Monday, March 23, 2015

Born Electric Guest Blogger: Meet Steve from Washington

Hi! My name is Steve and I was born electric on August 15, 2012.

You highly intelligent, super savvy readers may be questioning my sanity. Or, at the very least, fact-checking. And those dubious thoughts are spot on. The above picture is me putting gas into a new kind of EV: a BMW i3. And those understanding of the i3 know that, in 2012, the i3 only existed as an internal tension at BMW between the maniacal engineers that thought a mass-market car could be made extensively with carbon fiber and the bean counters that believed BMW i was a financial money pit destined to ruin Team Bavaria. Eureka!

EV Bloodline

Our first three EVs were all-electric Nissan LEAFs. 
Back in the summer of 2012, we started replacing our gasoline-fueled family hauler fleet. The second LEAF came eight months later, making us an all-EV household. My wife and I defiantly and definitively proclaimed that we would never again visit a gas station. Then in 2014, I traded my beta test 2012 LEAF for a ready-for-market 2014 LEAF.  We were seemingly set with two very capable EVs in our garage: a 2013 Nissan LEAF SL and a 2014 Nissan LEAF SL.

Then the electric vehicle market expanded +1 in Washington state. BMW started selling its i3 in the State the latter half of 2014. By Christmas, I had one on an extended test drive. When we turned the i3 back over to the BMW dealership, we were conflicted. The i3, with its onboard gas generator, or Range Extender (REx), was far more capable as a transporting vehicle. However, Nissan's LEAF, with its CHAdeMo-equipped quick charging, was far more capable as an EV. 
Fallen LEAF

Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) Passenger Cell
Unless you are a bot scouring the Interwebs, you have correctly surmised that we ended up buying an i3. On March 12, 2015, we traded in my wife's 2013 LEAF for a BMW i3 REx. The i3 is unlike any vehicle on the road: carbon fiber, suicide rear doors, and series-hybrid purity. The features and headlines that make the i3 such an emotionally appealing vehicle are all present in our Bimmer. Yes, there are plenty of bits to get excited about with the car. However, the deciding factor in selling a LEAF for the i3 was the REx option. 

For the past three years, we have traveled far, but not wide, in a LEAF. We have shown that all-electric travel is quite possible the 1,500 miles between Kamloops, British Columbia and the U.S.-Mexico border. But EV travel (sans Tesla EVs) is only practically doable in a narrow 200 mile east-west corridor along the entirety of the West Coast.

Road Trip! A Coram Family tradition.
My wife and I have a long history of road trips...long before we had EVs, long before we had kids. Now that we have EVs and kids, we have naturally invoked our parental obligations of perpetuating traditions with our Littles. And, we've all but exhausted the territory that we can travel to by LEAF. From here on out, the i3 will be taking over as the primary road trip car. With that in mind, I wanted to prepare a day trip for the i3 that would serve as a suitable first, of many, REx adventures.

One of the great tests for EVs lies in day-tripping to the Olympic Peninsula from the Seattle area. I've done this trip twice with my children. The first attempt, ended in failure. The second a success, as we made it to Hurricane Ridge, a spectacular mountain region south of Port Angeles. What makes EV day travels to the Olympic Peninsula challenging is that the last ferry on the Kingston-Edmonds route departs at 11:00pm. In addition, there is not DC quick charging support, and only a limited number of Level 2 charging stations in the region. Basically, the furthest west a current generation LEAF can go in a day, from where we live in Lake Stevens, is Port Angeles.

The i3 REx faired much better. This is our report..
Topping off the 1.9 gallon gas tank!
We pulled out of the garage at about 7:00am, and made the ferry crossing and drive to Port Angeles by mid-morning. And after charging at a Sun Country-branded Clipper Creek High-Amp Level 2 (HAL2) charging station for a bit over an hour, we topped off the gas tank and continued west: Destination Cape Flattery 70+ miles away.

We made it to Neah Bay after about two hours of driving; WA-112 is not an interstate. The typical travel speed was about 45mph, and we had to watch out for the occasional herd of elk!
A herd of a few dozen elk crossed the road we were driving on!
The Makah Tribe, in the Neah Bay region, have started supporting electric vehicle tourism with several recent EVSE installations. The first, a HAL2 and dual Tesla High-Power Wall Chargers (HPWCs) are located in the town of Neah Bay. The second, another HAL2 and dual HPWCs are located at the Hobuck Beach Resort.

Both locations are glorious, in scenery and in EVSE support. In between these two gems, is a marvel in its own right: Cape Flattery. The Cape Flattery experience is second to none. It provides quintessential Pacific Northwest ocean views and kid-friendly hiking abound.

So, after trekking around Cape Flattery in the early afternoon, we let the kids play on the mile-wide Hobuck Beach, which has sand more reminiscent of a Hawaiian coastline than the typical pebbled Northwest affair.

Hobuck Beach: End of the road
By late afternoon, we were heading back east, towards Port Angeles, the Kingston-Edmonds ferry, and eventually home. Pulling into the garage at just past midnight, we were all exhausted, with both kids soundly asleep in the back of the i3. What was different about this trip: We covered 340 miles in a day (using less than 5 gallons of gasoline), and the kids were dead-tired because we had so much adventure outside of traveling in the car.

Tuckered out after a day of fun.
Road trips will forever be different for us, now that we have an i3 with REx. Whereas before, with a LEAF, every moment of the trip was in service of charging. The motto, "if it ain't movin', it better be chargin', " was not coined by somebody driving a hybrid, or Tesla for that matter.

With the i3, we will be able to drive all-electric, all the time. Or, if we wish, we can utilize the REx to take us where no Coram has gone before. Now, that sounds like an EVenture!
We love our new i3!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Featured EV Product: The JLong

The charging stations at the parking garage in Montclair, NJ are frequently ICE'd. This is a common problem across the country. Quick Charge Power has a solution: The JLong.

If you drive an electric vehicle and rely on public charging infrastructure, then you've most likely come across situations where the public charging station you arrived at was blocked by a car that isn't plugged in. At the very least it's frustrating, and at the worst it's disastrous if you absolutely need to charge in order to continue driving that day.

ICE-ing is an epidemic
When an EV owner pulls up to a charging station and a gas car is parked there, they call it being "ICE'd," referencing the Internal Combustion Engine of the car blocking them from charging. However this unfortunately isn't only happening with ICE vehicles. Now that electric vehicles are increasing in numbers and parking is always a premium in some locations, some EV owners are using the charging station spaces to park, even when they don't have to plug in. In my opinion, this is far worse than when the driver of an ICE vehicle parks there because the EV owner should know better. In any case, the person blocked from the charging station is terribly inconvenienced.

If you are low on charge and can't make it to the nearest alternative charging station, there isn't much you can do. You can:
A) Wait for the person to move their car so you can pull into the space and plug in.
B) Try to find the person who is parked there to see if they'll move their car, or
C) Call the police and have the car ticketed and towed, but only if there is specific signage allowing that, which isn't the case for most public charging locations. These options are time consuming and bothersome, and there's no guarantee that the car will move in time to allow you to charge as much as you need to.
To illustrate how the JLong works I chose to use it without cars blocking the camera's view. You can see I was easily able to park one space away from the EVSE and with the extra cable coiled up on the ground in front of my car I could have definitely even parked another space away and had plenty of cable to reach.  Click on the photo to enlarge.
Then there is another issue that sometimes creates problems for public charging stations; the snow. When snow plow crews clear parking lots they push the snow wherever it's most convenient, and where there is room to accommodate the piles of snow they produce. Often that's where the EVSE's are located. I own a commercial property that had two ChargePoint EVSE's and I can say first hand they present a problem during the winter months. I want to keep them clear and accessible, but that's not always possible, especially when there are frequent storms with a lot of snow like we had this winter. I do my best to clear a path to the EVSE's but the cars still need to park much further from the charging stations than they usually do, and if they don't get to park in the spot closest to the EVSE the cable won't reach the vehicle.
This isn't all that uncommon during the winter months in areas that get a lot of snow. Without a product like the JLong you'll never reach your car with that cable. Photo credit: Chevy Volt Owners Facebook group.
Now there is a simple solution that will instantly solve the problem in many of these frustrating situations and it's called the JLong. You plug one end of it into the connector from the EVSE, and the other end has a J1772 connector that plugs into your car. Available from Quick Charge Power the JLong is an extension cord for electric vehicle charging stations. It is compatible with the J1772 connector which is the connector used by all modern highway-capable electric vehicles sold in North America with the exception of Tesla. Tesla however provides a free J1772 adapter with every car they sell so this can also be used with Tesla vehicles.

Credit: Andy Stewart Facebook
The JLong can be custom ordered with any length of cable, but comes standard with lengths of 10, 20, 30 and 40 feet. Personally I believe the 20 foot cable is adequate for most situations, but it wouldn't hurt to have an extra 10 feet just in case the first available space is a couple of spaces from the EVSE. You'll regret not spending the extra money for a longer cable if you come up short one day.

Since most parking spaces in the US are 8 feet to 9 feet wide, a 20 foot JLong, combined with the EVSE's cable will allow you to park three spaces away from it and still plug in. For every ten feet of cable you add, you can park in one space further and still plug in. Pricing is reasonable considering it's a quality product, and dependent on the length of cable you wish to order.
The JLong comes with a small lock to lock the J1772 connector which prevents someone from unplugging and stealing it

The JLong is made in the US and appears to be very well made. There are other J1772 extensions on the market but the JLong seems to be the highest quality one that I've come across so far which is why I'm comfortable recommending it here. I even know one person who bought a similar product from another company and returned it because they didn't think the quality was up to par. They then bought a JLong  a couple months ago and have been very happy with it. From the Quick Charge Power site:

"...Our second generation JLong, has a custom handle (see photo) built of 6061-T6 aluminum alloy and TIG welded. It is powder coated with a special "grip" feature and is laser etched with our logo. 

We use a special 8 conductor cable assembly built to our unique specification for maximum flexibility and light weight.The entire assembly will be good for up to 40 amps. All power conductors are professionally crimped to military and aerospace specifications. We don't use alloy aluminum handles, custom cables and mil-spec professional crimps (amongst many other features) because it's cheap. We do it because it's the best.

Our new price with all these features is now $199.00 for 10 feet. Each additional foot is $5. If somebody were to run over your JLong in the parking lot, there's a good chance that the host J1772 plug will be destroyed and your JLong just might still be usable."
Even BMW dealerships have ICEing problems. I recently stopped at this BMW dealership in NJ for a quick boost and found the EVSE blocked. In this instance I could have reached the cable but then I'd be blocking the lane for cars to drive by. To make matters worse there were plenty of parking spaces open for the dealer to park the cars within 30 feet of this but they blocked the EVSE anyway.  The JLong gives you a lot of flexibility on where you can park and still plug in.

I come across a lot of products for electric vehicles, and this is one I can honestly say is a must have for those who rely on public charging. It's a high quality unit, made in Kennewick, Washington and appears able to withstand the rigors of being used in public places, stepped on and even possibly run over (But I still wouldn't recommend that). Both ends have covers to prevent snow, mud, etc, from getting in should you drop it and it has a custom built, 4th generation design cable assembly built in Ontario, California USA. In most cases it will allow you to avoid being blocked from plugging in, so you can continue on with your daily activities and not worry about how you're going to make it to the next destination, or even home later that day. You can order a JLong from Quick Charge Power from this link.

I also want to mention that Electric Auto Association members get a 5% discount on all Quick Charge Power products along with free shipping on orders over $100. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

BMW i3: Understanding How Preconditioning Works

Setting the preconditioning feature from the i3's iDrive is simple, but not as intuitive as I believe it could be. You can set the time of departure for every day of the week and the i3 will be charged, preconditioned and ready, provided you're charging from a proper 240v, level 2 electric supply. 
In many ways electric cars are very similar to their internal combustion counterparts and that's by design. Most major OEMs are afraid to make something that's "too different" from what their existing customer base is comfortable with. However there are features in electric vehicles that are indeed drastically different. The first one that comes to mind is regenerative braking which allows the electric motor to convert the vehicle's kinetic energy back into electricity which in turn recharges the battery. This feature changes the driving dynamics of the car (some more than others depending on how aggressive the regenerative braking system is) and the operator needs to adjust to this when they first transition to an electric vehicle.
During the winter months preconditioning in New Jersey not only means getting into a warm car in the morning, but it also adds valuable miles to the car's range by warming the battery cells up to their preferred operating temperature.
Another unique feature most modern electric vehicles have is the ability to precondition (warm or cool) the high voltage traction battery as well as the passenger cabin. This allows the driver to begin their journey with a properly heated or cooled battery and cabin, while still having the state of charge at or near 100%. Some conventional combustion cars also allow you to remotely start the vehicle to warm it up in the winter or cool it off in the summer, but the reasoning behind that is purely comfort-driven, and with EVs it goes beyond that. Since electric vehicles have shorter range and longer refueling times than their combustion counterparts, it's important to save the energy in the battery for its main purpose; to propel the vehicle, and not waste too much of it on ancillary power draws.

Warming the battery and the cabin uses a lot of energy, and doing so while the vehicle is plugged into the main power allows the driver to begin their trip with a properly warmed battery (which will increase the range) and still have a fully charged pack. This is very important for EV owners in cold weather climates. It is also useful to cool the car in hot ambient temperatures, but more frequently used by EV owners in the cold since a cold battery can reduce its range up to 30%. A hot battery won't reduce the car's range, but it can have an adverse effect on the longevity of the battery cells. Therefore preconditioning the battery in very hot climates is also advised, but for different reasons than doing so in the cold.

During the day my i3 is parked outside while I work. Accessing the preconditioning from my iRemote app is very useful as I don't have to go outside to the car to turn it on.
OK, so it's clear preconditioning is useful, but do you really know how it works on your i3? I'm afraid most i3 owners don't. In fact, judging by how many people have messaged me this winter asking for help with preconditioning, I'm thinking it's right up there with how to properly care for their battery as the top misunderstood items of i3 ownership. This is all new stuff, and even most dealers don't know all of the answers so it's no surprise the customers are a bit confused. This post should clear the air on most questions about how preconditioning works on your i3. I knew how most of the i3's preconditioning worked, but just to make sure I didn't have anything confused, I reached out to BMW's top electric vehicle technical services manager in the US to get answers to direct questions that I had previously received from readers:

Q. When Preconditioning via the iRemote app Remote Control menu is activated, only the cabin is preconditioned, not the battery, correct?
A. When triggering Preconditioning from the Remote Control menu, the answer is Yes, only the cabin.

Q. If you want to precondition the battery from the app, you need to set the departure time and then enable “preconditioning for departure," correct? 
A. Yes, provided the departure time programmed is at least 3 hours from the time when it is selected.
*Important: This is a very important fact that most i3 owners are not aware of. If you don't set the departure time at least three hours in advance the car is not performing battery preconditioning at all, only the cabin will be preconditioned.

Q. Can you precondition the battery without the vehicle being plugged in?
A. The HV battery, no. The cabin, yes.

Q. Can you precondition the battery while the vehicle is plugged into a 120v source or does it need to be connected to a 240v source?
A. 120V (Level 1/OUC) or 240V (Level 2) have the same effect in terms of Preconditioning. However, if charging on Level 1, the preconditioning consumption is higher than the charge rate, therefore potentially the vehicle will not be fully charged at the departure time.

Q. How early before the departure time will the vehicle begin to precondition?
A. When using the vehicle preconditioning menu, it will depend on temperature, but generally 30-40 minutes prior to the set departure time the cabin preconditioning will start, and the battery preconditioning will start 150 minutes prior to that.

Q. Will the car ever turn a battery warming on by itself if the battery temperature gets critically low. For example, the car is parked outside and plugged in and the battery temperature drops below 30 degrees, will the preconditioning turn on and warm the battery up without owner intervention?
A. No. User intervention is required for battery preconditioning. If the battery temperature is very low, it will be outside its normal operating temperature. As a result, the power output and usable energy of the battery will be reduced.

Q. How about if it gets critically hot – over 105 degrees?
A. If the battery temperature is higher than the optimal operating range and preconditioning is activated, the battery can be cooled. This is not very common due to the fact that the battery is such a high thermal mass, is located close to the ground, and is not exposed to direct sunlight.

Q. Why is it that sometimes after preconditioning (plugged in) the car is left at 97% or 98% SOC? Why doesn’t it fully recharge the car to 100%?
A. When preconditioning using a Level 1 charger, the car will always be below 100%. It could be about 80% or lower.(Because it uses more energy than the 120v source can provide) When using a Level 2 charger, the SOC could be slightly under 100% as the vehicle electrical load stays somewhat constant while the charger will switch off and on.

Q. Will battery cooling occur automatically while you are driving when the battery temp exceeds a certain set point?
A. Yes.

When battery preconditioning is being performed, what is the battery temperature that the vehicle is attempting to achieve?
A. The battery is warmed or cooled to bring it close to or within the optimal operating range of 25-40C (77-104F)

I'm certain that the vast majority of i3 owners are not aware that the car does not initiate battery preconditioning unless they set the departure time at least three hours in advance. Also, based on feedback I've received here, many i3 owners aren't aware that they aren't preconditioning the battery if they initiate precon by pressing the small fan icon at the bottom of the main state of charge screen on their iRemote app. By doing so, that only initiates cabin warming or cooling. In order to precondition the battery as well as the cabin from the app, you must set a departure time at least three hours in advance and then slide the preconditioning tab to "on." Don't feel bad if you own an i3 and didn't know all this, most client advisers at many BMW dealerships don't know it either. It's a little confusing at first, and honestly I think the app could be made a little more intuitive, but once you understand how it works, it's easy to set. You can also set the departure times and precon from the iDrive in the car.

Using the "Activate Climate Control" app feature on the left only preconditions the cabin. To precondition the battery as well as the cabin, use the "set departure time" feature which is accessed by pressing the small clock tab on the top right of the state of charge display screen. Once you set the departure time, you also need to slide the precondition tab to the "on" position.

Living in northern New Jersey I get to experience a range of temperature extremes and using the preconditioning feature is definitely helpful. We just finished the coldest month I can ever remember and it seemed just about every day I was leaving the house in the morning with temperatures in single digits or below zero. One day it was actually minus eleven degrees Fahrenheit when I began my morning drive. Even though my car is parked inside my garage, when it's this cold the battery temperature drops to levels that severely impact its performance and the range is reduced. I noticed I could add as much as eight to ten miles to my range if I used the preconditioning on the coldest days. It's also nice to get into a warm car, and this enables you to turn down the cabin heat a bit, which additionally helps extend the range. I found that if I allowed the preconditioning to warm the cabin, I could then lower the cabin heat, or even turn it off for a while and just use the heated seats which use much less energy than the cabin heater. 

I hope this helps i3 owners understand a little more about preconditioning. If you have more questions, please leave them below in the comments section and I'll do my best to answer them.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

One of the things many of us EV drivers are guilty of, is plugging in whenever we have the opportunity to. We may not even need the extra range, but if there is an available 240V EVSE, or even a simple 120V outlet, and we're going to be at that location for a while, it's just too tempting not to plug in and grab some electrons while we're there.

Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I wonder how many i3 owners know their car records everywhere you've plugged in and stores the exact location? I've known this for a while now because a few months ago one of the readers here sent me an email pointing it out because it almost got him in trouble but I'll get back to that later in the post.

I'm bringing this up now because I had to bring my car in for service for BMW to inspect something. I'm beta testing new i3 software which will be released to the public in a few months so if I see anything out of the ordinary they want to check it out. So I dropped the car off at JMK BMW and a nice Ionic Silver i3 REx was waiting for me to use as a loaner. I had used this loaner before a few months ago when I had the new software installed on my car and love that JMK offers i3 loaners. It's a practice that all BMW dealerships that really want to sell i3s should employ, in my opinion.
My previous charging locations were still recorded, months after I used this loaner car. All I had to do is choose this entry and the car would direct me to my restaurant in Montclair, NJ. I could have also visited the homes of some of my fellow local i3 owners.

So as I headed out of the dealership I started the navigation system, and instead of entering the destination, I scrolled down to "Last Charging Stations" just to see if the addresses I charged at a few months back were still saved there. They were. My restaurant in Montclair and my home address were saved as destinations in the loaner's nav system. Then, as I scrolled down the list I saw addresses of all my friends who live locally and drive i3s. Their names weren't listed, but the navigation system stored the exact location of their homes - which I know because we are friends. Evidently they too had used this loaner i3 while their car was in for service. Since they charged the car at home, their addresses were recorded as "Last Charging Stations" and stored in the nav system. I erased all the entries that were addresses of the people I know, but I wonder how many of them realized they were leaving a record of where they live and charge for anyone who had the car after them to see.

I suppose it's not a problem if it's your personal car, but if you do use an i3 loaner from your dealer, and you don't want a record of where you plugged in logged in the car's navigation system, I'd suggest you delete the entries that were made while you had the vehicle before you turn the car back in. I know this isn't all that different from how navigation systems work on other cars. Many store the previous destinations that were entered in the system. However this seems a little more intrusive to me because your home address is being stored without you entering it into the system like you would have to do with a navigation system. Simply by plugging the car in you create a saved entry and the exact location is stored. I just want the readers here to know this, so they can decide if they want to delete their charging locations whenever they feel the need. I'm sure many i3 owners don't even realize this is happening.

Now getting back to the original person who pointed this out to me. About six months ago I got an email from one of the readers here. He wanted to tell me a funny story of what happened to him with his i3. One day his wife was using the car for the first time by herself and was getting to know the iDrive system. She came across the Last Charging Stations category. Scrolling down the list she saw an entry which was a street in a town that wasn't too from where they live. Unfortunately for him, it was on a street and in the town were an old girlfriend used to live. When he came home that night his wife asked him about it, and he had to explain why he was there and that it was a public charging station which he needed to stop off at for a little while so he could make it home one night. He explained and they laughed about it, and it wasn't some serious inquisition to begin with, but it was a little reminder about how this feature could get someone in trouble if they went somewhere they shouldn't have.

This may or may not be a concern for you personally, but I want to at least point this out so i3 owners are aware of it. It's very easy to delete an entry; you just hover over the saved destination, press the options button and then delete. Unless you're doing something you shouldn't be doing I don't see any reason to delete entries in your personal car, in fact storing them for future use is a great feature, and is the reason why the car does it in the first place. However, when using an i3 loaner from the dealership, I'd prefer that my home address isn't permanently stored in the nav system and I'll be deleting the entries I created when I return the cars I have on loan from now on.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What the Frunk?

The front storage compartment (Frunk) of my i3 after driving a few weeks on the salt-covered winter roads of New Jersey - yuck!
First, let me begin by saying I was one of the people who really didn't mind the fact that the i3's front storage compartment (affectionately called the "frunk" by many since Tesla initially coined the term for the area under the hood of the Model S) wasn't waterproof. I never envisioned keeping anything up there that I would need to access frequently and since my Electronaut Edition i3 came with a nice storage bag that would keep whatever I put in there nice and dry, it was really a non-issue as far as I was concerned.

It looked a little better when I first got the car. Of course everything looks better new, but being exposed to all the elements means you really can't store anything up there that isn't waterproof & durable
It was so inconsequential to me at the time I didn't even list it as a minor annoyance when I did my initial likes & dislikes posts back in June. Well after living with the car for nine months now, I have some different perspectives and I think I'll soon go back and do an update on what I like and don't like about the i3. One of the things I'll add to the dislike list is the fact that the frunk area is easily penetrated by moisture, dirt, leaves and anything else that would find its way under the hood of a traditional ICE car.
Leaves can make their way into the frunk also, as found out by BMW i3 Facebook group member, Michal Cierniak

So why didn't BMW make this area waterproof? I have never gotten an official answer but my guess is because it would add weight and cost. Plus, since it is such a small compartment, they figured the vast majority of people would only use it for things like extension cords, a tool kit and the occasional use EVSE, all of which are OK to get wet once in a while. They probably also figured most people would get a bag to put those items in, and they even sell one such as the one that I have. Because I have an Electronaut Edition i3, mine was free and embroidered "Electronaut Edition." It keeps the items in the bag clean and dry, but the bag itself gets very dirty and isn't really pleasant to handle when it's covered in dust and now road salt. 

Which one would you prefer to handle?

The i3 has a lot of mechanical components up in the frunk area; they are just hidden by the removable screens on both sides of the frunk. Once you remove these snap on screens, you can see that area looks basically like a traditional ICE engine compartment, minus the engine of course. The storage compartment only occupies a small section of that area as opposed to the Model S. Since the Model S is so much larger than the i3, Tesla was able to utilize a huge portion of the area under the hood for storage, creating a large front trunk which they called the frunk and still have enough room to fit whatever mechanical parts they located up there. The i3 didn't have much space to spare since the front area of the car is so small, so the storage compartment seems like more of an afterthought than something that was a well planned design feature.
After removing the plastic frunk, and the snap-on shields on both sides of it, what you see looks very similar to a conventional gasoline or diesel powered car (minus the engine!) Photo credit: Tim Hood
If waterproofing the entire area up there just wasn't cost effective, or if it was going to add too much weight, then I do understand the reasoning, but what they should have done was provide a nice frunk cover that could snap on and provide - at the very least - a water-resistant seal. Perhaps some ingenious entrepreneur will manufacture and sell such a cover...

* If you want to use my car as the mold you know where to find me, and I'll be your first customer ;)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

i3 Owner Explains Her 312 Mile All Electric Day

Kris charging up at an NRG Fast Charge station
One of the many things that Tesla Motors understands as well as anybody is how a robust Fast Charge network will liberate their customers from being on an "Electric Leash." Ubiquitous DC fast charging stations are, in my opinion, just as important as longer range electric vehicles. In fact, they may even be more important.

BMW apparently shares that opinion and has recently announced that they are getting into the DC fast charge game with a partnership that includes Volkswagen and ChargePoint, and will be installing fast chargers at 50 mile intervals on the East and West coasts to create "Express Charging Corridors." However it won't end with there. BMW is going to continue to invest in DC fast charge infrastructure here in the US, as they realize that they need to participate in creating the foundation for BMW i to succeed.

As with most things EV-related, California is ahead of most of the US when it comes to DC fast charge infrastructure. While the SAE Combo (CCS) fast charge units are only beginning to be installed, there are some already in the ground there, and they are allowing people to take their i3s further in a shorter period of time than they could if they were relying on 240v Level 2 public charging.

Kris & I at a recent i3 meet
Which brings me to the story below that I found interesting.  My friend Kris Kluzak, a former ActiveE Electronaut, offered to write a guest post for this blog detailing a day when she drove her i3 312 miles using public charging infrastructure.  It shows that even a medium-range EV, like the i3, can easily cover hundreds of miles in a day if the appropriate infrastructure is in place.

Here's how it went down, in Kris's words:

A 312 mile, all electric day in a BMW i3 REx:

On November 11th, 2014 I was scheduled for a research study for my car in Sherman Oaks, California. From my house in East San Diego County, it is about 160-mile trip one-way.

On any given day this “normal” trip would take approximately 3-4+ hours in any vehicle with an engine (ICE) as the main power source. Those of us living in Southern California know the different routes to take to avoid traffic blunders, and are often looking for the carpool lane when it’s an option.

In order to arrive on time for my 2pm appointment, my husband and I had to build in a few charge/food stops; this set us to leave right after 8am. First, we stopped 39 miles away at the Carlsbad Premium Outlets to charge and grab coffee at Starbucks. *We charged for 30 minutes knowing we had enough range to reach our next stop in Santa Ana. 
Like me, Kris's previous electric car was a BMW ActiveE
We next stopped at Crevier BMW, 58 miles from Carlsbad. Just days prior they had installed four DCQC (SAE Combo) stations and we were on a mission to check them out. Normally we would not choose this route through Los Angeles, but since it was a Federal holiday we took advantage of the “lighter” traffic. We charged for an hour while our SOC (state of charge) reached 99%. While we didn’t plan to stay that long, we enjoyed talking to the "iGenius" in the new "iBuilding".  There was also a Starbucks and restroom on site for us to use.  We left there with our next intended stop in Sherman Oaks, not knowing for sure where we would charge, but would look once we got up there.  I was fully prepared to have my range extender kick in if needed, but I really was trying to do this trip without it.

We found that the local KIA dealership claimed to have an ABB charger, which is the same unit that NRG eVgo uses (yes, CHAdeMO and SAE Combo). We called to see if - 1) the charger exists, which it does, and 2) to see if we could charge, which we were told yes, to come on by.  It was a few miles from the Sherman Oaks location, so off we went.  The charger was blocked, but they immediately moved a car and allowed us to charge.  Unfortunately, the charger was so new, that it hadn’t been provisioned yet, and did not work.  At this point I had 22 miles of range, and 27 miles to the next, known Freedom Station in Hermosa Beach.  So we set off, knowing my range extender would probably kick in.

With some luck, and HEAVY Los Angeles traffic on the 405, we managed to get to Hermosa Beach with 6 miles to spare, and no REx usage.  I drove **83.3 miles on that one charge from Crevier. Once at Hermosa Beach, we managed to find the charger, a nearby bar offering Taco Tuesday, and managed to do all of this while just getting a 30 minute charge. Next stop, the Westminster Shopping Mall ***27 miles away.  We arrived at the mall with no range issues, and were able to charge again for just 30 minutes.  FroYo and a potty stop…and away to Carlsbad for the last stop.

We arrived in Carlsbad, once again hit the Starbucks and charged for only 20 minutes, enough charge to get home.  We were there about 30 minutes, but the charger faulted and stopped early.  We arrived home at just before 10pm.  312 total miles driven, all electric, no REx used, and all charges were free.  We spent a few dollars at Starbucks and for the dinner, but overall, did the whole trip for less than $50, all-inclusive.

Some key points to this trip:

I did not use any climate control until the last leg, there was no need for heating or cooling, but I had to run the defrosters a few times for the last 30 miles.

I ran the entire trip in Eco Pro driving mode.

I preconditioned the car that morning prior to leaving, hoping to warm the batteries before the trip for maximum range.

I purposely did not use the carpool lane. While this might have been necessary in another situation where time was an issue, I preferred to stay in the traffic in order to get maximum range. 

The total time spent portal to portal was 14 hours. I was at the research facility for almost 3 hours, and then we spent almost another 45 minutes to an hour at the Kia dealership talking to the manager about the charger, and looking at their Soul EVs.

Charging added 3 hours, which by using the DC quick charging options, made this a very reasonable trip.  If we had stopped in an ICE for breakfast and dinner, and potty stops, the total stoppage time would have been less, but not significantly, maybe an hour less, overall.
Kris and her "Storm Trooper" Capparis White i3. She's wearing a limited edition i3 Super Bowl jersey that BMW made for this year's game to go along with the i3 commercial that aired during the first quarter. 
My Personal Records:

312 all electric miles in one day (previously 187 in my Active E, which did not have L3 charging)

83.3 all electric miles in one charge (previously 80 miles, in the summer, while hypermiling and drafting behind a truck for 20+ miles)

Cheapest day EVER to drive 312 miles, food and energy included.

*These outlets have two NRG eVgo charging options: level 2 and level 3. The level 2 option has one universal J1772 plug, and the level 3 option has a CHAdeMO (for Nissan Leaf’s, Kia Soul’s, and other Asian brand EVs) as well as a SAE combo (CCS) (for BMW’s, VW eGolf, etc.). This Freedom Station powered by NRG eVgo is part of free fast charging offered by BMW. 

**This car will definitely do better on range with slower speeds, ie: bumper-to-bumper traffic, and city stop-and-go vs full, freeway speeds.

***The mileage between Hermosa Beach and Carlsbad is 87.1 miles.  While we could have easily avoided a stop and used the REx, I would have been forced to charge longer at Hermosa to get a bigger charge, thus not saving any time AND using gasoline.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Did The DC Quick-Charging 'Standards War' Just Quietly End For Electric Cars?

A BMW i3 and a Volkswagen e-Golf charge on DC fast chargers side by side at BMW Headquarters in Woodcliff Lake NJ.
I wrote this article for Green Car Reports, where it was published a few days ago. The proliferation of a robust DC fast charge network is vital to electric vehicle adoption, and I wanted to give this story as wide an audience as possible, which is way I let GCR publish it first. Now that they had it for a while, I'd like to share it with the readers here.
I was invited up to BMW NA headquarters by BMW product manager Jose Guerrero to try out the new DC fast chargers installed there. There are three of them, along with four Level 2 EVSEs, all of which are open to the public 24/7.
A couple weeks ago at the DC Auto Show, BMW, Volkswagen, and ChargePoint jointly announced they would install about 100 DC fast chargers for electric cars. Their goal is to create “Express Charging Corridors,” on both the East and West coasts, by the end of this year. The most intriguing news, however, was that the hardware will--in most cases--offer fast charging for electric cars using two different standards: CCS (used by BMW and VW) and CHAdeMO, used by Japanese and Korean automakers.

The three DC fast chargers at BMW NA HQ are CCS only. The reason being is these are not directly included in the Express Charging Corridors, but secondary locations which are more likely to support local driving, not long distance traveling.
I say “most cases” because not every single location will have a dual-standard fast charger that provides CHAdeMO, although most will. Today, CHAdeMO stations are far more widely installed in certain areas--totaling several hundred in the U.S.--than CCS stations, of which only a few dozen exist today. The "Express Charging Corridor" project will determine whether a desired location is close to an existing CHAdeMO station. If so, that location will provide only CCS cables.

I suspect this may only happen in a few locations, largely on the West Coast, since the East Coast has very few operational CHAdeMO stations to date. The East Coast corridor will connect Boston to Washington, D.C., while the West Coast corridor will extend from Portland to San Diego. Both corridors will have DC fast chargers installed at intervals of less than 50 miles, making it possible--if tedious--to do long-distance trips in electric cars with ranges of 75 to 90 miles, including the BMW i3 and the Volkswagen e-Golf.

Then, less than a week after the DC Auto Show, Kansas City Power & Light announced that it had partnered with Nissan and ChargePoint to install 1,000 electric-vehicle charging stations throughout the greater Kansas City region.

That in itself is fantastic news. But if you drill down into the press release, you will find that only 15 of the stations will be DC fast charge stations--a little disappointing. However, these 15 stations “will charge any model of electric vehicle on the market,” meaning they too will support both CHAdeMO and CCS. So BMW and Volkswagen’s project will provide CHAdeMO charging, and Nissan’s endeavor will include CCS support.

These Efacec units will be installed along the new "Express Charging Corridors" by ChargePoint and support both CHAdeMO and CCS
What just happened here?

Did the automakers all quietly agree to support both standards, so every electric-car driver can benefit? I interviewed BMW’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Manager, Robert Healey, on the morning of the DC Auto Show. He told me BMW has no problem with supporting dual-standard stations, because the main goal is to advance the proliferation of charging infrastructure for plug-in cars as rapidly as possible.
CHAdeMO and CCS connector side by side comparison.
He went on to say that in these early stages of adoption, “a rising tide raises all boats”--and this kind of cooperation among competitors is in everyone’s best interest. While he couldn’t elaborate or speculate on the future, Healey said he would be open to similar partnerships with other automakers, should the opportunity arise.

So it's looking more and more as though the DC fast-charge standards war that everyone was predicting may be over, really before the first shot was even fired. I hope so, because if this trend continues, everybody indeed wins. Especially electric-car drivers--not only today's, but the many more to come.