Tuesday, October 29, 2013

BMW i3 Marketing Stepping Up

The i3 is set to launch in the UK, Germany and other select European countries in about two weeks now and BMW i marketing is preparing for the launch. Ads for the i3 and i8 are appearing in magazines and now a new video(seen above) has surfaced on the BMW UK YouTube channel.

I have been a bit critical of the little I've seen so far to promote the i3 and feel like BMW has been leaning on the sustainability angle way too much. In addition it seems like every short video clip they have made features a slim/metrosexual/surfer type. I'm not the only person to say this either, in fact of Richard Read of Green Car Reports wrote a whole tongue-in-cheek article on this, asking if BMW is only interested in waify metrosexuals to buy their i3's!

The good news is this spot is much better than what has previously been out there. I particularly like how the video has the i3 and i8 driving down a street in Chicago together to signify that they are born from the same genes but at a point they turn in different directions because, let's face it, although they have the same genetics these are two very different cars with different purposes. The camera follows the i3 until it eventually enters the car to show the interior and the drivers point of view before moving onward.

There is no talk of sustainable living, recycled materials or plant based door panels and key FOB. We hear about making choices, intelligent and efficient, lightweight carbon fiber, driving pleasure, electric and finally we're asked "Are you ready?" All to the perfectly selected and inspiring tune of Claire's Horizon (Broken Promise Land version). This is much more like it. Now sprinkle in a few video clips of an i3 screaming around a racetrack with one of your professional drivers at the wheel and we'll be lining up for test drives.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

100,000 Thanks!

I started this blog a little over two years ago, not long after BMW announced the MegaCity vehicle would go into production. I was still driving my MINI-E at the time and the prospect of a real production electric BMW seemed so far off. Well, we're now only weeks away from the i3's European launch and a few months from being able to buy one here in the States. The traffic on this site has really picked up recently and it just surpassed 100,000 pageviews. I've received hundreds of comments and many emails from followers and I just want to say thanks for reading, commenting, following, sharing and reaching out to me. Your participation is the only reason I continue to post about the i3. This is not a commercial site, I do not have advertisements or profit off this in any way. I simply do it because people continue to stop by, read the posts and comment. It's been a fun ride so far; here's to the next 100,000 pageviews and thank you!

Monday, October 21, 2013

US i3 Orders To Begin in November

Photo Credit: The Car Addict
InsideEvs.com recently reported that Jacob Harb, BMW's North American Manager for Electric Vehicles, told them that i3 orders for US customers will begin in November. That means we'll soon get information like pricing for options, warranty details and hopefully what leasing deals will be offered.

BMW has reported strong demand for the i3 in Europe with over 8,000 pre-orders already and the car won't even be available for another month there. Here in the States we'll have to wait a little longer. All BMW has officially said is that the i3 will launch here in the second quarter of 2014, and recent rumors have been pegging the launch for April or May which would mean early to mid Q2.

Photos courtesy bmwblog
California dealers have also been telling their customers that they will be getting i3'\s for display and even test drives, and that there will be as many as 50 i3s at the LA Auto Show in late November for driving events. That would make a lot of sense since the LA Auto Show is one of the big auto shows in the US and California is the number one market for plug in vehicles. 

One factor that can influence the i3's popularity in the US is its EPA range rating which hasn't yet been announced. I have maintained for a long time now that I would be very disappointed if that number comes in lower than 90 miles per charge. Unfortunately judging from the early test drive reports from some reporters like John Voelcker of High Gear Media, it may in fact be lower than 90, and may even be substantially lower than 90 miles per charge. I'm not going to go into this too much just yet because it would just be conjecture. Once the EPA rating is announced I will have a detailed post up within a day, I promise because it is a very important topic to discuss.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

BMWBLOG Road Tests the i3: "Welcome to The Future"

I don't often create a post here simply to direct the readers to another site but there are rare occasions where I believe it's worth doing so. Followers here know I have a good relationship with BMWBLOG and even write posts for them about electric cars from time to time. Shawn Molnar from BMWBLOG is currently over in Amsterdam on a press drive for the i3 and he just posted his initial report on his driving impressions. There really haven't been any comprehensive driving reports on the i3 yet since previous journalist test drives were brief and in pre-production i3's. With comprehensive test drives of real production i3's we will now begin to get a better understanding on how well it performs.

So how did BMWBLOG like the first production electric car from the brand? You can read the full story here, but I'll give you the condensed version in a couple quotes form the author:

"The i3 positively rocketed through the autocross with fly-like changes of direction, neck-straining acceleration from low speeds, and strong braking performance."

"So quick was the i3 through this wet autocross that my hands were challenged to keep up – I’ve never driven any BMW product so nimble through cones. I reckon that a stock i3 could trounce most auto-crossing M cars through tight courses with plentiful direction changes and short scoots between turns."

"I’d also fancy a stab at my local BMW Club’s autocross championship. I reckon the i3 would give a whole slew of M cars a run for their money."

"There is so much to say about the i3 that I hardly know where to start. But since my heart generally gravitates towards lateral-Gs, let’s start in the dynamics department. This is perhaps the greatest epiphany of the i3 – its staggering performance."
So far, so good! :)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

i3 Video: Zero to Top Speed

Autoblog.nl posted a short video showing them driving an i3 from a standstill to its top speed of 151km (93mph). You really get a clear picture of how well the car accelerates all the way up. Take a look:

Saturday, October 5, 2013

DC Quick Charge: Better Than a Bigger Battery

A BMW i3 charges at the first public SAE CCS quick charge station open in the US. 

The first public DC quick charger in the US that uses the SAE-endorsed Combined Charging System (CCS) opened this week in San Diego, CA. It's located at the Fashion Valley Mall and uses a dual connector quick charger called a "Freedom Station" by EVgo.

The i3 will have a DC quick charge option that the customer can elect or pass on. The price has not been set yet but the speculation is it will cost somewhere between $750 and $1,000 extra. Having the option will allow you to recharge the car to 80% in about 20 minutes. This is an incredible advantage to have in an EV, since charging times are really what limit EVs like the i3 from being able to cover hundreds of miles without much inconvenience. Of course you can get an EV with a huge battery like the Tesla Model S which will allow you to drive a couple hundred miles between charges, but to be able to really cover long distances without much inconvenience, DC quick charge (or battery swap ability) is really needed. 

Standards War

SAE & CHAdeMO side by side
Tesla understands the absolute need for quick charging on pure electric vehicles and is rolling out their own network of DC quick chargers they call Superchargers. Since Tesla uses a proprietary connector nobody other than Tesla customers will be able to use their network. Nissan uses a different connector called CHAdeMO (short for CHArge de MOve or charge for moving) which was developed by Tempco (yeah, the power utility that runs the Fukushima nuclear power plant) for quick charging electric vehicles in Japan. When Nissan came out with the LEAF, the SAE hadn't yet endorsed a DC quick charge connector for the US so Nissan had no other option but to use the CHadeMO connector on the LEAF for quick charging, not that they wouldn't have anyway. Then, once the SAE endorsed the CCS connector, BMW, along with Audi, Chrysler, Daimler, Ford, GM, Porsche all agreed to use it on their plug in vehicles, when they eventually make them. I'm not going to go into why one is better than the other, or why some manufacturers chose one over the other here. There are plenty of articles on the internet that discuss this at nauseam; just do a simple search and you'll find them. I will say that I've talked with a few BMW engineers about this and they all basically told me there was no decision to be made. That the SAE CCS system is so technically superior to CHAdeMO, especially for future applications, that they wouldn't have even considered it. 

Personally, I really don't care which "standard" my EV has, as long as there are chargers out there for me to use. I've held both and even plugged both into cars and the SAE is a little lighter and less bulky and you only need a single charge port on the car so I tend to favor it, but honestly, I would be fine using CHAdeMO if there were chargers installed in my area and there aren't. At the i3 premier in July a BMW program manager asked me how much would I be willing to pay for the DC quick charge option. I suspect the price for the US market hadn't been finalized yet. My response was, "That depends" eliciting his curiosity. I followed it up by saying right now I won't pay a penny for a DC quick charge option because there are no chargers within driving distance of my home. However let's say there were a couple here and there in my general area, then I'd pay about $500 for it. And if there were a couple dozen of them in northern New Jersey I'd be willing to pay $1,000 for it. 

I know we are many years from having DC quick chargers in accessible, convenient locations like gas stations but I also believe that day will eventually come. The West Coast has a huge head start over the rest of the country and probably has as much as 70% of the Superchargers, ChadeMO and now CCS stations installed in the entire country. Plus, with the recent NRG settlement California will get 200 more DC quick charge stations, most being dual connector (CHAdeMO and CCS) units. Tesla currently has 24 Superchargers installed and an aggressive plan to cover the rest of the US in a few years. Nissan meanwhile has committed to installing hundreds of CHAdeMO stations in the US although they haven't delivered much on that promise yet. Outside of California's NRG settlement the future is unclear how and when we'll get the SAE CCS stations installed. Without any clear plan for the area you live in, I think it would be foolish to pay up to $1,000 for the option if you don't even know if you'll ever be able to use it. I have a friend that bought a LEAF in 2011 here in New Jersey and paid for the CHAdeMO option but nearly three years later he has never been able to use a CHAdeMO station because there are none within his range. 

I had the opportunity to talk with a BMW manager at the i3 premier about DC Quick charge infrastructure and one of the questions I asked was will the BMW i dealerships be required to install a DC quick charge station. I thought that would be a great way to at least begin the roll out of compatible DC quick chargers for the i3 so customers will at least have their local dealerships to fill up quickly at. They could also look for BMW i dealerships along the route of their long trips and since most dealerships are on highways, the locations would probably be good ones. Unfortunately that isn't going to happen. The dealers will not be required to install DC quick charge stations, but they will be "encouraged to." Personally I'd like to see BMW "encourage" them by offering to supply them with the DC charging station for free, as long as they pay to install, maintain it and have it available for use even when the dealership is closed. The dealerships will however be required to install multiple level 2 charging stations though which is a start, but really doesn't help out with longer road trips.

"Quick" Level 2 Charging

Is there such a thing as quick level 2 charging? While level 2 charging (240v) isn't necessarily quick, some cars do charge quicker than others. The Model S is the king (in the US at least) of L2 charging as it can charge at a rate of up to 20kW with optional dual onboard 10kW chargers. However the real L2 charging champ is only available in Europe. The Renault ZOE's onboard "Chameleon charger" can charge at up to 43kWs! On the other end of the spectrum is the Chevy Volt that is restricted to 3.3kW charging. However since the Volt has a much smaller battery than a Model S, it can actually fully charge in about the same time as a Model S can with it's massive 85kWh battery. The i3 will be able to charge at up to 7.4kW, and since it has only a 22kWh battery, it can fully charge in under 3 hours. This delivers a rate of about 30 miles of range per hour when charging from a 240v 30 amp level 2 charging station. That's a good improvement from my ActiveE, which returns only 15-18 miles of charge per hour. BMW is quick to point out how fast the i3's battery can be replenished while charging on L2, and while it is better than any non-Tesla EV here in the US, it still pales compared to the 80 miles of range you can get in 20 minutes on a DC quick charger.

Bigger battery vs DC quick charge 

The i3's 22kWh battery will allow for 80-100 miles or range in every day driving conditions, and up to 125 miles if the more efficient ECO-Pro+ driving mode is selected (Says BMW). So if range is so important, why not just slap a 40kWh battery in there and call it a day? The i3 would get about 200 miles of range and you wouldn't need quick charge, right? Wrong. Tesla uses enormous battery packs and they still realize they need a DC quick charge network to really make their electric cars viable to the broad public. Even with 200 to 300 mile range their customers want to be able to quickly recharge so they can drive long distances. The truth is, no matter how big your battery is and how far you can drive on a single charge, people will always want more range and quick charging. This is way BMW is offering the range extender on the i3. They know that it's going to take years for a comprehensive DC quick charge network to be built out, so until we have a robust infrastructure in place, the range extender will be a very popular option and will allow the owner to drive as far as they need on the few occasions they need to travel long distances. For daily use they won't use any gas, as the ~100 mile range should be more than enough for the vast majority of the time, yet they still have the flexibility of being able to cover hundreds of miles should the need arise. I believe the range extender becomes obsolete once we have adequate quick charge infrastructure in place. In fact, large Tesla-sized batteries won't be necessary either. Why carry the additional weight around and pay for a huge battery pack when you can use one half the size and just charge it quickly when the occasional need arises? The main reason EVs cost more than conventional powered vehicles is the cost of the battery pack. A smaller pack combined with readily available quick charge is clearly the way to go, however getting the infrastructure in place is the 800 lb gorilla in the room. It's not just going to happen without the support of the manufacturers. Tesla and Nissan seem to be doing their part, will BMW and the others that have signed up to use the SAE CCS standard do their part? Only time will tell.
The BMW EV infrastructure team was well represented at the grand opening event for the first public CCS quick charging station. Will they continue to be involved in assisting CCS station deployment, or wait by the sideline and watch?