Monday, December 21, 2015

BMW EV Infrastructure Discussions from the LA Auto Show: Part 2

On a recent trip to Vermont I stopped at Prestige BMW in New Jersey on both legs of the journey. They recently installed two 24 kW DC Fast Charge stations that are accessible 24/7 and free to use. A robust DC Fast charge infrastructure is crucial for mass EV adoption.
This is the second half of a two part post on BMW's infrastructure plans, current and future. Having spent time with BMW's EV infrastructure team at the LA Auto Show, (Robert Healey, Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Manager, Idine Ghoreishian, Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Specialist, and Cliff Fietzek, Manager of Connected eMobility) I posted the first half of this report last week. In that post, we discussed the East and West Coast Express Charging Corridors, and the just-announced ChargeNow DC Fast program.

ChargeNow DC Fast:

I reached out to Jeremy Desel, Director of Communications for EVgo, to discuss the deployment rate of the 500 ChargeNow DC Fast stations. What Desel told me was pretty impressive: "We have been able to add nearly 100 additional 50kW DC Fast Combo chargers in six weeks, in 25 markets."  EVgo certainly didn't waste any time, and began installing Combo stations immediately after the announcement of the partnership with BMW for ChargeNow DC Fast. That's good news for the i3 (and all Combo) owners who have been patiently waiting for Combo (CCS) infrastructure to proliferate. Speaking with Desel he told me they are able to move quickly because EVgo had the foresight to future proof EVgo DC Fast charge sites. When these sites were initially built, they were designed to be easily upgraded and expanded. That fact will certainly help EVgo meet the 2018 completion date to get all 500 Combo stations in the ChargeNow DC Fast program installed on time. EVgo currently has 104 Combo DC Fast Charge stations operational in California, the result of the initial phase of the ChargeNow DC Fast program which began in 2014.

One aspect of the ChargeNow DC Fast expansion program which wasn't discussed in part one was the fact that new BMW i3 buyers will have unlimited free access to this network for two years. To qualify, you need to buy or lease an i3 on or after November 1st, 2015. If you bought or leased your i3 before that, you do not qualify and will have to pay the current rates for access to EVgo's DC fast charge network. That didn't sit well with many current i3 owners, and some expressed their dissatisfaction to it. I wanted to get an idea of how the i3 community felt about this so I ran a poll in the BMW i3 FaceBook Group. Sixty percent (109 of 181) of respondents said they weren't happy with it, and felt BMW should allow all i3 owners free access to the network for two years, not just new owners.

Personally, I'm not a fan of offering this kind of unlimited free DC Fast charge access as a purchase incentive. Nissan announced a similar plan for new LEAF buyers called "No Charge to Charge" back in 2013. I believe it promotes abuse, and in many instances will be counter productive as stations will be unnecessarily overused simply because they are free. Even Tesla is having issues with unnecessary Supercharger use. They recently sent out letters urging Model S owners to only use the Superchargers when they need to for long journeys. Free, unlimited use will result in i3 owners plugging into DC Fast charge stations within close proximity to their homes, and those stations then won't be available to the drivers who actually need them to complete a long journey.  I'd much prefer to see BMW offer i3 owners a discounted rate, or a limited number of free sessions as a purchase incentive. This free promotion is clearly a marketing tool that BMW plans to use to attract new i3 customers, and I don't think it went unnoticed that many current i3 owners weren't happy with it. Although I couldn't get any comment on this, I got the feeling that BMW may be working on something they can offer to current i3 drivers, as well as i8 and eDrive owners, so stay tuned.
Rob Healey plugs an i3 into a DC Fast charge Freedom station   
Another topic we discussed is the fact that many current EVgo Station locations don't support the Combo connector that BMW uses. The competing DC Fast Charge system, CHAdeMO, which is used by the Asian manufacturers, had about a three year head start getting established in the US before any Combo (CCS) stations were installed. Because of that, there are a lot of EVgo Station locations which are CHAdeMO DC fast charge units. I wanted to know if those locations would remain CHAdeMO only, or if they would be upgraded to support the Combo connector also. To that Fietzek said: "Where there is currently a EVgo Station that is only CHAdeMO, they will either swap that station to a dual-connector unit which supports the Combo also, or install a second station which is Combo. When we are done with this project in 2018 there will no longer be any EVgo Station locations which only support CHAdeMO, they will also Combo."

The Future: Better, faster and widespread:

I then turned the conversation to the future of EV charging, and asked the group to comment on what's next for BMW. I specifically pointed to Audi's announcement with regards to their electric vehicle plans, and the fact that Audi's press conference had just taken place where they said the 2018 eTron Quattro would support 150kW charging. Audi also promised to offer "Access to Nationwide Network of 150kW charging stations" and that these stations would begin to be available when the vehicle is offered for sale in 2018. 150kW DC Fast charging is a huge step forward compared to the 24 kW and 50 kW DC Fast charging stations which BMW and their partners are currently deploying. So I asked if BMW is going to be able to keep up with the competition.

Healey started out talking about how quickly the landscape of electric vehicle charging has advanced. Back in the days of the MINI-E, Healey was the MINI-E technical coordinator. I got to know him then as I was one of the MINI-E lessees and he was in charge of keeping the fleet on the road. He added: "You've been with us from the beginning, Tom. If you step back just a few years you'll remember how we struggled just to get the wallboxes installed in the MINI-E customer's garages. So for a while there we mostly focused on level 2 charging. Then came the 24kW and 50kW DC fast charging which we are currently deploying, and now we're already working on charging at much higher speeds. So if you really think about it, we've actually advanced a lot in a 5 to 6 year time frame. This is the natural progression; to continue to introduce faster levels of charging, but we can't sit and wait. We need to install what we have available to us now. We can't underestimate the other side of public infrastructure; the psychological aspect. We need to get the chargers out there, they need to be seen. This is not only important for current EV drivers, but for potential EV owners. They want to see the infrastructure before they buy the car. We'll continue to upgrade the infrastructure as better options become available."
Audi made news in LA with promising to offer access to a nationwide 150 kW DC fast charge network.
Fietzek then offered the following:  "Yes, we have seen some announcements from other OEMs at the show here today. We are currently working with the other OEMs on increasing the charging standard to 150kW and higher. (Here Fietzek is referring to The Charging Interface Initiative association - CharIN) Once we have defined the new charging level we need to then determine the best way to implement it. We have already shown 150kW charging at Baden Baden, and together with the other German OEMs we are working on defining the standard and determine the costs. We are also supporting an EVgo CPUC program here in California to demonstrate new 150kW high-powered charging. Part of our commitment is to provide test cars to test these station as well as technology. So yes, we are working on it, but we don't have any news as far as when or which cars will use this technology just yet." 

Speaking of partnering with other OEM's in infrastructure projects Healey said: "BMW is open and willing to work with all industry stakeholders that are committed to supporting EV infrastructure projects. The partnership programs that we have launched have afforded us a wealth of knowledge and lessons learned that we will continue to share and apply to the expansion of the US charging infrastructure to benefit our current and future customers. The old adage 'A rising tide lifts all boats' is especially appropriate with EV infrastructure. Working together will only expedite our goal of making electric mobility more accessible and appealing to even more drivers."

BMW is a founding member of the newly formed ROEV association

On Interoperability:

Finally, one cumbersome aspect of public charging is that we don't really have network interoperability. It's kind of been a bit like the Wild, Wild, West out there the past five years with many different network providers offering many different types of EV charging equipment, and very little cooperation amongst all of the various stakeholders. An EV driver may have to carry four or five different network cards, pay an annual or monthly fee for some of them, pay for replacement cards and make sure you have all of them with you because you never know when you'll need one. Having true network interoperability would be so much more convenient. Well, it looks like we may have taken the first real step in that direction.
Soon  EV drivers will only need to carry one card. Photo credit: Patrick Connor
BMW and Nissan, joined network providers ChargePoint, EVgo and Car Charging Group as the five founding partners of ROEV, which stands for "roaming for EV charging."  In addition to the founding partners, several more companies have joined ROEV, including Audi, Honda, Efacec, Portland General Electric, SemaConnect, and BTC Power. They are still a couple of months away from officially launching the program, but once that's happened, a BMW customer will be able to use their ChargeNow card, or any participating network RFID card, to access any charging station operated by the participating networks. What isn't clear yet is whether or not using a card from one network to access another network's charging station will result in an additional fee, like roaming fees on mobile phones. And since the name of this new enterprise included the word "roaming," I'm guessing there will be some kind of roaming fee to access stations from competing networks. The good news is that the three founding partner networks, ChargePoint, Car Charging Group/Blink and EVgo currently operate 17,500 of the 19,000 (91%) public charging stations in the US, so interoperability among these three giant networks alone is a huge step forward.
Rob Healey speaking at the ROEV press conference at the LA Auto Show.
Pictured on stage just to the left of Healey is Idine Ghoreishian
Speaking of BMW's participation in ROEV, Ghoreishian said, "As much as it sometimes may not seem like it, we are indeed listening to what our customers are saying and constantly working to make things better. The goal with ROEV is to improve the experience of owning an EV. We've heard our customers complain about needing multiple network cards, and we feel ROEV's network interoperability will enhance the electric vehicle ownership experience."  

This of course is all good news. With Tesla not showing any signs of slowing down in their relentless pursuit to install Supercharger infrastructure, the CHAdeMO Association continuing to expand their worldwide network and now the Combo (CCS) standard beginning to really proliferate, all EV drivers will benefit in the long run. Getting the infrastructure in the ground is the most important and most difficult thing. In my opinion, at some point in the future there will be a single winner in the "connector wars" and it may not even be one of the existing "standards" used today. When that's decided, it will be easy to just swap out the connectors on the stations to whatever standard is the ultimate winner. For now we really just need to continue to get the infrastructure in the ground and the problem of which standard wins will eventually work itself out.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

BMW EV Infrastructure Discussions from the LA Auto Show: Part 1

A few weeks ago at the LA Auto Show, BMW made news by announcing a partnership with NRG's EVgo to install an additional 500 DC Fast Charge stations in 25 major US markets. The project is called the ChergeNow DC Fast and is actually the second phase of a program started in 2014, which brought 100 DC fast charge stations to select California areas. I was there at the show for Press Preview days, and had the opportunity to sit down with basically all of the top EV infrastructure managers at BMW of North America. Seated at the table were Robert Healey, Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Manager, Idine Ghoreishian, Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Specialist, and Cliff Fietzek, Manager of Connected eMobility.

Even though the news of the ChargeNow DC Fast program had just been released, I wanted to first talk about the East and West Coast Express Charging Corridors. If you remember, this program was announced back in January at NAIAS and the press release stated that approximately 100 stations would be installed in these corridors (Washington, DC to Boston, MA on the East Coast, and San Diego, CA, to Portland, OR, on the West Coast) and it would be completed by the end of 2015. This was a joint venture between BMW, Volkswagen and ChargePoint. ChargePoint is responsible for the installations, and BMW and VW are basically telling them where they want them, and footing the vast majority of the bill. Time is running out and I knew they wouldn't hit the predicted deadline, so I asked the group what happened, and when can we expect it to be done. Here are some quotes from the discussion:
Rob Healey, BMW's top EV infrastructure manager

When asked about why they missed the predicted end of 2015 completion date, Fietzek said: "The business model for ChargePoint changed for this program. Before this they were responding to site hosts that wanted to have a charger installed. Basically the site host would call them, and say they wanted a charger. Now, ChargePoint had to go out and say to property owners, 'I need to put a charger here, because BMW and Volkswagen want me to, do you want to work with us?' This was very different from what they were accustomed to."

50kW DC stations which are part of the
West Coast Express Charging Corridor.
Photo credit: Tony Williams
Ghoreishian added: "Another challenge of placement goes back to our goal of making sure they were no more than 50 miles apart. Seventy five miles just won't work."

I also learned that getting the sites in good locations was more important than just getting them in the ground and meeting a deadline. BMW knew these locations would likely be used for years to come, so it would be worth their while to take the time to make sure they got good locations. In that vein, Healey had this to say: "There is a process in place between BMW and VW; collectively we have the final (site) approval. There were a lot of sites offered to us that we rejected. For instance, we looked at the customer and said, 'Do you want to have your wife go in and charge in this area late at night?' There were sites that we rejected because we didn't think it was a safe place. We want the best sites for our customers, basically."

I then asked if they thought BMW should finish this program before they start new infrastructure projects, like the NRG EVgo program which had just been announced and Fietzek quickly said: "Different partners, different projects. I'd rather have them running in parallel than waiting for one to finish before starting another. We'll get things done much faster this way."
Cliff Fietzek, Manager of Connected eMobility for BMW of North America, stands in front of the special edition Shadow Sport i3 on display at the LA Auto Show
Finally, I asked that since it's clear the program won't be finished on time, when can we expect the two Express Charging Corridors to be completed, and Healey answered: "Yeah, we're a little delayed. We're now shooting for early spring for completion. We always knew it was going to be tight. We sat with ChargePoint, we talked to the Volkswagen people and said, 'Can we do this in one year?' We knew approximately where we wanted to install the stations, but we still needed to contact the property owners, sign site host agreements, go through permitting and that just took more time than we expected. If you look at the ramp up, we started off slow, but are now really ramping up. We should have about 52 stations active by then end of the year, with another 19 already under construction. We're looking at finishing in late March or April."

Having personally gone through the process of installing a DC fast charger on my property in Montclair, NJ, I know the challenges that can arise during the process. I'll actually be pretty impressed if they do finish by Spring. That would mean that they installed the 100 stations on two coasts in about 15 months, and the company doing all of the site host agreements, permitting and installations never really took on a project like this before. That's really not bad in my opinion.
The DC Fast Charge Station I installed in Montclair, NJ. It's part of the East Coast Express Charging Corridor program
With that progress update on the East and West Coast Express Charging Corridors finished, I turned the discussion to the announcement made just hours before, the national ChargeNow DC Fast expansion. This is actually an expansion of a program started in 2014, when BMW and NRG teamed up to install 100 DC Fast chargers to select California markets. That program was completed earlier this year, and this is the second phase. There will be an additional 500 DC Fast chargers installed in 25 markets around the country.

When I asked about why they chose these specific markets, Healey said, "One of the important points of the expansion of the NRG program is that these 25 markets cover 80% of our current i3 sales. Now, we don't want to forget about the other 20% of our customers; we're working on it, and you'll be hearing from us shortly about how we're filling in the other 20%. It's really a systematic approach."

The 25 markets covered in this second phase of the program are:
Atlanta, GA; Austin, TX; Boston, MA; Chicago, IL; Dallas, TX; Denver, CO; Fresno, CA; Houston, TX; Los Angeles, CA; Miami, FL; Monterey, CA; Nashville, TN; New York, NY; Orlando, FL; Philadelphia, PA; Phoenix, AZ; Portland, OR; Raleigh, NC; Sacramento, CA; Salt Lake City, UT; San Diego, CA; San Francisco, CA; Santa Barbara, CA; Seattle, WA and Washington, DC.

Arun Banskota, President and CEO of NRG's EVgo had this to say about the program:

“It is our mission to install the right charging solutions at the right places, and EV drivers have overwhelmingly told us they prefer DC Fast chargers at public spaces. Over the next 24 months EVgo will add reliable DC Fast Combo capability to what is already America’s largest DC Fast charging network. This will be the fastest and most cost effective build out of a new network ever – thanks in large part to our existing infrastructure and committed retail host partners... The only way such a massive expansion is possible is because of the purpose built, and forward looking planning behind the EVgo network...EVgo has installed infrastructure with the ability to efficiently and economically add this new DC Fast Combo standard as the number of electric vehicles have increased. EVgo owns and operates our chargers with long term agreements with premium retail hosts, and is able to provide the level of customer service, reliability, and pricing that will lead to increased EV adoption and high satisfaction among the existing base of EV drivers.”

The deployment rate of these 500 stations is expected to be aggressive. NRG is a very large company with vast resources and plenty of experience with regards to installing infrastructure. After all, they are an electric utility company. Healey told me that they have existing sites that currently have CHAdeMO stations that they'll be adding a Combo (CCS) station to, as well as many other sites already identified and ready to go. He expects to see hundreds of stations completed within the first year and the entire 500 stations in the ground and operational by the end of 2018. He even said that he's being conservative with these predictions based on the lessons learned by the previous programs they worked on, and that it is quite possible that they finish earlier than the mid 2018 prediction.

Since I had over an hour with the team, we covered a lot of infrastructure topics and there's just too much for one post. Check back next week for part two when the discussion turns to BMW's decision to offer free charging, but only for new i3 buyers, the future of DC charging and BMW's long term commitment to EV infrastructure.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

BMW i3 Melts Away in House Fire

Believe it or not, this was an i3. Unlike the 328i that was also destroyed in the fire, it's difficult to tell that this pile of burnt material was once a car.
One of two things usually happens when people see an image of an electric vehicle on fire or the remnants of an electric vehicle that had been on fire. If you're an EV supporter, you probably hold your breath and grimace a bit until you can read the article to learn what caused the fire and if anyone was hurt. But for many people who are unfamiliar with electric vehicles, they likely question the safety of EVs. They don't even have to read the article; they just see "EV and fire" together and the unfortunate and uninformed speculation begins.

Luckily, since the recent electric vehicle movement began roughly 6 years ago, there have been very few cases of EV fires, and to my knowledge no one involved has suffered an injury. Other than a couple of incidents involving the defunct Fisker Karma, the causes of EV fires have been mostly a direct result of a severe impact compromising the battery pack. I don't know of any instance where an EV has caught on fire because of a systems failure with the high voltage battery pack or power electronics. In fact, as a comparison a gasoline powered vehicle has a greater chance of having a fire than an EV, statistically speaking.
You can recognize the seat frames, strands of carbon fiber and the optional rear 20" Sport wheel, but not much more

So while I usually don't like to use the words "EV and Fire" in the same story, I found this one particularly interesting and wanted to share it.  For one, I've never seen an i3 after a devastating fire incident, (these are the only pictures of an i3 after a fire that I know of) and two, because of the unique state of the car following the fire. I'd like to first say that thankfully, nobody was hurt in the fire depicted here. Also, neither the car, nor the home charging equipment, had anything to do with the fire. It was an unfortunate accident resulting from a fireworks event for a New Year's Eve celebration last year. Hours after cleaning up the debris from a neighborhood event, a trash can that had ashes from the fireworks ignited. Neighbors had gotten together for the fireworks display and the clean up. There must have been something placed in the trash that wasn't completely extinguished, and after a few hours of smoldering, it unfortunately caught on fire.

A very unfortunate scene 
It's pretty shocking to see how little is left of the i3 after the fire. The plastic body panels and CFRP Life Cell just melted away. Without the steel frame and passenger compartment used in a conventionally built car, there is practically nothing recognizable in the pile of i3 debris after the fire. However once they started cleaning up, they were able to drag the aluminum frame with the battery tray out of the garage with a tow truck. Although you can't tell from the photos, the owner, Tory Johnson told me that the aluminum frame and battery tray were still intact. Tory also said it was interesting to see that while the resin which holds the carbon fiber together had melted away, the actual strands of carbon fiber didn't melt, and were clearly visible after the fire.

The 328i next to the i3 in the garage was also destroyed by the fire, however you can still tell it was once an 328i
It's been over two years since the first i3 was delivered in Germany, and at this time there are about 40,000 i3s in customer hands. It's actually a little surprising that there hasn't been a news story or a picture shared on social media of an i3 that had been involved in a fire after a severe accident, or even one like this, that was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. At least we now know what to expect.

Even after removing the debris and cleaning up the garage floor had clumps of dried CRFP resin where the i3 had basically melted away.