Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Breaking: BMW i3 REx Not Tax Exempt in NJ After All!

My i3 REx. Will it now cost me $3,900 more than my contract calls for?

It what can only be categorized as a major misstep, BMW of North America has announced that the i3 with range extender is not tax exempt in the state of New Jersey as what was previously reported. Back on January 27th, BMW of North America manager of Electric Vehicle sales and strategy Jacob Harb told his client advisers on a conference call that the i3 REx would be treated as a zero emission vehicle in New Jersey, and qualify for the state's Zero Emission tax exemption. That was big news at the time for New Jersey residents including myself, and was one of the final deciding factors for me to actually choose the REx version over the BEV i3.

"The sales tax exemption in NJ only applies to zero-emission vehicles--and as such, does not apply to the i3 with range-extender as it does not apply currently to any vehicle with an internal combustion engine."... "Any assumption that the i3 with range-extender would qualify was premature" 
Dave Buchko, BMW's product and technology communications

The misinformation was further reinforced at the BMW i3 dealer training event held at BMW headquarters in Woodcliff Lake in April when the client advisers were again told that the i3 REx would be sales tax exempt in New Jersey. Now that BMW has begun delivering i3s with the range extender in the State since last week, the dealers haven't been collecting sales tax on the cars since they were instructed that they didn't have to. I'm one of the people that took delivery already and didn't pay sales tax. It's unclear if BMW is going to now ask me to go back to the dealer and pay the additional $3,900.00 I'd owe for sales tax. I'm not even sure they can do that. I have a signed contract that is paid in full and I wonder where the law stands on this. I don't even know if I'd want to keep it if I have to pay the sales tax now. Don't get me wrong; I love the car, and I think the REx is a great option, but this will double the cost of the range extender. Instead of it costing me $3,850, it will cost me about $7,750! It really is a great option and so far I have loved how well it works, but it's just not worth $7,750 in my opinion. I could buy a good used second car for less than that and use it for the long trips I need to take.

Then there are the people that have an i3 REx on order here in NJ and haven't taken delivery yet, what will they do? At the last minute they find out the car is now costing them nearly $4,000 more! My good friend Chris Neff's car just arrived at the dealer yesterday and he's planning on picking it up as soon as possible. I wonder how he's going to react to it now costing him nearly $4,000 more! My client adviser Manny Antunes of JMK BMW has nine i3s with the REx options on order for customers. How many will cancel their order when they find this out? I bet at least half of them. What happens to the people like me that have signed contracts, and paid for the car already? I wonder where the law stands on this? Can we now be forced to pay more than our contracts stipulate? Personally I'm not sure what I'll do if I'm told I have to pay the $3,900 now. Will BMW NA eat the extra cost for the few people that already took delivery of their REx in NJ? Will they push it on the dealers? Perhaps this was a sign that I was really meant to get the BEV i3 after all. I've already tinted the windows and now my car is being wrapped a new color at Designer Wraps down in Millville, NJ. Will JMK BMW end up with a custom-colored, Electronaut Edition i3 REx to sell as I wait another few months for a new i3 BEV to be made and delivered? This is going to be very interesting, stay tuned!

Monday, May 26, 2014

First i3 REx Road Trip: Hotels, BMW Dealerships & Wraps

Charging up at Hampton Inn in Turnersville... but for how long?
Ever since the i3 colors were announced, I had thought about doing a custom color wrap for my i3. The colors offered just weren't very inspiring and other than the Solar Orange, they were all white and shades of grey or silver. I chose the Laurel Grey because I liked how it made the car look more like one solid color. It minimized the "Black Hand" design that BMW used to try to give the appearance that the i3 is slimmer than it actually is.  It's a short car that is tall, and definitely has unusual lines and BMW believed that using black on the top surfaces would make it look less "chunky".  I also liked the idea of having a custom color so my car would be easily identifiable in pictures. I'll be writing i3 reviews for quite a few websites, and having my car a distinct color will let the readers know immediately that it's my car they are looking at.

Once I got to see my car in person I realized how much I really do like the Laurel Grey
That being said, once I got my car I realized how great the Laurel Grey looks, especially with the Frozen Blue accents and I started having second thoughts about doing the wrap. I decided to go through with it anyway because I really like the idea of having a distinctive color that no other i3 has. Plus, when I take it off it will feel like I got a new car again because the wrap protects the paint perfectly underneath. Since I'm wrapping a new car the paint will remain pristine and in a year or so when I decide to take it off I'll be able to enjoy the Laurel Grey with Frozen Blue color scheme.

After doing some research I decided to get the wrap done at Designer Wraps in Millville, NJ. It's about a 130 mile trip from my house and while there are closer wrap shops, I want to get it done somewhere that has a great reputation and has been doing wraps for a long time and Designer Wraps fit the bill. So I plotted the trip and since the wrap takes 3 or 4 days to complete, I told my wife I'd need her to drive down with me separately so I could drop off the car and we'd drive back together. The funny thing about it is she initially said, "How long will that take? Is there a charging station along the route where you can stop and charge?" She momentarily forgot I have the range extender on the i3 so she was thinking this would be an all day road trip. After driving pure EVs for five years now, she had been conditioned to think a long trip meant 80 miles or so of driving, and then four or five hours of charging in order to continue. After staring at her and smiling for a few seconds, she realized her error and we just laughed. Only two days of ownership in and the REx is immediately a game changer.

Then I realized I had also overlooked something, but not anything with regards to the car though. We were planning on driving down early on the morning of Saturday, May 24th, and that turned out to be the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. If you live in New Jersey, you know how bad traffic is going south on the Parkway or the Turnpike during either Memorial Day or Labor Day weekends, as tens of thousands of people migrate to the Jersey Shore for these two weekends that bookend the summer. A two and a half hour drive could easily take five hours under these traffic conditions. So we came up with plan B. We would drive about 100 miles late Friday night which would get us passed the major traffic areas, stay in a hotel and continue on the next morning.

Since we would be spending the night, I figured I might as well find a hotel that would let me plug in 120v while we were there. After all, the goal is to drive on electric as much as possible, even with the REx and an overnight stay would give me enough range to make the final 40 miles or so without the REx kicking on. After making some calls, I found an Hampton Inn in Turnersville, NJ that said I could plug in and it was just about perfectly along our planned route.  The hotel was about 100 miles into the trip and we would then be 40 miles from Designer Wraps. An overnight charge would give me just enough to complete the trip the next day without the range extender. If I really wanted to, I could have probably found a hotel that was only halfway there, and tried to complete the entire trip without the REx, but then I would have needed to find a L2 240v EVSE, as overnight charging on 120v wouldn't have been enough to fully replenish an empty battery. It just wasn't worth the trouble, and if everything worked out, the 140 mile trip would end up with me using only a little more than a half a gallon of gas and without any inconvenience.

I drove nearly 90 miles before the REx came on
It was raining heavily for most of the drive there so I wasn't expecting to beat the car's predicted 75 mile electric range but I did. I was shocked when I drove 89 miles, mostly at speeds of 60 to 65 mph but occasionally faster, before the range extender turned on to hold the battery charge for the final 9 miles. There was traffic so we did occasionally drive for a while at about 50 to 55 mph and I did activate Eco Pro mode about halfway into the trip. I didn't really do so to extend my range because driving at constant highway speeds requires a certain amount of energy regardless of what mode you are in and I don't think Eco Pro will really help out much at all with this kind of driving. I really just wanted to see if there was any noticeable difference in the driving behavior and found out something very interesting that I haven't seen reported anywhere before. When driving in Eco Pro mode the car tries to keep you from driving faster than 75 mph. If you are in Eco Pro and accelerating, when you hit 75 mph the car holds at 75 mph momentarily, and in order to go faster you need to really push the accelerator further than you would normally have to in order to continue accelerating. It's kind of like the car is coaching you to not exceed 75 mph because of how inefficient it is to drive at that speed. Once you continue to push the pedal further, it realizes you really do want to go faster and it takes off with a bit of a surge. I then tried this in Eco Pro+ mode and found out it does that same thing at 55 mph in that mode. This is a nice feature to "remind" you that driving faster will consume more energy than you may want to. This only happens in Eco Pro and Eco Pro+, and not in the default Comfort driving mode.

We arrived at the Hampton Inn around 1:00am with 98.1 miles on the trip odometer, and only the last 9 with the range extender in operation. The gas gauge barely moved and looked like I only used about 1/12 of the tank. The gas gauge showed 62 miles of range remaining and if that held true, then I would have had 160 mile range total; 89 on pure electric and 71 on gas.

Plugged in at Hampton Inn
After checking in and confirming it was OK with the front desk attendant I went outside and pulled my car to the front door where there were two brand new 120V outlets, one on each side of the front entrance. I checked around the rest of the building and didn't see any other outlets that were assessable. I'd prefer not to be plugged in right in front and draw attention, but it was the only outlet available and I was able to pull over to the side and well passed the entrance so the car wasn't in anyone's way.  I got up around 7:30am and checked my app to see the state of charge and noticed the SOC was at 30% but that the car was no longer charging and had a "charging error" at 5:07am. I went out to the car and saw it was unplugged from the wall so I plugged it back in and went to the front desk to ask if there was a problem. It was a different person than when we checked in and she told me the owner came in and unplugged the car. I explained to her that I called ahead to ask if I could plug in and was told it wouldn't be a problem and that I told the person the night before that if there was indeed any problem to please call my room. I also asked if I could speak to the owner was was told no, I could not. With that I told her that I plugged the car back in and if the owner has a problem with it to please call my room as I would like to discuss this with them.

After about 15 minutes my smartphone app notified me that the car had another charging error so I went back down to try to straighten out the situation one more time. Again the car was unplugged so I went to the desk to ask to speak to the owner and again was told they are unavailable. So there was nobody that would even address the situation with me. I then very politely informed the person at the desk that I'd be contesting the charge on my credit card and refusing to pay for the one night stay as well as contacting Hampton Inn customer service. Hampton Inn boasts the "100% Hampton Guarantee" that promises "If you are not satisfied, we don't expect you to pay". Honestly, if someone would have just talked to me and given me any reason, even if it wasn't a valid reason like "Due to insurance concerns we can't let you charge" or "Other guests were complaining that you are getting free fuel but they aren't" I would have accepted it and agreed to pay my bill. While I wouldn't be happy and would likely write to Hampton Inn asking them to consider changing policy, I wouldn't have evoked the Hampton Guarantee and told them I will be writing customer service and asking to be refunded. The fact that nobody there had the decency to even talk to me about it, or call my room to explain that they needed to unplug my car tells me they don't care about offering acceptable hospitality. If you don't fit into the box of what services they expect to provide for their typical guest, then you are out of luck and they won't even discuss the issue with you, and that's very unfortunate. I understand this is new territory for many hotels, and that I shouldn't feel entitled to charge my car wherever I want to. However I did ask first and I did make it clear that if there was a problem to please call my room to discuss it with me. I would never lose my temper or get confrontational with anyone in this kind of situation. I believe the early adopters need to be ambassadors for plug in cars, paving the way for the rest and we need to do our best to educate the uninformed as to why this is indeed a better path for us all. I will certainly be in touch with Hampton Inn's customer service this week, and try to encourage them to proactively adopt a charging-friendly policy for all of their locations. So perhaps something good will come us this unfortunate incident.
Will Hampton Inn honor their guarantee? I'll find out soon
Charging at Camden County College
Realizing I didn't have enough charge to make the final 40 miles to Designer Wraps, I pulled out my phone and looked up the charging stations in the area. I found that Camden Community College was only a few miles away and they had two level 2 EVSEs. So we headed over there, found the two Blink stations, plugged in and went out for a bite to eat. After breakfast we went back to the hotel, got our belongings and went to check out. By then there was a new person at the desk and when they asked if everything during our stay was OK I told them it wasn't and explained the charging issue. She seemed a bit confused about what to do but didn't offer any help or even to get a manager so I just thanked her and informed her that we'd be contacting Hampton's customer service to take up the issue with them.

Giving a quick i3 seminar!
We headed back to get my car and when we arrived we were greeted by a security guard who was checking it out. He loved it and wanted to know all about it. After giving him the basic i3 101 lesson, we were off to complete the mission. By this time I was about 60% charged and had plenty of juice to complete the final 42 miles. The whole trip was 140 miles and I finished with a consumption rate of 4.2 mi/kWh. I dropped the car off, was told it will be ready by next weekend and headed home. I know I've only had the car three days, but I've driven it nearly 400 miles already and have loved every mile. I'm really glad I decided to get the range extender, it makes the car immensely more versatile, especially for high mileage drivers like me. I know I only needed to use it for 9 miles out of this 140 mile journey, but just knowing it's there in case I do need it will allow me to take trips I normally wouldn't have with it.
Final stats of the trip
There is one more note to make about the trip. Knowing that I would be very close to a BMW dealership while we stayed at the hotel, I contacted BMW of Turnersville the day before to see if I could plug in to their EVSE overnight so I'd be fully charged the next morning. The receptionist answered the phone and I then said this to her: "Hello. I'm going to ask you a question that I bet nobody has ever asked you before, but I promise you that will will hear it a lot in the coming months and years".  She laughed a bit and I then told her I was driving my electric BMW i3 to the area from Northern NJ and I needed to charge it. I wanted to know if I could plug into the charger at their dealership. She replied that I was correct, and nobody had ever asked her that and that she'll have to ask someone about this. She put me on hold for awhile and then another person picked up from the service department. They had no idea what I was talking about. Even after explaining that I just bought a brand new BMW i3 and that it was electric, they had no clue about the car or if they had the means to charge it there. I assume if the dealership had a charging station the service department would likely know about it, so just as I was about to say thanks anyway and hang up the person said they would transfer me to a manager. So on hold again for awhile and then the phone rang and was picked up by a voice mail system that said they were not available and to leave a message. Since I already confirmed that I could plug in at the hotel, I just hung up at that point. This is really inexcusable as far as I'm concerned. I know the i3 is a new vehicle and perhaps this particular dealership didn't even get on in stock yet, but BMW has known for four years now that these cars would be in showrooms by mid 2014. How is it that the people at this dealership weren't prepared to even answer a simply question about charging? It was as if I was speaking a different language. <Sigh> There's a lot of work to do folks.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Born Electric Guest Blogger: Meet Bill from The UK

Hi, my name is Bill and I was born electric on 14 March 2014. 

I've done 2,000 miles in my i3 so far so I thought it was time to contribute first impressions via Tom's blog (thanks Tom). As you can see from my photos, this i3 is definitely not a city dweller, although in the south of England you're never that far from a city to be honest. Driving country lanes so much makes it really tough to keep clean though.

I came to the i3 via a curious route, because I had really been looking for an electric motorbike. Sadly, there are not many to choose from and none from the established mainstream motorcycle producers. The more I looked into things the more I was convinced I could live with the range limits inherent to EVs; my daily commute (25 mile round trip) is very compatible with the range of most pure electric vehicles. Coupled with the luxury of having other family vehicles available if needed, it made it really easy to make the switch. But when I started looking to replace my ICE car, nothing really excited me, until the i3 that is. The focus on weight reduction resonated with what I look for in motorbikes; the development of new car construction technologies was unusual in the EV market and designing the car to be an EV from the ground up rather than converting an ICE model seemed much more satisfactory. All this indicated to me that BMW have a level of commitment to this EV which is very welcome as a consumer. Although the price point of the i3 comes in for some criticism, next to the competition I think it is amazing considering the development. And, in the UK at least, the price benefits from a plug in grant which is not the case for electric motorbikes.

Car specification and options assessment
This car was bought primarily for my daily commute and circumstances meant that I decided early on to go for the pure electric model. The REX is a great choice if you need the daily range or you are buying one as your only family car, but that wasn't my situation. As I was buying a BEV I initially specified the following options to help with range on the odd occasion that I might want or need it.

ZWT Winter pack, includes 494 (heated seats), and ZHV (high voltage battery preparation).
4T9 Auxiliary cabin preparation
4U7 DC rapid charge   preparation

As for the cosmetic options, I will probably keep the car for some time so went for the Suite interior hoping that the leather will wear well. I added turbine 428 wheels and LED headlights, and finally added parking assist when I realized it was the only way to get front parking sensors. The Pro navigation system and real time traffic info was a free of charge upgrade. I chose Arravani Grey as my colour option.

Of the options I didn't chose I'd make the following comments. I've had cars with sun roofs before and never used them. I don't like how cruise control takes away my control of the car so the idea of the driving assistance package did not appeal at all. My commute is virtually traffic free down country lanes so it would not have much use anyway. I don't need to make much use of my phone when on the move so enhanced bluetooth was an option without much benefit. I was coming from a 20 year old Mazda which had no remote central locking so I'm still enjoying the “thrill” of opening it without using a key making comfort access seem like overkill. I don't need the car to have the internet (I have a smart phone) and couldn't justify spending the extra on the premium sound preparation when it cost more than I spent on my home hi-fi speakers. I won't often take more than 1 passenger so the lack of rear speakers is not a worry. On the specification front I would say that a lot of the details about what these options actually do were only filled in after I placed the order, and having owned it for a couple of months I'm still not sure what the adaptive part of the headlight function refers too! 

Having lived with the options I thought scoring them might be of interest to potential buyers:

Winter pack  heated seats hardly affect range at all, even on full chat – a must have for temperate climates 10/10

Auxiliary cabin preparation – not sure how much this helps so difficult to score.

DC rapid charge preparation – time will tell but a potent game changer in functionality terms so I wouldn't be without it 10/10

Suite – love the mix of leather and wood so 10/10.

LED headlights are an expensive cosmetic option which I think I could have done without. As is common on modern lights they produces a blue halo around the edge of the beam which is off-putting for me and other drivers and I quite regularly get flashed by cars heading in the opposite direction even though I only have had dipped beam active. In the past I've had motorbikes which produce a light with a blue halo and I've had cars in front of me on a motorway brake hard and pull onto the hard shoulder because they thought I was the police – not ideal! 2/10. If I did it again I would probably drop LED lights in favor of the premium sound preparation.

Park Assistance front sensors are very handy but the rear camera takes some getting used to using and trust. Park assist parallel parking works very well although day to day I don't have much call for it. 10/10 for how well it works but 5/10 in value terms as it is an expensive option if like me it's just to add the front parking sensor functionality.

Efficiency, Range and average speed
My daily commute is 25 miles and at the end of two days commuting I typically have 25-30 miles of range left, but I haven't tried a third day without charging yet. I commute in Eco Pro mode with the speed limit set to 55 mph. When I can get away with it I just use heated seats (climate control only being used for demisting). Bear in mind that morning temperatures for the bulk of my mileage were rarely above 10 C here and most of the time I've owned the car the evening temperatures have been similar. My 2 day cycle therefore normally includes one pre-warm while attached to the mains and 3 pre-warms without mains. My longest trip between charges was 84 miles with 4 miles remaining. The trip was made early morning at temperatures between 6 and 10 C, the last 15 miles was warmer, up to 14 C. This was in Eco Pro mode with no climate control apart from some occasional demisting, along mostly country lanes and A roads, rarely breaking the 55 mph limit I have set in Eco Pro. The car tells me my average speed is 29.0 mph, average consumption is 4.2 miles/kWh and I've done just over 2000 miles. The car once told me I had 111 miles of range, but I didn't believe it!

Public charging cable, cargo net, all weather floor mats and additional 13 amp UK charger. These all work well and like others I find the mats slippery in the wet but this doesn't bother me and I like the way they look. The additional 13 amp UK charger was bought because I wanted to mount the one that came with the car to the wall of my garage but also wanted one to carry around in the car. I've swapped the main beam bulbs for a cooler light as I didn't like the mix of white and yellow beams. I don't have a level 2 charging station at home yet but have started the ball rolling.

The app needs a bit of work, both in terms of the functionality it offers and whether it reliably updates. I find the algorithm behind delayed charging (which makes it difficult to predict whether the car will take a charge when you've plugged it in but told it not to) hugely frustrating and wish BMW had included a simple “charge controlled by smartphone” option in the car's charge settings. If I want app control over charging I have to fudge it by swapping from charge immediately to charge using off peak time settings. I've had the car report interruptions to charging a couple of times and I've had it fail to precondition a couple of times but other than that it's been trouble free. A slight grumble with the climate control is that it tends to noticeable oscillate from warm to cold air but I will get used to that. I'm still confused by the preheating function which appears to leave my car with less that 100 % in the battery when attached to the mains. The attachment of the charging socket protective cap to the charging flap leaves a lot to be desired and I still don't have a manual for the Pro-Nav system.  

Public charging
This is my first EV and reading stories about charging points being out of service, ICE'd or otherwise not available has left me nervous about committing to a public charge as the only means of completing my journey. By scouting potential destinations I have confirmed the need to do this as the information about public charging points can be hit and miss. I have come across points listed as operational which were no more than concrete standings and other points listed as public which are really intended for the sole use of the company who have installed them. So when I set out for Bristol which is a 120 mile round trip requiring a charge to complete I was quite nervous, despite having visited and found that the listed charging points were mostly available (most common problem I saw there was being ICED, about 25 % of bays). But the trip went without a glitch and I was pleased to see the BMW app updated the availability in real time which is useful for all users. I moved the car off the bay once fully charged so that another EV could use it. When I returned to the car after the gig I'd been to, the EV bay I'd been in was ICED!

In summary I hope you can tell from my photos that I love the car. The only option I regret including is the LED headlights and if I was buying again I would have swapped the LED lights for the premium sound package. That's not to say that the standard sound is bad, on the contrary it is very pleasing. I could go on as there are so many aspects to this car to but overall so far I'm a  happy EV driver and a very happy i3 owner.

Cheers for now

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The First US i3 REx Delivery Goes To Me!

My client adviser, Manny Antunes and I with my i3
This afternoon I took delivery of the first i3 REx in the US. BMW of North America was kind enough to arrange it so I'd have the very first one delivered in North America, and I would like to thank them for that. It's been a long, fantastic journey for me. Five years in BMW's e-mobility trial lease program and over 140,000 electric miles driven on my MINI-E and ActiveE has led up to me finally getting the first real production EV from BMW. This has been a long time coming and I'm very anxious to see how the i3 performs and report on it here and on other websites. I'm sure there will be things I feel need improvement, but I do expect to thoroughly enjoy the car for what it is.

BMW NA CEO Ludwig Willisch handing me the keys to the first all electric BMW in company history.             January 13th, 2011
Manny Antunes, my client adviser at JMK BMW delivered the first i3 BEV in the state of New Jersey a couple of weeks ago and now he can add the first i3 REx customer delivery in the US to his resume. Manny was also my ActiveE client adviser when I took delivery of the very first ActiveE, back in January 2011. That was a historic event because I was the very first customer in BMW history to take delivery of a 100% electric BMW, something I am very proud of. As BMW slowly transitions to more and more electric vehicles in their lineup, I'll always know I was the person who got the very first one, and that's pretty cool.

I'm sure the frequency of my posts here will increase now, and I'll also be writing about my i3 experiences for a number of EV websites including InsideEVs, Green Car Reports, Plug in Cars and of course BMWBLOG where I'll have a regular column there reporting on my experiences and all other i3 news.

I just wanted to do a quick post now to make the announcement. I'll be putting up another post soon about my initial impressions. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 19, 2014

"Monroney Hold" Has Hundreds of Range Extended i3s in Limbo

i3s lined up at the port in New Jersey
For a little over a month now, cargo ships from Bremerhaven, Germany have been arriving weekly at the port in New Jersey to unload anywhere from dozens to hundreds of shiny new i3s. My i3 arrived last week on the Fedora, which left Germany back on April 30th. Back when I learned it was booked on the Fedora and would arrive here on  May 15th, I assumed that by the 20th or 21st of May, I'd be at the dealer signing the paperwork and driving my i3 home. I was wrong.

The BEV i3s Monroney label
I now have no idea when I'll be getting my car, and neither do the hundreds of other people that ordered an i3 with the range extender and whose cars are currently here in the US sitting at a port somewhere. Officially the holdup is a "Monroney Hold" - the fact that the EPA certification has not been completed so BMW doesn't have a Monroney label (window sticker) to post in the window before the car leaves the port, which is required by law. The range extender option changes (shortens) the car's electric range, and also requires an official MPG rating so BMW couldn't use the same Monroney label as they did for the all electric i3. The i3 REx would need to be fully tested and certified as a completely different car. To make matters worse, the majority of i3's sold in the US have the range extender option. For example, my client adviser Manny Antunes of JMK BMW has sold thirteen i3s so far and only two of them are the BEV version. Eleven of the thirteen have the range extender and his clients are beginning to call him frequently now, wondering when they can expect delivery. He has no information to offer other than he'll contact them as soon as he hears something from BMW - or a truck somehow magically pulls up to the dealer with a load of i3s with range extenders!

Where's mine?
BMW is indeed delivering i3s to customers now, but all of them sold so far have been the fully electric BEV i3. The i3 RExs keep arriving in the US alongside their BEV brothers, but they cannot be released and trucked to the dealerships until they have the EPA Monroney label. BMW isn't communicating the exact reason for the lack of EPA certification, but it appears to be a combination of BMW providing the EPA with the required information a little late, and the fact  that the i3 REx is different than anything the EPA has certified before so they are taking their time to make sure they get the certification right. The closest thing to the i3 REx would be the Chevy Volt, which for most of the time the gasoline engine is running is a series hybrid and only charges the battery. However under certain conditions the gasoline engine of the Volt does indeed directly power the wheels, and in those conditions it is a parallel hybrid, like a Toyota Prius. The i3 REx is the first (second actually. The Fisker Karma was also a series hybrid - thanks to reader Andrew Chiang for pointing that out to me. Fact is, I've tried to block out all memory of the Karma!) true series hybrid the EPA has ever certified and the range extender will only serve to charge the battery. I don't see why that would be a problem because to me it seems like the Volt would have been even harder to certify because it is both a series and a parallel hybrid depending on the driving conditions. In any event, BMW claims to have furnished the EPA with everything they need for certification and are cooperating with the EPA in an effort to get this issue resolved as quickly as possible.

Battery log sheet courtesy George B
This is clearly an example of a "first world problem," but those who have been waiting patiently for their car are growing anxious as the days pass and their car is simply sitting at the port and waiting for the label. Some have even wondered what the state of charge of the cars are, and if by sitting so long (some have been sitting at the port for over a month now!), have the "vampire loads" reduced the charge level to dangerously low levels? Personally I don't believe this is an issue, and I'm sure BMW is monitoring them. BMW ships the cars with only about 25% state of charge and charges them up at the port. All of the cars used for test drives had a battery log sheet in the glove box which shows BMW is certainly monitoring the SOC of all the cars from manufacture to delivery. Plus, if the i3 is anything like the ActiveE, then the car will hold the SOC very well when not in use. My ActiveE would only lose about one percent per week when sitting unused. I doubt sitting for a month or so will have any noticeable reduction in charge and unless the cars arrived with less than 10% SOC and weren't monitored and charged I doubt there is anything to worry about. However, let's hope this "Monroney Hold" gets resolved soon and BMW can begin deliveries of the i3 REx cars that are already here and waiting - and mine in particular!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Will an Optional "High Power" Battery For the i3 Be Available Soon?

I was tipped off by an anonymous follower here that the Spanish i3 online configurer has a not-yet-available option called "Bateria de mayor potencia" which Google Translate will tell you means "battery more powerful" in English. There isn't a picture for the option and you can't order it - yet. I checked the other BMW models on the site to make sure this wasn't just some kind of phantom option or mistake that was listed on all the BMW cars on the site and it isn't. It was in fact only listed on the i3 options page.

An inside look of  i3 Battery module
So I reached out to a contact I have in Spain that is well connected in the electric vehicle community there to look into this and see what they can uncover. Could the Spanish BMW site have inadvertently tipped us off as to what will soon be available? Maybe this is as innocuous as an optional, more powerful 12v battery? However I've never heard of an optional 12v battery being offered in any i3 market yet and I'm not sure why would they would need it? The 12v battery doesn't need to do very much on the i3 the first place. The car is already equipped with a cold weather package in cold-climate markets and there is no mention of a more powerful battery in that package. I would think if BMW thought the standard 12v battery was insufficient they would have just made all the cars standard with the more powerful one in the first place.

i3 Battery pack
There have been rumors that BMW is already field testing higher density batteries and that they will be available in the not-too-distant future. BMW has always maintained that the i3's battery pack is easily replaceable and that it's likely down the road when a customer determines it's time to replace their pack the replacement pack will be more robust, allowing for a greater range than the original battery did when it was new. Could that be available sooner than we anticipated?

Battery tech is constantly evolving. Tesla for example is rumored to be replacing the current batteries they use with higher density cells in the very near future and will soon open the Gigafactory(s) to manufacture them. Over in the BMW ActiveE Facebook group we recently had a fellow ActiveE driver say he had the opportunity to ride in a test MINI-E at BMW's Technology Center that was fitted with BMW's next generation of batteries and the car had about a 200 mile range. This cannot be confirmed but I have no reason to doubt his claim.

So this may be nothing, a simple mistake or misunderstanding on the BMW i3s Spanish website. Or maybe not...

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Real World Range Test: BMW i3 vs BMW ActiveE

Now that BMW has begun to deliver some BEV i3s to the ActiveE Electronauts, some of those in the ActiveE trial lease program who haven't yet gotten their i3 have been asking how the i3 compares to the ActiveE. Questions on ride quality, acceleration, handling and charge rate have been asked, but the biggest concern is: How does the range compare? After all, with electric vehicles, range is paramount.

So I got together with Michael and Pamela Thwaite who just last week picked up their Ionic Silver i3 and we mapped out an 80 mile loop that would include roughly 50% highway and 50% secondary and tertiary roads. While everybody has different driving needs and patterns, it was our hope that this course would provide an evenly balanced mix of different driving conditions. That being said, this wasn't a carefully controlled scientific experiment. We didn't weigh ourselves to make sure both vehicles were carrying the same weight, we didn't calibrate our speedometers or record the barometric pressure so please don't bother commenting on why this was a flawed experiment because it wasn't perfectly controlled. We did make sure we had proper tire pressure, we took turns following and leading each other and we tried our best to maintain the same constant speeds. We drove in the default (Comfort Mode) driving mode and didn't use Eco Pro driving mode at all. We met on Saturday morning at my restaurant which has two ChargePoint EVSEs in the parking lot and after about two hours of charging we set out with Pamela driving their i3 and my wife, Meredith, driving my ActiveE. Michael and I were the co-pilots so we could live blog the event, post pictures on social media sites and make sure we stayed on course.
Both cars charging up for the challenge at my restaurant in Montclair, NJ.

With both cars fully charged, the ActiveE showed an estimated 86 miles of range, while the i3 predicted 98. Which will be more accurate?

It was a warm, cloudy day with temperatures in the 80's. We knew we would need the air conditioning so we agreed to both use it only when we were driving over 45mph and under that we would just open the windows. The first stop, about 20 miles in, was the headquarters of BMW of North America. We figured it was an appropriate destination and since it was a Saturday they wouldn't mind us parking in front of the main entrance for a photo op. We were pleased to find a life sized i3 decal applied to the glass of the front doors. BMW is evidently proud of their first all electric vehicle. At this point we had both used 19% of the available battery. I was surprised the i3 was holding its own, especially since that leg was about 75% highway. We did drive the speed limit on the Garden State Parkway though, and stuck to about 60mph. I'm sure if we drove faster the i3 would have used more battery than the ActiveE. Still, I really expected the ActiveE to jump out to an early lead since we were driving at highway speeds for most of the first leg.

At BMW HQ in Woodcliff Lake NJ - Note the i3 overlay on the doors
The next leg of the journey would be about 40 miles, with the first 30 miles or so on all secondary and tertiary roads and we would end up in Denville, NJ. Michael and I were trading texts during the way and for at least the first 20 to 25 miles of this leg (a total of 40 to 45 miles driven) we were still nearly dead even in battery state of charge with the ActiveE having a 1% advantage with battery state of charge.  On route to the Route 80 leg (which would be our highest speeds of the day and all uphill) we were driving on Route 23 at 50 to 55mph and the ActiveE started to gain an advantage of a few more percent.

Driving the back roads of Bergen county was a pleasure on a nice sunny Spring day

We took turns following and leading each other for the entire route.

Then came the blow that the i3 couldn't recover from. Driving on Route 80 upgrade at the 65 miles an hour speed limit for about 10 miles finally gave us the separation we expected. We were 60 miles in (59.8 exactly) and the ActiveE now had a 6% state of charge lead (46% to 40%) and a predicted range of 9 more miles (40 miles to 31 miles). This clearly reinforces what many of us imagined. The i3 is a warrior on low speed driving, but at faster highway speeds it's a bit out of its element and the range will be substantially compromised.  At highway speeds the weight of the car isn't nearly as important as its aerodynamics, the exact opposite of low speed driving where weight influences energy use much more. The lightweight i3 has a respectable Cd of .29, but it is tall and has a large frontal area which increases its CdA (the combination of drag coefficient and frontal drag area) making it less than ideal for cheating the wind resistance at highway speeds.

The final 20 miles were about 30% highway (this time down hill most of the way) and 70% secondary roads with about 4 miles of stop and go, traffic light to traffic light driving. We decided to make one last stop at an appropriate destination which happened to be along the way. We stopped at the Thomas Edison National Historic Park in West Orange. What would be more appropriate for an electric car challenge anyway?

After the quick stop we headed back to Nauna's and finished the day driving exactly 80 miles. The ActiveE won the range challenge by 6 miles. Here are the final statics:

2011 BMW ActiveE
Remaining SOC: 27%
Estimated miles remaining: 22
Trip efficiency: 4.1 miles per kWh
Total miles: 102

2014 BMW i3
Remaining SOC: 20%
Estimated miles remaining: 16
Trip efficiency: 5.4 miles per kWh
Total miles: 96

So adding the mileage driven to the remaining mileage the i3 ended up with 96 miles of range and the ActiveE with 102. The i3 actually came very close to predicting the actual range and was only off by 2 miles since it predicted 98 miles of range when it was fully charged that morning. My ActiveE actually beat its range prediction by 16 miles, but that is because my regular driving routing is mostly highway so the car has learned to predict the range based primarily on high speed highway driving. All in all the i3 fared about as well as I expected. It is an incredibly efficient electric vehicle and is in fact now the most efficient car sold in America. However the ActiveE has a battery that is nearly 50% larger (21.6kWh's to 32 kWh's) than the i3's battery and in the end battery size beat efficiency. If the i3 had just a couple more kWh's, I'd be writing a different ending. BMW has been billing the i3 as its "Megacity" car. That was even the codename during development and they weren't kidding. It is much better suited to live its life on congested city streets than it is roaming the high speed highways of the US and the Autobahns of its homeland. I would speculate the i3 will only go about 70 miles if driven all highway, and that's at the 65 mile speed limit. If you were to increase that to 70 or 75 miles than the range will likely drop to 60 to 65 miles. However if you were to drive on secondary roads at around 35 to 40mph, I suspect 100 to 110 miles would be easily attainable in moderate temperatures when you don't need the air conditioning or heater much. So if I were rating the range of the all electric BMW i3, I'd say 60 to 110 miles, conditions provided.

The Thwaite's i3 topping off after the range challenge
One last no-so-small detail. The i3 we used is brand new, while my ActiveE is 28 months old and has 20,100 miles on it. Based on my recorded data I believe its battery has lost between 8% and 9% capacity. If you factor that in, it's clear that while my two year old ActiveE has a slightly better range than a new i3, it had a substantially better range when it was new. Probably about 15% more, which actually coincides with the EPA range ratings for both vehicles.

Some more pictures of the day:

Thursday, May 8, 2014

BMW i3 BEV vs REx: Your Purchase Matters

On REx models the i3's range extender sits next to the electric motor above the rear axle.

Many people considering a BMW i3 are a bit torn between the full electric version (BEV), and the range extended version (REx). What they may not know is their decision will indeed help BMW decide what electric range their future EV offerings have.

Now that the EPA range rating for the BEV i3 has been announced at 81 miles per charge customers can finally decide if they BEV i3’s range will suit their needs. If it doesn’t and they still want an i3, their only choice is to fork over the extra $3,850, and get the range extender. There are electric vehicle enthusiasts that consider this unacceptable because they don’t ever want to put gasoline in their electric vehicle, it just seems wrong to them. Others don’t mind, since they will be driving on electric the vast majority of time and using a little gas is OK with them.

Basically there are four main groups of perspective i3 purchasers:

1)      They are interested in the i3 but the 81 mile EPA rating is just too low for them and the range extender is out of the question. They walk away from the car and consider their other electric vehicle offerings.

2)      The 81 mile range works for them. They get the BEV i3 and understand its limitations.

3)      They really wanted the BEV i3 but the range rating was too low for their comfort so they reluctantly ordered the i3 REx. (I fit in this box)

4)      They really liked the idea of the range extender from the start and wouldn’t have bought an i3 without it. The ability to drive primarily on electric but have the range extender there for the few times they need more range is perfect for them. Not ever worrying about getting stuck on the road because they ran out of charge or a public charger was broken or blocked is paramount for these people.

Of course there are other factors, like local incentives and especially HOV access in California, but these are generally the four boxes the typical potential i3 customer will fit in. It will be interesting what the percentage of BEV buyers to REx buyers are, and don’t think BMW isn’t watching that very closely. I have personally spoken to BMW mangers that have said the breakdown of BEV to REx sales will give BMW a clear indication of what range people are comfortable with. If BEV sales dominate, BMW will take that as verification that the range they gave the i3 was right for this vehicle and perhaps consider future low-range EV's. Conversely if the majority of i3s sold are range extended versions, or if sales in general don’t meet expectations they have a clear message: The potential customers didn’t believe 81 miles per charge was enough, especially for premium brand EV and they are more likely to make the next EV they offer have a longer range. In other words, your purchase is your vote. Buying a BEV i3 is telling BMW that 81 miles is fine, and buying a REx i3 is telling them it’s not.

Hopefully BMW will break out the sales of the BEV i3s and the REx i3s in their monthly sales reporting instead of just including them in one group. That may just help to give us a better idea of what to expect next from the i brand.