DC Fast Charge Rollout Upsets BMW I3 Owners – But Why?

Saturday 21st November 2015

On the 18th November BMW announced that along with EVgo it will be adding an additional 500 DC Fast Charging Combo units across 25 major US markets.

This is fantastic news and will hopefully make journeys a lot more doable for us and all the other i3 drivers. They hope to have almost 50 up and running by the end of 2015, and the rest by the end of 2018 – that seems like such a long time away. I guess I am a little impatient and would really like to see all these charging stations up and running sooner. After all I have already had my i3 for over 18 months and have yet to use it at a CCS charger as there are none that we can make use of for a journey right now – the only ones are quite close.

Ample opportunities to charge
Ample opportunities to charge is great

When the news broke, the Internet went wild but not, good wild, the news upset an awful lot of the i3 owners – But why?

Let’s just take a step back for a second and consider the landscape. As we know (we being the owners, not the manufacturers), owning an EV is a special thing, be it environmental, political or just for the fun of it, we’re all swimming against the tide and doing something different. We put up with the problems and celebrate the good things about EV ownership. Our payback is two-fold, we feel good about our cars and, we feel good about being different. The whole ownership experience is so different from the traditional petrol or diesel car and one manufacturer gets that whilst the rest seem to be missing the opportunity. Of course, the one that gets it is Tesla. Whether you love them or hate them, Tesla is changing the way we think about the experience of owning a car. ‘Tesla’ cars don’t go to petrol stations or drink any oil. They are cleaner than regular cars, some are so different that they even drive themselves. But, the biggest difference is that, when you buy one, it doesn’t stay the same. Like a smartphone, it actually gets better the longer you own it (up to a point). Tesla owners are living in a perpetual state of excitement just waiting to see what’s coming next! And, they are telling their friends about it… a lot!

Let’s contrast that to the old school petrol car vendors. They, instead, sell you a product and, that’s that. It’s normal and ordinary. Next years model will probably have some new features added so, if you were on the fence this year, maybe you’ll buy next years model.

So that’s how it works, and has done for decades. A steady raft of updates and ‘Special Editions’ that can be sold to test options and entice new owners.

So where did it go wrong?

Charging at WholeFoods Market in Cupertino
Charging at WholeFoods Market in Cupertino

BMW added to the announcement that new owners would be entitled to free charging at these stations. Oh dear, out with the pitchforks. BMW just upset its most hard working sales team – the ones that have paid top price for their cars, the ones that quietly put up with with drive-train malfunctions, the ones waiting patiently for the DC fast chargers that plug into that extra-cost plug on the side. So, my friends and me then!

Hang on! I’m only half done – it gets worse or better, I don’t know!

I am more than happy to pay for my charging needs and certainly don’t expect to get free charging – that’d be nice of course, but I certainly don’t feel that I am entitled to free charging. I do expect the cost for charging to be a reasonable amount and I’d be more than happy if BMW had done the same as Tesla and offered the option to pay an upfront amount to be able to use the charging network. After all, paying around $2,000 as the Tesla S owners did for the Supercharger network usage is less than adding a REx to an i3.

There are two, bigger problems though:

The first problem I have is a concern that with offering free charging to new i3 drivers, they will be sat hogging the chargers and less likely to move on when they have enough charge or, leave their car connected whilst they have lunch because they are not paying for it and therefore have no incentive to do so – they don’t know about charging etiquette yet and, guess who’s behind them in the queue? Yes, my friends and me – the ones that helped get this going.

The second problem is the biggest of all. We need to encourage companies to install fast chargers and the only way is by paying for it – they’re in business to make money and, if we teach new drivers that fast charging is free, how will we persuade them to pay to install new stations as we need them?

If there is a cost involved in charging then people will charge up for only as long as they need and then move on, business owners will see the benefit of installing fast chargers, petrol stations and motorway rest stops will see the benefit – we will see the charging stations that we need.

What should we have done?

I don’t mind incentives to encourage new drivers but why not turn the whole of the existing i3 owner group into one big excited bunch of sales people and have them telling their friends that owning an i3 means owning a car that gets better with age, not worse. How about offering one or two 15 minutes free charging sessions for everyone at a DCFC unit, that’s enough to top your car up and then move on. If you need more that 15 minutes then a charge would be levied to pay for the next lot of charging. Most of the time 15 minutes will be enough to get people charged up enough and on their way to tell their friends about how convenient it was.

If we want DC fast charging to go away, we just have to give them away for free.

Autumn Musings!

Saturday 7th November 2015

We are well and truly in the middle of Autumn, the leaves are all changing colour and falling constantly. It’s nice driving along in my Electric Car with the colourful trees on either side of the road and hearing the leaves rustle as I drive by.

Sticky Leaves
Sticky Leaves

Although once the leaves get wet, I always seem to have them stuck to my wheels, I guess they are attracted to it being environmental friendly. My garage floor is covered in leaves that have hitched a ride home with us. The amount of leaves that I removed from the wheel arches when washing the car last week was quite ridiculous. The leaves also seem to mange to sneak their way in under the bonnet too, I really do not know how they manage it. It’s a dangerous time of year – I find myself frequently dodging falling acorns, although I wasn’t quite so lucky the other day when one landed on the car – with such a thud as well!

It’s getting close to that time of year when I have to start thinking of using the heating system in the car and watching those miles go down. I have been enjoying my regular 95 miles of estimated range, often going up to 100 and I’m quite happy with my 5.7miles/kWh average consumption.

So far I have resisted the temptation to put on the heating as it hasn’t really gotten cold enough – just yet, although a couple of mornings it has been close! One thing I do find in the BMW i3 is that it is very well sealed so the need for a lot of heating isn’t necessary and often just the seat heater is enough to keep me warm. Although, some might say that just using the seat heaters goes back to the MINI E days and the need to conserve the battery power. As back then in the good old days, the charging infrastructure was somewhat missing. It was charge at home, at a MINI E friends house or turn off the heating to be sure you could make it back home. Ah, those were the fun days – it might have chilly on some days but you knew you were paving the way for the future EV’ers, we were being Pioneers!

Still a little fading sun
Fading sun & long shadows

I think the reason I am most loathe to turn on the heating is that I do not like to see my estimated range go down, it reminds me that I only have an 80 mile range Electric Car and that I cannot travel as far on one charge once the temperature starts to go down. Here on the East Coast we still do not have the charging infrastructure that we need to make the 80 mile range EV more viable. Big sigh!

I am still prepared to wrap up warm and not use the heater though in order to make my miles go further. I know I am in the minority of EV drivers in this regard but, until there is a good charging infrastructure that is reliable and I feel that this is what I have to do. It can actually be quite cosy, wrapped up warm with a blanket and the seat heater on – just ask my sidekick.

The only downside to driving with out the heater on in the BMW i3 is the fact that, as the car is so well sealed, it steams up very quickly. This means I have to put on some ventilation just so I can see where I am going, or open the window a little teeny, tiny bit. I usually opt for the widow option. That little bit of fresh air feels so nice at this time of year especially now the humidity is so low and the sound of the crunching leaves is so appealing.

What’s you favourite aspect of this time of year?

Autumn Leaves
Autumn Leaves


Saturday 31st October 2015

It’s Halloween – this is the one day where I turn into a witch and take my black cat and go flying on my broomstick! Don’t believe my sidekick who would tell you that I am actually a witch everyday!

ElectraGirl with cable 1 Transport EvolvedBefore dusk falls and I take flight for the night I once again have I found myself in the garage on a Saturday. This is getting to be somewhat of a habit, and it is not one that I am keen to see continue.

ElectraGirl with cable 3 Transport EvolvedAfter the installation of the ChargePoint unit, we are now onto the Clipper Creek and the GE unit. Oh, did I mention that Clipper Creek were also sending us a unit to test?

With this amount of charging units to test, I think I do need to go out and buy some more Electric Cars – Hmm, now which one shall I get first?

Anyway, back to the installation of the Clipper Creek and the new GE unit while keeping one eye out for the creepy crawlies. But first I do have to say…

I cannot believe I am stuck in the garage again and within the space of a week I see webs which means that some of the spiders found a way back in – I guess they didn’t get my text messages letting them know not to come back again, ever! Ugh!

Okay, enough of the bugs – I hope, lets get back to the installation – First up is the Clipper Creek, this is going to be placed on the same wall as the Aerovironment unit and with a nice long cable we’ll be able to choose which unit to use for which car on any given day. Oh, what a life we do lead! The Clipper Creak unit is not as small as the ChargePoint or the Aerovironment but is smaller than the GE unit. Personally, I don’t think it is as nice looking as the ChargePoint unit. It just looks a bit more industrial. Installing it is fairly straightforward but the ChargePoint wins on ease of installation and they get bonus points as they also send you drill bits to use – there are none in the Clipper Creek box. Fortunately, one’s sidekick has all that he needs.

GE WattStation internals
GE WattStation internals

Next the GE unit, that is going where the broken GE unit was – might as well make some part of our life easy! That installation is not complicated or difficult as all the wiring is in place already, so all that is needed is to take the broken one off the wall and put up the new one. Then it’s time to open up the broken GE unit to see if it is all webbed over… And, disappointingly, I think, it isn’t! I really thought that was the reason it had broken. For now, we don’t know why but one thing can be said and that is, it is incredibly clean inside, there is nothing in there at all. It turned out to be a very well sealed up unit, not even a tiny nook for a spider to creep in.

What is a girl to do now I have all these charging units and all these connectors?! Oh I know, I’ll open up my own charging station!!

** Look out for a full and in depth article on the installation of all the different units from ones very own sidekick, you know an article with all that technical stuff in.**

Pedestrian warning failure
Pedestrian warning failure
Collision warning failure
Collision warning failure

Whilst I don’t believe in ghosts and ghouls but something has upset my i3 today – I can’t tell if there’s something out there but, on All Hallows Eve we saw a new error – one that we’ve never seen before… Is there something out there that we can’t see?

Is there something out there?
Is there something out there?

Charging Up!

Saturday 17th October 2015

We’ve had a few wall charging units in our house, from the Tesla Roadster with its proprietary made-in-a-shed connector, the MINI E with its 50A Clipper Creek box (that’s 12kW!) to slick Aerovironment and GE WattStation units from Amazon.

ChargePoint Home EVSE 5722 Transport Evolved
Bare wall with faulty GE unit in place

Well, after three years of continuous use the GE just stopped working the other day and started flashing red lights at us. It was as if the unit was trying to tell us something. Now if only The Doctor were here I am sure he could figure it out!

Personally, I think the spiders got in and webbed the insides!! Just the thought of that makes my skin crawl!

After a call to GE they said “No problem we will send you out a replacement and no need to return the faulty one, just dispose of it.” Oh, okay then, thanks for sending out a new one, most kind of them.

In the meantime ChargePoint have sent us one of their new home units to test out. That means we now have seven charging units – well you can never have too many charging units, can you? It’s always good to have the odd spare one or two or three. Or, I guess it’s time to buy more Electric Cars.

ChargePoint Home EVSE 5745 Transport Evolved
Tools included
ChargePoint Home EVSE 5746 Transport Evolved
Just there

Which leads me to being stuck in the garage – my least favourite place to be – and on a Saturday afternoon! Ugh.

I am here watching, and helping of course, my sidekick install the two new charging units.

Was that a spider that just ran across the floor? It was huge with huge legs – Yuk, yuk and more yuk. I am so creeped out! Spiders and I have somewhat of an understanding – I don’t like them and they need to keep away from me, unfortunately they do not always remember that.

ChargePoint Home EVSE 5748 Transport Evolved
Wire clips
ChargePoint Home EVSE 5749 Transport Evolved
Wires clipped

Maybe I’l do a quick sweep of the garage and remove all those webs and things and all the leaves that seem to make their way in. Oh yukity yuk, there are spiders running everywhere now, well they are going to be leaving the garage and going to have to find a home somewhere else, maybe in the leaves that are leaving too! Oh you know what, I’ll just vacuum the garage as well – well why not?

ChargePoint Home EVSE 5752 Transport Evolved
Really 32A
Really 32A

Anyway back to the installing. The ChargePoint unit comes very nicely packaged, I do like the cat on the box, rather a nice little touch there, obviously done just for me. It all looks quite small, nice and compact so it won’t take up too much space on the wall. It all looks quite straightforward but the electrical side will definitely be left to those that know what they are doing – off you go sidekick! While he is pulling wires and cutting and connecting I’ve got my eyes peeled for anymore lurking spiders. The installation goes quite quickly and well. In no time the unit is on the wall and all connected. Next is to test that it actually works. And …. Yes it does! It says it is a 32A 7.7kW unit and it actually is.

One’s sidekick is rather proud of himself, I’m just glad he knows what he is doing as I have no idea. But I am good at holding things in place while they are screwed down and handing the necessary parts when needed, and very good at tidying up afterwards.

Installing the unit was, probably the simplest I’ve ever done. In total, it took me about 30 mins to install the outlet but the unit itself went up on the wall with three bolts in ten minutes. ChargePoint includes drill bits, bolts and even a bolt driver to fit a typical drill in the box. One big difference with this unit is that the cord is sold separately – you buy the unit, 16A or 32A then choose the cable 12′, 18′ or 25′ to meet your needs. To attach the cable to the unit you just slide it in the bottom and clip in place – it’s a pleasure to install!

The unit requires a wifi connection and is located using bluetooth from the existing ChargePoint smartphone app – it was detected in seconds and, but for a quirk on my age-old ChargePoint account, can be up and running on your account in moments. It really is a very well thought out process, I was honestly taken aback at just how carefully everything had been prepared and executed. Even when troubleshooting my wonky old account, reseting the unit to re-activate it, was done by holding my iPhone next to the unit where the rear-facing flash was switched on and off repeatedly, to tap out the code to a light sensor on the unit – seriously, who thinks of that stuff? That’s really lateral stuff.

Out unit came with the 25′ cord which is, long. It’s also made from a nice flexible rubber so, we’ll see how that holds up as the winter approaches.

In summary, my initial impressions were beyond expectations.


ChargePoint Home EVSE 5773 Transport Evolved
It works!

I think the ChargePoint unit is fairly easy to use, although I do find it a little awkward putting the plug back into the unit when I have finished charging the car. When you plug it into the car it does click in nicely and starts charging straight away. I’ll have to wait and see how it holds up on a daily basis.

ChargePoint Home EVSE 5792 Transport EvolvedChargePoint Home EVSE 5793 Transport EvolvedThe ChargePoint unit has an app that can be used to set charging times. It connects to our home WiFi and on to the Internet to gather information about where it’s installed and what power company it’s connected to. Using that information, it makes suggestions about when to enable charging to maximize off-peak use. It also includes an alarm feature that alerts you at a selected time of the day if your car isn’t plugged in.

Matching blue lights
Matching blue lights

The ChargePoint unit is being used for the BMW i3 so we’ll monitor its performance and report back.

Next up installing the GE unit but that will have to wait until another day as it’s getting late and creatures are stirring!

End of the Season and High Speed Charging for Everyone

Saturday 3rd October 2015

We are coming to the end of the 2015 Electric Car Event Season. After the quiet-ish summer, we have been to a few events recently, most notably National Drive Electric Week – definitely the biggest of the events. The other recent events have been a couple of Green Fairs and some car shows where we take the Tesla Roadster which fits in just nicely.

Dreary day in Monroe, NJ. Photo: Alexander P. Brown
Dreary day in Monroe NJ Photo: Alexander P. Brown

We still find that people like to see the Electric Cars and ask lots of questions and there is definitely still some educating to do however, I have started to notice that a change is happening. I think that as there are now many more Electric Cars on the road (certainly more than there were 6 years ago, even 6 months ago!) they are not so unique anymore, especially when we hear – ‘Oh, my neighbour has one of those’, as they point at a Nissan LEAF. Which at the end of the day, is one of the things we hoped we’d be hearing. There are definitely events that we attend that we get better exposure. All this has led me to start thinking that we have reached the stage where we need to be more choosy as to which events to attend. We need to be looking at the events that have the greatest impact and reach the most people, particularly those that are not aware of Electric Cars or are not convinced that they could live with one.

One of the best events that we do and ones that are definitely worth organising are the Ride-and-Drive events as these do seem to make the biggest impact. Getting people in the cars to experience them first hand makes such a difference to their opinion of Electric Cars.

One thing that I have noticed most recently, that stands out quite significantly as being asked even more that usual, is the question, ‘What is the battery range?’ closely followed by ‘How long does it take to charge?

It seems that in amongst all the other wonderful aspects of Electric Cars, people are still hung up on these two things and are not able to get past either of these, well not easily anyway. It seems to be the biggest stumbling block to going out and getting an Electric Car. Which is so frustrating to us as, when you actually look at the mileage that you do each day, people are often surprised by how an Electric Car would easily work for them. I think it is just hearing the numbers.

We are still, it seems, stuck with range and charging time as being an issue. People are very interested in Electric Cars and you can see that they would really like to get one but, they are struggling to get past the range and the time it takes to charge, even when fully explained to them, they still seem unsure. Obviously, Tesla’s Models S & X remove the range anxiety and also the charging issue – when using a Supercharger – but, if you cannot afford a Tesla what are you left with? Currently, no other Electric Vehicle matches the S for range or charge time at a Supercharger.

Here on the East Coast we are not as fortunate as our West Coast Electric Vehicle drivers regarding the charging infrastructure, and in particular the DC fast chargers that we so desperately need. They have so many more charging options available to them. Here, we are still struggling and just don’t have that fast charging network that we need to make Electric Vehicles truly viable for the longer journeys that we occasionally take.

But how can we get that infrastructure installed?

Well, here’s a thought, why not make it part of VW’s punishment for passing off dangerous, polluting vehicles as ‘Clean’?

Actually, that was the first thing that my sidekick said when the news broke. After talking to friends during the National Drive Electric Week and sharing the idea, it did seem to take hold with a few articles coming out. I’d like to add my voice to the choir and ask that the EPA seriously consider this as part of the fines that VW are made to pay to restore the harm that was done. After all, what better way to make amends than to make low emission driving easier, more affordable and convenient for those that take the plunge?

National Drive Electric Week Roundup

Saturday 26th September 2015

National Drive Electric Week – Is it time to breathe again yet?!!

I’ve been quiet on the diary front for the last couple of weeks as I have been totally immersed in National Drive Electric Week. It’s a big event week with so much to do and organise.

Now it is behind us, we find ourselves able to breathe for a few days before we start on the planning for next year. Yes, I know It may seem early, but we have found that the earlier we start the better as there is always so much to do.

So, how did our NJEAA events go that we had during National Drive Electric Week?

Madison Farmers Market (image:Bearded Mug Media)
Madison Farmers Market (c) Bearded Mug Media

Our first event was in Madison, New Jersey at their Farmers Market. This is our second year of being at the Farmers Market and after last years successful event we thought it would be good to return. While we did have a really good event with 11 test drives and lots of people to talk to, we did feel it was a bit quieter this year. The Farmers Market changed the venue this year, which for us wasn’t quite so good. But, all in all it was a good event and we talked to plenty of people with some of those now considering purchasing an Electric Car. We had 14 Electric Vehicles at the event – more than would fit into the venue but, that’s a good problem to have!

In the end, we had Tesla Roadsters, Tesla Model S, BMW i3, Nissan LEAF, Smart for two Electric Drive, Zero S Motorcycle, RAV4 EV and a Ford Focus Electric.

Test drives were given by Tesla, Nissan and BMW and the people who went on the test drives were all amazed by the cars. With comments such as ‘What a drive’, ‘Amazing’ and ‘Awesome’. I think a few minds were changed that day.

Here’s the icing on the cake though, I just heard that one of the drivers that took a test drive is seriously considering buying a Nissan LEAF – That’s what we like to hear!

Morristown (image: Bearded Mug)
Morristown (image: Bearded Mug)

Our Second event was in Morristown, New Jersey at the same location as last year. We had over 40 Electric Vehicles attend this event – Tesla Roadsters & Model S (even a P90D!), BMW i3, Nissan LEAF, Smart for two Electric Drive, Zero S Motorcycle, RAV4 EV, VW e-Golf, Mercedes B Class Electric, 1917 Detroit Electric, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Chevrolet VOLT, Ford C-Max Energi.

We had plenty of people attend to look at the cars and chat with the owners. The 1917 Detroit Electric that joined us this year was a big draw, people were fascinated by the car. A Detroit Electric is definitely on my list of cars to own one day – I hope my sidekick reads this! We had VW attend with an e-Golf for test drives, of which another 11 were given. Some of the comments from these drives were, ‘Lovely ride, great acceleration’, ‘Liked it, quiet‘ and ‘Very impressed, pleasantly surprised’.

Each year we learn more and more about how to put on the best event and If we return to this location next year I would like to see the cars arranged differently, in a circle perhaps, so people can see all the cars that we have in attendance. As I do wonder, if people only saw the first few parked closest to the road.

My i3 captured by Bearded Mug
My i3 captured by Bearded Mug

As always – as well as enjoying showing off our cars, we love getting to catch up with our EV friends and hearing about their adventures with their Electric Vehicles. An added bonus to these events is that we are getting to meet so many new Electric Car drivers too, which is great as that means there are even more EV’s on the road now. But, I have to say hi again to our regular Transport Evolved commenter ‘vdiv‘ who drove up from Virginia in his lovely blue Tesla Model S.

Last week was very busy, lots of last minute things to do, lots of worrying about whether there would be enough people stopping by to see the cars… It always turns out to be just fine but that doesn’t stop the worrying!!

This year we had a professional photographer, Bryan McCarthy of Bearded Mug Media who came to the events to take some photographs for us as, we often get so busy we forget to take any photos. We have got some really good ones and I’ve shared some of those here.

Thanks go to the Madison Farmers Market and to Sustainable Morristown for their help with our events but I’d really like to send out a huge thank you to all the Electric Vehicle drivers for bringing their cars to share with the public. You are all amazing and I thank all of you for giving up your time to share your love of EV’s. These events could not happen without you.

National Drive Electric Week – A Week Full of Electric Vehicles

Saturday 22nd August 2015

This year National Drive Electric Week will take place from the 12th – 20th September 2015 across the US, Canada and even Hong Kong. Most of the events are mainly organised by volunteers like me. This year there are currently 147 events being held during the week – a number that is still climbing.

We partake in National Drive Electric Week as we become part of a nationwide event to highlight the availability of Electric Vehicles. National Drive Electric Week is all about plug in Electric Vehicles, it’s about showing them off to the public, taking the public out for test drives and talking – make that a lot of talking!

Test drives has become ever more important. Plug In America recently reported that 12% of people that took test drives in cars last year went on to purchase an electric car later in the year. That’s huge and, it goes to show that all of our efforts are starting to pay off.

We love talking to people about how much fun Electric Vehicles are to drive, how easy they are to own and how it’s great waking up every morning to a full battery and never having to visit a petrol station – ever.

This year we have two events organised. One in Madison, NJ and one in Morristown, NJ. Should you find yourself in the area then please do stop by and say hello and if you know in advance that you can attend then please sign up here: Madison, NJ or Morristown, NJ

National Drive Electric Week first began in 2011 and was originally called National Plug In Day.
My sidekick attended National Plug in Day back in 2011 with his Tesla Roadster. Back then the closet event was in NYC on Pier 54.

Checking out the EnerTrac Electric Bike
Checking out the EnerTrac Electric Bike

Fast forward to 2015 and the number of events being organised has increased significantly. In 2013 we organised one event and in 2014 two events. I’d actually like to organise more events for the week but my time is, unfortunately limited.

These events do take a lot of work and organisation but they are always fun. We get to talk to a lot of people and hopefully change at least one mind or two on the reasons why their next car purchase should be an electric one. I mean after all why wouldn’t you? They are just so much fun to drive as we zoom, zoom, zoom around town, ever so quietly!

It needs to be Symmetrical

Saturday 15th August 2015

Dear Blogette…

The long, lazy days of summer – Ooh, that does sound like it would be lovely, if only we ever had the opportunity to be lazy!

2015 Smart Electric Drive seats from above AnotatedThis week nothing much is happening at all but, anyway, in amongst the non-laziness, we found ourselves taking the Smart Electric Drive on an errand the other day and unusually my sidekick let me drive!!! While I enjoy driving, I do tend to find him a little annoying as a passenger. This is because he uses being a passenger to investigate the car, opening everything, twisting and turning in his seat, finding things that were obviously not there before. I mean how could they have been? He has only just found them so they surely were not there before. It’s all a little distracting as the car wobbles from side to side and then the sudden proclamations of ‘Look what I just found!’ Yes, yes, that was always there.

Well, anyway the other day as we were driving along he proclaimed that the Smart Electric Drive is not symmetrical. Well – what to say? All of our other cars are symmetrical but not the Smart Electric Drive, apparently, the doors are different on the inside and the grab-handle for the passenger is further back. Hmm, this does seem rather odd.

After a little investigating, it would seem that the car is actually, symmetrical. It would appear that there were two issues that my sidekick was experiencing. The first was the interior handles on the Smart Electric Drive are different which probably also led to him to thinking things were not right. The drivers side handle has been changed slightly compared to the passenger side, which does seem odd even though all it has is an extra button and the twirly whirly knob for the door mirrors. But they do match up position wise on the doors. The second was that the passenger seat was slightly further back than the drivers side. We always have the seats in line with each other, apart from the day my son   passenger and feeling that he needed a bit more leg room, moved the seat back.

2015 Smart Electric Drive Passenger door2015 Smart Electric Drive Drivers doorAll that was needed to fix his ‘problem’ was to move the passenger seat forwards an inch and a half!!

I’m so glad that it’s all sorted and that the car is not wonky!

Electric Drive Holiday in California? DriveNow Car Sharing Program Offers a Solution

Saturday 8th August 2015

Last week we left for a trip to California, it was a little bit for work and a little bit of a holiday – although the holiday part was on the edge as work always seems to get in the way. As we don’t have a Tesla Model S we were left with having to fly from New Jersey to California – taking the BMW i3 just didn’t seem practical but the Drive-Now car sharing program from BMWi looked like it just might be.

The BMW program is primarily designed as an intercity one-way short term need-a-car solution but, they encourage you to keep the car for as long as you like and, whilst $60/day isn’t the cheapest option, it does come with a premium grade car, fully loaded and able to seat four. We wondered, as a holiday rental for seven days, could we enjoy a week without sacrificing the enjoyment of driving electric?

Uber - Airton with teh Rav4EV

Not wanting to sacrifice a moment of our time by driving a petrol car, we were lucky to find that the trip from our house to the airport could be electric too. Normally, we would have to take a taxi, which would be some crazy sloppy limousine’ that bounced all over the place with a suspension so soft that one pothole in our street would see it bouncing all the way to the airport! However, we are fortunate to know someone who recently signed up to be an UBER driver with his electric Rav4 EV – our friend Airton. We were able to book him for the trip to the airport, oh my goodness – how nice to drive to the airport in an electric car. Take note Toyota – this is the car we want, not some silly hydrogen powered thing that has no performance and no where to fill up!

Hopefully one day there will be an electric aeroplane and that would be just wonderful. But until then… we are stuck with fossil fuels and a donation to offset the carbon.

BMWi DriveNow App beta testing warning

The plan was to fly into San Francisco International Airport and try out the DriveNow Car Sharing Program from BMWi that uses a fleet of BMW i3. To use the service, we had signed up for an account in plenty of time before we left but, just a day or too late to receive our personal DriveNow Access card in the post – the importance of that mistake will become apparent soon but for now, if you use the service, do sign up at least two weeks in advance to make sure you have the card in hand. In the absence of the card, we decided to chance it and use the Smartphone App alone. The app warned us that the service via the app is still in a trial phase but we pressed on!

We were told that they always had plenty of cars at their pick-up location at Sky Park just off the airport property so, after we’d got off the aeroplane we pulled up the app to locate a car. First it showed us ones quite a distance from the airport… hmm that’s not right. We called the DriveNow helpline to see if they could help us find a car at the airport. I would say that the customer service at DriveNow is excellent, and the guy on the other end of the phone was really helpful in locating a car at the airport. After relaunching the app, we checked for cars again and we found that there were three cars near to the airport – the app even showed us the battery charge level to help us pick the right one.

BMWi DriveNow App 3 seconds remaining on the reservation

Feeling nervous that we might trek out to the location and find them all gone, we reserved one called Fuji (I believe that there was a competition launched for people to enter names to call the cars), which was then held for us for 15 minutes, which seems a little ridiculous when you are at the airport and have to get to the pick up location. With the car reserved we just had to find out how we got to the car. We went to the Information Desk located within the airport and asked where we needed to go to pick up a bus for Sky Park. Apparently that was up a level so we headed up the escalator and then outside. Gosh – there are so many signs, where is the one for Sky Park?

Finally, heading in the right direction we walked to the sign that had Sky Park on and waited for a bus to show up. One arrived a few seconds later but wasn’t the one we needed, apparently we had to wait for a blue and white bus. Four more buses arrived and left as they weren’t blue and white. While waiting our reservation expired so we reserved again, giving us another 15 minutes. When the correct bus arrived, we got on and headed to the offsite parking area for the DriveNow cars. The bus was extremely bouncy and not good for my delicate insides. Even the aeroplane journey had been a lot better. As we entered the Sky Park parking area, our fifteen minutes expired again, so once again, we reserved the car – see what I mean about 15 minute reservations? It just doesn’t work for the airport cars.

Anyway, after getting off the bus, the bus driver brought the car around to us and we found ourselves stood in front of the car. First impressions of the car – well I already have a BMW i3 so it looks just like mine but with a huge difference – it’s white – Noooooooo!!!

We tried to unlock the car by using the app as we didn’t have our DriveNow access card. The car wouldn’t unlock, mainly because there was nothing showing on the app anywhere that said unlock the car. Apparently, to stop people hogging cars, you can only reserve them a couple of times. Time for another phone call to DriveNow and with another helpful chappy on the other end, we found ourselves, about 20 minutes later, able to get the car unlocked. Apparently, if we had a DriveNow card then life would have been a whole lot easier, the app, is not perfect yet.

Finally, we were in the car, which is good as it was a little chilly in San Francisco and we were dressed for 30℃ weather. The DriveNow system is fully integrated into the cars on-board infotainment system – this is no aftermarket hack with the ignition key chained to the dash! Unfortunately though, the car was a REx – it had the range extending petrol engine, a huge downside for me, especially over here in California where there are so many public chargers. Probably a sensible choice for most people and, indeed, the petrol gauge was showing 75% so someone had miscalculated a trip!

BMWi DriveNow Euro Spec interior dash
Euro-Spec interior features dark colours

The interior was the European Standard specification which is similar to the US Mega Interior with one big difference; it is dark grey rather than the pale grey that we have. It also had the dark grey steering wheel, and silver aluminium accents where ours is dark plastic. I like this interior – a lot.

With our destination plugged into the navigation we set off to the hotel in Cupertino. The car was charged to 98% so we made it down there easily.

Our first attempt at a CCS fast charge was interesting. We drove to the local WholeFoods as they have a CCS charger operated by NRG. We were in luck and the chargers – Two CHAdeMO, one CCS and a pair of Level 2 – weren’t blocked. We parked up and plugged into the CCS charger and success, the car started charging. We left the car to charge while we went into WholeFoods to get something to eat. The car had reckoned it would take about 10 minutes to get to 80% so as we were walking around we thought we would check the car before getting food as if it had reached 80% then we felt we should move it to a Level 2 to finish off the charging as we didn’t want to be taking up a fast charging space if we were no longer charging at the faster rate. We went back to the car and decided to move it, but unfortunately both of the Level 2 chargers that were there, were both not working! We then thought we would move back to the CCS charger, but a Nissan LEAF had also plugged into the CHAdeMO side of the combo CHAdeMO/CCS which meant that we couldn’t continue to charge until the LEAF had finished…Ugh! So we gave up and decided to return early the next morning.

Charging at WholeFoods Market in Cupertino
Free 30 min. Charging at WholeFoods Market in Cupertino courtesy of eVg0

The next morning we returned to WholeFoods and plugged into the CCS charger. It charged to 95.5% then just cut off saying it couldn’t fast charge anymore… in other words game over and please leave. We left with 95.5% charge and went to our next destination with a quick 10 minute stop at another CCS fast charger station along our route.

The DriveNow idea is really good. Our biggest downside at the moment is not having a card. The app to lock and unlock the car is okay and it does work but it is very slow. We feel we waste a few minutes each time we go out waiting for the app to send to the car the message to unlock and the same again to lock.

We were really enjoying driving around on electric, so glad that there are so many public chargers around that we could always find a place to charge and avoid the engine coming on – for me, I really dread that happening. The amount of chargers to be found around the bay area is great, especially compared to the East Coast of America and especially where we are in New Jersey. The next hotel we stayed at in Sonoma had two Level 2 chargers free for us to use. This would always ensure we had a full charge each morning.

On our way up to Sonoma we decided to stop for a quick charge to prevent the engine from coming on. There was a Prius plugged into the Level 2 and we plugged into the CCS. In the 15 minutes we were stopped there, the Prius owner never returned and a LEAF turned up to use the CHAdeMO charger.

Ample opportunities to charge
Ample opportunities to charge in Calif. give 80mile EVs freedom

Arriving at the hotel in Sonoma we located the Level 2 chargers and plugged in only to be told at reception that we had to wait until 8pm before charging. That is a little frustrating but I guess we shan’t be complaining as it was free for us to use and still meant we had a full charge each morning. It really was becoming a pain trying to operate the car using the app. The app is not really ready for solitary use and it added time to our day that we didn’t particularly want to waste. However, that was nothing compared to the realisation that cell phone reception in the region might not be perfect – no signal means no locking/unlocking the doors so we thought we’d better do something about it.

On the Monday we got a call from Dana at DriveNow who offered to overnight a card to the hotel that we could use with the car and the next day, the card arrived – Yay. We are so excited that we went straight to the car to test it out – But… Nothing, just nothing, it didn’t work. The car stayed locked. Ugh, ugh and ugh – this is beyond frustrating now!

We hadn’t ‘properly’ locked the car the night before and could access the car from the boot so we decided to head out and call DriveNow again to find out what was happening. They didn’t really know why the car wasn’t behaving as it should. My sidekick thought that it was because they cancelled the first card to issue a second card, therefore the car no longer thought we had it. Oh my goodness this is silly. We were wasting too much of our precious holiday time on the phone to DriveNow. We decided that while out and about that we would go to a local attraction – the Old Geyser of California – something we hadn’t seen before. We got out of the car but still nothing from the card or the app. We chose to lock the two doors knowing that we can get in through the boot again.

We’ve been MINI Pioneers, ActiveE Electronauts and now, just five years later on from turning the key in the MINI E, we’re vacationing in California in an all-electric production 2015 BMW i3 – you really don’t have to look very far back at all to see how far we’ve come in just a few short years – what will 2020 look like? I can’t wait to see. – MPT

After seeing the Geyser we headed out to the car, only to find that the DriveNow people had locked the car – we couldn’t get in! Oh, and unusually for this area – it was raining!! Ugh, ugh and triple ugh. Back on the phone and Michael in Fleet Services worked with my sidekick to end the rental, so we could re-rent it again with the card and, it worked! The app recognised the car, the car recognised the card – Yay, in fact triple yay!! We can finally be on our way under our own control.

When we stopped at our next destination, we just got out of the car, touched the card to the windscreen and guess what? The car just locked… so simple and after four days of frustration, this simple task of locking a car was just so wonderful. After that, the whole experience was great. We were able to go out as and when we pleased, knowing that the car would respond to the card. Once we had the card we didn’t use the app again at all – its role in finding and booking was great but control, locking and unlocking was really only enough for the occasional use – actually, what the service was developed for.

We spent the rest of our holiday driving around on electric, enjoying the sights and scenery and not worrying about anything. We knew where we could charge if we needed to. We didn’t need to worry about charging while out as there are so many options here in California, there’s even Level 2 charging at the beach which gave us enough time to wander on the beach and down to the sea while getting enough charge to get us back to the hotel without having to stop again.

The BMW i3 and the DriveNow network worked flawlessly
The BMW i3 and the DriveNow network worked flawlessly once we used it as intended!

The car itself, the 2015 BMW i3, performed flawlessly and the available CCS fast charging network here from NRG eVgo is brilliant, it makes owning a 80 – 100 mile EV totally doable. We’ve met people early in the morning that stop at the local Wholefoods just to fast charge. They go for a run, read the paper while they wait that 30 minutes for their free fast charge, we wondered if these people didn’t have charging where they lived as they were always there around 6:30 – 7am.

Oh and my mission to never use the engine while here – a total success, we managed hundreds of miles on our whole trip on electric only – thanks to the brilliant network of charging options. The DriveNow program was also a success once we had our card in our hand. The app worked well for finding and reserving the car and would suffice in a pinch if you didn’t have your card with you… Now, if they only had that kind of network on the East Coast – we can only dream!!

DriveNow USA, a division of BMW Car Sharing, LLC, provided program membership and rental during our evaluation

Six Months with the 2015 Smart Electric Drive

Saturday 25th July 2015

This week we will have had our 2015 Smart Electric Drive for six months, so what do I think of it six months down the road?

The Smart Electric Drive has certainly turned into one fun little car to drive, it is very much on the nippy side and is more than capable of holding its own in traffic, it’s relatively quick off the mark and can easily keep up with all the traffic. Just because it is small does not mean it is slow. Although, I do, from time to time, get people (usually SUV drivers) trying to intimidate me. Well, they picked the wrong person for that, there’s no intimidating me!!

2015 Smart Electric Drive - Flat battery
2015 Smart Electric Drive – Flat battery

The range on the Smart Electric Drive is around 80 miles per charge, although I can get more than that, if I have been driving. My son is the predominant driver and only drives the car a few miles a day and because the return journey is all up hill, the guess-o-meter is always being pessimistic. Of course we have managed 110 miles in the car, and can probably get that on a regular basis if I had 110 miles worth of driving to do each day! Which, thank goodness I do not.

One of the best and most obvious things about the Smart Electric Drive is the size of this car – for so many reasons – it is so easy to park – have you seen one parked in a parking space? It looks tiny! I know, I shouldn’t say that, but it does – and only I am allowed to say that as I have one! There is even enough room for another Smart Electric Drive in the same parking space. Now, there are not many Electric Cars that you can say that about. It’s a shame about those huge SUVs that sometimes park next to us though – you know the ones that always park just over the lines – just rude!

The Smart Electric Drive makes people look, I’m not sure what any of them are thinking though! Probably – ‘That is one small car’. I still get the big pick up trucks looking at the car and guess that they are probably still thinking the same as me – ‘That could fit in the back of the pick up truck’.

The Smart Electric Drive is easy to wash and dry, although I still cannot reach the middle of the roof! Seeing as I am unlikely to grow any taller, it is a given that this will always be an issue for me. I find that as the car takes so little time to wash, that I find myself unsure of whether I did all the sides, so I have to do a quick run round the car to double check! I’ve found that the front wheels do seem to attract road dirt quite a lot and I am not impressed by this at all, just more cleaning needed!

When out driving during heavy rain or in slushy snow, you can see the spray that the car produces as there is no back end – the rear wheels are the rear of the car. Ah – now this is when people hang back more and do not get as close to me, as the spray basically aims itself directly at the car behind – oops!!

Where most cars have a lot of space up front to house the mechanical parts, the Smart Electric Drive has everything up close, you can hear the electronics for the automatic wipers and the AC as they click on and off quite clearly. Despite all these little noises the car is still so quiet, which of course is why you can hear all the other noises so much.

Not even fully loaded
Not even fully loaded

With all that said about how small the Smart Electric Drive is, it has much more space inside it than you would ever imagine; we easily manage our weekly shop without any problems. Do you need 10 bags of salt for your water softener? Well if you do, no problem, it all fits in the boot – and it even remains on all four wheels – I had visions of the car pointing up to the sky!

A little rant – The Eco meter on the Smart Electric Drive, while amusing as I always want to get it to 100%, (which isn’t proving too difficult these days), is also a little on the frustrating side. When I leave the house with a fully charged battery and head off down the hill, there is no regen and I know and understand that I will not have any regen with a totally full battery. Nor, will I make any space in the battery as I am going downhill. But, my complaint is that I shouldn’t be penalised on the Eco meter for having a full battery. As I travel down the hill gently applying the brakes all the way down to the junction. the eco-ness percentage increases slightly, but as I get to the junction and apply the brakes more firmly to stop myself spilling out into the junction the eco-ness percentage decreases to below what I left the garage with. Now, it seems unfair to take percentages away from me when I have a full battery and cannot use any regen, it’s basically saying you are pressing the brakes too hard. Smart – I would like to see this fixed please. The Eco meter does seem to be a bit on the random side at the best of times. It should know when I have a full battery and when I am travelling downhill and need to use the brakes to stop myself exceeding the speed limit and crashing into another vehicle. I shouldn’t at any time be penalised for gently applying the brakes on a downhill and then pressing them more firmly as I approach the junction to stop the car. I also wish it could see those times when a random driver suddenly decides to pull out in front of me or the traffic lights change prompting an immediate stop. It’s not like I’m driving recklessly and fiercely applying the brakes – I’m always driving gently and giving myself plenty of stopping time. It is those random other things that cause sudden braking. I think the car should have sensors or a camera on the front so it can see that it wasn’t my fault and stop taking away my eco percentages. Ugh!! But, thank you for letting me rant about that as I do feel better now!

As we are at six months with the Smart Electric Drive, I thought I would ask my son what his thoughts on the car were and here they are.

The shift from the Mitsubishi i-MiEV to the 2015 Smart Electric Dive was bittersweet in the way that I had become so accustomed to the quirks of the i-MiEV and I was upset to see it go. However, getting to have a new driving experience in a different, better looking car was exciting. It was fairly obvious from the beginning that the Smart Electric Drive had a better, firmer build quality than that of the i-MiEV. I almost felt as if I could pull apart the i-MiEV with my bare hands as a lot of pieces didn’t look like they even fit together. I still enjoyed the i-MiEV, but I appreciate the sturdier quality of the Smart Electric Drive. The most surprising part of my experience with the Smart Electric Drive was that I could actually fit inside it despite being six feet tall. It is even smaller than the i-MiEV but somehow manages to have enough room inside for two people to sit relatively comfortably. It’s perfect for me because I only rarely drive with other people, and I’ve never needed more than a little space in the back to occasionally put a suitcase. The music system would be nice if it actually connected to iPhones but it’s not the end of the world, really. Driving it is nice, I suppose that’s the most important part, and also what I’m supposed to be writing about. It feels faster, and more nimble than the i-MiEV making sharper turns with much greater ease as there is almost no length to the car at all. Its size lends itself to how well it can maneuver along the road, and it can fit just about anywhere. It’s very uncommon to have any issues with other road users, because I’m usually too small to ever be in their way, although people will and have often tried to squeeze past me on a larger than average road because they think their SUV is the only thing on the road. Parking is a breeze, I can pretty much swing into a space and be done with it without any problems. I do get harassed a lot more on the road though, as a lot of big car drivers think they’re way too cool for manners, as driving at the speed limit is often frowned upon by New Jersey drivers. My only larger issue with the Smart Electric Drive is that is has a much weaker regen system than that of the i-MiEV. I find myself using the brakes (with the weirdest brake pedal design I’ve ever seen) to stop myself a lot more, especially when it’s on a full charge. Over time I’ve gotten used to everything the Smart Electric Drive does, and I think I’ve finally finished figuring out what all the controls do on the steering column. They were really avoiding the use of actual words to convey what those symbols mean. I would probably rate the Smart Electric Drive slightly higher than the i-MiEV, it drives much nicer, but its control markings could use some work. Overall, I’m quite happy to be driving it, it does the job, and it does the job well.