Tuesday, November 17, 2015

i3 Software Update 15-11-502 Fixes Flaws, Adds Features

Details of the November software update (15-11-502) for the i3 and i8. Click to enlarge or download.
BMW has just rolled out another software update (15-11-502) for the i3 in the North American market. Since the i3 launch, these updates have been coming out about once every six months, and as with previous i3 software updates, they are free of charge. Hopefully this time around BMW dealers know these updates are indeed free. Last year when BMW introduced an i3 software update, for some reason there were some dealers that charged their customers for the service. Once BMW realized what was happening, they reached out to their dealer network to inform them that these i3 updates are indeed free, and they were instructed to refund the money to anyone who was charged for it. If you were one of the people who unfortunately paid for an i3 software and wasn't reimbursed, please contact your dealer and they will refund what you paid.

This new update is a combination of fixing some nagging issues, as well as adding a couple of new features. Below is a detailed description of what the added enhancement and fixes of this update are all about.

Fixes:

"Broken motor mount potential"

There have been a few cases since the i3 has launched, where the left side motor mount has failed.  Basically, this failure is caused by an excessive shock to the driveline, such as a sudden loss of traction or underbody impact, during hard acceleration. For instance, if you get the rear axle airborne (going over the bump while accelerating) while still keeping your foot on the acceleration pedal, the electric motor, without any load, will quickly reach very high speeds - up to 11,000 rpm. When tires hit the ground while the motor is freewheeling at such a speed, the impact force from the drivetrain may compromise motor mount bolt (it's the left side mount in a BEV and possibly both sides in REX). It's obviously bad if this happens, but if you continue driving then extensive damage to high voltage components (EME, KLE) can occur. The 15-11-502 update will reduce the electric motor speed when the rear axle freewheeling situation is detected. 
Picture of a broken motor mount from an i3. Photo credit Roger Klemm
Some i3 owners, upon seeing this line item in the update were concerned that BMW's solution may have been to reduce power in an effort to reduce the strain on the motor mounts. Luckily, that isn't the case. This update is not going to affect motor output or torque during normal driving; only when the car has lost traction and the wheels are spinning without load. 
 
"Low Cost Charging complaints"

This issue concerned the Low Cost Charging feature which allows the owner to set a delayed charging session so they can take advantage of lower cost electricity pricing. There were complaints that for some customers it only worked sporadically, and for others it didn't work at all. This is the kind of feature that many people won't use, but for those who do, it's very important because it can lower the cost of charging their car significantly.


One i3 owner posted a video of his EVSE clicking. This should be solved with the software update.

"Clicking noise from Level 2 charger during charging"

This issue was definitely strange and annoying. When i3 owners set their car to precondition, often it would cause a contactor in the EVSE to open and close every few seconds. It would happen with various brands, including the BMW i branded Wallbox Pure, which was made by Bosch. Depending on the brand of EVSE, the clicking noise would vary from every couple of seconds to clicking once every 15 or 20 seconds. It didn't present any immediate problem, but the contactor would eventually wear out and fail if this were allowed to continue for years unresolved. Besides that, it was really annoying and many customers could hear the clicking noise throughout their house. The video above was made and posted on YouTube by i3 owner, George Betak.

"Various fault codes will set a check engine light (CEL)"

Basically, BMW cleaned up some errors in the code that have caused the check engine light to illuminate when there really wasn't a problem. Phantom check engine light warnings have been an ongoing problem with the i3 REx cars since the launch. The majority of the time when they happened there wasn't anything wrong with the vehicles. Hopefully with the new software update these false warnings will be a thing of the past.

Enhancements:

"Addition of Hospitality Charging Feature"

This is a feature that owners of other electric vehicles will appreciate as much as the i3 owner does. This issue centered around the fact that the i3's connector would lock itself to car if the doors were locked and wouldn't release until the doors were unlocked. On the surface it sounds like a good idea. Nobody wants someone else to be able to unplug their car while it's still charging at a public charging station, right? Well, in in the majority of instances most people don't, but there are exceptions.

The issue of charger sharing dates back to the early days of the recent generation of electric cars in California. Back about a decade ago when GM had the EV1, and Toyota had the first generation RAV4 EV, there were very few electric vehicle charging stations, and the small group of EV drivers took it upon themselves to come up with methods of sharing the few stations available. They would leave notes that would say something like, "You can unplug me anytime after 1:00," or "I'm opportunity charging. If you really need to charge, just unplug me." These charger sharing methods allowed the users to get the most out of the few stations available.
Hospitality Charging in action! These hang tags help make hospitality charging possible and efficient. But that's only if the connector will unlock.
Fast forward to today. There are hundreds of thousands of plug in vehicles on the roads here in the US, and not nearly enough public charging stations, especially in EV hotbeds like California. So charger sharing has continued in many different forms, especially for workplace charging. Often, the number of plug in cars in a workplace parking lot greatly exceeds the number of charging stations they have. So by playing nice, and sharing the chargers, everyone gets their fair time on the plug. However, if the connector is locked to your car, even when the car is finished charging, then the charging station cannot be utilized by the next person.  One electric vehicle owner, realizing the need for them, created hang tags specifically to assist in public charger sharing and now sells them on his website.

Also, if an i3 owner is charging in a public parking lot, they cannot leave a note allowing the next person to unplug them and use the station at a certain time, when they know the car will be finished. BMW fielded many complaints about this issue, and I've even heard people call the i3, "The most hated electric car at the office," because of this. Earlier in the year, when the last i3 software update came out, this issue was addressed, and the cars then unlocked the connector once the vehicle was finished charging. However, for some reason the update only worked on cars with a build date after March of 2015. This update corrects the issue on all i3s built before March, so all the i3s now have Hospitality Charging. This was the first thing I checked when I had the software update, and I have confirmed it does work.
BMW i European Type 2 charging cable. Notice it has connectors on both ends. We don't use cables like this in the US - though I think we should. Personally, I prefer this method of public charging rather than having the cables tethered to the unit as we use here.
However this feature will not be added to European i3s. That is because the majority of public charging stations throughout Europe do not have the charging cable tethered to them as they do in the US. In most European countries, the owner of the car brings the cable which one one end plugs into their car, and the other end plugs into the EVSE. If the connector automatically unlocked, than the cable could be easily stolen. I believe this is the reason all i3s were initially delivered without the Hospitality Charging feature. BMW, being a German based company, was just more in tune with the charging needs of European customers than they were with US customers. However thankfully, they listened to their US customer base and added this feature.

I'm glad BMW added this, but there is one thing about it I'd like to see them improve upon. As it is, you cannot turn off Hospitality Charging. Once the car has finished charging, the connector will unlock, you cannot stop it. I would prefer a setting in iDrive where I can check or uncheck a box that will determine if Hospitality Charging is utilized. I want this for the times I may plug into a basic 120v outlet with my Occasional Use Cable while the vehicle is in a public space. As it is now, once the car finishes charging, the connector will unlock and someone can steal the portable EVSE which is worth a couple hundred dollars. There are ways to lock the OUC to the car, but that means carrying a padlock along with you and taking the time to lock it to your car whenever you use it which is cumbersome and time consuming. Adding the option to iDrive would be the best solution, giving the driver full control over when the connector unlocks or not.

Charge Port Flap Open Warning

Interestingly, this new feature isn't included on the 15-11-502 service bulletin list, but it is indeed part of the new software. I like this feature a lot and am happy to see it now added on the car. There have been many times in my six years of driving electric when I did not realize that I left the charge port open until I arrived at my destination and needed to plug in. Usually that doesn't really present a problem, but it can. In fact, back in 2010 I left the charge port of my MINI-E open while driving home from work one night in a pouring rainstorm. So much water got into the charging socket that even after a couple of days of letting it air out (and even taking a blow dryer to it), I had to take it to the dealer where they replaced the charge port. This new added warning is really appreciated and I believe it should be standard on all electric vehicles.

I'm happy to see BMW updating the software frequently to fix issues, and actively adding features that the customers have asked for - you may remember that last year they added the numeric state of charge and low battery warning after receiving numerous customer requests. Tesla in particular has been praised for how they offer frequent updates, and over the air no less. While the i3 needs a trip to the dealer to perform the update, the fact that they are pushing them out, and frequently, is good news indeed.

15 comments:

  1. Great article, Tom! Thank you for putting it together and for the mention. Can't wait to get this firmware update for Oscar.

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    1. Thanks George. So far everything seems to be working as planned, but I haven't checked the preconditioning clicking on all of my EVSE's yet. That's going to take a week or two!

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  2. Thanks for the clarification. I agree, they still need to make hospitality charging an iDrive menu option. I've heard the Leaf has the best implementation.

    Every EV should have a setting for:
    1. Charging Port Status: Keep blinking or Turn off after X amount of time
    1a. Alternatively, option for keeping the in-dash instrumentation charging status active. My app always reports SOC incorrectly while charging (fine if not) and my place seems to be a deadzone for whoever is providing 3G service for BMW (pretty sure it's AT&T since my AT&T work phone also has issues, but VZW and TMob phones are fine where I live) so I can't always get status from the phone. My only option is to walk out to car to check but then it's also a pain to need the keyfob on me and touch the car handle or lock/unlock the door to get the current SOC to display on the dash.

    2. Charge port lock: keep locked, do not lock, unlock after X%

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  3. Hey, Tom. Great article (as usual). Fingers crossed that this update fixes my check engine light issue. I installed the last big update (battery percentage indicator) pretty late, and since putting it in, I have had numerous charging faults and repeated CELs. I am hoping this update fixes it.

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  4. Good news on the motor mount issue, I did wonder if they might simply reduce torque. This should help as we enter the snowy time of the year too.

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    1. I reached out to the BMW engineers for this one. I was concerned as you were that the answer would be: "Well, we're cutting back power for a while until we can reengineer the bolt and brace"

      Thankfully, that wasn't the case.

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  5. really useful thanks.

    In terms of the charging changes, I chatted to one of the BMW UK software engineers a month or so back at an EV event. It would seem the control software for charging was completely rewritten. Previously for off-peak the charger would do a very smart charge pulse to ascertain the supply capability of the point - with the objective of being able to warn the user before they left the car if it was bad. Now the initial charge is much longer (I forget how long - minutes?).

    My car is in today/tomorrow to have the update - UK :-) I'm on late nov 2014 software so also expect to pick up the GOM changes from the march 2015 update

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  6. Any updates on the "Hill Climb Assist" ?
    http://www.bmwblog.com/2015/06/29/bmw-i3-rex-one-year-review/

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    1. BMW has been silent on this. I fear the Volkswagen diesel problems could have quite possibly made it difficult for BMW to get CARB's approval. Remember, they need to get any change like this approved by CARB or they risk losing the BEVx designation which they desperately want.

      Otherwise, they would just remove all REx restrictions and allow it to operate like the European i3s do. If the hill climbing with the REx running is a problem for you, just code the car. Personally, I don't have any issue with how it currently operates or I would have coded my car already. I know BMW was working on this for a while. The fact that they won't comment on it anymore is telling if you ask me.

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  7. Now make a match so USA Rex can use all ~2.3 gallons of the gas tank instead of just 1.8.

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    1. Hack it. Wasn't hard and the cord cost less than $15.

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  8. Thanks for this, Tom! We have had no problems with our BEV and live on an island, which means that for us to get the car to a dealer involves ferry rides and much hassle. So we haven't had recent software updates done. We'll take the car off-island next spring, probably, and get all the updates done at once. I hope our beloved BEV doesn't get indigestion from such a big meal of bytes!

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  9. Thanks for detailing the updates. I completely agree about the hospitality charging should be a set of options. On the Leaf it's a three position switch (don't lock, lock until done, lock always) right next to the charge door open switch. If you could program a favorite key on the i3 to go right to that setting and change it quick that would be a really great thing. Hopefully they consider that for the next revision.

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  10. So we had our first experience with the check engine light recently. REX maintenance tried and failed due to a claimed lack of fuel which wasn't true. A short while later it came on anyway as did the light. The dealer asked several questions about fuel and I said that I had put in clear premium under the impression that any infrequently used IC engine hates ethanol. Since it's common where we live it's no big deal to get it. They said that high altitude (we qualify) users who fill with clear premium are having check engine lights come on. The dealer further claimed the motor is designed for running on an ethanol blend. I've never heard of an IC engine that didn't like clear premium--has anyone else heard of this or experienced it as well?

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  11. One trick I recently learned to prevent theft of the Occasional Use Cable - drive over part of the cord so it's 'locked' by your tires. Probably not great for the cable long-term, but easier than a padlock for occasional use.

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