Friday, November 27, 2015

The 2017 BMW i3: 94 Ah Cells and a 125 Mile EPA Range Rating?

Might these new 94 Ah cells from Samsung SDI make their way into the 2017 BMW i3?
About a month ago BMW CEO Harold Krueger surprised the EV world by casually mentioning in an interview with Die Zeit that in 2016 the i3 would have increased range. That of course sparked a lot of online speculation as to how would BMW accomplish this. Did they figure out a way to squeeze in more of the same 60 Ah Samsung battery cells that the i3 currently uses? Might they have sourced higher energy density battery cells from another supplier? Could Samsung have made the new 94 Ah cells available to BMW now? According to Samsung's Battery Technology Roadmap it didn't look like they would have those cells available for at least another year.
From the Samsung SDI website. The 94 Ah cells aren't even listed as available (click to enlarge)
According to some well connected insiders, it is beginning to look like BMW will indeed use Samsung's now 94 Ah battery cells in the 2017 i3 which will begin production in July of 2016. Furthermore, one insider even believes BMW will offer a battery upgrade option for current i3 owners that want the new, higher energy dense battery cells. Personally I just don't see how BMW can accomplish this without charging more money for the upgrade than most i3 owners would be willing to pay. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to get the battery upgrade myself. However, even if BMW discounted the new battery pack by giving owners a credit on the battery pack they returned, what would the upgrade price have to be for current i3 owners to bite?

Samsung SDI Battery Technology Roadmap
Personally, I think I would go for it if BMW could do the upgrade for under $5,000. That would also be contingent on the rumors being correct, and the new battery pack would be the same physical size - 96 battery cells packaged in 8 modules, containing 12 cells each. Using the new 94 Ah cells, BMW would increase the i3's total battery pack size from 21.6 kWh to 33.4 kWh without increasing weight significantly, if at all. Assuming BMW continued allowing approximately 90% of the total pack as usable energy, that would mean that the new i3 will have approximately 30kWh accessible to use. 30kWh usable would increase the i3 BEV's range to approximately 125 miles per charge and the i3 REx to about 115 mpc. With 115 EPA rated miles of range, my i3 REx would almost never fire up the range extender, which is fine by me. I'd still need it for the 240-mile trips to Vermont I take every couple months, but not for much more than that. If the i3 had 125 miles of range when it initially launched, I definitely wouldn't have ordered mine with the REx.
The battery tray removed from my i3 for service. This contains 8 modules, each holding twelve 60 Ah Samsung SDI battery cells. The new 94 Ah cells are the same size and can simply replace the current cells, in the same modules and fit nicely into the existing battery tray.
However, I'm still not convinced BMW will offer an option for current i3 owners to upgrade, and I'm even less convinced that they could offer it at a price point which would make it a reasonable purchase for someone who has only owned their car for a couple years or less. If they had 100,000 miles on the car, and the battery had already degraded to 75% or 80% or so of what it was when it was new, then the owner might be able to justify the cost of a new replacement pack. Of course, this is all speculation at this point. Nonetheless, we'll be talking a lot about these questions until BMW finally releases the details. Which, by the way, I don't expect them to do for at least 4 or 5 months. Rumors of an upgrade to an EV's battery pack can really hurt sales of the current vehicle. The only thing that will hurts sales even more is when the manufacturer admits it, gives the specifications and the expected launch date for the new model. If anyone out there is i3 bargain hunting, and can live with the i3's current range, you can expect some killer deals this spring as BMW clears out the remaining 2016 inventory to make room for the 2017s with the new battery.

One i3 battery module. As you can see there are twelve cells in each module, and there are eight modules in the pack.
A battery upgrade would seemingly solve another issue that has bothered some i3 REx owners, that being the size of the gas tank - or really how much of it they have access to. All i3's come with a 2.4 gallon gas tank. However, for the US market, BMW had to restrict the amount of gas available to use to 1.9 gallons. The reason was to satisfy the California Air Resource Board's criteria for a BEVx vehicle. One of the criteria for an extended range electric vehicle to be classified as a BEVx is that the range of the car while being driven on battery needs to exceed the range it can drive on gasoline. If BMW allowed the full 2.4 gallons to be available for use, the gas range would be slightly greater than the electric range, and the i3 REx wouldn't qualify as a BEVx. BMW would lose some of the highly valuable ZEV credits they get for every i3 REx sold in "CARB states".

If the i3's electric range is increased more than 20 additional miles, then the full 2.4 gallon tank could be accessed without a BEVx violation. Therefore, I fully expect the 2017 i3 REx to have use of the entire 2.4 gallon gas tank as it does with the European i3s. Actually, if the new batteries do extend the i3 REx's battery range to the possible 115 MPC, then BMW could increase the gas tank to a little over 3 gallons if they wanted to. The i3 REx would then offer over 200 miles of driving range without needing to plug in or fill up.
Might the 2017 i3 REx have a larger gas tank?
Whether or not BMW will indeed use the new 94 Ah cells from Samsung is yet to be known. According to CEO Krueger, we do know BMW will be upgrading the i3's battery pack, and the most obvious and easiest way to do so would be with higher density battery cells. Samsung's new 94 Ah cells are the same physical size as the 60 Ah cells used in the current i3, so upgrading to the new cells couldn't be any easier - as along as they are indeed ready and available. As for the battery upgrade for existing i3 owners, it's a tempting proposition, and one that I hope BMW fully explores to see if there is a way that they can do it at a reasonable cost (I say that's under $5,000). However I'm just not convinced that they can offer an upgrade without losing a lot of money on every pack they sell. Time will tell, and I'm sure there will be a lot of discussions about his before we actually get all the facts from BMW.

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.


"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.


"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.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Breaking: BMW i3 "Shadow Sport" Special Edition to be offered in US

The i3 Shadow Sport Limited Edition is coming
Thinking about getting a BMW i3? Do you like to own low-volume special edition cars? When it comes to cars, a special edition where only 50 copies are made guarantees the owner will be in pretty exclusive company.

That's exactly what BMW is doing with a special version of the 2016 i3. BMW is calling it the "i3 Shadow Sport" and they are using social media for the public unveiling. Tomorrow (Monday, 11/16) at 8:00pm EST, you can tune into the live BMWUSA Periscope event to find out the details on the i3 Shadow Sport.
BMW's teaser of the new limited edition i3 Shadow Sport
From the teaser picture it looks like the car has a moonroof, which has yet to be available in the US, and is the new color, Fluid Black. It has the 19" Cyclone wheels which only come with the top-of-the-line Tera World package, so it's likely loaded with all the options the car offers. So far, all BMW has said was "With only 50 available to purchase, the all-electric 2016 BMW i3 Shadow Sport is every bit a BMW i3 with new features – available for the first time in the US." Nothing else is known about this special edition i3, so if you're interested in the i3, and like owning rare cars, made sure you tune into tomorrow's live Periscope event. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

First Public CCS DC Fast Charger in New Jersey Getting Action

This CCS DC Quick Charge station is located on my property at 148 Valley Road, Montclair, NJ
Back in August I posted an article that announced the opening of the first DC fast charger in the East Coast Express Charging Corridor. That station was installed in Hartford, Connecticut. The Express Charging Corridor when completed will connect Washington, DC to Boston, Massachusetts with CCS DC fast chargers, located no more than 50 miles apart, and is being funded by a joint venture between BMW, Volkswagen and ChargePoint.

About three weeks after the station in Hartford was installed, I installed one on my property in Montclair, NJ. It was the first public CCS station in the state that wasn't installed on BMW property. BMW has had a few CCS fast chargers at their North American headquarters for a few years now, as they have been testing CCS since 2012, when they were using a modified BMW ActiveE with CCS capability as a test mule for the then yet-to-be-released i3.
So far the DCQC station is getting plenty of use from i3 owners
CCS fast charge infrastructure had a slow start, frustrating many i3 owners. It was difficult to watch the Asian standard CHAdeMO stations and Tesla Superchargers continue to proliferate, while CCS stations were as rare as White Rhinos. However the pace of CCS deployment has really picked up, and with the East and West Coast Express Charging Corridors beginning to take shape, it's starting to look like CCS is finally getting some traction.

The station I installed is the smaller of the two that will be used in these corridors. I have the 24kW, CCS only DC fast charger but there is another unit that will also be deployed on many of the direct highway locations. That unit is a dual head, CCS and CHAdeMO station and is capable of delivering up to 50kW. Because of the location on my property (not situated on a highway), and the primary tenant is a restaurant where people typically spend an hour or more, the 24kW unit made more sense, and it costs a LOT less. The lower power draw will also help me to avoid or minimize demand charges from my electric provider.
The eGolf owners were very pleased when they realized the DCQC in my lot was close to the route they planned to take to Massachusetts. They only had to drive a few miles off of their route to stop by and Quick Charge
I installed the station a little over two months ago and it's definitely getting use. I've had at least a couple dozen different i3 owners stop by and use it, and I recently had an eGolf owner who was driving from Delaware to Massachusetts stop by to charge up. I was talking to them about the trip and how long it would take to stop and charge at level 2 stations and how happy there were when they saw my DCQC station pop up on the Plugshare map.

Fast charge infrastructure is monumentally important for the mass adoption of plug in cars. Tesla knew the success of the Model S, and probably even the entire company, would hinge on how quickly they could cover large swaths of the US and other key markets with Supercharger access. They have been installing them at an incredible rate, and have installed more than 500 worldwide in under 3 years.

Nissan has also done their fair share with regards to DC fast charge infrastructure and has subsidized much of the costs of hundreds of CHAdeMO installations. Personally, I'm hoping Volkswagen steps up and commits to installing even more infrastructure than the current plan in light of the current dieselgate scandal. Making a commitment to assisting the proliferation of cleaner electric cars would be a good first step in restoring public confidence at this point.

We are getting there. EV charging infrastructure, both level 2 and DC fast charge, is still really in its infancy, but we're definitely making progress in some areas of the country (mainly the coasts). I remember back to 2009 when I was driving my MINI-E and there wasn't a public charging station within a thousand miles of me. In fact, the closest one may have even been 3,000 miles away in California.  Now there are tens of thousands of them in the US. I can only imagine how things will look in another five or six years.

The Plugshare map on the left shows only CCS DC Fast charge stations on the East Coast. Just a year ago at this time there were none in this view. Within a couple of months, there will be dozens more of them as the Express Charging Corridor locations are finished. The large gap south of my restaurant (the blue dot) will hopefully be closed by year's end. The pace of CCS deployment is definitely picking up, and I believe will only continue to accelerate from here on.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Road Trip Refueling a BMW i3 REx

Fill 'Er up!
I know many readers here have spent countless sleepless nights pondering the the age-old question: How long does it take to refuel a BMW i3's tiny gas tank?

Well maybe not, but I have had people argue that driving the i3 REx on an extended trip would be very inconvenient because they would have to stop to fill up the gas tank every 50-60 miles. I've done quite a few road trips with my i3 REx, and stopping once an hour for a couple of minutes to refill the tank never really bothered me much.

I wrote a post last year which detailed a 462 mile round trip I made to Vermont from my home in New Jersey and refueling was one of the topics that many people commented on. On that trip, I had to stop for gas a total of seven times, as I only recharged the car once, which was at my destination. I drove 111 miles on battery, 351 miles on the range extender and used a total of 9.87 gallons of gas, averaging 35.5 mpg.
It was snowing in Vermont when we arrived

In that post, I wrote that I found it funny how quickly the gas tank fills because it's only 1.9 gallons. My wife started timing how long it took to stop for gas and we averaged a little over two minutes. I remember wishing we had recorded one of the gas breaks so we could demonstrate just how quick you can pull off the highway, fill up, get back into the car and back out onto the highway. I made a note that the next time we drove back up to Vermont, we would do just that.

So last week we made the Vermont trip again, and as planned we recorded one of the gas stops:

As you can see, I started the stopwatch before we exited the highway, and stopped it when we were back on the highway. I didn't jump out of the car and rush like a NASCAR pit crew filling up. I took my time and even spent a couple extra second topping off so I'd get every drop that I could into that tiny tank and we still did it in under two minutes.

The point of the exercise was to demonstrate that it's really not that inconvenient to make a quick gas break about once every every hour. I will qualify that statement with the fact that here in the Northeast there are gas stations everywhere. It seems that I'm never more than a couple miles from one, so when I'm doing these long drives I can plan the stops at convenient intervals when the tank is nearly empty. While that is the case for many large city and suburban areas throughout the country, there are plenty of rural areas where gas stations aren't as prevalent, and the small gas tank would be a problem. The i3 REx most likely isn't well suited for use in those areas. But hey, BMW calls it a "city car" after all.

As I mentioned above, when I made the trip last year I only did 111 miles on battery and drove 351 on the REx. This year I was able to drive 270 miles on battery, and needed only 184 miles with the range extender maintaining the battery state of charge. This was possible because of the always improving charging infrastructure. I was able to stop twice (once each way) at Prestige BMW in Mahwah, NJ and use their new DC fast chargers. Also, on the way home I stopped for a couple hours at a friend's house who just recently installed a 240v level 2 EVSE in his garage. These stops allowed me to more than double the all-electric miles for the trip, and I only needed 4.9 gallons of gas for the 184 miles I drove with the range extender running, as I averaged 37.5 mpg.
I used the recently installed DC Fast Charger at Prestige BMW on both legs of the trip. 
I now have over 36,000 miles on my i3 after seventeen months of ownership, and only about 1,750 of those miles were on the REx. The range extender has been a great feature and I'm still very happy I got it. It does what it is supposed to; it gets you home without worrying about finding a charging station on the rare days that the electric range isn't enough, and it enables the occasional long road trip. There are limitations though, and extreme hill climbing while the REx is running for prolonged periods at highway speeds, can result in reduced power. Fortunately I've never had that happen to me but I don't really have any big mountains which I need to climb. On my Vermont trips I set the Active Cruise Control to 70 mph and have never had an issue yet, even though there are some prolonged climbs at the end of the trip. I did get the "Reduced Power Possible" warning once though, as the state of charge hit a low point of 2% once. However it held there until I crested the climb and once I was on flat ground the SOC climbed back up to about 6%. I left the cruise at 70 mph because I actually wanted to see at what point it would go into reduced power mode, but it never happened.  
On one climb, I was able to get the SOC down to 2% and at that point the car warns you that reduced power may occur if you continue without altering your driving. Basically it's saying "Slow Down!"
Still, in a perfect world I'd prefer a 150 mile, all-electric-range i3 combined with adequate DC fast charge infrastructure. Personally, I really don't need 250 or 300 miles of range, and I'd rather not pay for it. However, even though the infrastructure is improving, I think 200 miles of range is probably more acceptable until DC fast chargers are ubiquitous. It appears with Nissan and Chevy poised to bring 200 mile EVs to market in the coming year, the "affordable" electric vehicle market is going to get very interesting. BMW's CEO recently announced that the 2017 i3 will have a longer all electric range also, but didn't comment on exactly how much more. That's good news because as much as I like how the REx works, and how quickly I can refill the gas tank, I'd still much prefer going on battery alone.