Sunday, May 10, 2015

BMW i3 Year One Celebration

The BMW i3 Year One Celebration in underway across America with various dealerships hosting events, and local owners getting together to celebrate the one year anniversary of the launch of the i3 in the US.

JMK BMW in Springfield, NJ had a good showing
The idea for the Anniversary Event began with a conversation back in February between a few i3 owners in the BMW i3 Facebook group. Roman Vazquez actually was the one who first thought of having an official nationwide i3 anniversary celebration. At first the thought was that we'd pick a day and coordinate local meets for i3 owners to get together. We've done similar meets like this before, where we get together in a parking lot somewhere, but Roman thought meeting at a dealership might be interesting. The idea quickly expanded to, "How about we try to get dealerships across the country to host an event?"
Crevier BMW in Southern California had the largest turnout with over 200 people in attendance! Photo credit to Harry Lin

BMW supplied pins
We knew we couldn't coordinate something that large ourselves, so I reached out to BMW i Marketing Manager, Joan Bowen, and asked if BMW would be willing to help us get this off the ground. She loved the idea and simply asked, "What can we do to help?" So BMW created the event logo, contacted their dealer network informing them of the event (of which participation was optional) and created some swag (T-shirts, pins & stickers) which they would send to participating dealers to give out during the day.

Some dealerships took it one step further and gave away prizes. Two dealerships that I'm aware of that really put extra effort into the event were JMK BMW in New Jersey and Crevier BMW in Southern California. Both dealerships raffled off a free JuiceBox Pro 40 EVSE (Crevier also raffled off other prizes including a JLong charging extension cable), offered catering for the attendees and did their best to make the day special for the i3 owners. 

The official anniversary event lasts for the remainder of the month of May, but the majority of events happened on May 9th, which was the day we originally planned, before BMW joined in to help us get more dealerships involved. It was really nice to get together with other i3 owners, swap stories and EVangelize a bit. There's already talk of formally making this an annual event and I think that would be a great idea. We put this year's gatherings together on short notice and without many of the dealerships participating. It was a lot of fun and I think we're on to something here, so watch out for next May!
No local participating dealership? No problem! Just meet somewhere on the street or in a parking lot like these i3 owners in Virginia did. Photo courtesy of  Reony Tonneyck

Photo: George Betek
One thing I'm particularly happy to see, is BMW's willingness to participate in events like these. They didn't hesitate to say they thought it was a great idea and then asked how they could help. It's important that the manufacturers continue to offer strong support for their plug-in offerings. It's not enough just to make the cars. A successful plug-in vehicle program needs the support of the manufacturer with a healthy marketing budget, and continues with community outreach, like these kinds of events offer. The EV market in still in its infancy, and if a manufacturer is really serious about being a market leader in this space, then these kinds of events are a great way to build consumer confidence in the brand. 
Ariel view of Crevier during the celebration. Photo courtesy of Roman Vasquez
A special thanks goes out to Roman Vazquez, Heather Somaini, Kris Kluzak, George Betak, Shawn Wooten, Wilfred Fojas, Manny Antunes, Dave Avery, Peder Norby, John Higham, David Vottero and Brandon Watson. All of whom put a lot of time and effort behind the scenes to make the i3's first birthday party a memorable event.

What kind of a party would it be without a parade? Photo courtesy of Jamie Dow
BMW made these T-Shirts for the event and provided them to the participating dealer

Friday, April 24, 2015

EV Charger Sharing Made Easy

EV Charging Hangers are a simple, low-cost solution to a nagging problem for some electric vehicle owners
As recent as six years ago, there were probably less than 3,000 highway-capable electric cars on public roads in the US. Since 2010, over 300,000 fully electric and plug in hybrid electric vehicles have been bought or leased in America.

During that time, the number of public charging stations has increased dramatically and we now have tens of thousands of public charging stations across the country. It's a good start, but there is a long way to go before there are enough charging locations to service the ever-growing electric vehicle market. On average, each month more than 10,000 plug in electric vehicles are sold, increasing the disparity between plug in vehicles, and public charging locations.

It's good news that the vast majority of EVs don't need to use public charging, at least regularly. However for those that do, finding an available and working public charging station can sometimes be a challenge. Then there are the times when you pull up to a charging station in desperate need of a charge, only to find that there is a car already plugged in. You immediately start wondering, "Does that car REALLY need to charge like I do, or are they just opportunity charging to top off the battery?" The urge is there to just unplug the other car and plug yours in, especially when that other car is a PHEV. If it's a PHEV, it really doesn't need to charge, since it can operate just fine on gas. But they were there first, and it's not right to unplug (or even touch) another vehicle without permission, even if they don't "need" the juice like you might.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and recognizing this to be an issue led some electric vehicle owners to begin employing "charger sharing" techniques. This actually dates back to the old GM EV-1 days in California. Owners would leave notes on their dashboard stating a time when it was OK to unplug their car. Others would simply write, "I'm opportunity charging; unplug me if you need to." For the most part this worked pretty well, but that was when there were a few hundred electric cars to service and it was easier to self-police with such a small number of cars on the road. Now, with hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles it's more complicated, and many EV owners haven't even thought of the concept of charger sharing.

One electric vehicle owner, Jack Brown, has indeed thought about this, quite a lot in fact. Jack came up with the idea of connector hangers which an EV owner could use to let others know whether or not they can unplug their vehicle and share the charger. After a few revisions, a two sided hanger was developed which the owner hangs on the J1772 connector and offers instructions on whether or not another EV owner can unplug their car if they need to. One side states "OK TO UNPLUG" with instructions on when it's OK, and the other side says "DO NOT UNPLUG." On the "OK TO UNPLUG" side, you can write the time when your car will be charged enough to allow someone else to use the EVSE, and even leave your phone number so the other person can text or call you if necessary. Jack sells them through his site You can buy them individually or in a ten pack. They are reusable with dry erase markers which just wipe off clean.

From Take Charge and Go Website:

Electric vehicles are becoming more popular and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find an available public EV charging space. Good etiquette by the user community is vital as the infrastructure catches up with demand.

Take Charge and Go EV Charging Hangers are an excellent way to indicate to other Electric Vehicle drivers know how long you will be charging and to share proper etiquette. Simply plug your car in with the hanger on the charging port or dashboard of your car and let others know when you can share the spot.

The charging hanger is made from durable 120# recycled Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified recycled paper card stock

  • The hangers are printed on both sides to indicate whether you are necessity charging (RED – DO NOT UNPLUG) or opportunity charging (GREEN – OK TO UNPLUG)
  • The color coding makes it easy for fellow EV drivers to tell if they can share the plug

  • A keyhole cutout provides a sufficient fit for most J-1772 charging handles. A slip-on cutline is provided for easier installation and removal while charging

  • The red DO NOT UNPLUG side has space to write what time you should be done charging with a dry erase marker or a post it note

  • Both sides have a space to leave contact information and provides tips for good etiquette
    • Never park in a charging space if you are not charging
    • When charging in public, limit your charge, don’t charge to your limit. Move on so others have the opportunity to to charge
    • Never unplug another car without permission

  • A QR code and website link are provided for additional information about public EV charging and different car brands charging indicators

  • Hangers are UV coated provide protection from the elements and work well with permanent and dry erase markers and post-it notes to leave information

  • Designed and Made in the U.S.A.
The hangers are currently available in a ten pack for $19.99
If purchased individually they currently cost $2.49, and a ten pack is $19.99. They seem to be made well with a durable coating. I believe they will last a long time even when used in the rain and snow. However there is still one issue with charger sharing. Some new electric cars have chargeports that lock the connector to the vehicle while charging, preventing charger sharing. I do understand the reasoning for this, but I believe it's a flawed feature if the owner cannot override it when they choose to. There should be a setting in the car that allows the owner to unlock the connector from the car while charging if they wish to. This is a perfect example of OEMs not listening to the customer. I totally understand why an engineering team would have never even thought of charger sharing, so it's easy to understand why some EVs don't allow connector unlock. However it's time the OEMs start listening to the EV community and employ the features unique to electric vehicles that improve the EV ownership experience.

My i3 is one of those cars that doesn't allow the connector to be removed unless the doors are unlocked. However BMW has listened to their customers, and will soon be rolling out an update that will unlock the connector once the charging session is complete. This is good, but it's really only halfway to the proper solution in my opinion. I want manual control of whether my connector is locked to the car. It should be a setting in iDrive with a box that I check or uncheck if I want the connector locked to the car or not. They can even make the default setting locked if they are concerned someone will forget they unlocked it one day and end up with an uncharged car because someone unplugged them without permission. Unlock after charging is complete is a step in the right direction, but I'll continue to lobby BMW to finish the job and offer owners full control over their chargeport.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Are Megacities Ready For The Megacity Car?

During the i3's development, BMW often used a large city as a backdrop for the concept i3 photo shoots. 
Megacity: A metropolitan area with a total population in excess of ten million people.

BMW has all along told us that the i3 was designed for urban transport, a glimpse at the future of personal mobility in the megacities of the world. Heck, the code name for it was even "The Megacity Car."  However now that the i3 has been available for over a year, BMW is realizing that the Megacity car is selling better outside the city limits.

I've never really accepted that the i3 would do well in the megacity markets, at least in the US, and I've voiced that opinion on many occasions. Having lived with electric cars for the past six years, I've had the experience of driving and charging in the both suburbs and in the city, so I'm intimately aware of the challenges of public charging. I live about 50 miles from New York City and go there frequently. Driving my electric cars to and around the city isn't a problem, however charging it there is. There just aren't enough places to charge your car there to make living with an EV in New York City palatable. There are public parking garages and a few lots that have EVSEs, but finding one that works is one problem. Then, if you're lucky enough to find a lot that has one which is working, you often have to fight with the attendant to make sure they plug you in once you've left your car there.
My car was unplugged after only about 45 minutes of charging. It was sitting right where I left it so they didn't need to move it, someone there just decided to unplug me. With only 28% state of charge, I needed the range extender to get me home. This is a typical EV charging experience in NYC
The last three times I've gone to the City I had nothing but problems getting my car charged. In fact, two of those times I had to drive home using my range extender because the car wasn't charged. Just last week I went to the New York Auto Show and parked at the 9th Avenue Edison Park Fast lot because it had a ChargePoint charging station. When I pulled in I told the attendant I needed to charge for a minimum of three hours and he seemed to understand what I was saying. He said "Oh this is electric? No problem I'll plug you in." I even gave the guy a $5 tip up front with the hopes that he'd take care of me. As I was walking to the Javits Center a few minutes later I checked my BMW i Remote app and saw my car was charging so I figured I was good. I left the car with only 10% state of charge and wanted to be at at least 90% for the trip home, and that would take about three hours of charging. No problem because I planned to be at the show for about six hours. As I was walking back to my car later that day I checked my app just to make sure I was charged and to my surprise I saw I was only at 28% SOC and the car wasn't charging. When I arrived I asked why my car wasn't charged and the attendant only said, "We charged it."  I figured maybe they had to move it for some reason, or maybe another EV came that needed to charge but no, someone just decided to unplug it after about 45 minutes of charging. The car was still parked in front of the EVSE, it wasn't blocking anyone so it hadn't been moved, it was just unplugged hours ago for no apparent reason.
This time in New York I was able to charge up at an underground parking garage, but only after 45 minuted on the phone with ChargePoint trying to get this unprovisioned station operational.
This has happened before to me in New York City, so I wasn't really surprised. I've even had the attendant promise to plug me in and never do it. I now either wait to watch them plug it in or check my app as I'm walking away to make sure someone plugs it in. Luckily I had the REx to bail me out or I'd have been in a real jam, as I needed to be somewhere else in about an hour.
Electric range insufficient. Not what you want to see when you return to your car after leaving it in a public parking lot to charge. Luckily I had the range extender to fall back on. 
I could go on and on about previous difficulties I've had trying to charge in the city, but I think I'll dedicate an entire post to that sometime soon. The point here is charging an EV in the city is difficult at best. Yes, if you live there it is possible to make arrangements with the garage where you keep your car, and install an EVSE for your personal use, but many of the garages don't have the additional electrical capacity for a dedicated 40 amp circuit even if you're willing to pay for the installation and the electric, so the owners are stuck plugging into a simple 120v outlet and slow charging all of the time. Beam Charging network in New York has stations in various parking garages and offers a $98 per month unlimited charging plan, but you still have to find accessible stations and pay the regular parking fee which can be very expensive. It's definitely doable, but not very convenient or inexpensive.

So it was no surprise when I read an article this week by Diana Kurylko of the Automotive News quoting BMW NA CEO Ludwig Willisch saying i3 sales have been weaker than expected in large cities like New York: "The strongholds in this country are parts of California, Texas and southern Florida, rather than large cities, he said" The article further says: "The big urban centers in the Northeast, especially New York City, haven't embraced the i3, Willisch said. Unlike Californians, he said, New Yorkers apparently don't have sustainability and the environment "at the top of minds." I don't think it's a lack of a desire to be sustainable as much as it's difficulty charging the car there. California has a much more mature public charging infrastructure, and most people there live in private residences, unlike New York City. Overall, BMW is pleased with US i3 sales, and they are on pace to sell about 12,000 i3s per year here, they just seem to be a little surprised where the sales are coming from. I'm certainly not surprised, and I even wrote a post about a year ago that said the i3 was better suited for suburban and country life than life in the city, and I listed the reasons why I believe that to be true.

My i3 lives about 50 miles west of New York City... and fits in perfectly
Living in the suburbs or the country means you are usually in control of your energy supply, because most people live in single family homes there. There can be issues if you live in an apartment or condo complex, but you also have the choice to move to another location close by if charging is prohibited in the complex you live in. Living in a private residence allows you to install the home charging equipment you need, so you're not relying on public charging infrastructure as much.

Accessibility to charging is paramount for daily EV life, and in New York the public charging infrastructure has a very long way to go before it becomes convenient enough for many more people to consider an EV if they live there. Life in the big city is tough enough, and fighting on a daily basis for somewhere to charge your car is probably something most New Yorkers aren't willing to deal with. However there is hope that things will get better. Last year New York City passed the "Charger Ready Bill" which requires all new construction in New York City to dedicate 20% of the new parking spaces for EV charging spaces. I actually was asked by Mayor Bloomberg's office to testify in front of the committees on buildings and transportation in favor of the bill, which I did. This law will dramatically increase the amount of public charging locations in New York City, but it will take years before the results are really seen.

So are megacities like New York ready for electric cars? Not really. Not yet, I'm afraid. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Q&A with BMW's Jose Guerrero at the New York Auto Show

Jose explaining the features of the concept i3 at the BMW i Born Electric Tour back in 2012

Having been in BMW's trial lease e-mobility program for five years, I've been able to get to know many of the program managers and engineers working at BMW i in North America. Jose Guerrero, Product Planning and Strategy Manager for BMW i, is one of only a few people at BMW of North America who has been a constant force in the program over the years. That's the nature of the auto industry though. People move around within the company, and often even leave to take on positions at competing OEMs.

So when I saw Jose's name on the list for available interviews at this year's New York Auto Show, I quickly reserved a half hour to sit down with him and talk about the i3 and the future of BMW i.

My i3's battery pack. It was removed from the car in less than an hour.
Future Battery Replacement

The first question was easy. There has been a lot of talk about recent comments by BMW's R&D chief Klaus Froehlich. Froehlich was recently interviewed by Automotive News Europe and asked if BMW would be offering a "more powerful powertrain" for the i3 or i8, and many took that as meaning better batteries once they become available. Froehlich said:  “I don’t think a retrofit makes sense. When better batteries are available, we could then offer models with a longer range or with the same range but at a lower price" and "replacing the batteries is very complex because they are integrated and bonded into the chassis." This didn't make sense to me because I know that any certified BMW i service center can drop the i3's battery and replace one or more of the eight battery modules and put the car back together in a couple of hours. In fact, I've personally seen it done on my car in less than a day. What would prevent BMW from upgrading these modules with higher energy-density cells once they are available in a few years? Here's what Jose had to say about that:
The underside of my i3 with the battery pack removed.

"The strategy of BMW i has always been focusing on sustainability, recycling and really maximizing the usage life of the car. I mean, first of all the car won't rust. It's made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic & aluminum so we are looking at how do we maximize the car for long usage. He didn't say it's not upgradable, but rather that at this point it doesn't seem to make sense. We really are investigating this and if it's possible, and it makes financial sense, why not? This would be in line with the BMW i philosophy. We haven't said we aren't going to do it, just that it has to make sense. A BMW i dealer can do a complete battery replacement in 3 to 5 hours so from a technical perspective it's clearly possible, we would just need to make sure it also makes financial sense. We are always getting asked, "Could you retrofit a navigation system, or Comfort Access into a car?" Yes, we could, but we'd have to rip the whole car apart. That isn't the case with better batteries once they become available, it just has to make sense. We are definitely investigating this, so if it makes sense we'll do it." Guerrero further went on to say it's conceivable Froehlich may have been misquoted or perhaps there was a translation issue because he certainly knows the batteries aren't "bonded into the chassis" as the Automotive News Europe's story indicated.

The Circuit

BMW i has recently launched a new online forum called "The Circuit". Would you like to explain why, and what exactly it is?

"We recognized these cars are different and customers will have questions that are unique to the i brand. We wanted to provide a forum where BMW i customers could communicate amongst themselves, share information and also ask BMW questions directly. There is an entire section called "Ask BMW" where customers can ask questions and get answers much faster than would have ever been possible before. It's direct access to BMW i personal that was not previously possible. We'll post information regarding technical updates, upcoming events, and all official BMW i news. It's our goal to use the forum to improve the BMW i ownership experience."

Hill Climb Assist

Late last year BMW had stated the i3 with range extender would have a software update in March which would add a new feature called "Hill Climb Assist." This was supposed to prevent sudden reduced power mode without warning while the REx was running and to make the vehicle more capable of climbing long, steep hills at highway speeds while in charge sustaining mode. Can you talk a little about this?

"This is something we are still working on. First, let me say the March 15th software update addresses part of the problem which was to provide information to help the driver avoid reduced power in these challenging driving conditions. A big gripe which the owners conveyed to us was they didn't have any warning before the vehicle reduced power. We've corrected that with a warning which comes on before the vehicle enters reduced power mode to warn the driver to alter their driving (basically that means to reduce speed) to hopefully prevent reduced power. Secondly, we've added a state of charge display so drivers can see the exact state of charge and monitor it more closely during these driving events. The the new state of charge display is also applied to the BEV i3s once they get the software update also.
An audible warning and this visual alert comes on when the state of charge drops to 3.5%, warning the driver that reduced power is possible, and giving them time to alter their driving to avoid it.  You can also see the new SOC display in the top left corner.

As for the Hill Climb Assist feature, we're still perfecting it. For the past four months we had a group of i3 REx owners beta testing Hill Climb Assist software and the feedback we got caused us to go back and redevelop it, creating an even more robust version. We are now testing a new version and once we're confident it is ready we will again give it to the beta test group for real world testing before we release it to the general i3 public. We are committed to getting this right and feedback from actual i3 owners is critical."

At this point I was shown a video of an i3 REx driving up a steep mountain climb at highway speeds in the snow. I was told this car had the new software and they were testing it in Vermont this winter on a closed road which was over 3 miles long, up steep hill at highway speeds in the snow. It should be noted that I am one of the people in the i3 REx customer beta test group which tested the previous Hill Climb Assist software. I reported back to BMW that it was insufficient, and it was my recommendation to re-engineer it before it was released to the public. I'm happy BMW agreed and look forward to testing the current version which I'm promised is more robust. I'll report on this new software once I have it on my car. It's not expected to have this new Hill Climb Assist software ready for the general public for another six months or so.
BMW i has a new North American Manager. What changes should we expect?
New Program Manager for BMW i

My last question was regarding the new Manager of Electric Vehicle for BMW of North America, Christine Fleischer. BMW i of North America hasn't had a permanent division manager since Jacob Harb left the post back in November. Prior to assuming the position at the helm of BMW i, Christine had been the BMW M & Individual Area Manager for North & South America.  I asked Jose what this means for the future of BMW i.

"Christine has now started her new role and we're all very excited. During Jacob's time here he was focused on the launch of the brand and we're now in a different phase. Now with Christine we're focusing on continuing dealer training and building sales. We're through the early adopter phase of i3 sales, and we now need to reach the early majority to continue to build sales. Dealer training is important and we'll continue to offer this specialized training so our sales force is prepared, and that's critical to maintain the sales momentum we've built. The whole team is excited to have Christine here for the next phase of BMW i."
The new North American BMW i manager, Christine Fleischer next to a 1M at the Canadian launch in 2011.
Photo courtesy of BMWBLOG

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.