Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How Much Does it Cost to Charge an Electric Car?



There are many reasons for considering making an electric car the next car you buy or lease. Besides the many environmental benefits, the promise of energy security, the silky-smooth driving experience with instant torque available without delay and low maintenance, one of the best characteristics of electric vehicles is how little they cost to operate. I've covered this topic here before, but this is something that really needs to be driven home. While Electric cars are currently more expensive than their conventionally-powered counterparts, the total cost of ownership over time can certainly be less, and in some cases much less.

Just as with gasoline cars some EV's are more efficient than others, but the average EV needs about 30 kWh’s of electricity to power the vehicle for 100 miles. For example, the EPA rating for the Nissan LEAF is exactly 30 kWh’s per 100 miles. A Tesla Model S 60 is rated at a combined 35 kWh’s per 100 miles and uses a little more energy since it’s heavier and more powerful than a LEAF, while the Chevy Spark EV has a combined consumption rating of 28 kWh’s per 100 miles. The BMW i3’s EPA consumption ratings haven’t been announced yet, but since the i3 is likely to be wear the “most efficient EV” crown, I expect it to be rated somewhere around 26kWh’s per 100 miles. The consumption for all electric vehicles can be viewed at the US Department of Energy’s website: www.fueleconomy.gov

According to Researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the sales-weighted average fuel economy of all new vehicles sold in the United States in 2013 was 24.8 mpg. The average cost for a gallon of regular gasoline in the US over the past three years was $3.53/gallon. By using 15,000 miles as the average amount of miles a person will drive in a year, the annual cost of gasoline for the average car will be $2,135 per year, using the average cost of gasoline from 2011 through 2013.

Electricity rates vary much more than gasoline across the country, but the cost is much more stable. Unlike with gasoline, there aren’t huge spikes in electricity rates if a refinery has a problem, and neither does the price skyrocket when there is political instability in one of the large oil producing countries as we have seen lately, since all of the electricity we use in America is domestically produced. The average cost of electricity in the US is 12 cents per kWh. Therefore the average person driving an average EV 15,000 miles per year pay about $540.00 per year to charge it. As mentioned, the cost of electricity can vary greatly depending on where you live, but in order to equal the price of the average gasoline car’s fuel costs, the price of electricity would have to be four times the national average, and cost 48 cents per kWh. Nowhere in the US does electricity cost even close to that much. So the average American would save roughly $1,600 per year in fuel alone, and that's if gasoline prices remain around $3.53 per gallon. Gasoline prices do frequently spike up and down, but in the long run they always goes up. Electricity costs do eventually increase also, but not nearly at the pace of gasoline. Plus with fewer moving parts, EV's cost much less to maintain. If you combine the fuel savings with the reduced maintenance costs, it's clear to see an EV will cost you much less in the long run, even if the vehicle costs a little more up front.

Another great thing about electric cars is that you can easily reduce your electric bill by $40 to $50 per month just by being more efficient, and therefore completely eliminate your transportation fuel cost! You really can't use less gasoline unless you drive less or buy a more efficient car, but you can reduce your electricity usage at home and still drive as much as you always have. Simple measures like a programmable thermostat and the use of compact florescent or LED light bulbs can make a big difference. In fact, five 100 watt light bulbs left on continuously for a year use nearly the same amount of energy as it takes to power an electric car 15,000 miles! Here's how: five 100 watt light bulbs use 500 watts per hour. In 24 hours they use 12,000 watts or 12kWh. In 365 days they use 4,380kWh’s. A typical EV that uses 30 kWh’s for every 100 miles will use 4,500 kWh’s to drive 15,000 miles. Simply by turning unnecessary lighting off at your home, you can drastically reduce or completely eliminate your annual transportation fuel cost. Try doing that with a gasser!

Friday, April 25, 2014

BMW i3 Wheels and Tires: What you need to know

You get a better view of just how tall and thin the tires on the i3 are without the body in place
Note: This was originally posted on February 17th, 2014. I have had so many people message me about tire and wheel size information that I thought it would be a good idea to repost it.

One of the more talked about features of the i3 is its tires. Not for decades has there been a car with such tall and narrow wheels and tires. Since the 70's, the trend has been for tires to get wider and wider, and that is especially true for performance cars since more rubber on the ground generally means better roadholding.

Performance is critical for any BMW
Then came along the i3. It's BMW's quirky-looking mega-city car, and the first electric car from the brand. With all the incredibly unique aspects of this vehicle, it's still the tires that catch most peoples attention when they first see it in person. They just aren't used to seeing such tall and thin tires on a car, let alone a BMW. Actually, they look like they would be better suited for a motorcycle, but that's just because we just aren't accustomed to seeing tires like this. Rest assured the BMW engineers have done their homework, and the tires do exactly whet they were designed to. They provide excellent grip while increasing the cars efficiency with lower aerodynamic drag.

BMW commissioned Bridgestone to make special tires just for the i3. Even though they carry the "Ecopia" name, they are different from any other tire that Bridgestone makes. Franco Annunziato, CEO and President of Bridgestone Europe said: “The BMW i3 is very much a car for the future. Developing a unique tire for this unique vehicle was therefore an enormously challenging but also rewarding experience. Energy efficiency is an important development criteria for all our tires at Bridgestone. However, it becomes an even more critical factor in an electric car. Which is why we have put all our knowhow, skill and passion into developing this unique tire. One that we are confident delivers the premium performance, safety and economy towards consumers who have come to expect it from both brands.” As for performance, since BMW wanted to use a narrow tire for efficiency but not sacrifice on performance, they needed to use a much taller tire than most would expect on a car of this size. By increasing the height, they were able to increase the contact patch so it is similar to the contact patch of a MINI Cooper, which is well known for its great handling. Talking about the i3's tires and their grip on the road, Ulrich Krantz, BMW's product manager for BMW i said: "It’s not rocket science. All that matters is the size of the contact patch. The 19-inch tires may be skinny, but their tall height generates the same contact patch as a low-section 16-inch MINI tire". 
 
1) Standard Mega 19" #427  2) Tera World 19" #428   3) Giga World 19" #429   4) Optional 20" Sport  #430

So with the question of performance behind us let's focus on the tire and wheel sizes and combinations. BMW doesn't make it easy here. The standard wheel on the base Mega World interior is a BMW i Star Spoke (Style 427) wheel that is 19" x 5" on the front and rear and they use the 155/70 R19 84Q Bridgestone Ecopia EP600 all season tires that were specifically designed for the i3. Here is where it starts to get tricky. If you get a BEV i3 with the standard Mega trim, the wheels and tires are the same size on the front & rear, but if you get any other interior trim (Giga or Tera Worlds) the rear wheels are slightly wider (19" x 5.5") and the tires are wider and lower profile (175/60 R19 86Q). Also, if you get the standard Mega World trim but get the range extender, you also get the wider wheels and tires on the rears. Then there are the optional 20" Double Spoke sport wheels. They are also staggered in size and use Bridgestone Ecopia EP500 summer tires, not all-seasons. Up front you get 20" x 5" wheels and 155/60 R20 80Q tires and in the back there are 20" x 5.5" wheels and 175/55 R20 85Q tires.

EP600's on left & winter tire on right
So the wheel and tire size is staggered in every instance except for a base i3 with Mega World trim and no range extender, right? Kinda. Everything above applies for the standard 19" Bridgestone Ecopia EP600 and 20" Ecopia EP500 tires but not if you want/need winter tires. There will be two different winter tires available (Blizzak LM500 & Blizzak NV, though I'm not sure they will both be available in the US). However they will only be available in 155/70 R19, so if you want the winter tires you'll be using the same size front and rear tire. Furthermore, if you order your i3 with the optional 20" Sport wheels ($1,300 option) and you live in an area that would necessitate winter tires, then you'll need to buy a set of 19" wheels also, since there are no 20" winter tires that will fit the 20" sport wheels. I have spoken to BMW product managers about this and was told bluntly that the 20" tires are summer tires, not all-seasons and they will not perform well in snow and ice. So if you were considering the 20" sport wheels for your i3 and you live in a cold weather area, understand you'll likely need to spend another $2,000 or so to get a set of winter tires & wheels, since you can't just buy the tires. If you have any of the three 19" wheels then all you need to do is buy the winter tires and you can swap them for the winter and put your Ecopia EP600's back on in the spring.

The 20" Sport #430 Wheels
One more thing. None of the tires are runflats, and the i3 does not have a spare tire. What you do get is a can of "Fix-a-Flat" tire sealant and compressed air, which if used properly should get you at least as far as your nearest BMW dealer which will likely be the only place that stocks there rare tire sizes. If not used properly it will blow up in your hand leaving you covered with the sticky goo meant to seal the hole and you'll be calling Roadside Assistance. Finally, if you are wondering how well the i3 does in the snow, below are a couple videos that were just posted on YouTube by a new i3 owner in Norway. I have also talked with a couple people that have driven the i3 in the snow and they have remarked about how well it has done, likely another benefit of the tall, thin tires that slice through the snow instead of rolling over it.

Snow chains are available for the 19" tires





Tuesday, April 22, 2014

More Range Extender Details Uncovered At BMW i Dealer Training


BMW has been hosting i3 training events to get their client advisers up to speed and ready to sell the car. I'm very happy to hear they are doing this because I was really beginning to get concerned that they wouldn't properly prepare their sales staff for this unique vehicle. I even dedicated a post a few months ago to this very topic. I've now talked to a few client advisers that have done the training and they reported that they did indeed get a lot of useful information which will help them service their clients.
The i3's tiny fuel tank is seen here at right in front of the battery pack in the center of the car.  This is where the heat pump is located and why you cannot get the heat pump if you have an i3 REx

This week the latest round of training sessions are being held up at BMW headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ and details of what is being taught are starting to leak out from some of the client advisers that are there. A couple things of interest shared were details about the range extender the i3 will offer as an option.

First, it was learned that the range extender is automatically activated once the state of charge drops below 6.5%. At that moment, it turns on and it's function is to bring the state of charge back up to 6.5% and to maintain that level of charge. It will not charge the car much above 6.5%, and it will not run if the car is stopped, unless the state of charge is critically low. Therefore you can't it in a stationary i3 and wait for the state of charge to increase. I knew the automatic turn on point was around 5% to 6%, but now we have an exact level when it engages.
US i3 REx customers wish they had the European "hold" feature available

You cannot manually turn the range extender off. This is contrary to what I was told by an i3 product manager at the i3 debut in New York City last July. I remember asking this specific question by saying "What if I knew I'd make it home on electric, say I only had a mile or two to go and the REx was about to turn on, could I just turn it off so it's doesn't fire up?" I was told yes, there will be a setting that will allow you to turn it off before it engages, but that setting will reset once you turn the car off. The reason for that is so that the next time you get in the car you won't forget that you had turned off the REx and you may end up needing it. I would have definitely preferred to be able to turn it off manually, and honestly can't see why that isn't going to be allowed.

The range extender exhaust is tucked away under the car so you can't see the tailpipe unless you crawl underneath to look
We also found out that the client advisers have been told that while the range extender is in operation the speed of the car will be electronically limited to 70mph. I'm not buying that; I think they were misinformed. I really think there was a miscommunication on this one because I have had conversations with people at BMW that know a lot about this and even very recently they assured me that there isn't an electronically governed speed limit while the range extender is in operation. I believe the confusion about 70mph is based on the fact that 70mph is basically the top speed that the range extender can comfortably maintain the 6.5% state of charge at while driving on relatively flat ground. The people I've talked to in Europe that have i3's with the range extender say they can drive on the highway at just about 120 km/hr (75mph) and maintain the SOC, but anything higher and the SOC will gradually diminish. It's my contention that the people running the training sessions either aren't 100% clear on this, or they really meant for the client advisers to warn the customers that 70mph is really the fastest they should drive at if they need to drive for a long distance. In any event, I believe they got this one wrong and there isn't an electronic limit, we'll find out pretty soon since the US i3 launch should be in about two weeks.
The BMW i3 range extender is located next to the electric motor and power electronics, over the rear axle.
I saved the biggest news for last. It was learned that the US version of the i3 REx will have not have a 2.4 gallon gas tank as the European version does. Instead it will have only a 1.9 gallon gas tank. I'm going to pause for a moment to let everybody scream bloody murder now...... I know it's only half a gallon, but in the case of the i3, that just reduced the gas tank by 21%! For me this is a non-issue, but I know there are a lot of people that will not like this at all. 99% of the time I use the added range of the REx it will likely be for less than 40 miles. Yes, this does reduce the utility of long range trips even more, as you will now probably have to stop for gas every 40 or 50 miles. There was no reasons given for the smaller gas tank but as far as I can imagine, this comes down to one of two things. Since BMW wants needs the i3 REx to qualify as a BEVx and one of the qualifications of the BEVx is that the car has a smaller gasoline range than it does electric range, my thinking is that one of these two things led to the smaller gas tank:

1) The EPA rating for all electric range on the REx came out lower than they believed it would. If they used the 2.4 gallon gas tank, the gas range would be slightly longer than the all electric range, therefore causing it to be disqualified for the BEVx designation. The only simple way to make the gas range less than the electric range was to reduce the gas range by using a smaller gas tank.

2) The EPA rating for the MPG while in range extender mode came out higher than expected, creating the same problem cited above; a longer range in REx mode than in all electric mode. I've heard it gets anywhere from 36mpg to 46mpg from people driving REx's in Europe so this is a possibility. If the range extender got rated at 40mpg, and was using a 2.4 gallon gas tank, then the electric range would need to be 96 miles per charge, which is highly unlikely. If they cut the tank down to 1.9 gallons, then the electric range would only need to be greater than 79 miles per charge, which I believe is attainable, even considering that the REx version will have 6.5% less battery to use than the BEV i3 does, as this is held in reserve as a buffer.

So what do you think? Has any of these new revelations changed you mind about the REx?


Monday, April 21, 2014

BMW i3 Selected the Best Green Car of 2014 by Kelly Blue Book


The awards keep piling up for the BMW i3. Less than a week from winning the 2014 World Green Car and the 2014 World Car Design Of The Year, Kelly Blue Book just awarded the 2014 BMW i3 the "Best Green Car of 2014".

The Nissan LEAF finished second  with the Toyota Prius third. Four of the top six cars were either all electric or PHEV's. Here's how the top ten placed:





Saturday, April 19, 2014

BMW i3: Wrapped and Ready


Is it me or does the i3 look especially good in custom designer wraps? Now that the i3 has been available in select European markets for about five months now, pictures are surfacing of i3s with colorful full-body wraps. The i3 will likely be a popular car for businesses to use because of tax incentives and low operating costs. Plus with its funky-unconventional styling it is sure to grab attention, especially with bright, colorful body wraps.


The stock colors available on the i3 aren't very bold, with Solar Orange the only color that really stands out. The rest of the colors are basically grey-scale with a white, two silvers and two greys. I've been thinking of doing something custom to my i3 when I get it, and seeing all these custom wrapped i3s has pushed me to decide to go for it. I've already identified where I'll be getting it done but I'm still on the fence about what color. I'll likely be wrapping my i3 soon after getting it provided I can get the timely appointment.



What color do you think will look best on the i3? Please leave your choice in the comment section below.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Breaking: BMW i3 Wins 2014 World Green Car And World Car Design Of The Year!


Breaking news from InsideEvs.com. The BMW i3 swept both awards it was a finalist for which were 2014 World Green Car And 2014 World Car Design Of The Year. Here's what InsideEVs had to say:

From the shortlist of finalists, a winner in both categories emerged. Here first are the shortlisted automobiles:

World Green Car
- Audi A3 Sportback g-tron (+ Audi e-gas)
- BMW i3
- Volkswagen XL1

World Car Design of the Year
- BMW i3
- Mazda3
- Mercedes-Benz C-Class

The winner, in both categories, is the BMW i3.

So, BMW can now add 2014 World Green Car and 2014 World Car Design of the Year to the list of awards the i3 has racked up.
BMW i3

In regards to the 2014 World Green Car award, BMW’s Dr. Ian Robertson, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Sales and Marketing, stated:
“To have the BMW i3 named World Green Car of the Year is a great honor.  From the production process onwards, the BMW i3 is a truly sustainable vehicle, created with the needs of the 21st century city in mind.”
Meanwhile, the World Green Car judges offered this comment:
“Radical in looks, construction, and powertrain, the BMW i3 is one of very few clean-sheet-of-paper cars designed from the ground up for efficiency, with the different needs of the new century’s megacities in mind. From its last-kilometer navigation system to take drivers from car to destination, to the shipped-around-the-world carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic body shell without a B-pillar, the BMW i3 pushes boundaries on many fronts.”
Eligibility for World Green Car is as follows:
To be eligible for the 2014 World Green Car award, a vehicle had to be all-new, or substantially revised, in production and introduced for sale or lease to the public in quantities of at least 10 in at least one major market during the period beginning January 1, 2013 and ending May 31, 2014. Tailpipe emissions, fuel consumption, and use of a major advanced power plant technology (beyond engine componentry), aimed specifically at increasing the vehicle’s environmental responsibility, were all taken into consideration.
Moving on to the World Car Design of the Year award, BMW’s Dr. Ian Robertson commented:
“On behalf of the BMW design team, we are delighted that the BMW i3 has received the World Car Design of the Year award.  Our designers created a car that, through its design and use of sustainable materials, is an expression of the future.”
The design judges posted this statement on the i3′s selection:
“Unlike other BMW cars, the i3 has a boxy shape, which suggests roominess and efficiency. But it still retains BMW’s typical dynamism thanks to the larger diameter wheels and the very short overhangs both on front and rear. Besides that, the i3 expresses the sub-brand’s own character with using unique design features, including the black bonnet and the side window graphics that goes through the rear pillar. The interior is more surprising and attractive. It marks radical leap of car interior design, and it spreads as calm yet rich feeling as a modern living room.”
 About the World Car Awards
Now in their tenth year, the annual World Car Awards are now the number one awards program in the world based on Prime Research’s 2013 report. The awards were inaugurated in 2003, and officially launched in January 2004, to reflect the reality of the global marketplace, as well as to recognize and reward automotive excellence on an international scale. The awards are intended to complement, not compete, with existing national and regional Car of the Year programs.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

BMW increases i3 production by 43%


Bloomberg News reported this morning that BMW has raised i3 production an additional 43%. They got that information directly from BMW board member and production chief, Harold Krueger. What that means is instead of the 70 units a day that was previously reported, BMW is now making 100 i3's every day which amounts to around 23,000 units per year. They already have built 5,000 cars in 2014 which works out just about exactly to the 70 units a day that BMW claimed they were making.


This announcement from Krueger comes only a couple weeks after it was revealed that BMW has ordered additional molding machines that make body shell components. The additional equipment obviously hasn't been installed yet so it's likely when it is installed BMW will have the ability to increase production even further. This is all good news for BMW and the EV industry in general, as it continues to demonstrate that there is definitely a healthy demand for electric cars that people find desirable.

Touchy "Door Ajar" Warning Light an Issue With Early i3 Builds

If you already drive an i3, you've probably seen this warning pop up on the dash.
The rear coach doors have been one of the more talked about features of the i3. Most people seem to favor conventionally opening rear doors, especially when they are considering hauling the kiddies around in the back as it can be difficult to open the doors in tight parking spaces.

Surprisingly, the feedback I've gotten from many early i3 owners has been generally positive in regards to coach doors, (or at least there haven't been any complaints!) so perhaps in practice they aren't as cumbersome as many predicted they might be. However there does seem to be a problem that has popped up with regards to them. As soon as the first i3's hit the roads I heard from a few of the first owners that the rear door ajar warning light would come on often during cornering. I didn't report on it since it was only a couple people and there are always minor build issues with new models. I figured BMW would get it sorted out quickly and I wouldn't hear anything more on it.


Close me first!
That doesn't seem to be the case. We are about seven months into production and I've now had more than a dozen i3 owners tell me they experience this regularly if they don't close the rear coach doors very hard - in other words slam it shut. Some of these people have only taken delivery very recently, so they aren't driving some of the first cars off the assembly line. They don't believe it's a safety concern, and the door is not in any danger of opening as it is securely locked. There doesn't appear to be a physical switch in the door jamb, so it would seem the sensor is some kind of magnetic switch inside the door that needs to make contact and is extremely sensitive. So much so that it loses contact when the car is in a tight turn or goes over a bad bump in the road.

This really isn't anything alarming and not completely unexpected. The i3 is a brand new model and BMW is using materials and manufacturing processes they have never employed before. There will likely be some minor issues like this, however it does need to be corrected. As I'm sure many of you can attest it's quite annoying to have one of these warning lights turn on and off all the time, especially at night when the display is brightly illuminated. I'd hate to have to resort to the decades old "black tape over the annoying warning light" solution on my brand new $56,000 urban mobility pod!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Is The BMW i3 "Too European" For the US Market?



It's been called edgy, futuristic, polarizing, ground breaking and even flat out hideous. It has funky lines, rear coach (suicide) doors that can't be opened unless the front doors are and rear windows that are permanently closed. The nose has a pronounced "underbite" that any respectful orthodontist would love to correct and the tires are so skinny they look like they should be on something coming out of BMW Motorrad, and certainly not on a proper BMW automobile.

The internet is full of extremely harsh criticism of the i3's exterior styling. However most seem to praise the interior for it's modern, stylish and open feel, especially for such a small car. I don't think I've read a single article where the author didn't at least approve of the interior design, while most gave it very high marks. The term "Scandinavian loft" has been used frequently to describe the modern, open feeling the i3's interior offers.

But then there's the unconventional exterior styling that many people just can't get past. I have to admit, I didn't love it when I first saw it, but I never actually hated it. Then I felt a lot better once I saw it in person and got to drive it. The styling has definitely grown on me and I genuinely like how it looks now.  Others don't fell the same way. In fact, the i3's unique appearance has been discussed ad nauseum since its introduction. Here are a few examples:


On this message board, one person asked the question: Did they try to make it ugly?

Brad Berman of plugincars.com: Did BMW screw up the visual design of i3 electric car?

Perhaps one of the most offensive stories was from The Slate when they wrote: BMW i3 review: Electric car is a cheap, ugly Tesla Model S with an SUV on the side

Would this Citroen be popular in the US?
Then I started thinking about all the criticism and began to wonder if it is mostly driven by American opinions. BMW has consistently maintained the i3 is a "city car". Unlike Europe, city cars just haven't been accepted here yet. The European roads are full of small cars that would certainly appear "unconventional" to American motorists. Take smart for instance. There are smart cars everywhere you look in Europe, yet smart can barely sell a few hundred cars a month in the entire US. Also, many of the cars there look a bit more modern than what you typically find on American roads. Are Europeans just more accepting of new ideas and styling that pushes the limits of acceptability? Is form following function an easier sell to the European car buyer than it is to their American counterpart?

John Voelcker, editor of Green Car Reports and one of the industries most respected journalists covering the green car and alternative powertrain scene recently wrote this: 

"I'd agree that the BMW i3 is the best city car yet developed. Which is fine for Europe. The problem is that in North America, virtually no one has ever said, "Honey, we need to go buy a city car!"


Will America warm up to the unconventional BMW i3?
This does make sense but I'd argue that while it is a "city car", it is just as well served for the outlying suburbs of the big cities, making it a great commuter car for the daily grind, while still offering the spirited driving experience many want for the weekend joy ride. Which leads to the next questionable decision BMW made which is likely part of the reason so many people have been critical and that's the range. You can't go too far on that weekend cruise unless you paid the additional $3,850 and got the range extender. The EPA range rating hasn't been announced yet but it's widely expected that the i3's electric range will be officially pegged at about 80 to 85 miles per charge. America's a big country and with gasoline relatively cheap compared to the average price in Europe it's common to drive hundreds of miles at a clip here. I believe if BMW would have increased the i3's range a bit, so the EPA range rating was 100 or more miles, they would have eliminated a lot of the negativity surrounding the car so far. Of course the Europeans would like more range also (who doesn't?). It just seems less important there since they are likely to drive less than we do in the US and some would argue that European customers look at a car purchase more pragmatically in many cases.

BMW CEO Reithofer introduces the i3
Will the "unique" styling and short range conspire to limit the i3's success in the US market? Only time will tell. There will certainly be an initial surge of orders but once they are filled will the i3 continue to attract eco-conscious buyers to the brand. According to BMW, i3 ordering has been robust and they have over 11,000 orders in the bank worldwide. US ordering has just recently begun and the first deliveries are due here in only a few weeks but BMW hasn't said how many of the 11,000 orders have come from American customers.  BMW must be happy with i3 sales so far though because they recently ordered two more Engle molding machines that make i3 body shell components. They are only about six months into production so if they need to buy more production machinery already, that is likely a good sign.

Ready or not America, here i come!
What do you think? Do you like the i3's appearance? Do you hate it or are you in the middle? Will it be more accepted by European customers or will it have universal appeal? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, April 7, 2014

BMW i3 Training Autocross Video



*Hat tip to insideevs.com for finding this first!


BMW has been holding i3 training events to get the new BMW Product Geniuses up to speed on what they need to know about the car. As I have written here many times, there is so much about this car that is completely different than anything BMW has ever sold before that they really need to dive deep into the training of their client advisers and especially these new Product Geniuses. As good as the car is, if they fail to have the ability to properly help the customer decide if the car is right for them, then they won't sell nearly as many as they could have. This is going to have to play itself out before we can gauge if BMW did indeed do everything they could have to give the dealers the tools they need to sell these vehicles.

However in my opinion this video is promising. Not only is BMW holding training sessions where the Product Geniuses will learn about he cars, but they are getting the chance to take once out and do an autocrossing session in one. Plus, in addition to getting to drive in the i3, they also get to drive in a couple i3 competitors, like Chevy Volts and Nissan LEAFs while they are there so they can see how much better the i3 performs.

I assume the above video was taken by one of the Product Geniuses during one of the training sessions and posted on YouTube. It's not a professional quality video by any means, but it does show he was indeed impressed with the i3's performance.  


Thursday, April 3, 2014

BMW i3 REx European Road Trip!


Back in February we featured Steven from The Netherlands as a Born Electric guest blogger. At the time he mentioned to me that he was planning a road trip with his i3 REx that would take him on a fantastic journey from The Netherlands through Germany and France to the final destination of Switzerland. The funny thing is, I almost was able to meet him along the trip because I was actually in Switzerland the week before he arrived and my wife and I even spent an afternoon at the same lake in Zurich you see pictured below! In any event, once I heard Steven was about to engage upon this 1,100 mile road trip I asked him if he wouldn't mind sharing the details here once he returns and he was kind enough to do so. I get a lot of questions about the range extender, and many people want to know if it is possible to take it on a long trip. This post doesn't answer every question, but it does give some insight into how the car will perform on sure an extended road trip. I haven't read any story of an i3 doing a road trip over 1,100 miles yet, so this may be the first account of such a journey.


Travelcompanion: i3

OK, so we have this i3. It was, and still is, marketed as a city slicker. The question arises: is BMW underestimating itself ?

To begin with the conclusion: yes and no. It will go outside the city and beyond, with quite an aplomb at that, but its driver needs some commitment and perseverance to get there. As stated by Tom elsewhere: it is not a go anywhere, do anything car. With a normal to brisk driving style, it excels on local trips with perhaps a charge or two along the way. But when taking it easy, tourist style, it can haul you much further than your cities limits.



Once you get used to its unconventional lines the design grows on you.
Our i3 in the Appenzeller mountains.
The commitment starts with a careful planning. Call me a nerd, but I rather like planning a trip in detail, time allowing. However, the limited electric range did cause a little frustration. Frustration about not being able to reach the higher alpine passes in the six days we reserved for this trip. When pushed, we certainly could have done it, but in the end we opted to make the journey itself the goal.

The first hurdle is Europe not being the United States of Europe. Different plugs, different chargecards, you name it. Totally unfunny. Luckily, one of Hollands energy suppliers is owned by RWE, a large German energy supplier, so we could apply for a German charge-ID. You’ll need an app on your iPhone to start the charger, but that’s ok. For France and Switzerland, we’re out of luck. A lot of local/regional initiatives, so charging possibilities are limited to free chargers or, in Switzerland, chargers mounted in parking garages where charging is complementary or at a cost, payable at the checkout machines. And these have to match our Mennekes plug as well.

As you’ll understand, planning took a while, especially while I was not only looking for locations to charge, but also for roads worth driving and places worth visiting while charging. Not much fun to be stuck on an industrial estate for three hours… In the end, I planned our trip so that it would take us three days to reach Switzerland, leaving much of the motorway behind after crossing the Dutch border. Slow tourism, like our parents did with their 2cv, before Europe was shrunk by the proliferation of the Autobahn.

Departure

Smoothly gliding away, to not disturb our neighbours, is uneventful in itself. EcoPro is on, but so is the heat, for it was freezing during the night. Damn, we’ll need those electrons! Well, not entirely, to be truthful, for our first stop is at a 50 KW fast charger. The residual charge doesn’t seem to matter much at the fast chargers’; it’ll charge to 90% in 30 minutes anyway. But there seems to be a catch. We left the charger with ~94%, but the charge dropped right down to 86% in a matter of minutes. Something we have observed more than once after a fast charge. A pity in this case, because the next station should have been reachable with a margin. A margin worth having, for we were able to reach our designated charger with only 5 km (3 mi) on the clock. But hey, it was supposed to be an adventure !

This is the point where I have to admit we are driving the i3 ‘chicken version’, with the little REx in the boot. The upside: unlimited mobility. The downside: REx wakes at 5-6 km, no matter what. So we were at the threshold of failure to do the E-thing, and that only two hours into our journey! But we made it. We had lunch, walked the totally unremarkable town, takin’ it easy as promised, until the car was charged enough to reach our next goal. The ability to use your smartphone to monitor the car is invaluable.

The next goal: Monschau. A quaint little town, picture book stuff. Flocking with tourists of a more advanced age when in season, it is actually very nice when not. Coffee, apfelstrudel, you’ll get my drift how we passed the time.

Chargetourism: Monschau
With enough inside us and in the i3, off to the next charger. A short charging session of 32 minutes at 32 amps in Daun was all it took to take us to our hotel in Bernkastel-Kues. Again a picturesque village, this time with a larger river (the Mosel) and an ancient castle on the adjoining mountain. And the best news: we have entered the wine region, so the i3 was not the only one being replenished :)

At this hotel, we had the first experience of the friendly cooperation we would encounter along the way. We were fully prepared to have to drive the car to a charging station nearby and to walk back, but the hotel owner promptly offered us a spot in his yard where we were able to plug in under the carport. Sweet.


France

Day two took us through Germany to France. Our second hurdle: the designated electrospots in Saarbrücken were occupied by gas-burners! A Zoe was already double parked and charging, but i3’s cable is not long enough to do this. Damn. Now what? Time for friendly cooperation example #2: the receptionist of the adjoining offices came out to ask us if everything was ok, noticing of course it wasn’t because of me standing there with a large blue cable in my hands, looking lost. The solution was easy: one of the owners of the damned vehicles didn’t mind to take a hike, so we could charge, albeit with a little delay. The upside: the German owner of the double parked Zoe turned up, so we had an opportunity for a nice conversation about the future of the world.

Charged and fed, off to France we went. One possibility to charge with no alternatives. Gold or bust! Golden it was. Free of charge as well. Very good of the Cora supermarket to lure crazy dutch electrotourists to their store :) With enough cheese and charge, we took off through the Alsace, an area we always quite enjoy for a lot of reasons.

One of the reasons is that it has some nice drivers’ roads with not to much other people on them. We already enjoyed some nice, but not too quick, driving in the German Eifel yesterday, and the Alsace didn’t disappoint. Nor did the i3, so it is time for some car stuff, for this is supposed to be a car blog last time I checked….

Like!
I like to start with some downsides here, so I can end the paragraph on a positive note. And I will lift a tip of the vail: it is a very positive note. But first: the grind. Although visibility all around isn’t exactly bad, the car is difficult to oversee, so it takes more practice than I’m accustomed to, to position the car in exactly the spot on the  road you want it to be when driving spiritedly. It is growing on me, of course, but it is still not an intuitive process. I guess it has to do something with not seeing any of the nose or any other external part and the overview you miss in tight left hand bends because of the drivers side A pillar. I am still not used to have to look through the side windows to oversee that tight left-hander. Then there is the steering. Once accustomed, it is excellent and precise, but so direct that you’ll have to handle it smoothly if you want to impress your co-driver with your cornering style. And the last grump, which is really a very small niggle: close the rear doors firmly before doin’ the bends, for the warning signal for these is on a hair-trigger. (Tom's note: I have had other i3 owners tell me this also. If you don't close the rear door firmly, the "door ajar" light can light up while you are driving. It's in no danger of opening, it's just an oversensitive trigger than needs to be fully depressed).

Now for the gold: Do we enjoy it when it is going where no i3 has gone before? Oh yes! Yes! It is fast and nimble, which is good in itself, but it is the smooth as cream comfort that is the hammer. The suspension is firm, you already know that, so that is not the unique selling point comfort-wise. It is the easy, creamy-smooth instant power, the effortless recuperation, the relaxed one pedal driving that makes it so enjoyable to drive on your winding Alsacien roads! Take it out, that i3, if you have it, I’ll think you’ll enjoy it as much as I do !

With plenty charge left, we arrived in the quaint Alsacien winemakers’ town to fill up us and the i3 again at the B&B, a winemakers establishment. My advice: go there, drive the roads, drink the wine. Just do it in that order!

Switzerland

Not much to tell about day three, this being a car blog. Only that the leg to Basel was 106 km, mainly motorway, so we kept it between 90-100 (55-60) in the right lane to reach our destination with some electrons to spare, for alternative usable charging stations are sparse around there. With plenty of charge to get us to our next B&B we left sunny Basel and the river Rhine. 40% charge was a luxury I could enjoy for the 10 km (6 mi) drive to and fro from the B&B to the evenings’ restaurant later. This little drive was, besides enjoyable, also a good reminder for me to keep driving carefully during the day to make the most of our E-range, for the battery had only 16% remaining when plugging back in at our B&B at night. Do the math if you like. In our defence, we had the heat on on the way back…
Goal #1: Make it to Zurich using only electric power
Being already very pleased we reached our goal of getting to Zürich fully electric the next day, we set a new goal of reaching at least 1000 km (621 mi) of uninterrupted E-use. After a very enjoyable day in Zürich and at our friends there, totally uninteresting for you i3 enthousiasts, we started drifting in the ‘back’ direction on Saturday afternoon. With one final Swiss charge in St Gallen remaining, we took the i3 through Appenzell. Some mountain roads, not the most spectacular passes, but still sporting brisk climbs once more affirmed our belief that the i3 is a very nice car indeed. It's hard to keep your foot off that throttle :-)).
Goal #2: 1,000 km all electric
Then we reached the dreaded point that was looming in the planning all along. It was not the Swiss border which we passed without ado, it was the point at which the beast in the back had to be awoken. Time for a little car talk intermezzo.

REx

I can understand that a lot of people question the execution of BMW’s REx solution. On the risk of repeating myself: I think they did a wonderful job, for it feels nearly sinful to start the REx after driving on electrons. So smooth. So quiet. So soothing for the conscience. You really get the feeling of doing the wrong thing when firing up ye olde’ ICE. And this is how it should be. It is an electric vehicle extended, mind you! Besides from this, the little bugger does its best to keep you mobile. We here in Europe have it easy, sorry about that American brethren, for we can engage REx at will, so we don’t have to motor through towns and countryside, but we can plan our  REx extension to happen anywhere along the way. The added bonus is of course that you can keep a nice safety cushion in the battery to get it up that Autobahn-slope, although it has to be said I was quite taken with the ability if the REx to keep up the battery when doing 120 (75) on the cruise with A/C to boot. On those not to steep but long slopes (climbing ~250 meters in ~35 km (~820 ft/~22 mi)), the battery level drops a little bit, of course, but I would say that a cushion of around 5% could just about, or just about not, suffice for most journeys. One thing I have noticed is that is seems that the car allows for a bigger battery-drift if you engage the REx earlier. One advantage of this is that it doesn’t have to run at top revs all the time to keep the state of charge on the small marker on your dash-display. Once the state of charge is low, it works very hard to maintain the 5% and prevent very low charge. To end this intermezzo about the REx something on fuel consumption. Exactly economical it is not. Doing 120 (75mph) on cruise gives you something of 15-16 km per litre (35-38 mpg us). Not too bad, not great. Taking 10 km (6 mi/hr) off the speed does wonders to this consumption however, but we kept it at 120 (75) where allowed.
Driving on the Autobahn: Speed kills - consumption rate that is!
A relatively uneventful 628 km (390 mi) later: home. We made a little touristic detour along the Rhine, which we used to recharge a bit during lunch, so we could cruise the 50 km (31 mi) of Rhine-borders in tranquility, and we recharged again at our nearby fast charger to make the last stretch on electricity before parking the car at its homespot with a feeling of well done planner, well done driver, well done little car. It is not perfect, but it is loveable all the way. And it’ll go further if you dare it…
Final stats of the journey
Map of journey




1780 km (1,104 mi), plugging in 16 times during the trip
Approximation of route travelled (source: Google)


Disclaimer - We have undertaken this trip and I have written this article on a strictly personal basis. I am not affiliated to BMW or anyones business mentioned in this story. Please mind that everything you’ve read here are my/our personal experiences and opinions and should be treated as such. Also, bear in mind that the English language is not my native one, so be patient if I’ve made some mistakes or used clumsy language. Any offence is unintentional.

Regards, Steven





A postcard from Steven to summarize his charging efforts along the way!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

BMW i3 Bottom Line: $494/mo With No Money Down




I wrote this post a few days ago for BMWBLOG. There has been so much speculation and incorrect information circulating in regards to the OwnersChoice with Flex option that BMW FS is offering on the i3 that I wanted to get some info out there on it. It's a new product, so it's certainly understandable why there are questions. However I've read where people have gone as far to call it a "convoluted scam" as if it's just a way to charge the customer more money and in fact it's the opposite. Using OwnersChoice with Flex you can drive off in a base i3 BEV with no money out of pocket for as little as $494/month depending on where you live.  Now that BMWBLOG has had it for a couple days and InsideEVs has run it also, I figured I'd put it up here also. If you have any questions, please fell free to ask in the comments and I'll answer whatever I can.

 BMW i3 Bottom Line:  $494/mo With No Money Down

There has been a lot of speculation with regards to financing rates and residual values for the BMW i3. A few months ago we ran this story where we posted preliminary i3 residual values that were lower than the residual values of other electric cars.

BMW Financial Services evidently took a closer look and now that the official financing figures are out we see they increased the residual values by 4% across the board.  

Original Reported Residuals       Actual Residuals 
  • 24 month residual – 49%                       53%        
  • 30 month residual – 44%                       48%
  • 36 month residual – 39%                       43%
  • 42 month residual – 34%                       38%
  • 48 month residual – 28%                       33%
  • 54 month residual – 25%                       29%
  • 60 month residual – 21%                       25%
(These figures are based on 15,000 miles per year. Add 2% for 12,000 mile/year leases, 3% for 10,000 mile/year leases.  Extra mileage is charged at 20 cents per mile.)
  

Additionally, the online “Build your Own” BMW i3 site now features monthly payment calculations for OwnersChoice with Flex. Up until now, only the MSRP was listed. OwnersChoice with Flex is a new product created by BMW Financial Services specifically for the i3. It allows the customer to take up to $7,500 off the price of the car as a capitol cost reduction, thus allowing lower monthly payments. The customer does not have to pay the money up front and basically owes that to BMW FS. The reason $7,500 is the cap is because that is the maximum amount of the federal tax credit that the i3 qualifies for. BMW FS is basically lending the customer the money so they can have lower monthly payments. 

The customer can repay the Flex capitol cost reduction anytime (like when they get the money back on their taxes) or wait until the end of the term. At the end of the specified term, the customer has the choice of returning the car and paying the amount they took as the capitol cost reduction (if they didn’t repay it already), or keeping the car and paying the residual value, plus the unpaid capitol cost reduction. It’s really a purchase, that offers the benefits of a lease and lets the customer decide whether they want to keep the car or return it at the end of the term. 

So what’s the bottom line on a 36 month OwnersChoice with Flex work out to? With no money out of pocket, depending on where you live you can drive off in a base i3 BEV and your payments will be $494 per month for 36 months. That’s with taking the full $7,500.00 capitol cost reduction (which you then owe BMW FS) and with only 10,000 miles per year allowed. If you load the BEV i3 up with every available option the monthly payment raises up to $661 per month. It’s worth noting that these figures do not include sales tax. There are states where electric vehicles are sales tax exempt (like New Jersey where I live) and it appears the i3 site does not add the sales tax regardless of whether you use a zip code where sales tax is collected or not. Perhaps that will be corrected though, as they only updated the site to show the monthly payments within the past day or so. 

The OwnersChoice with Flex was developed by BMW Financial Services specifically so i3 customers can realize the full $7,500 electric vehicle federal tax credit. When leasing an i3, BMW FS will only pass $4,875.00 of the $7,500 federal tax credit along to the customer. They are standing by their statement that they do not get the full $7,500 credit, and are passing along every dollar that they do get to the customer. This likely makes leasing a poor option on the i3 when compared to OwnersChoice with Flex.