Monday, March 28, 2016

BMW i3 Key Fob Fail

Returning to your car to find the windows wide open isn't pleasant - but it's much worse if it had been raining.
Photo credit: Chuck Vossler 
Long gone are the days of a simple key to open your car's door and turn on the ignition. Keys today aren't even really keys in the traditional sense. With many cars, you only need to have the key on you and as you grab the handle of the vehicle the door will unlock. Then, you get into the vehicle and instead of inserting the key into an ignition, you simply push a button and the car will turn on. This is, in fact how the BMW i3 works, as long as you ordered the car with the optional Comfort Access feature.
BMW i3 key fob
Regardless of the other i3 features that you select, all i3 key fobs are the same. With a push of a button, they can lock or unlock the doors, or unlock the rear hatch (for MY 2015 on, the 2014 model key fob unlocked the front trunk).  Like most other key fobs, there is a panic button that sounds the car's alarm, but there is also one more function: If you long press the door unlock button, both front windows will open. This feature is used to cool down a hot cabin that may have been parked for awhile in direct sunlight. While the owner is walking up to the vehicle, they can open the windows to get some fresh air into the cabin before they hop into a sweltering hot environment. While this option certainly has a practical use, it also comes with a potential downside, that being the possibility of the owner inadvertently opening the windows by accidentally depressing the door unlock button.
No one wants to find this when they return to their car. Photo credit: Chuck Vossler
I've read about this being an occasional issue on cars of various makes. Someone with a pocket full of keys, coins or other objects can have the button depress without knowing it and have their doors unlock and windows open without their knowledge. Luckily, you need to be close enough to the vehicle for the key fob's signal to reach the vehicle, and that surely reduces the likelihood of it happening. However it does happen, and the problem can be amplified by a poorly designed key fob.

Unlocking your car door unknowingly is definitely not something you want to do, but the odds are nobody is going to notice unless there is someone actively trying to break into cars where the vehicle is parked. Having the windows wide open is much worse, as it invites passersby who may have nefarious intentions to steal items from the cabin, or even attempt to steal the car.

The edge of the button which sticks out above the key fob is protected by the key cover

This issue of unknowingly opening the windows of the vehicle because of the long press of the unlock button on the key fob seems to happen much more frequently with i3 owners than it does with other cars that have that feature on the key fob. Looking at the key fob closely, I think I know why that is. The door unlock button is located on the center and at the very top  of the fob. It also has a lip along the top edge of the button that sticks up above and beyond the black plastic trim that surrounds the fob. This lip protrudes roughly 2 millimeters beyond the leading edge of the fob, making it very easy to be depressed by accident while in a pocket or handbag that contains other items that can press against the fob.

Soaking wet Tera World interior

Over in the i3 Facebook group, and on a few other online forums, many owners have asked if anyone else has returned to their vehicle only to find the windows wide open. They are certain they didn't leave it that way and many are convinced it is the result of some malfunction on their car. Having the possibility of items being stolen from the vehicle isn't the only concern, though. Some have returned to there vehicle to find the interior soaking wet because this problem occurred during a rainstorm - or even worse, a snowstorm.

A friend of mine, journalist and i3 owner Chuck Vossler was one of the unlucky owners who had the accidental long button press and window open happen to him at a very inopportune time; during a driving rainstorm. Needless to say, he wasn't to happy about it. Here's Chuck's take on it:

"We typically park in a covered parking lot, but on a summer day last year had to park out in the open during a torrential down pour. Grabbed all of our stuff and booked out the car headed for the door at work 100 feet away trying not to get too wet. About an hour later, I had to go back to the car for something and as I was walking up to the car, my heart sank. The windows of our 2014 Solar Orange i3 with the Tera World package were all the way down on both sides. As I surveyed the soaking, was blown away by the amount of water in the car. There was so much, it was literally pooled in the seats and on our floor mats. Fortunately the eucalyptus wood wasn’t too wet.
Soaked! Photo credit; Chuck Vossler
I excused myself from work and took the i3 home. Using large bath towels, sopped up as much as I could and then was surprised to see that the WeatherTech mats caught a bunch and kept the carpets from getting too wet. Then I took a shop vac and vacuumed everything, and set all the mats out to dry and left the doors open for a few days while parked inside our garage at home. I think having leather seats instead of cloth helped it not be worse. The interior dried completely and we never smelled mold or mildew after. I write for a couple other outfits and offered to write the experience up but was told, it was user error and they weren’t interested. I buy that. But the same thing has happened to more than just us, as others have posted the same experience in the i3 Facebook Group.

We must have pressed the edge of the key somehow when running in to work during the massive rain. The i3 key we used that day did not have any covering on it. So since then, using the BMW i blue bumper’d key cover on one key and being vigilant has helped us from a second occurrence. Of note is that in owning and driving BMW’s for over 20 years, this has not ever happened to me before."

The BMW i Key Cover is available at BMW dealers or at many sites online
Luckily there is a very low cost solution which in most cases, eliminates the problem. It does however, cost the owner about fifteen dollars. I'm referring to BMW i Key Cover, accessory number 82 29 2 348 069. I've been using these covers as long as I've had my i3, which is nearly two years now and I've never had a problem. I even know some other i3 owners that have purchased the cover and put their key in it upside down, so all the buttons are covered by the hard plastic of the back of the cover. They cannot press the buttons, but if they have Comfort Access, they really don't need to. As I said above, with Comfort Access you unlock the door and rear hatch simply by touching the handle. The key fob will fit perfectly in the cover either way.
The Key Cover still works, but after a year or so it's no longer BMW i Frozen Blue
One thing to note about the Key Cover is, like most products from the BMW line, it is made with sustainability in mind. The cardboard box is made from recycled sources, and the actual cover is, "Made from sustainable, organic-based plastic & glows in the dark." That's great, and something many BMW i customers are interested in. However, the organic-based plastic also has a downside. The bright BMW i Frozen Blue color doesn't last too long. After about eight months I noticed it was turning a greenish tint, and after about a year and a half is was fully green, and no longer matches the Frozen Blue accents of my car. It grew increasing bothersome to me so I recently broke down and bought a new one. As you can see, the color variation is pretty striking. I can assure you the older greenish colored one did indeed start out looking just as the new one does now. While the plastic itself may be sustainable, the color certainly isn't!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Plug Into a New Guinness World Record!

A recent BMW i3 meet in Southern California. Photo credit: Steve J. Myung
Do you drive a BMW i3, i8 or X5 40e?  Are you a Formula E fan? Do you live in Southern California or can make it to Long Beach at 9:30am on Saturday, April 2nd, and would like to help break the Guinness World Record for the Largest Parade of BMW cars?

After the idea was cooked up by a few BMW i3 owners in Southern California, BMW NA got involved to help organize and promote the effort.  It still very much a grass-roots type of effort with social media the primary force of spreading the word. Participants in the event, will get two grandstand tickets to that day's Long Beach Formula E, compliments of BMW NA.

Organizers need to get 179 or more BMWs to participate to break the record set in 2008, when 178 BMW Isetta owners organized in Rödental, Germany and set the current record.  BMW i will also have on display the i3, i8, X5 40e and new 330e at the Formula E Village for participants to view and learn more about after the record setting attempt. 

The three main organizers, Heather Somaini, Dave Avery and Roman Vazquez aren't new to organizing BMW i3 events. Last year they started what turned into a national effort to celebrate the i3's first year anniversary in the US, and have also organized i3 owners meet-ups.  Roman had this to say about this event:

"After our 1 year BMW i Anniversary Event last year, Heather, Dave and I continued to be impressed with how large and social the community was here in Southern California. With so many more i3 and i8s on road here we felt it was time to take it to the next level and try to break the Guinness World Record. 

We had originally planned an event to coincide with a meet up earlier this year but then this opportunity came up to collaborate with BMW NA at the Formula E race in Long Beach. So we were happy to see BMW's interest in our event and decided to support the event in Long Beach."

So come on out and have a great day with fellow BMW eDrive owners, show your support for electric vehicles and watch the exciting Formula E. You may even end up in the Guinness Book of Records when its all said and done. 

If interested, you can register at this link. Help up make BMW history and have a great time doing so!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Battery Options for the 2017 BMW i3?

A Samsung employee shows of one of the new 94Ah battery cells which I predict the 2017 i3 will boast
Ever since last October when BMW CEO Harold Krueger stated that the 2017 i3 would have an increased electric range, there's been speculation on how they would accomplish it. While BMW hasn't made any official announcements yet, it's widely believed that BMW will be using the new Samsung 94Ah battery cells for the 2017 i3, which I first speculated here, back in November. 

The current i3 uses 96 Samsung 60Ah battery cells which are 3.75v ea. This adds up to a total of 21.6kWh (96 x 60 x 3.75= 21.6). The new 94Ah cells are the same physical size and voltage so an upgrade to these cells would mean BMW could use the same modules and battery tray, greatly reducing the cost as compared to engineering all new packaging for the new cells. Therefore, the new pack should increase from 21.6kWh to 33.8kWh (96 x 94 x 3.75 = 33.8). If the weight of the cells is the same, that should increase the BEV i3's range from the existing 81 miles per charge to approximately 125 miles per charge and the i3 REx's range from 72 miles per charge to about 112 MPC.
The battery pack of my i3 REx. It was removed to replace a faulty battery heating element. 
So we know for sure that the 2017 i3 which begins production this summer will have increased range from improved battery cells, and we believe we've figured out which cells BMW will be using. The next logical question then is:  Will that be the only battery available for the 2017 i3, or will BMW also continue to offer the current 60Ah cells as a lower cost battery pack option? We say the latter.

As a comparison Tesla has always offered different battery pack options for the Model S. That, along with direct sales and the Supercharger network been part of the fabric which has made the Model S so appealing to so many people. But there is another example of an OEM offering battery size options which is an even better comparison, and that's Nissan. Ever since the Nissan LEAF launched in late 2010, it had been fitted with a 24 kWh battery pack. Just past Fall Nissan added a 30kWh battery pack as an option. The entry level "S" model still has the 24kWh battery pack, but if you want the higher level SV or SL trims, you also get the new 30kWh battery pack. 

BMW could do something like what Nissan did and continue to offer the 21.6kWh battery pack, but only on a base i3, to offer a lower cost option. Or they could do like Tesla does and simply allow the customer to choose the battery size they want like any other option. This will however drive dealers nuts because they'll now have to stock four different i3's. Some dealers are already having difficulty deciding how many of each of the current two versions to stock, so four different versions of the i3 definitely won't make their life any easier.  I am however, going to predict this is indeed what BMW does, and if I am correct, here's the 2017 i3 options that will be available as early as this September:

BEV with 21.6kWh battery and 81mi electric range
REx with 21.6kWh battery, 72 mi electric range & 74 mi additional gas range (39mpg x 1.9gal)

BEV with 33.8kWh battery and ~125 mi electric range
REx with 33.8kWh battery, ~112 mi electric range & 93 mi additional gas range (39mpg x 2.4gal)

Note the gasoline range on the 33.8kWh i3 REx increased from 74 miles to 93 miles. That's because in the US, BMW reduced the amount of gasoline available on the car to 1.9 gallons, even though the  fuel tank is actually 2.4 gallons. European customers have had access to the full 2.4 gallons all along, and will continue to do so. The reduced gas availability in the US was so the car would be classified as a CARB (California Air Resource Board) BEVx vehicle, giving BMW the maximum amount of the valuable ZEV credits, and qualifying the i3 for additional state rebates and tax exemptions. However, with the larger battery and longer all electric range, the i3 REx can now utilize the entire 2.4 gallons and still have BEVx designation, so I see no reason why BMW wouldn't remove the gas tank restriction and give access to the full 2.4 gallons. That would increase the overall combined range of the i3 REx from its current 142 mi to 205 mi. 
With the battery tray cover removed, you can see the eight distinct modules that make up the i3's battery pack.
Each module contains twelve 60Ah Samsung battery cells. 
Of course we're still just speculating here, and as we draw closer to the beginning of production for the 2017 model year i3 BMW has been as tight lipped as always on new or improved models. Perhaps the announcement will happen next week at NYIAS, or BMW may wait until closer to the 2017 launch as to not really kill sales of the remaining 2016 i3 inventory. In any event, the improved range will be a welcomed improvement for the i3, if not a necessary one. The new 30kWh battery pack of the Nissan LEAF is only a temporary improvement, as it's been strongly rumored that the 2018 LEAF may have a 60kWh battery. That, coincidently matches the 2017 Chevy Bolt's 60kWH battery pack, and that EV will boast a 200 mile all electric range. Then, in 2018 the Tesla Model 3 will launch, and offer a 200 mile range for about $35,000. So I'm guessing the next i3 range boost will have to happen in 2018 as a 2019 model, perhaps when the 2nd generation i3 is released. 

I'm sure BMW realizes they need to continuously improve the battery in their EV's if they want to be competitive in this space, and this LCI refresh for the i3 proves that BMW isn't going to sit idle and let the competition eat their electrons for lunch.