Wednesday, December 4, 2013

No Numeric State of Charge Display on the i3? Really?

One of the advantages of not being first to market in any industry is the fact that you get the opportunity to study the competition's product and see what worked and what didn't so you don't make the same mistakes. One example in the EV industry would be to look at how Nissan is having difficulty with early battery degradation in the LEAF, especially in hot weather climates. It seems clear a sophisticated active thermal management system greatly reduces these issues by keeping the cells from overheating and from remaining at very high temperatures for prolonged periods of time. Besides watching the competition, BMW also gained a lot of useful data and feedback from the MINI-E and ActiveE programs. This, in my opinion, should have greatly reduced the chance that BMW would make a major mistake with the i3.

The MINI-E SOC was front and center
After driving the i3 four separate times now, I am pretty convinced it provides the driving experience I was hoping for. It's very quick and instantly responsive, has very precise steering and extremely short braking distances. The regenerative braking is nice and strong, although it's slightly weaker than it was on the ActiveE. It definitely is the "hot hatch" I was hoping it would be. That being said, it's not perfect - and I didn't expect it would be, but I didn't expect BMW to make an obvious critical error that could have easily been avoided, which I believe they did by omitting the state of charge display.
The ActiveE SOC & Battery Temp
Both the MINI-E and ActiveE  had a numeric SOC display and honestly that is all I ever use when I'm driving. I don't care what the estimated range indicator says. No matter how precise it is, it doesn't know how fast I'll be driving, if I am carrying three passengers with cargo or driving alone, if I'm going to be driving up a mountain or on flat ground. All these factors will influence how far the car will take you on any particular trip. The state of charge indicator is crucial for me and I believe I'll feel lost for a while driving an electric car without it. Sure, I'll get used to the bar graph on the drivers display screen, and I can kind of figure out the approximate state of charge, but that's unacceptable as far as I'm concerned. Let me see my state of charge and I know how far I can go. I'm not saying BMW should eliminate the other information they want to show, like the bar graph and estimated range. Go ahead and display that on the main drivers screen if you like, but give me the SOC somewhere so I can look at it if I want to. The car has the information available, why not include it on a screen somewhere, I don't mind if I have to look in the iDrive to find it.
What's the state of charge? 54%? 56%? I guess it's somewhere around there but I want to know precisely. Every percentage point counts some days in an EV when you are stretching the range. I want to see the SOC displayed in a simple numeric value somewhere.

BMW had a special event private at the LA Auto Show for ActiveE drivers only. I believe most people felt as enthusiastic about the i3 driving experience as I did, yet a lot of the conversations were about the lack of a state of charge gauge and how baffled many of us were about this. When the time came for a Q&A session it didn't take long for it to be asked and BMW tried their best to explain that the i3's range predictor will be so accurate that a proper SOC gauge isn't needed. That didn't sit well with the ActiveE drivers and the protest continued until the managers said they hear our displeasure and promise to revisit this, opening the possibility to adding the state of charge display before the US launch - or possibly just to quiet us down a bit and move on the the next topic!
There it is! 85.5% state of charge - only US customers don't get to see it!

One thing I found interesting is that on the European i3's, at least the one's with the range extender option, there is a state of charge display. A BMW i3 forum member sent me the above picture as proof. However here in the US that screen isn't available since unlike in Europe, US customers will not have the ability to manually turn on the range extender once the state of charge dips below 75%. The inability to do so does make the range extender less useful, however how much less useful is a story for another day once I've had the opportunity to properly test drive an i3 REx with a depleted battery in range extender mode. The point is, the car knows its state of charge and can display it for European REx customers, so why not just make the display standard on all i3's and make everybody happy?

Will this prevent me from buying an i3? No. Will it make the driving experience much worse? Probably not. What bothers me more than anything else is this is something the MINI-E and ActiveE were overwhelmingly in favor of and I don't know how BMW missed it. The point of the MINI-E and ActiveE trials were to find out things like this so the i3 and future BMW electrics would be the best they could be. I hate to really harp on this so much but I'm really disappointed this was somehow overlooked. It's not a little oversight, it's a major omission to me because it's something their pool of beta testers appreciated and wanted on their future EV's. When the Nissan Leaf launched back in 2010 it didn't have a state of charge gauge and the LEAF owners were very disappointed. So much so that they complained continuously until Nissan added the state of charge gauge two years later. How did BMW not miss this? It's really baffling.


  1. That's surprising if true Tom. I hope someone at BMW is reading this. Do you think it could be they are concerned about the accuracy of the state of charge and that people would begin to rely too much on it?

    1. I don't think that is the case Bill. The SOC gauge on the ActiveE is very accurate until it gets down under 10% and then you need to be careful because it's not as precise with a very low SOC, especially in the winter when the battery is cold.

    2. Given all the parameters the i3 takes into consideration because it is "always online" (like topography on expected path, outside temperature & weather forecast, real time traffic information, speed limit overview on expected path, cabin temp settings, eco pro/pro + settings and current driving behaviour), it will be FAR more accurate in calculating remaining range than the driver. I've driven it on different conditions, and it is always right - so you won't really miss it.

  2. I'm a current LEAF owner and I can attest to the usefulness of a SOC gauge the GOM (guess o meter as we affectionately call it) is not nearly as useful as knowing your exact state of charge. Guess it's not the ultimate driving machine after all.


    1. The driving experience is pretty good MOT. I don't think this interferes with the driving pleasure you'll get. It's much quicker than the LEAF and handles better too. You should take one for a test drive when you have the opportunity, I think you'll be pleased. The SOC is another issue

  3. Maybe they are saving this feature for the hallowed ActiveE driver special edition ?

  4. Hopefully they will realize that this was a mistake as add it. It's a simple software update that could be accomplished with little effort and expense. BMW can then say "You spoke and we listened!" and come out looking like a champion!

    On a side note: Tom did you get to drive it long enough to compare the range to your activee?

    1. No Phil, I haven't had the chance it that long. I've only had it for 4 or 5 miles at a clip. If I had to guess, I'd say the range is slightly less than the ActiveE is. The ActiveE was EPA rated at 94 miles per charge in 2012. Since then the EPA range rating has changed a little and it's a little tougher now so BMW has said they think the ActiveE would probably get a 89-90 mile EPA rating if it were to be tested now. I'm guessing the i3 will have about a 82-86 MPC rating, but that is really just a guess.

  5. Here’s a sample trip from last weekend that I feel illustrates why SOC is necessary.

    Left home, 57mi range indicated with 99% SOC. We then head 3 mi north and with a 1000ft elevation change up. The next 3 miles is 1500ft down. Get on the freeway and head 10 miles east. We’re now at 88% SOC and 51mi range indicated. Get back on the freeway and drive 37 miles south. We’re now at 51% SOC and 41mi range indicated. Its 31 miles to home. Get back on the freeway and drive the 31 miles. 94 miles travelled and 27% SOC remains in the driveway. We have one more destination for the day - Its 13 miles each way to our next stop. Based on the day's driving 26mi with 27% SOC should be ok but we wouldn’t make it - we know that drive consumes 35-40%+ SOC due to the hills involved. Making that 'expensive' drive twice the prior day is probably what drove down the indicated range to 57mi for 100% to begin with.

    I don’t program my next stops into navigation, so the car has no real way to predict my consumption - which varies significantly from flat/freeway to up and over hills in traffic, or wide open roads - and based on how I drive…how I drive being largely based on SOC and my plans for the rest of the day.

    So, please give me an SOC display…or I’ll be at the consumption screen dividing mi/kwh by the indicated mi range to yield kWh...or I just realize...I'll be driving with my phone as a 3rd screen on the remote app showing me the % SOC, assuming it isn't being hidden from there as well.

  6. Well done, Tom. If BMW will listen to any customer, they'll certainly listen to you. You always strike a good balance between optimism about the i3 and calling BMW on things that need attention.

    As a longtime LEAF driver, I can attest to the need for an SOC numeric display, either in percentage form or in kWH, to be able to make the best use of the car's available range and to reduce anxiety near the lowest 10% of charge. Incredible that BMW missed this. As a potential "move-up" customer to the i3, BMW needs to know that this issue WILL be a point of consideration for whether I go for the i3 or not. I already consider the i3's technical displays to be too minimal compared with those on the LEAF, and the LEAF's displays still leave enough to be desired that a considerable cottage industry has sprung up designing and building auxiliary displays for the car. I doubt that BMW wants their revolutionary standard bearer EV to become known for lacking adequate technical displays.

    Lastly, I think that most EV makers miss the point that many potential EV buyers are tech geeks, not just environmentalists, and the last thing we want is a dumbed-down car that is aimed only at the mass market. Give us the data!

  7. Pretty freaking disappointing to read this Tom. Can't you talk to them about this? They have to respect all you've offered them so far. This looks like a typical case of German engineers thinking only about necessity and not considering human emotion.

  8. This is like driving an ICE car without a fuel gauge.

    Unacceptable. Ridiculous. Offensive. Demeaning.

    1. Strong language. Why are you offended and demeaned by this ? Is it because you're an ActiveE driver who's views have been ignored ?

    2. Actually vdiv isn't an ActiveE driver. I believe he owns a Volt

    3. He does. And the Volt also does not really have a SoC indicator, just the 10 battery "bars". The 2012+ Volts do have a kWh used indicator since the last full charge, which helps if one does not partially charge.

      Why the strong language? It is not acceptable that EVs are dumbed down more so than ICE cars. For example even the basic trim Chevy Cruize, which shares a basic platform (Opel's Delta II) with the Volt has a battery voltage indicator, yet the Volt (notice the name) does not indicate the voltage of anything!

      I know that ICE BMWs have had a rather extensive diagnostics menu that display on the instrument cluster various metrics including the volume of fuel left, battery voltage, temperatures, etc. Maybe the i3 has one too, however something as simple as the SoC in kWh and the efficiency in Wh/mile should be displayed front and center.

      Considering that the current adopters of EVs are generally educated and interested in the technology and hence willing to pay more for it, to intentionally reduce the visibility into the state and operation of their EV is offensive and demeaning. Animated beams of light traveling from the cartoon battery to the spinning wheels is childish.

      Tesla's Roadster and Model S indicate not only the voltage and current when charging, they also calculate the speed of charging and the Wh/mile when driving. It does not take much computing power to display these nor do they "confuse" the EV driver. I expected BMW with the i3 to follow more in the footsteps of Tesla rather than Chevy.

    4. Good points (thanks)

  9. Not the end of the world. My EV has no built-in SOC gauge, and after about a week of freaking out, using the Android Torque App to constantly monitor SOC, I found that all of my trips were consistent and predictable, and the car's guess-o-meter, while never accurate, was every bit as useful as the clunky add-on SOC monitor after common sense corrections were applied. Bottom line is that, should BMW choose to not include an SOC display in its USA vehicles, considering real world use, nobody should be dissuaded from purchasing an i3.

  10. The SOC meter is not perfect, much like the guessometer is not perfect either. It's just another tool in the toolbox. There is really no reason not to provide it.

    Nissan has added this indicator to the LEAF because of the overwhelming show of support at meeting between the engineering team and early adopters at Google in December 2011. This particular meeting, which included several seasoned EV drivers and two Plug In America founders.

    Although I personally thought that an SOC meter did not go far enough, and Nissan should consider an estimated kWh capacity display, this simple tool has proven itself in the real world. Nissan's Chief Vehicle Engineer even went as far as personally thanking us for highlighting this issue.

    BMW product managers and engineers would be well advised to listen to this suggestion. The SOC meter does work, and many drivers choose to rely on it. It's not an anachronism, which should be unceremoniously disposed of. At least not yet.

  11. Thanks, Tom, as always for your write up on this.
    Is there *any* indicator of SOC? The reason I ask is that the AE has two (or more).
    Interestingly, I never look at the SOC digital indicators. I do often look at the "gas gauge" style indicator. Beyond that, I use the "Range" indicator quite a bit.
    I guess I never adapted from the ICE style driving where those were the only tools I had.
    That said...I am conscious to both ignore the "range" indicator (or at least make a mental adjustment) based on my recent driving and to plan my trips accordingly. (ie. if I get in in the morning (fully charged) and it says I have a range of 57m, I think about why that might be the case (fast/cold/hilly recent driving) and choose to ignore it for my 80m trip. I actually find that it "resets" itself constantly during a long trip, and becomes very accurate until the last 10 miles, where I've seen it plummet precipitously. Even then, the SOC would do me no good. I'm either going to make it home....or I'm not! It's too late to do any planning at that stage.

    OK. With that what if one person doesn't use it?
    I think it is clear that a number of AE and other EV drivers do.
    And I hope that BMW is responsive to what should be a relatively simple request.
    As was mentioned...the vehicle *knows* the SOC. How hard can it be to display it???

    On a somewhat related note:
    Beyond the feedback that BMW is getting from the car during our ActiveE services, I've never been asked for feedback on the car or the driving experience. I always have a discussion with my SA, but there are no standardized questions.
    I'm a little disappointed in this. I had expected to get a survey or phone call every couple of months to see how things were going; to talk about problems; to talk about expectations; and to "help" to develop the nuances of the next iteration of BMW electric. This topic is a perfect example. Why has nobody asked what information from the digital display we actually use??? Wouldn't "As an ActiveE driver, what three key pieces of information do you always want to have displayed" been a good question to ask?
    Have other AcitveE drivers been asked for feedback?
    Just curious.
    Thanks again Tom.

    1. OK...I've been looking more at that drivers display picture. When I originally looked, I thought it was displaying range (because the 75k is displayed). But now I see the battery in the lower left.
      So this does display SOC, just not at a numerical figure?
      I guess, personally, if the graph is broken down enough, I'm OK with that.

      Perhaps I'm just not eeking out enough electric miles from my ActiveE! (Though....I have rolled into the garage with --- displayed as range more than once).

      I still stand by my two statements that:

      - If SOC has been identified as important by ActiveE and MiniE drivers, then BMW should be responsive.
      - Somebody should have asked Active E and MiniE drivers what was important! Maybe they did...but I've never been asked.

    2. Interesting that you've never been asked. I remember reading an i3 article a couple of months back that referenced feedback from ActiveE drivers (and how it had been used). The numbers showed that only 16% of ActiveE drivers responded to the online survey. I wondered why that was so low at the time, maybe not everyone got asked?

      Found the link :

    3. Hmmm.
      No. I definitely did not get that survey.
      But I'm glad to hear it was done.

      Thanks for the link.

      That is a terrible response rate, particularly for a group that knew what they were signing on for!

      I definitely would have filled it in if it had arrived in my mail box!

    4. I have had MANY ActiveE drivers contact me about not getting emails, surveys, notifications, etc. I don't know if these messages ended up in spam filters or what but there could have definitely been a better notification system in place.

  12. We are lucky they didn't go with just a reserve battery and no gage at all.
    Just like the old VWs with no gas gage. When it ran out of gas you just switched to the reserve tank and you knew you could go another 30 miles.
    I'm thinking Germans want Americans to be surprised by their car's range. :)