Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The not so fun, but very important part of being a field test driver for BMW.

About 600 drivers in the Los Angeles, New York/New Jersey, a bit later, Berlin, London and now France and China are field testing the BMW Mini-E Electric Car.

This is phase one of a three phase roll out of the future BMW Megacity car scheduled to arrive in 2012-13. This is a methodical multi nation undertaking of both machine and driver behavior and habits, infrastructure challenges with many housing types, varying climates and differing cultural attitudes from around the world.

While I am sure that much data is being held as intellectual property by BMW, other data points and the experience in general is being shared with the world and other drivers and manufacturers.

It is worth remembering that the driving and experience is being done in real world conditions with individual drivers from all walks of life who are sharing their stories warts and all, and not by a closed group of employees or contractors with NDAs.

In short BMW is putting forth an amazing global effort , trusting their intentions with the grip of the steering wheel in our hands, producing extremely valuable information. Some results contradicting commonly and firmly held beliefs regarding the heretofore alleged poor performance, practicality and range anxiety involving electric propulsion.

It’s with great imagination, adventure, driving fun and now a growing pride and confidence of sorts, that I have been a ”lab rat” for this large scale field trial of the electric car. It continues to be an amazing journey that has profoundly changed my view of our transportation future.

I am the driver of Mini-E #183, and have driven the past 16 months and 21,000 miles in an aggressive, sporty and carefree manor on electrons provided by the rays of the sun. Literally driving on sunshine, laughing my way down the interstate in a state of utter disbelief of what I am actually doing, driving on sunshine. If I can hardly believe it and I am doing it, I can only imagine what the many skeptics never shy of opining are thinking!

Last Monday, October 11th, BMW called and said they wanted the car for a little poking and prodding, the past week or so they have had the car back at headquarters in Oxnard going through the systems, motor and battery of #183 collecting data on the car after 20,000 miles. No doubt analyzing the electric motor, control software and each battery cell to see how they are holding up at 21K.

That’s the not so fun, but very important part of being a field test driver for BMW. This is my 4th service (they look at the car every 5000 miles) but my first time away from the car for more than a day.

It is a field test and BMW needs to understand how the car progresses through its lifespan in detail, so they can asses and improve if needed minor and major systems on the future Megacity car. During this several day period of time I am driving a loaner Nissan Altima.

While a fun and capable car, I detest driving it! I hate watching the meter go down to empty, I have had to put $75 in gas in the car, it is nowhere near as fast or sporty to drive, it makes shifiting and engine rpm sounds that are foreign and for the first time in almost a year and a half I find myself once again at gas stations. My garage has that old gas/combustion smell back.

It just plain sucks. It just plain sucks big time.

Looking forward to getting the Mini-E back, look forward to the phase two BMW 1 series Active E, Look forward to driving electric the rest of my life, look forward to cleaner and healthier San Diego County in the near future.

Mini-E #183, 21,000 miles.


  1. Hi Chris,
    I drove the Leaf a few months ago at a municipal fleet operators event in San Diego.

    I love the car!

    Ok the looks could use a little improving but it is better in person and I like the car in black and red. The acceleration was very quick similar to the Mini-E around 8 seconds 0 to 60, the car is quieter than the Mini-E with less aggressive regen braking. It handles fine but not as well as the Mini-E. Of course there is a reason for that, you get 5 seats and a trunk with the Leaf! Sort of like a regular Mini is more fun to drive than a Versa.
    I did not get to test the range of the car but the reports I am hearing are close to the 100 mile range mixed driving so that’s a good thing. The electronics and communication are the best I have ever seen in the Leaf. The Mini-E has no communication with the driver accept for minimal gauges. There have been dozens of nights when I am in bed wondering if I remembered to plug the Mini-E in. It would be nice to have a cell phone app that I could check instead of traipsing down the stairs and into the garage to make sure.

    If BMW had not extended and lowered our lease, and committed to roll us into the Active E, I would have bought the Leaf.

    As it is, I look forward to the BMW Active E and then the Megacity car in the next couple of year. I hope Nissan sells a million Leafs and I applaud them for being the first carmaker to really commit completly to the electric car program.

    The first major car company to do a small SUV with a range extender (hopefully a plug in Ford Escape) will get the other spot in the garage.


  2. Tom,

    You're becoming a supermodel! Most supermodles have hair, so better you than me. Haha!

    It's great that all of us can share our collctive experiance as pioneers drivng the Mini-E. She did a nice job on the article.

    Julie, my wife says when the Oprah calls she will be impressed.

    Now that would be fun.


  3. Hmmm, Oprah I didn't think of that. I think I'll give them a call tomorrow!