant experience, and I know because it happened to me back in December. I have one of the early 2014 i3's (the first REx delivery in the US, actually), and also one of the highest mileage i3s with over 67,000 miles on the odometer. Luckily, I was able to get home. Since I had heard of others experiencing this issue, I knew exactly what was happening. I took secondary roads home, kept the speed under 45 mph and I made it without a problem. However most other i3 owners aren't necessarily as informed as I am about the car, and they won't understand what's happening or how to mitigate the issue and get to a plug. 

The power bars are beginning to disappear with the REx running and a displayed 4% SOC. That shouldn't be happening, especially when driving slowly as I was. At that speed, the range extender should have no problem maintaining 6.5% all day long. 

I'm recommending all 2014 i3 owners that haven't already had their car reprogrammed, take it to their dealer to have it checked for this problem. Tell your service writer to look up service bulletins B61 20 16 and B61 20 17. These bulletins will instruct the dealers on how to correct the problem. You should also make sure you have software version 16-11-502 or later. in the meantime, if you drive a BEV i3, then try not to let the SOC drop below 8%. If you have a REx, closely monitor the power bars when the REx turns on. If you see any of them disappearing, then slow down and get to a charging station as soon as possible because you can't rely on the REx until this is fixed. If you have a 2015 or newer i3, then I wouldn't worry about this. By the time your car might experience these symptoms, you'll have had newer software updates that will proactively eliminate the problem before you've experienced it. 

Recently, BMW HQ has stepped up their game and has been reaching out to their service centers to make sure they are aware of the issue and can identify it quickly. However so far what I've witnessed is the uptake has been uneven; some dealers are on it, and others are still struggling to identify the issue when a customer comes in. The one thing I've noticed is that when the owner knows the exact issue, and gives the service writer the bulletin numbers, then in nearly every case I've followed it's been fixed on the first visit. Don't let the dealership tell you there's nothing wrong with the car. Forward them this post, if you must. There have been cases where the software update didn't work for some reason. When that happens, the dealership needs to connect the car to BMW HQ and perform a remote IRAP session. The IRAP reprogramming will definitely resolve the issue if the software update doesn't.

I know this because many i3 owners reach out to me for advice with their car, often when there's an issue. In this case, I've had more than a couple dozen i3 owners ask if I could help them out. They have been driving the car for more than two years now, so they know this isn't how it usually works. Yet, when they bring it in for service, often the service team tells them there's nothing wrong. Here's an example of what one service center told an i3 REx owner that had the issue once while driving, and another time when he tried to turn it back on to continue driving:

Hi Xxxxxx,

"It appears that you are driving the car down to a very low charge.  Once it is stopped, the charge is so low that it will not let you go anywhere. They’ve told me that when the range extender kicks in, it does not charge the battery.  It keeps the battery charged to get you another 10-30 miles down the road depending on driving conditions.  The vehicle will reduce power and loads to help get the battery to last a little longer, how I understand it.  But after you reach your destination, the car needs to be charged."

That's just an incorrect diagnosis, and not really a proper explanation of how the range extender works. The only reason the state of charge is too low when the vehicle stopped is because of this problem. Under normal operation, the REx will keep the SOC above the low charge threshold that prevents startup. The fact that the owner can drive it to the point that it won't restart should immediately be a red flag that there's a problem. In the case of this issue, the range extender is actually working properly. Its operation is based on the state of charge. The lower the state of charge, the harder the REx works to produce energy to maintain the SOC. If the car is telling the REx that there's more than 6.5% SOC, than the REx won't turn on. But if reality there's actually less than 1% SOC, then the car won't turn on. The misdiagnosis and improper response to the customer is really a microcosm of the challenges dealerships have dealing with a car like the i3 REx, that operates unlike any other car in production today.
An i3 with the range extender option exposed. The electric motor and power electronics are on the left, with the jumper cables attached. The REx motor is on the right under the black heat shield.
There may be some adventurous i3 owners who want to cheek for themselves if their car has this problem. The only way to test it, is to exhaust the battery and see if the issue appears. The good thing is you don't necessarily have to wait until you're stuck to see if you are about to go into reduced power mode. The ePower display will let you know before it's too late. There are 11 small blocks on the right side of the driver's display screen. (See pictures of the power blocks above) Under those blocks is the word "ePower." As the car begins to go into reduced power mode, one by one the blocks disappear, starting from the top. To test if you have the problem, you want to:

A) Drain the battery down below 7% SOC, and then 
B) Keep driving but watch the ePower gauge. 

If you see the ePower blocks disappearing from the top, before your SOC drops below 3.0%, then you probably have this problem. You shouldn't experience any reduced power with more than 3.0% state of charge. To protect yourself from getting stranded during this test, do it within a mile of a charging station, or drive up a long hill -- you can always turn around and descend to regen some power back into your battery. If you get the battery down to 3.0% SOC with no loss of ePower blocks, then you don't have the issue. To display the battery SOC, tap the BC button on the end of the turn signal stalk and watch the upper left corner of the driver's display. However, even if you don't seem to have the problem, I'd advise having your dealer update your version of software and check the state of health adaptation value. 

Finally, I don't want owners to freak out over battery capacity loss. This is completely normal for any electric car and that's not the problem here. The car needs to properly adjust to the capacity loss over time to give a proper state of charge reading and therein lies the cause of this issue. Once BMW updates the software, there is no issue. As I mentioned above, I have close to 70,000 miles on my i3 now and my battery is nearly as robust as it was when it was new. My range seems just as good as it was in May of 2014 when I took delivery. Perhaps I've lost 4 or 5 miles or range but honestly, I can't tell. BMW has an eight year, 100,000 mile battery capacity warranty for the i3 that guarantees at least 70% capacity. Based on what I've seen so far, I highly doubt that they will have many claims on that warranty, if any. 

Hit tip to fellow i3 driver Chris Campbell for providing information used here, and for prodding me to post about the problem so other i3 owners affected by the issue know what to do. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

BMW ChargeNow EVgo Expansion Underway In U.S.

BMW continues to make news with regards to electric vehicle infrastructure and customer charging programs. Coming off yesterday’s Nissan partnership news, today BMW has announced the expansion of their ChargeNow by EVgo program.

The ChargeNow by EVgo program was initiated by BMW in November of 2015, and was active in 25 ChargeNow DC Fast EVgo metro markets. The expansion now includes the entire national network of DC Fast charging station in 33 states covering more than 50 metro areas. BMW claims that the now-expanded network will be accessible for over 92% of new i3 owners. There are a number of different options and aspects of the ChargeNow EVgo program, including two years of unlimited, free DC Fast charge access to BMW i3 owners that purchased or leased a new i3 from November 1st, 2015 onward.  

From the press release:

ChargeNow by EVgo no-cost and specially priced public charging
programs - exclusively for BMW i and iPerformance drivers - now
available in more than 50 metro areas across the U.S.

   * ChargeNow by EVgo provides no cost and low cost public charging
      access programs designed for BMW i and BMW iPerformance owners
      across the entire EVgo network– now including charging stations in 33

   * This expansion enables more than 92 percent of new BMW i3 drivers to
      enroll in ChargeNow DC Fast for 2 years of no-cost charging. Owners
      of Certified Pre-Owned BMW i3 and i8 vehicles can enroll for 1 year of
      no-cost charging at EVgo stations.

   * Drivers can easily enroll at using their
      ChargeNow card, for access to the nearly 670 EVgo DC Fast charging
      stations, plus Level 2 chargers, now available across the country.
Cliff Fietzek, Manager of Connected eMobility at BMW of North America , stands in front  of a BMW i3 at the 2015 LA Auto Show. 
 “The pace at which we have been making charging infrastructure partnership announcements recently shows that BMW continues to aggressively pursue the company’s commitment to our e-mobility customers, with our steadfast support for growing the public charging infrastructure across the U.S.,” commented Cliff Fietzek, Manager Connected eMobility at BMW of North America, LLC. 

“Using their ChargeNow card, our BMW i3, i8, and iPerformance drivers now have access to the entire EVgo charging network. By supporting the continued growth of publicly available DC Fast charging across the U.S., BMW is helping more drivers make the switch to an e-mobility lifestyle with confidence.”
The EVgo DC Fast charge network now includes 668 Fast charge stations. That number will soon exceed 700 with the 50 additional stations that will be installed as part of the BMW/Nissan partnership.
The EVgo network currently consists of 668 dual-port (CHAdeMO & Combo) 50kW DC Fast charge stations and will soon increase by another 50 with the BMW / Nissan partnership that was announced yesterday. BMW had previously partnered with Volkswagen and ChargePoint to install roughly 100 DC Fast Charge stations for the East Coast & West Coast Express Charging Corridors which were completed in 2016 and has expressed the willingness to partner with any OEM willing to invest in EV charging infrastructure.

Complete details for the ChargeNow by EVgo program can be found on BMW’s ChargeNow USA website.

Friday, December 23, 2016

BMW i3 Deep Dive Book Now Available

The BMW i3 is anything but the average car. Not only is it BMWs first electric offering, it's also the only car available today that has an optional auxiliary power unit; the range extender. It's really unlike any car that's ever been available, and unsurprisingly, it's often misunderstood.

Most people really don't understand how the range extender works; what it can do, and what its limits are. This is, unfortunately even true for many of the client advisers selling them! So getting information on how the  car works out there is very important. BMW has produced a series of videos that help to explain the i3. While very helpful to new owners, they don't go into too much of the technical details that many people are also interested in.
The book is filled with graphs on charging, range, power, consumption, etc
Enter BMW i3 owner and engineer, David Bricknell. Earlier in the year, David published a book called "Electric Vehicles and the BMW i3" that was full of technical information, including detailed charts and graphs. The success of the book inspired him to create a 2nd edition, which provides an even deeper dive and more information than before. David kindly asked me if I would wrote the foreword for this edition, and I happily accepted.

Whether you're an i3 owner, a data junkie, or just an all around an electric vehicle enthusiast, I believe you'll find the book very interesting and extremely informative. There's so many technical details in there, I bet the BMW engineers who designed the i3 could learn something by reading it! Electric vehicles are very different than the cars we've all gotten used to driving. The more information we have on these vehicles the better understood they'll be, which will lead to faster adoption.

I'd gladly pay $20 for this book, but the best part is you don't have to pay anything. David is offering it for free. It's available for download on iTunes or for reading on issuu. Please leave comments below after reading it. I'd like to know your thoughts and suggestions on what could be added to make it even better. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

BMW's ChargeForward Initiative Seeks Participants

Do you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and drive a BMW i3, i8, X540e, 330e or 740e? If so, would you like to get paid to participate in BMW i's award winning ChargeForward initiative, while helping to shape the future of electric vehicle charging?

BMW is seeking 250 individuals to participate in the second phase of the ChargeForward initiative, which will last approximately 24 months. The first phase of the program is now complete, and volunteers are needed for the second phase, which begins in January, 2017. This phase includes vehicle to grid managed charging, and stationary energy storage systems which utilize repurposed MINI-E battery packs. Back in 2015, this program won the ESNA Innovation Award for EV Battery 2nd Life Energy Storage System.

From the ChargeForward website:

The second phase of ChargeForward, from January 2017 through December 2018, is expected to demonstrate expanded benefits of charging optimization through management of both current and projected future charging events (in contrast to single charging event management). This approach offers utilities and grid operators even greater flexibility in assigning vehicle charging load to times and locations where it is most needed. ChargeForward returns some of the resultant savings to customers as a way to reduce the total cost of EV ownership.

Participants will be compensated for their involvement, and can earn up to $900 for their effort. Here's how the compensation will be awarded:

· $300 paid early 2017 soon after launch
· Up to $300 paid in early 2018. The exact amount will vary, based on individual participation in managed charging (The fewer times a participant “opts out” to begin charging immediately, the better) and participation in any related research like focus groups and questionnaires that are part of the program.
· Up to $300 more in early 2019, once the program is complete.

It's encouraging to see BMW investing time and money in vehicle to grid (V2G) and EV battery 2nd life use. This is further proof BMW is really serious about the future of electric vehicles. I encourage anyone eligible to inquire about participating in the program. Why wait for the future of EV charging when can help shape it today?

Interested? Have questions? You can get all the program details by following this link to the ChargeForward website.

Friday, December 9, 2016

BMW And ReachNow To Offer i3s As Building Amenity in NYC

BMW has long said that BMW i wasn't created exclusively for developing and manufacturing their plug in electric vehicles; that it would also be devoted to developing sustainable mobility solutions as well.

Car sharing is one of those mobility solutions that are getting a lot of attention lately, and not just from independent companies like Uber and Lyft. OEMs are also getting into the car sharing game, and GM’s Maven car sharing service is now in 13 US cities. BMW’s car sharing arm was initially called DriveNow, but was recently brought entirely in house (DriveNow was a partnership between BMW i and Sixt) and rebranded as ReachNow.
The three i3's and two 3-Series sedans used for the car sharing program were parked in front of The Solaire for the announcement on Thursday, December 8th. 
ReachNow was launched earlier this year in Seattle, Washington. They then added service to Portland, Oregon and recently became available in Brooklyn, NY. However yesterday, BMW i and the Albanese Organization announced a partnership to bring ReachNow vehicles to two luxury high rise buildings located in lower Manhattan’s Battery Park City, the Solaire and the Verdesian. There will be five ReachNow vehicles - two BMW 3-Series sedans, and three BMW i3s that will be available exclusively for the residents of the two sister buildings.

Residents simply sign up for ReachNow service and pay only as they use the vehicles. They then pay 41 cents per minute and there’s no sign up or annual fee. The resident simply reserves an available car and picks it up from the building's parking garage. While forty one cents per minute may sound expensive, one has to consider the fact that the end used never has to worry about maintenance, fuel or insurance expense.  Considering that, and the fact that you get the use of a $40,000+ BMW, it’s actually very reasonable.

Over 40 residents of the building were given a chance to drive the cars, and within a week, ReachNow had already recorded 100 reservations for these vehicles. One resident of The Solaire even said that he would consider selling his own car now that the building will be offering ReachNow vehicles as an amenity.
BMW picked up the cost to install a DC fast charger in the parking garage of The Solaire. This will insure the i3s will be quickly recharged between use.  
The parking garage at the Solaire, has three EV charging stations to keep the i3s in the fleet charged. BMW paid for the installation of a DC Fast charge station to add to the two existing Level 2 charging stations that were already there. The parking attendants will be responsible for keeping the i3s charged for the residents, and it seemed to me that they were ready to do so. When I arrived for the press announcement in my i3, the attendant immediately recognized the car was an i3, and told me he’d plug it in for me immediately, which he did.
Steve Banfield, ReachNow's Chief Executive explains the partnership and the program details at the press gathering. 

Steve Banfield, Chief Executive for ReachNow, said that every rideshare car in their fleet helps to remove three to ten cars from the streets; a fact supported by urban planners and transportation professionals. Judging from the initial response of the residents in these buildings, I’d say this is going to be an amenity that other building managers begin to look into. While this may be the first partnership of this kind in New York, I suspect it won’t be the last.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Born Electric Guest Post: Meet Francis From Quebec

The following is a guest post written by i3 owner Francis. I started the Born Electric guest post series back in 2014 to give the readers here a look into the lives of i3 owners around the world. To view past Born Electric guest posts, follow this link: Born Electric

Hello, my name is Francis and I was born electric two years ago on November 13th, 2014.

I opted for the BMW i3 with the range extender and I have been sharing my electric experience with my fellow Quebecers. I even did a lengthy post after my first year that covers pretty much everything. I'm also an owner that didn't code my i3 to change the range extender behavior in North America (some would call me crazy and yet I never had a problem with the REX).

So why post again after my 1-year report? Simply because this year was everything but usual. One question we all asked ourselves, what would happen if my driving habit changed, would my electric car still meet my needs? Ever thought about a family emergency? Would my i3 allow me to make it in time? That’s what happened to me, more about it later.

In my first year, 64% of all my driving was city driving and 36% was highway driving, mostly going to see my folks. In the first year, the DCFC network was just starting to be deployed, so the REX ended up being very handy on those 650 miles round-trip. But this year, it's completely reversed and I did 60% on the highway and 40% city driving. So how did my i3 perform since it was designed to be a "city" car?

DCFC: Yes they matter, they change everything

So did I improve my numbers? YES! The main reason isn't the i3. In the 2 years I had it, my province invested in a cohesive deployment of DCFC creating charging corridors. Number of DCFC in Québec when I ordered my i3: 1 CHAdeMO only. Number of DCFC as of today: Over 60 with both CHAdeMO & CCS. Boy did I bet on politicians to deliver and they did! But more important, they are distributed along key highways (East-West, North-South) where they are needed the most. From Ottawa to Percé, it's over 1000Km/650miles of road where you can find a DCFC well positioned.

What we may lack in quantity, we gained in quality of positioning. And more are planned in 2017. The federal, the provincial and local governments are investing, the momentum is there and no election in view to stop or question these planned investments.

 DCFC Network in Québec in 2014
Now in 2016. The DCQC Stations have been popping up all over since I got my i3.
This really makes it possible to take longer trips without even needing the range extender.

The direct impact of this added infrastructure was: In the first year I used 35 gallons (132 litres) and this year I only used 25 gallons (91 litres) despite doubling the number of miles on the highway where the REX is mostly solicited.

But where the i3 does make a difference; having the REX also means you can optimize the way you use DCFC. BEV owners will always charge a little more than they need to reach the next DCFC or their destination, meaning longer wait time, longer trip. Having the REX, I only charge just enough to reach the next DCFC (or the 2nd next) without being afraid of being short on electrons. That means less time charging and more optimal charging because as you know, the i3 will accept more power and recharge faster when it's empty (like all EV for that matter).

Compared to my first year where I did long stretches on the REX, now it gets solicited the way it was designed for, to give you a little boost to reach your destination when you need it.

DCFC charging isn’t free in Québec, it’s 10$/hours. A 20 minutes charging session will cost you less than 4$. That’s all in CAN$ of course. So in the last 2 years, how much use have I done? In the first year, 32 DCFC sessions, this year, 87 DCFC sessions.

Some may say it's expensive, but compared to gas, it's still less expensive (at least here in Quebec where gas is taxed). The following table also shows you the impact the increased number of DCFC had. You can see the ratio EV/GAS increasing over time.

 Highway driving for the last 2 years (US)
Highway driving in the last 2 years (metric)
Stats, stats & more stats

In the last 2 years, I kept track of all my mileage and all my expenses to check if my initial assumption was true, that driving an electric car is not only good for the environment but also good for my bank account.

As you will see I'm comparing with my previous car, a Nissan 370Z Roadster. I can already see eyes rolling and some saying this not a fair comparison. Well for me it is, both car cost me about the same before provincial and federal taxes (I bought both cars, leasing conditions were bad for both). The enjoyment and driving dynamics are about the same. I could have compared to a BMW X1 fully equipped, but I opted to compare something I knew. (As a FYI, electricity cost is around 0,08$CAN/kWh and Gas is around 1.30$/litres (super))

With all that being said, below you will find my dashboard that I keep updated to track how efficient the i3 is and how much money I have been saving.

Click on an image to enlarge

It's been 2 years and new options are available, what will I do?

That's a question I'm starting to get more often. Will I upgrade to the 2017 BMW i3 with the 33kWh pack? Will I change for the Bolt? Did I put money down on the Tesla Model 3? The answer is NO to all of those questions, let me explain why for each.
The 2017 i3 now comes with a larger battery than the original i3, and adds about 40% more electric range. 
2017 BMW i3 33kWh: Would I like to have the increased range on long trip? Totally, but the reality is that it wouldn't change much of the numbers you have seen before. I still need to use the same number of kWh to get to my destination, meaning I may stop less often but when I will, I will stop longer. So instead of stopping 3 times for 20 minutes each time, I'll stop twice for 30 minutes each time. I may be able to reduce my usage of the REX a little more, but it's not worth taking the financial hit (the i3 depreciation). Do I recommend the 2017 BMW i3 33kWh with the REX? Totally! It's a unique package on the market, a fail-safe flexible solution.
With an EPA rated 238 miles of range, the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV is a compelling option. 
2017 Chevrolet Bolt: I think GM pulled a very good product out of their hat (based on early reviews). With the DCFC network being built up, range limitation isn't an issue anymore, but I would still need to stop 45 minutes to 1 hour each way in my 650 miles trips.
The Tesla Model 3 is at the top of many EV enthusiasts want list. But when will Tesla actually deliver it?
20?? Tesla Model 3: Well, I don't want to steer any controversy, but the reality is, before we see the first delivery in our area, it may be 2019, 2020. It will all depend on Tesla capacity to increase its delivery numbers on a new model. I admire Elon Musk will and vision, but meeting delivery dates isn't part of Tesla mantra yet. But the same observation I did for the Bolt applies. The Model 3 will need higher density of Supercharger until then, Model 3 will rely on the DCFC network and will recharge at the same rate as the Bolt.

So at the moment, I'm keeping my i3, it's a fun car to drive, it's the perfect city car and it meets my needs, I will continue to check the arrival of new EV model and in 2020, options will be a lot greater than the ones I had in 2014. My answer will probably change at that time. And that's the good news here, more options for different needs will push EV forward.

Can an EV live up to the changes in your life?

Also, one question most people have is: Will my EV be there when I need it the most? On the very active BMW i3 Facebook group, occasionally we see someone posting they are selling their i3 because they changed jobs, they moved, etc... So is it true, because if it is, EVs future isn't bright.

My i3 is my only car, no backup plan, so what happens if my habits changes? Well it did this year. This part is really personal, but I want to share this experience, as painful as it can be. My mother got ill last winter and I did my best to be at her side as she was going through it.

That meant doing a lot of driving from Montréal to Québec City (about 325 miles round-trip) and back to my folks (650 miles round-trip), over 6000 miles doing highway driving where failure wasn’t an option. In May, my brother called me, it was time to go back to give one last goodbye to this amazing woman that was my Mom. Driving back, at one point I decided to let go of the EV driving and ask REX to get me back to her faster, because that’s one of the key reason I added the REX, to have the option and the REX delivered, again. I did make it in time. She left us a few days after.

You think about this kind of situations when you buy a car, but when confronted to it, the REX that some people like to ridicule, it just makes sense. It's not just the freedom flap, it's the peace of mind flap.

Thanks you for reading and I hope it will help undecided people looking into driving an electric car. You can read previous posts here:

Born Electric 2014
My 1 Year Review

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Flawed Volkswagen Dieselgate Settlement & How to Fix it

While I typically keep a narrow focus on the content of this blog, that being to obsessively cover the BMW i3 electric car, occasionally I'll post something if I feel it has particular importance to the electric vehicle industry as a whole. Such is the case with this entry. For those of you unfamiliar with the Volkswagen "Clean Diesel" scandal, it basically amounts to the fact that Volkswagen cheated the emission testing in place and flooded the market with highly-polluting vehicles that were improperly called "Clean Diesel".

As a result, the Volkswagen Group was fined a record amount of money and forced to buy back or fix nearly half a million cars in the US which were operating in conflict with US emission laws. As part of the penalty, Volkswagen was ordered to pay a 2 billion dollar penalty, which would be used to fund zero emission infrastructure, and improve access to ZEVs.

On face value, the proposed Dieselgate settlement initially seemed like it might provide the monumental boost to public electric vehicle charging infrastructure that many have been waiting for. The Volkswagen Group has agreed to pay $14.7 billion for intentionally deceiving the public, and selling “Clean Diesel” vehicles that emit up to 40 times the legal limit of certain pollutants. There are three parts to the settlement:

Buybacks and financial settlements to owners of 466,000 affected vehicles: $10.0 billion

• Compensation for the illegal cars' environmental impact: $2.7 billion

• Fund new infrastructure and access for zero-emission vehicles: $2.0 billion

However, as the October 18th court date approaches at which time U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer is set to decide whether to grant final approval to the settlement, the details of the infrastructure part of the settlement are, to say the least, concerning.

As it stands now, the Volkswagen Group will have little oversight as to how they spend the 2 billion dollars earmarked for infrastructure and improving access to ZEVs. (CARB will be reviewing and approving the California projects and the EPA will be doing the same for the rest of the country) I question why Volkswagen will have ANY discretion as to how the penalty funds are spent, let alone near complete control over it. Volkswagen isn’t in the electric vehicle infrastructure business. In fact, they are barely in the electric vehicle business as it is today. The only OEM that I’d actually trust to do infrastructure implementation properly would be Tesla, because their business model depends on it, and they’ve been doing it very successfully for half a decade already.

What if Volkswagen decides to start their own EV infrastructure company and use the funds to pay their own subsidiary to manufacture and install the equipment? (*EDIT: I've since read the full proposed transcript and I don't believe they could actually do this, so that's one good thing) We could end up with substandard equipment, and a network that has poor customer service, inadequate repairs and outrageous pricing models. Even if they were to do it right, and the company was successful, why should Volkswagen benefit from the penalty? What if they offered free charging for the first couple years so they could put all the competition out of business and then raised the prices to unreasonable levels? Indeed, you could do a lot of damage with 2 billion dollars and this settlement doesn’t provide any safeguards against that in its current form.
A ChargePoint DC Fast charger rapidly filling up my BMW i3s battery
Last week ChargePoint asked the courts to intervene, and Judge Breyer accepted the plea. It’s ChargePoint’s position that the way the settlement is currently constructed, Volkswagen is “solely responsible for every aspect of selecting the National (ZEV) investments…including timing and locations”. Among concerns that Volkswagen isn’t experienced enough in the electric vehicle infrastructure business to have sole discretion over sure a large fund, Chargepoint is also concerned that Volkswagen will have too much say over the future of electric vehicle charging. Since the amount of funds available in the fund is so great, Volkswagen could dictate the fate of many of the existing companies and decelerate advancements, often fostered by fair competition: “If the settling defendants become the sole source for electric vehicle infrastructure, it will stifle innovation in industries designed to support electric vehicle recharging.”

I have to agree with Chargepoint on this issue. I don’t believe it’s in the best interest of the electric vehicle industry to allow Volkswagen to have sole discretion over how to spend these funds.

Personally I’m not rooting for ChargePoint over Car Charging Group, or for EVGo over Greenlots, etc. I believe the market will sort that out, and eventually the stronger networks which provide the best equipment and customer service will emerge as the dominant forces. However, the enormity of this settlement could have the opposite effect, and allow VW to crush the competition before the natural evolution and survival of the fittest has time to take effect. If the stronger companies of today aren’t even allowed to bid on projects funded by this penalty, they could end up dying before they have the chance to flourish and provide the marketplace with superior products and services.

I’d like to see an independent council appointed to oversee the infrastructure fund implementation, so as to not skew the marketplace. There should be appointees from various industry stakeholders, EV advocacy groups, like Plug in America, The Sierra Club, Clean Cities Coalitions, etc. Let the council decide how the money is spent and always offer open, competitive bidding taking in consideration more factors than simply the lowest bid. The council will be much more effective than Volkswagen could ever be, and we'll probably get more robust equipment and better customer service as a result.

Volkswagen should not have near complete control over the money they were fined. They’ve proven beyond any reasonable doubt that they cannot be trusted when it comes to clean air initiatives. There’s too much at stake here. We have an opportunity to really advance the proliferation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the US, and provide the industry with a much-needed boost. This settlement should be modified to allow competitive bidding for all projects, to follow a master plan for national electric vehicle DC fast charging, and to add proper oversight and transparency.