Sunday, September 2, 2012

Paving our future - Enjoy the free ride....for now.

$3.77.  That's how much I paid per gallon the last time I ever filled up my Prius.  Out of that, 23.5 cents went to the state of Massachusetts and 18.4 cents went to the Federal Highway Trust Fund.  Do the 15,000 miles per year, 45 miles per gallon, $.42 cents tax... I was sending $140 per year to various government agencies.  Without getting too political, I have to assume that some of this money is earmarked for paving roads, repairing bridges and other projects that keep me and others safe on the roadways.

As of March, 2012, I am still driving about 15,000 miles per year on the same roads (and having way more fun in my ActiveE!), however, I am not contributing to their upkeep.  Is that fairWhat if we all started driving electric cars or high mpg hybrids?

Oregon and Minnesota are two states leading the charge to find alternative ways to fund their transportation infrastructure.  Oregon began research on this topic in the early 2000s. They experimented with various ways to collect usage fees through a VMT (Vehicle Mileage Tax). They ran a pilot program, made mistakes and admitted it!  Now, version 2.0 begins this fall with the Road User Charge Pilot Program.  Minnesota is actively recruiting volunteers for their Mileage-Based User Fee with the same goal: be ready to replace shrinking road maintenance revenues when the country goes electric.

For now, I'm enjoying the free ride, but urging my Massachusetts state representatives to look into the future of road maintenance funding.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

You pay how much to drive an EV?

Cartoon by Michael Ramirez
A friend recently sent me this (offensive) cartoon produced by some people who "just don't get it".

After 4 months and 5500+ miles, I now have a very good sense for how much it actually costs to plug my car into the grid.  $1.95 per day!  About the cost of 1/2 gallon of gas.  Heck, some times I pay more for an energy drink to fuel my body!

Here's how I calculated this.  My electric company sends me a bill each month which shows me my usage for the last 13 months.  This way I can compare year over year to see the difference.  In general, my home energy consumption can vary with the temperature, but the average monthly temparatures year over year have been pretty consistent.  In the first 4 months, my increased consumption has been between 12 and 15 kWh per day.

Our electric company is a private company that only serves our town so it's overall costs are vey low.  40% of the energy we buy comes from non-carbon producing plants including wind farms in the Berkshires (MA) and regional hydro plants. 

We pay about 9 cents per kWh, well below the national and local average.  When you load in the various fees and surcharges, it goes up to 13 cents total.  Basic math says .13 + 15 = $1.95.

More basic math shows the cost for driving 100 miles in my ActiveE plugged into my house is around $3.50.  The same 100 miles with my small SUV is $15 at $3.75 per gallon.  For my Honda hybrid it's $9.40.  So real world data shows that I'm saving between $80 and $150 per month in driving costs.  And, on top of it all, I'm cruising around in an all-electric BMW that is, and continues to be, a blast to drive!

For more information about ActiveE owners who save even more money by leveraging the power of the sun, read here and here.

So, the moral of the story is that all energy is not created equally.  Green cars plugged into green grids are our pathway to future, on many levels.  Don't let anyone fool you otherwise.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hey Dad....Can I drive?

It took 8 weeks for my 17 year-old son to get up the courage to ask the big question:  "Dad, can I drive the BMW tonight?"  My wife had Skyped me a warning earlier in the day so I had ample time to prepare all of my "No Way" responses.  Then I decided....why not.  What could possibly go wrong?

When I arrived home I surprised everyone with my "Yes" response, followed by the usual retort of, "Clean your room first."  I also said we had to go on a test drive first so I could explain the basics and have him get a feel for the powerful regenerative breaking, smooth acceleration and superb handling.  He did very well on the short test and I felt comfortable handing over the keys for the night.  Of course he got the additional lecture of: Slow down.  No one besides your girlfriend in the car.  Come straight home after the game.  I'm sure all he heard was: Blah, blah, blah!

It turns out that my wife made dinner reservations that night so I wasn't home to watch my ActiveE leave under someone else's guidance.  I did get to drive the Honda Civic Hybrid for the night.  The first thing I noticed was that the car handled very poorly.  The steering felt loose and the first sharp corner was a challenge as I expected more out of the car.  You could say that I am now officially spoiled by the legendary BMW handling.

We arrived home late to find the ActiveE tucked away and charging in its usual garage bay.  A quick inspection shows no visible damage!  The next morning I asked my son why he wanted to drive the car that night.  His response was: "Because it's cool, Dad.".....I can't argue with that!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Free Electrons at Boston Logan Airport

I had my first experience with public charging this week at Boston Logan Airport.  Thanks to MassPort and ChargePoint for the free electrons.

I had to pick up my wife at the airport which is about 50 miles from my house. I didn't feel safe in the chilly weather that I could make it back so I planned to get up to the 6th floor Hybrid Parking area where several chargers are available.

When I arrived at the garage, the not-so-friendly worker directing garage traffic said I needed to park on the 3rd floor.  I tried to explain that my car was electric and I needed to get up to 6.  He was not very sympathetic, so I went with plan B. I drove around and found another worker in the garage and explained my predicament.  He directed me over to a back way and I zig-zagged my way up to the 6th floor.  As expected, I had my choice of 8 unoccupied charging stations. 

Another worker came over and asked me how these worked.  Seems that someone tried to connect through their credit card and he didn't know how to help them.  I told him next time to have the customer call the toll-free number on the charger and the nice ChargePoint folks will help out.

I then swiped my keycard and went to wait for my wife.  Her plan landed early so I bought her a drink while we waited for the car to juice up enough to get safely home.  Hey...does that count as a "date"? 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's a beautiful car....said the policeman

I tend to not put the car in eco-mode when driving around town.  It gives the ActiveE that extra punch when jumping into traffic and, in general, makes the car more fun to drive.  Earlier this week, while returning home from a late meeting at the local school, I got pulled over for going 48 in a 35.  It certainly didn't feel like 48!

I was crusing down RT111 near my house with no other traffic in sight.  I wanted to see how the high beams worked so I pushed them on with the left paddle.  I saw an oncoming car around the bend so I reached to flip off the high beams and somehow hit the cruise control.  I quickly adjusted and thought I was in the clear.  Well, that oncoming car was one of our local police cruisers.  The lights went on and the cop proceeded to find a driveway where he could turn around and chase me down.  I briefly thought about making a run for it, but I'm not 20 anymore and just hoped that maybe he had something more important to do than ticket me.  Not today! 

He approached the car, asked for the usual license and registration, asked where I lived (less than a mile away) and kindly let me know that the speed limit was 35 on this stretch of road.  He was even so nice as to point out the speed limit increased to 40 just ahead.  I fiddled around in the glove box, said it was a new car and I didn't know where everything was hiding.  Normal banter as I have been through this a few times over the years!

The officer went away for 2 minutes, came back, handed me my documents and said, "It's a beautiful car, slow down please."  "Absolutely!", I replied and then I glided back home.  No ticket, no written warning!

So, did the officer's computer show that the BMW ActiveE is a 100% electric car so he decided to cut me a break?  Was it my natural good looks and charm?  Or, was it just my lucky day?

Either way, I don't condone speeding, breaking the law or evading the police.  I am now more cognizant of the fact that the ActiveE is such a pleasure to drive that you have to check your speed every once in a while.  Thanks officer!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

She Likes It....

  This week I attended a training class in eastern NY, 180 miles from home.  I searched the ChargePoint network for a way to make the drive in the ActiveE through RT 84 in Connecticut.  What I found is a desert of public charging stations through the Connecticut region.  I thought that CT would have a better infrastructure being one of the the selected states for the ActiveE trial.  It's not until you get down to Fairfield County that you start to see some EVSE stations.

So I went with Plan B, our 2009 Civic Hybrid at 42 mpg.  This meant leaving the ActiveE with my wife for the week.  I took her out for another driving lesson the day before I left and she seemed to understand all of the nuances of the car.  Less than 30 minutes after I left, my cell phone buzzed and I was greeted with the shrill shout of "The car won't go into reverse!".  After several trial and error attempts, we figured out that she wasn't stepping on the brake when pressing the Start button.  Problem solved!  However, that didn't stop me from worrying about the car swap for the next 4 days.

By the time I returned on Friday night, she had the hang of driving the car.  After a few minutes she asked: "How about if we switch and I drive the ActiveE?"  That is the ultimate compliment coming from someone who doesn't really care at all about cars.  Of course, my answer was: "No, no, no way, never!"

Sunday, April 1, 2012

My short, petty wish list

After three weeks of daily driving, I still consider the ActiveE a fantastic overall experience.  In my last post, I listed my favorite aspects of daily driving on all electric power.  Here, I document my short wish list of mostly petty items that would never prevent me from buying a car like this, but, if changed, would make it near perfect.  Here we go:

#5 - The horn - Really?  Has anyone had to actually use the horn in everyday traffic?  Luckily I haven't, but when I tested it out with my teen-age daughter in the car, she started laughing uncontrollably.  It sounds like a bad computer error message is about to pop up.  Here's an idea:  Horn Tones.  The car is completely computerized, how about downloadable horn sounds so we can program in a more menacing noise.

#4 - Interior Storage- I have seen Chad Hogan's after market arm rest where the storage bin should go.  That's nice, but I need a place to store normal driving accessories like sunglasses, winter gloves, toll pass, spare change, those extra golf balls that always end up in my pocket.  The two little areas in the center console just don't cut it.  How about taking the space under the presets and putting a little door to another storage area?

#3 - HomeLink - I hate to bring up my 8 year-old Prius when talking about an electric BMW, but Toyota put three HomeLink buttons in the mirror that opened my garage doors.  Can't cost more than $5 in parts.

#2 - Keyless - One last time with the Prius comparison....In 8 years, I never put a key into the car.  The wireless key unlocked the doors when I got near the car and allowed me to push the Start button as long as the doors were closed.   It even prevented me from locking the car if the key was inside.  I understand the ActiveE matches personalized settings with the different keys.  That's great for cars with multiple drivers, but I would expect that even if those settings are stored on the physical key, they could be transferred wirelessly into the system.

#1 - Saved settings - Many other ActiveE drivers have documented these issues in more depth but add 1 more vote for, programmable EcoMode setting, scheduled, repeatable preconditioning times, scheduled, repeatable charging times and an option to automatically reset the trip computer after every trip.

Footnote: I considered adding "it's white" on this list, but I know that's just for this group of test cars.  I do get a kick out of Electragirl's carwash count (17 last I checked).  I'm up to 3 with only 850 miles!  Don't think I will ever buy a white car again, at least not one that attracts dirt like this one!


Saturday, March 24, 2012

What I like about you....

My family has been making fun of me to my face and behind my back about the fact that I gush over my new ActiveE.  When you spend 2+ hours a day with your car, you want a comfortable, enjoyable experience.  On that end, the ActiveE does not disappoint.

By far, the part that makes this car the most fun to drive is the quick, smooth acceleration. When you think about the fact that this is a 4000 lb beast and it still accelerates and handles the way it does, you have take your hats off to the BMW engineers and, at the same time, wonder how much better the lighter i3 will be.  My second favorite aspect of the drive is the regenerative braking. It is surprisingly quick to adapt to.  On a recent short 8 mile trip I only used 3 miles of range thanks to the downhill path I took.

Safely locked inside the cockpit, the ActiveE has all of the comforts that make the long commute more enjoyable.   The seats are very comfortable and the visibility both front and rear are perfect.  There are many different screen combinations that will give you any bit of information you want to know about the current status of the car.  I've experimented with a few split screen setups and seem to have settled on the map on the left and the trip computer on the right, but I change this up sometimes, mostly because I can!

There are also many nice touches.  I love the fact that the 6 "radio" presets can actually be used for anything.  I have one button for the nav, one for the trip computer and one for battery status.  The coolest feature of these buttons is that you can hover over them to see what they are set to. They are so sensitive that sometimes I think there must be a heat sensor embedded because I am really not touching anything.

Of course, the best part of all is sailing past the gas stations, you know, those places that dispense that flammable liquid. They are the ones with big signs in front with numbers that keep going up every day, sometimes, more than once a day.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Week 1 - A Success

The first week is in the books. I must say that the driving experience is much better than I expected. My daily one-way, 26-mile commute is split evenly between 70-mph highway driving and severe stop-and-go traffic down RT2 in eastern Massachusetts.

Originally, I was very nervous about the impact of the aggressive regenerative braking.  I even went so far as to drive my 2005 Prius in its regen mode for the final 2 weeks to try to get used to the concept. That didn't really help as I would rate the Prius regen at a 3 out of 10, while the ActiveE is more like a 7 or 8.

Surprising to me, it only took 2 days for me to get completely used to the behavior.  On day 1, I was stopping 100 feet short of my intended target....pretty embarrassing when in heavy traffic.  By day 2, it was down to 30-50 feet...much more respectable.  By the end of the week, I made the 26-mile drive with just one touch of the brakes and I was much more focused on driving rather than how I was going to stop.

My other point of nervousness was getting on the highway, especially since I drive in eco-mode as often as I can remember to push the button.  Californians have no concept of coming to a complete stop just before getting on a major highway  Only in New England do you have such bad on-ramp design or 5 way intersections guarded by an outdated traffic rotary.  Go west of Concord, MA and you will will experience both of these on a daily basis.

On day 2, I glided down the entrance ramp, glanced down the road and saw a wall of oncoming traffic.  Here was my chance to see how the ActiveE responds.  I came to a complete stop as cars whizzed by me at 65-80 mph.  I found my opening and went for it....0 to 30 pretty quick, as expected.  We got up to 60 just before the next off-ramp...about 9 or 10 seconds.  Not bad, and more than enough to keep me alive for the next 2 years.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's here and it's FUN!

I pulled away from the dealer's charging station, turned right into heavy traffic and began my all-electric adventure!  21 miles to home on a mix of back roads and highway, and the car is everything I expected it to be and more.  I forgot to put on Eco Mode and managed 2.8 miles/kwh on a beautiful, 70-degree day in Massachusetts.

The car is "naked" without the decals.  It was one of the stipulations of purchase -- "too geeky", She said.  After 18 years of marriage, you generally know when you're getting a good bargain. 

And now the car is tucked in for the night, sipping from the charger, gearing up for the daily 50 mile, round-trip grind down RT2 to RT128 in Boston.....I can't wait!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ready To Charge

The green light on the EVSE says "Ready to Charge".  The only thing missing is the BMW Active E on the other end.  My dealer, BMW of Sudbury, MA says, "Sometime this month!"  So we wait patiently for the new adventure to start.   

In the meantime, the old adventure is winding down.  I have had a Prius II since the beginning in 2004.  Back then, I waited 9 months to get my hands on, arguably, the best hybrid technology available.  150K miles later I still get a kick out of hearing the engine shutdown while going 75 down the highway and I can still squeeze 55 MPG out of a tank full, if I pay attention.

Unfortunately, I won't get to put nearly that much mileage on the Active E in 2 short years.  Maybe we should start a Twitter petition now:  #LetMeBuyMyActiveE.