Wednesday, September 30, 2015

2016 Brings New Colors to the i3

2016 i3 color options. Wheel choices remain the same.
BMW has added three new color options for the i3 in 2016. At the same time though, they have deleted three colors, so the i3 is still available in six different colors. The pessimist may say, "It's still only available in Solar Orange, and fifty shades of grey," and while they wouldn't be entirely incorrect in saying so, I think the changes are an improvement over what was previously offered.
Fluid Black really looks great. 
The best addition in my opinion is the new Fluid Black. I had the opportunity to see a Fluid Black i3 in person earlier in the year and I was instantly sold. I believe this is going to be the top selling i3 color in 2016, and I would have ordered my car with it if it were available in 2014. So the i3 color options in 2016 will be as follows:

The original Capparis White, Ionic Silver and Solar Orange remain available. Arravani Grey, Laurel Grey and Andesite Silver have been dropped and Fluid Black, Platinum Silver and Mineral Grey have been added. You can download the 2016 i3 PDF brochure which has the color chart from this link.
Andesite Sliver (seen above) is being replaced by a new color called Platinum Silver
The changes are really not too dramatic, but do make sense. The two least popular colors, Arravani Grey and Andesite Silver have been dropped, along with the very popular Laurel Grey. Andesite Silver was replaced with what appears to be (in pictures at least) a very similar, Platinum Silver. Arravani and Laurel Grey have been replaced with a single grey color option called Mineral Grey. From the pictures, it looks like it's a combination of the two previously offered grey colors. It's lighter than Laurel Grey was, closer to what Arravani Grey looked like, but it's metallic like Laurel Grey.  
Laurel Grey looked black in certain conditions. This picture is of me on my delivery day back in 2014.
These changes to the grey offerings make total sense, especially when you consider that there is a black paint option now.  Laurel Grey was very dark, and even looked like it was black if you were standing at a distance, or if it was parked in the shade. I believe that the Fluid Black color would decimate sales of Laurel Grey because it would be so close. By combining Arravani and Laurel Grey, and offering a lighter colored, metallic grey which is clearly different than Fluid Black, there is enough color separation for both colors to coexist.   
Arravani Grey (or Battleship Grey as I called it!) will no longer be offered.
One of the things I like about the new Fluid Black is that the car is monochromatic with it. I'm not totally against the i3 having a black hood as an accent for certain colors. In fact, I think it looks great with Capparis White and Solar Orange in particular, but I also think that the i3 looks good in certain colors without the black accent, or "Black Belt", as BMW calls it. I wrapped my car red the first week I got it because I wanted a color that popped and also wanted to see how it would look in all one color without the black hood. I'm happy I did so and have had many people ask me about it. I think the bright red really gives the i3 a more aggressive look, something I know that many i3 owners would like.
My red wrapped i3 next to an Andesite Silver one. 

When I was first told that BMW was considering new color options for 2016 I (somewhat) jokingly asked if "Moloughney Red" would be offered sometime in the future. The BMW product manager quickly responded "Don't hold your breath, Tom" - with a smile. I may be partial, but I think it would go over pretty well if it were offered, what do you think?


Friday, September 25, 2015

VW: Das-eption and the path to Redemption

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned on Wednesday.

While this blog's primary focus is the BMW i3, I occasionally sprinkle in some featured EV products and discuss topics not necessarily i3-centric, but are instead just general electric vehicle information. In light of the recent revelations that Volkswagen has been deliberately cheating on emissions testing for many years now, I wrote the following article for Green Car Reports.

So far, no other automaker has been caught as VW has - with proof that they purposely installed a "defeat device" on the vehicles so the cars would curb their emissions only during actual emission testing. However it's fair game to speculate if other OEMs may also be exposed as cheaters now that the EPA knows what they have to look for, and how to expose it. It will certainly be interesting to watch this all unfold.

In any event, Volkswagen is going to face huge fines for intentionally violating Federal emission standards and I wanted to offer my thoughts on how I believe some of that money should be used. If we don't use at least a portion of that money to help reverse the damage done by these heavily polluting "clean diesels", I believe we will have missed a great opportunity to improve the quality of air we all breathe.


 How VW Can Atone For Diesel Deception: Electric-Car Advocate's Thoughts

The full impact of Volkswagen's diesel-emission cheating scandal has yet to be realized, but what it has apparently already admitted to doing could result in the largest civil fine ever levied by the Federal government on an automaker. And that's just the beginning.

Besides paying civil penalties, and coping with a spate of criminal actions, and class-action lawsuits, and investigations by multiple levels of government, VW also needs to deal with the 482,000 cars it sold--plus more in limbo at dealers--that clearly do not comply with emission laws.

In real-world use, these vehicles emit 10 to 35 times the allowable legal limit of certain pollutants, so they're not just slightly out of compliance. They will need to be modified to comply, or VW will have to buy them back. And if owners don't like the modified cars, they'll likely have to buy those cars back too.
After all that, VW has to figure out how to regain the trust of the public.

There are lots of aspects to this debacle, and all will undoubtedly be discussed ad nauseam over the coming weeks. But the aspect I find most interesting is how Volkswagen can best right the wrongs it has done. How does paying fines, settling lawsuits, and bringing highly-polluting vehicles into compliance really undo the damage done? It doesn't. All it does is punish Volkswagen. And I believe the public deserves more.

Make no mistake: If VW is guilty as charged, it absolutely deserves to be punished--and severely.
It turns out they aren't as clean as we were told - not nearly, actually.
But I hope the Justice Department also considers what can be done to offset the damage to air quality created by the offending so-called "clean diesels." And I hope VW, separately, does the same. We've seen penalty estimates as high as $18 billion dollars (the maximum allowed of $37,500 per vehicle for intentionally violating the Clean Air Act. I doubt the actual penalty will be anywhere close to that, but it will likely be in the billions. I think it's not unreasonable to expect the fine to be somewhere around $2.5 billion, or about $5,000 per non-compliant vehicle sold.

Why not use a portion of that civil fine to invest in a nationwide DC Fast Charge network for electric vehicles?

If just half of a $2.5 billion fine were dedicated to this purpose, we could blanket the majority of Interstate highways and major high-traffic corridors with DC fast chargers that would make switching from gasoline and diesel cars to zero-emission electric vehicles a much easier decision for many buyers. Here's why I believe that is what should be done. Helping to advance the proliferation of cleaner electric vehicles would, over time, more than reverse the emissions damage that has been done, and further improve the quality of air we breathe, instead of just punishing the offender. And shouldn't that really be the goal here?

A second thought: As well as using the fine to build out a national DC fast-charging network, how about Volkswagen getting out in front of this crisis itself and telling us how it will do its part to help clean the air it polluted?

BMW, Volkswagen and ChargePoint teamed up to create "Express Charging Corridors" on the East and West coasts. While it's a good start, much more fast charge infrastructure is needed to allow the average electric car of today to be a viable choice for long distance driving.
Rather than just declaring that it will be a leader in electric mobility, as the company has done before, show us the proof that it's serious about how it plans to expand its zero-emission vehicle offerings? VW Group could combine that with a generous investment in public charging infrastructure, on a much greater scale than last December's partnership with BMW and ChargePoint to install approximately 100 DC fast chargers.

That program in just now starting to get under way, but it's really only the beginning of what's needed. VW should commit to expanding it to 400 or 500 stations, including high-volume corridors not only on the East and West coasts but across the country--essentially following the Tesla Supercharger road map.
Tesla North American Supercharger map.
Yet another idea to consider: Give the owners of the affected vehicles the option to replace their car with a new electric Volkswagen e-Golf. Some current Volkswagen TDI diesel owners have said they now feel guilty for having driven their diesel for the past few years, with a main reason for their purchase having been both fuel economy and because it was a "clean" diesel.

Offering those owners the option to return the polluting car for a much cleaner Volkswagen could demonstrate that VW understands and is concerned with its customers' desire to drive clean cars. Many owners won't take advantage of such an offer--diesel partisans can be just as committed to their technology as electric-car advocates--but the offer would send a powerful signal about the company's intent. I believe these are the sort of things Volkswagen must consider if it wants to convince the public it is serious about making proper restitution for this egregious deception.
How about offering eGolfs to the customers that don't want their dirty diesel anymore?
There are plenty of ways to make some good come out of this shameful episode. No matter how you slice it, it will be very painful for Volkswagen AG. How well or poorly the company manages this crisis will  have a lingering effect for years to come, even decades.

It appears VW intentionally deceived both the American consumer and the U.S. government, and put public health at risk, by knowingly planning and executing a fraud. To me, and I think to many others, that's much worse than a carmaker trying to delay or prevent a vehicle recall.

But Americans are forgiving people, and sin followed by redemption is a part of our national myth. As long as we believe the offender is genuinely remorseful for what it did, and is taking steps to prove it hase learned from the offense, recovery is possible--perhaps even lauded and held up as a shining example of redemption.

Now that we've found out the real truth in German engineering, the ball has moved into VW's court to decide on what it can do to begin to offset the damage it has done to itself, its customers, and the environment.
Let's hope Volkswagen is smart enough to make the right decisions.

*Edit: BMW released a statement regarding the recent discussion of diesel engines and emission compliance. You can read it HERE.

Monday, September 21, 2015

ChargePoint Home: Connected EV Charging with Style

The ChargePoint Home 25 EVSE is the latest addition to my EVSE collection
When most electric vehicle owners think of ChargePoint, they likely are thinking about public charging infrastructure. That's because for the past five years, ChargePoint's focus has been on installing and maintaining the largest network of public EVSEs in the US, with well over 20,000 locations currently in use.

Back in 2012, ChargePoint did release an EVSE for home charging, the CT500 made by Coulomb Technologies, but it was priced a bit above the market at $2,495. At the time, it was the only home EVSE that was networked, so that was a major advantage. However, the price was prohibitively high and competitive units were selling for half of that, so the CT500 never sold in any serious volume.

That won't be the case with ChargePoint Home, ChargePoint's new entry in the home EVSE market. I've had the opportunity to test this product for a month now, before the official launch and I've been really impressed.
Options

There are two power levels offered, a 16 amp unit (The ChargePoint Home 12) and one which can deliver up to 32 amps (The ChargePoint Home 25). If you're wondering why "12" and "25" are used in the product names it is because ChargePoint is advertising that the 16 amp unit is capable of adding 12 miles of range per hour to the typical EV, and 25 miles of range per hour for the 32 amp unit. I'm not particularly fond of using that method to name them, since every EV is capable of achieving different levels of efficiency. Plus, I think it may confuse some people who think the number is the amps the EVSE is capable delivering. However, this is only the name so it's not really a big consideration.

Since I'm discussing the power delivery, this brings me to one of the few criticism I have for the new ChargePoint Home. While 32 amps is above the maximum charging limit for any currently-offered electric vehicle that isn't a Tesla or that uses a Tesla onboard charger (Mercedes B-Class ED), some of the competition is now offering 40 amp and 50 amp home charging solutions. These would be attractive for Tesla owners, and perhaps someone who wanted to future-proof their garage. I suspect ChargePoint would be ready to offer a higher powered version in the future if there are any new electric vehicles offered that can accept more than 32 amps. However, considering the current electric vehicle offerings, 32 amps is fine.

I got the optional 25' cord
After selecting whether you want the 16 amp or 32 amp EVSE, you then have the option of choosing a hard wired unit or one that plugs in. The 16 amp plug-in version uses a NEMA 6-20 outlet and the 32 amp plug-in EVSE uses a NEMA 6-50 outlet. Once that is decided you can choose the length of cable you want, but that's only if you buy the 32 amp version. For some reason, the 16 amp version only comes with a 12' cord, you cannot order it with one longer. That could be a deal breaker for some people whose garage is set up in a way that twelve feet of cable won't reach their charge port. On the other hand, the 32 amp unit comes standard with an 18' cord, and has an optional 25' cord for an additional $50. It's a bit puzzling why the lower powered unit isn't available with a longer cord, and I believe this will steer many potential customers to the higher powered EVSE, even if they originally considered the lower powered unit (maybe that's the plan!).  I did reach out to ChargePoint about this and was told that a customer can order a replacement cord of either 18' or 25' length and replace the 12' standard cord that comes with the 16 amp EVSE. I didn't get the pricing, but I assume it will cost considerably more than the $50 up-charge when you upgrade from an 18' cord to the 25'cord on a ChargePoint Home 25 (32 amp). The rep also told me that if there is demand for longer cords on the 16 amp unit, then ChargePoint will consider offering it at a later date.

Installation

Drill bit & nut driver
If you choose to go with one of the plug-in versions, you'll need to have an electrician install the appropriate outlet in your garage. The 16 amp unit requires a 20 amp, 240v dedicated circuit with a  NEMA 6-20 outlet and the 32 amp EVSE requires a 40 amp circuit with a NEMA 6-50 outlet. I chose the 32 amp hard wired one, with a 25 foot cord. Since I was replacing one of my older EVSEs with the Home unit, it was an extremely simple process, and that wasn't by accident. ChargePoint made every effort to make installing the Home EVSE as easy as possible, especially if the owner was swapping out an older EVSE for the new Home unit. In that case, it's so easy to do that the average person can probably complete the installation in less than an hour. I had mine installed in about 30 minutes. A drill bit and nut driver for the supplied wall mounting screws are even included. One aspect of the installation I found curious is that all three mounting screws run down the center of the unit, as opposed to the four corners. This could possibly cause the EVSE to rock a bit from side to side if the wall it's mounted on isn't flat. I'd prefer if the mounting screws were in the four corners, which would provide for a more secure mount on uneven surfaces.


                                  ChargePoint Home installation video

Another great feature is how compact, lightweight and portable the ChargePoint Home is. At only 11.2" by 7" it's stylish and not bulky. It has a back-lit connector holster which swivels up and down and that helps to make returning the connector to the base easy, even in the dark. If you choose the plug in version, you can easily take this EVSE with you for charging away from home. All you would need is the appropriate outlet at your destination. The ChargePoint Home is indoor and outdoor rated and is UL listed.




















The ChargePoint app displays useful charging information such as current and cumulative energy draw. You can also set a "Remind Me to Plug in" notification, so you never wake up to an uncharged EV.

Connected

Perhaps the best feature of ChargePoint Home is that it can be integrated with your ChargePoint account which allows the user access to information from the ChargePoint mobile app. This includes viewing information on the current charging session, remotely start and schedule charging, set notification reminders so you don't forget to plug in, review data on past charging sessions, and it even works with Nest thermostat products which can help save energy.

ChargePoint Home EVSE pricing starts at $499 for the Home 12 hard wired station and goes up to $749 for the Home 25 plug in station with a 25 foot cord. Full pricing details are below. ChargePoint Home has a three year warranty and is available through Amazon.

ChargePoint Home 12: 16A Hardwire station with 12' cord$499
ChargePoint Home 12: 16A Plug station with 12' cord$549
ChargePoint Home 25: 32A Hardwire station with 18' cord$649
ChargePoint Home 25: 32A Plug station with 18' cord$699
ChargePoint Home 25: 32A Hardwire station with 25' cord$699
ChargePoint Home 25: 32A Plug station with 25' cord$749
Slim, compact design


I've been using my ChargePoint Home 25 for a few weeks now and I really like it. ChargePoint has a winner with this EVSE, and I predict it will sell very well. I've been driving electric for over six years now, and I've seen the evolution of EVSE products. It's good to see the products continue to improve just as the prices continue to go down. The ChargePoint Home delivers on size, portability, quality and ease of installation. It's stylish, competitively priced, and best of all connected to the ChargePoint Network which allows the user mobile access to effective tools which can enhance their electric lifestyle. This all adds up to great news for EV owners.



Note: I received for free, one ChargePoint Home 25 EVSE from ChargePoint for testing, feedback and product review publication before the consumer launch. No other compensation was made.