• May 4th 2010 at 11:56AM
  • 20
The Mini E Field Trial

Last time, I reported on a BMW "One Day University" put on for selected media at the company's Woodcliff Lake, NJ, U.S. Engineering Center. Among the things I learned that day was how BMW has been executing an "EfficientDynamics" engineering philosophy to continuously improve the performance of its products while also boosting their efficiency.

The other session that especially caught my attention was "Mini E Field Trial." It was led by BMW North America's Manager of Electric Vehicle Operations, Richard Steinberg. He began by asserting that BMW is committed to battery electric vehicle (BEV) technology, that the Mini E field trial has expanded its scope to infrastructure as well as vehicle issues and that lessons learned will be applied to future electric vehicle (EV) efforts. "BMW/Mini is in the car business," he said with a grin. "BEVs placed us in the infrastructure business."

As you may already know, the 3,230-lb Mini E's air-cooled, 573-pound., 35-kWh lithium ion pack is made up of 5,088 individual cells, and its 200-hp motor will launch it from rest to 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour) in about 8.5 seconds and then up to a top speed of 95 mph, but not if you want to stretch its range to the claimed 100-plus miles. The pack will recharge in two-to-three hours on a 60-amp commercial charger, three-to-five hours on a 40-amp residential charger or 24-plus hours tethered to a 12-amp, 110V wall socket.

Back in late 2008, more than 1,800 people applied to participate in the Mini E lease program during the five-week online application window. 1,010 were forwarded to dealers in the field trial areas. By June 30, 2009, all 450 U.S. Mini Es had been leased to a mix of private and fleet customers (250 in California, 200 in New York/New Jersey) and a few more were loaned to New York City, Los Angeles and California's Air Resources Board.

The purpose of this program has been to evaluate BEVs in real-world conditions and learn about the effects of temperature, weather and differing driver behaviors on range, reliability and charging status, as well as driver perceptions and opinions on living with an EV. While BMW knew that availability of public charging would "play a crucial role in alleviating range anxiety," it focused exclusively on private installations...and learned very quickly that "infrastructure issues represent one of the biggest hurdles towards mass acceptance of BEVs." Read on after the jump to see what else was gleaned from these stylish plug-ins.

First, the program team learned that the Mini E's plug was incompatible with previous-generation chargers, since there was still no global standard for plug-in connectors. Lesson: "Standardization of charging equipment (SAE vs. ISO?) is crucial." Second, they had to manage expectations: some participants were new to the concepts that battery charging takes a long time, that upgrades to their home charging capabilities might be required and that working with electricians and inspectors can be frustrating. Third, they found that inspection and permitting standards and utilities' options and requirements varied widely.
Some participants experienced delays in charger installations, and post-installation servicing and troubleshooting was a problem. When an EV doesn't properly charge, is it the car, the charger, a circuit breaker, a ground fault indicator (GFI) or a problem with service from the utility? Also, would service be available 24/7? Who pays for a service visit?

Steinberg said the public infrastructure will be a priority of the next program, in cooperation with other OEMs, service providers and utilities...assuming SAE J1772 and ISO standards are harmonized, "which is a big if." And vehicle-to-grid communications will play a bigger role with load leveling, smart-phone reservation apps and subscription plans.

Customer feedback has come through multiple channels: Facebook, an eLog Book, web sites (www.NorthAmericanMotoring.com; www.waterway4.com/mini-e), a University of California at Davis study, individual blogs, and more. "The Mini E community is extremely active, bordering on evangelical," Steinberg said with a wry smile. "The majority are thrilled to be involved in the program, but a vocal minority are extremely critical."

The UC Davis study (developed in conjunction with an EU BEV program) tracked the experiences and opinions of 50 self-selected Mini E drivers, who kept online travel diaries, completed written questionnaires and did face-to-face in-depth interviews. It focused on their perceptions, expectations, driving habits and impressions of EV motoring.

The Mini E community,Steinberg continued, discusses "a myriad of topics," including the behavior and performance of their vehicles, range anxiety, range maximiization techniques, the most miles driven (overall and per charge), charging issues, governmental interaction (through high-occupancy lanes, EZPass and CARB), cost of ownership, community events, media exposure, EV commentary, participation in research projects and dealer issues. A weekly "Plugged In" newsletter addressed and discussed the issues raised. Among the key learnings: BMW's Mini E participants are passionate about EVs and strongly interested in next-generation products; "BEVs meet the needs for typical commutes, but range anxiety remains a hurdle that needs to be cleared." Plug-ins can overcome this anxiety, but so can more access to public charging. For its next steps, BMW needs to proactively engage utilities and inspection authorities, re-think its approach to residential charging to reduce cost and develop a more aggressive public infrastructure strategy. And, like everyone else, it badly needs that elusive common connector.

I learned later that Steinberg reported further conclusions and future plans at the Washington, D.C. auto show, including that the Mini E's range was "sufficient for most trips, charging was not a big issue even without an extensive network of public charging stations, and electric mobility does not mean an end to driving fun." The Mini E households reported 70 to 100 miles of usable range, and 45 percent said they used their Mini Es for 90-100 percent of their trips. Most recharged at night, found public charging unnecessary and did not need to charge every day. The only significant issue with the (two-seat and trunkless) car itself was "limited space for passengers and luggage."

"Challenges that we think everyone will face include the fact that there is no standardization for things like charging unit installation," Dave Buchko of BMW Product Communications tells us today. "There are something like 30,000 permitting bodies in the U.S. that would have some jurisdiction over installations, each with its own parameters."

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As you may also know, the 600-car global Mini E field trial was the first phase of a three-stage plan BMW calls Project i. In 2011, a second field trial using a yet-to-be-determined number of 1 Series-based BMW ActiveE coupes with room for four passengers and luggage and (unlike the Mini E) in-house-developed powertrains. Their packs will have liquid heating and cooling for more consistent range, and their drivers will be able to use advanced smartphone applications to remotely check state of charge and signal their cars to begin heating or cooling while connected to the grid. Phase three, beginning in 2013, will bring BMW "Mega-City Vehicles" powered by a further development of the ActiveE system.

Meanwhile, Buchko adds, BMW has offered Mini E lessees the opportunity to continue for a second year, and about half of those who responded said they would like to do that.


Award-winning automotive writer Gary Witzenburg has been writing about automobiles, auto people and the auto industry for 21 years. A former auto engineer, race driver and advanced technology vehicle development manager, his work has appeared in a wide variety of national magazines including The Robb Report, Playboy, Popular Mechanics, Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Autoweek and Automobile Quarterly and has authored eight automotive books. He is currently contributing regularly to Kelley Blue Book (www.kbb.com), AutoMedia.com, Ward's Auto World and Motor Trend's Truck Trend and is a North American Car and Truck of the Year juror.


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  • 20 Comments
      • 8 Months Ago
      I gotta say, that BMW Mini-E seemed pretty disappointing. (I didn't have one but read a lot of reports.) SNAFU with chargers & cables. Terrible thermal management. Hiccups in the drive system.

      It was a retro-fit kludge, but it did have a respected AC-propulsion drivetrain in it. I expected better from AC-Propulsion. They missed their chance to prove they had technology worth licensing.
      • 8 Months Ago
      YAWN! Shut up and sell some EVs, BMW.

      The common connector isn't elusive, it's SAE J1772 in the USA and Japan and the Mennekes IEC 62196-2-X in Europe.

      If you have a 230V plug, I'm not sure what the jurisdiction problem is. Nissan says a certified electrician has to hard-wire their charging station to the circuit. Why can't users buy one and plug it into a standard NEMA 14–50 plug like they do for electric ranges?

      Maybe he means DC fast charge.
      • 8 Months Ago
      This is one issue that I think may be a problem with the leaf, everything I have seen so far indicates that in order to do fast charging you are going to need to use the nissan charger or a dedicated EV charger.

      AFAIK there is no official way to charge off of a 220v household dryer plug. This means that your options for daytime opportunity charging are very limited since you cant make good use of existing electrical infrastructure and 110v charging is very slow. So longer daytrip destinations over 40 miles away from home would be very limited.

      I know that tesla owners leach off of 220v power outlets using adapters but I don't know if this is possible with the leaf...
        • 8 Months Ago
        That's part of the decision of the major automakers, because I think there are electrical code issues with using 220V sockets directly (the issue is that they are not meant for frequent unplugging/plugging). It will most likely be up to the aftermarket to come up with adapters to those sockets.
        • 8 Months Ago
        A small company here in Oregon will be providing adaptors for Leafs so they can be plugged into a dryer outlet.

        Letstalkawalk, how is Nissan going to know that you have a adaptor? Quit trying to scare people. You make me laugh with your scare tactics.

        "The purpose of this program has been to evaluate BEVs in real-world conditions and learn about the effects of temperature, weather and differing driver behaviors on range, reliability and charging status, as well as driver perceptions and opinions on living with an EV. "

        Wrong, the purpose of this program is to game CARB's system and provide red herring issues to be overcome before German auto corps will produce EV's. Confusion and subterfuge are orders of the day, these German ICE auto corps have taken a page right out of big oils play book. "Create doubt and you have won." Funny the German auto manufacturers are all pumped for studies to be conducted by researchers on all EV components so they don't have to. However they are all to happy to conduct placebo studies to garner CARB credits for their ICE vehicles. Take away the CARB credits for leases and see how many studies these bozo's conduct. You suck bad Germany, when you stop letting your ICE auto corps determine the future of EV's give us a call here in the US.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Paul, it's like you're just trying to be dense. The Leaf uses a standard J-1772 charger plug so it can charge at any level 2 charger. Or you just plug it into a standard 110v outlet if you have plenty of time to recharge.

        Oh, and the Leaf and Mitsubishi iMiev both conform to the TEPCO fast charging specification. I agree that there needs to be a standard set. Just think, Paul, you can tell your grandkids that you were one of the first people to gripe about having no standard for Level 3 chargers. Then they'll hop back into their electric cars, program in the destination and watch a movie or play games while their automated electric car takes them back home. Then the attendant will bring you some pudding. Won't that be yummy!
        • 8 Months Ago
        220v power outlets have been used at campgrounds(with small children nearby!) for RVs(in the rain!) for decades. I understand that electrical current is killer but there should be safe ways to utilize existing high-power sources.

        Maybe conversion cables could be the next big thing for monster cable now that the digital signal of hdmi makes gold plated connectors worthless.
        • 8 Months Ago
        "Letstalkawalk, how is Nissan going to know that you have a adaptor?"

        They'll know because they'll have done a home inspection, and then they'll also insure that you use a certified licensed professional to install their charger.

        "Q: Can you install a charging station by yourself or does it have to be installed by a qualified electrician?

        A: Your home charging dock will need to be installed by a professional electrician. But first, we will assist you with a home inspection which will help identify any necessary electrical updates."

        Nissan is not going to risk any PR failures due to a customer's willing negligence. That's why I posted the link I did, where Nissan admits they will be pre-screening customers, and making decisions on who to sell to based on customer's expectations.

        "We may tell the customer, 'Look, you'd be better off buying an Altima or a Sentra because your driving patterns are not ideal for this car."

        If Paulwesterberg is honest with Nissan, and tell them he plans "...to visit any destinations over 35-40 miles away...and I will be spending a moderate amount of time there." I see two options.

        Nissan might tell him to buy *two* charging stations - one for each location where he plans to charge his Leaf. This seems like the best solution. However, If Paulwesterberg balks, they might just tell him to buy something else.

        I'm not trying to scare anyone - they just need to be aware of how to act when Nissan is questioning if they're a good fit for the Leaf. Complaining about not being able to use a 3rd-party charger (self-installed) seems like a good way to get removed from the list.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I understand the home charger and have no problem paying for a unit and installation costs.

        The problem is if I drive to the in-laws or go camping and need to charge the battery in less than 24hrs for the return trip. I am not going to install a nissan charger and shouldn't have to if there is already a 220v outlet available as long as nissan makes the appropriate adapters available.

        If nissan doesn't make the adapters and will void my warranty if I use a 3rd party adapter then I have a problem with that. Yes our household has 2 cars and we could use the oil burner to visit any destinations over 35-40 miles away, but I shouldn't have to if the remote location has power and I will be spending a moderate amount of time there.
        • 8 Months Ago
        There's an opportunity for someone to make a portable 230V charger that plugs into a regular 230V socket and has a SAE J1772 connector. I don't know how much you can "dumb down" the fancy signaling in the spec to save money ($2200?!!) and space. Maybe it'll be like USB power where the spec calls for lots of fancy negotiation for units of power over the connector, yet you can buy dumb adapters that just supply 5V and as many amps as possible.
        • 8 Months Ago
        "If nissan doesn't make the adapters and will void my warranty if I use a 3rd party adapter then I have a problem with that."

        That's the kind of attitude that will get you black-listed from buying a Leaf, so you might as well start looking at alternatives...

        http://green.autoblog.com/2010/04/28/know-what-you-want-and-need-or-you-may-not-get-to-buy-a-nissan/
        • 8 Months Ago
        Since the spec for fast charging hasn't yet been worked out it's premature to say whether the Leaf will or will not be able to use them without modification or some kind of adapter.

        To use the 220 volt (level 2) charger unit you will need to have an electrician install an appropriate connection. This will cost around $150 in most parts of the country, maybe $300 in some upscale locales. This is not the fault of Nissan, however, it's your local electrical codes that require connections of these type to be installed by licensed professionals and inspected. You make it sound like a show stopper when it's a minor issue, more like a checkbox.
      • 8 Months Ago
      This is why PHV Prius recharges from 110v wall plug and be done in 3 hours. It can even daisy chain two or more. This is great if you and your wife need to plugin from a single outlet.

      13.5 EV miles covers short trips that robs MPG. If you are going long distance (more than 13 miles) you are better off using gasoline. All of these convenience in one affordable proven package.

      Toyota is betting on a small affordable PHV pack without adding extra headache.
      • 8 Months Ago
      I don't know about you guys, but i am pretty tired of hearing about infrastructure. Give me an EV and i'll figure out how to charge it my own damn self.
      • 8 Months Ago
      As was mentioned in an earlier article, "range anxiety" is a non-issue.Once you undserstand that the 100 mile range covers 95% of your driving requirements, the issue of availability quick charge stations isn't needed for the EV driver. I get by with a 40 mile range of my 1999 Ford Ranger EV. So for my regular daily drving, that's all I need. Sure it would be nice to quick charge and go farther, but in reality I don't need to. It's kind of like buying that SUV because you might tow a boat, someday.

      Buy a car for what you actually need, not for what you might possibly need.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I have driven an EV for three years now. Range anxiety isn't an issue for this simple reason: In the morning my "tank" is full. People are accustomed to having to fill a gas tank every few days and then when they get near empty, they get "Range Anxiety". I plug my truck in at night and in the morning I am fully charged. I know that if I need to go farther than the range of the EV I will either take transit, or arrange other forms of transportation. But generally speaking, I go months at a time never needing that option.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I guess over here on Autoblog Green where you guys puts lips to battery on a daily basis, it's easy to say "range anxiety is a non-issue" and pretend that's a fact. In the real world, range anxiety is still an issue, despite your specific personal needs. Sorry.
        • 8 Months Ago
        yep. Buy an EV for daily commuting and errands. Buy a used gas-powered clunker for the few long trips you need to make that require gasoline (Or just rent a car on those occasions.)
      • 8 Months Ago
      Car company's have got to decrease the curb weight of cars. 3200 pounds for a Mini?
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