MINI E - click above for high-res image gallery
Over the last several years, many of the fans of battery-powered vehicles here on ABG have asked quite vociferously why it's taking companies like General Motors so long to bring cars like the Volt to market. Many of you seem to think you can convert an existing platform and have it on the market in six months. While it is certainly plausible for individual conversions to be done in that time frame, mass production is a very different matter. Media guru Jeff Jarvis even recommended that automakers follow the Google model of just releasing cars as betas and fix them as they go along. We've already denounced that idea, but GM-Volt founder Lyle Dennis recently learned the hard way the down side of this approach.
Dennis is one of 500 Americans selected to test drive the MINI E for a year. He has had recurrent problems with the shift lever popping into neutral and, ultimately, BMW replaced an electronic control unit to "fix" the problem. It mostly went away until he hit a pothole recently that caused the car to go into neutral and stay there permanently. After the car was hauled away on a flat-bed, a similar solution rectified the problem but only after several days. Undoubtedly, this is an excellent way for BMW to learn the pitfalls of EV use in the real world and they have always maintained that the MINI E fleet is meant to do just that. In fact, BMW is planning to expand the trials to Australia.
This is the sort of issue that is normally found and fixed in the hundreds of thousands of miles of durability testing done before a car is put on sale. All of this applies to every new vehicle regardless of powertrain. Is this public beta testing really what you want automakers to do? Or would you rather be patient and have the car come to market right? I think most people would opt for the latter.