Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Motor Trend Korean edition - August 2009 issue

My cousin KC Park was one of the first test driver of MINI PIG #017 - he drove the E on my first full day with the vehicle. We drove in and around UCI and Newport Coast for about an hour, stopping frequently for photo ops. Here are the scanned pages from the Korean edition of Motor Trend. KC contributes to MT as well as GQ on a regular basis.

I'll translate the text and post as time permits.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

MINI PIG 017 journey is coming to a close. But wait, there's more...

Yesterday marked another milestone on this EV journey that had its share of bumps and bruises. Rue Phillips of Sunpower Electric Inc. came by to chat, remove the Clipper Creek wall box charger, test drive 017 and plan our meet in 2 weeks at the Plug In America's Long Beach meeting.

Rue is a great guy, very experienced in EV charger installs going back to EV1 days and even longer. We chatted for about an hour regarding the MINI E program, his new projects, and other topics. Rue terminated the wiring and installed a box for any future 40 Amp requirement. Perhaps there will be another BEV or PIH vehicle in my future.

Here's the data on the SSN 017 to date:
Duration of lease - 41 days
Miles driven - 1,854.9 miles
Average speed - 36.3 MPH
Guest drivers - 27
Guest riders - lost count
Electricity used - see below (no TOU meter, so data is an aggregate)
June (9 days of E): 334 kWh (249 & 240 past 2 years: +89 kWh). Bill was $14.01 w/ $26.68 SDP* discount.

July (31 days of E): 511 kWh (274 & 226 past 2 years: +261 kWh). Avg usage 17.62 kWh per day. Bill was $26.65 with - $51.16 SDP discount.

Including free charging at work, that's effective cost of 1.62 CPM (cents per mile), compared to 16.2 CPM for my 2000 LR Disco and 13.7 CPM for my 1993 BMW e32 (740i).

So what's next? I'll be shopping for a replacement car as well as follow up on ODU's poorly designed connector for the MINI E. Each topic will have its dedicated blog thread.

*SDP: Southern CA Edison offers Summer Discount Plan - they have control of my central A/C and I receive a sizable discount on my electric bill. In my case, I signed up for maximum discount.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

ODU's connector for MINI E - is this a robust design?

Boring, technical connector discussion below...

Yes, I worked for 7 years at a connector manufacturer ITT Cannon. I'm dangerous enough to know key details about connector designs...

Take a look at the ODU connector photos below (click on them for larger image).

ODU touts its proprietary hyperbolic contact design to increase the mating cycles of connectors. What they are NOT designed for is "hot-plugging" or mating/unmating the connector under load. These pictures are from connector I had at home, attached to the Clipper Creek's 240V, 32 AMP wall box charger. Here's a direct quote (via email) from ODU:
...Regarding the damaged Springwires inside the contact: The connector was not designed to be hot plugged…we see similar damage on test sets that have been disconnected under load. BMW is aware of this and has indicated this in their manual. This issue will be resolved in the 2nd generation of connectors for EVs...

Fair enough - and it goes to prove the design weakness of the connector. While BMW/MINI was toiling away with ODU for the MINI E connector, SAE has been working on connector standards (J1772) for future EVs or Plug-in Hybrids (e.g. Chevy Volt). So what does that say about BMW/MINI? We know June 30th 2009 was a hard target date mandated by CARB if BMW wanted to maximize its ZEV credit. It appears that SAE's J1772 timeline didn't allow BMW to participate and meet the 30 June 2009 deadline - and who really cares if the MINI E program is strictly a one year "Field Trial Program" and all the cars are going back to the mother ship in 2010, right?

Customers? Day-to-day workability of the connectors? UL Listing BEFORE the charge box/cable/connector is rolled out to hundreds of homes? Details, schemetails - cars will be gone before anyone notices something is amiss. Who cares indeed...

Other connector companies (mainly Amphenol) design multiple safety features where load is interrupted before customer can unplug the connector. They also incorporate a bayonet style feature on connector engagement where you have to rotate the connector clockwise or counter clockwise. This serves several functions, mainly positive feedback to the user that the connector is fully mated. Here is the picture of the Amphenol connector in Tesla Roadster's application (notice also the hefty backshell that protects the connector shell from abuse).

ODU told me that they went ahead with straight plug method to prevent connector or charger damage in case someone drove off with the vehicle while the connector was plugged in. However, MINI E cannot start while the connector is mated - which supports my assertion that there's been poor communication throughout this program and parties which results in poor planning and execution across the board.

Who's running this program again? No, I'm not bitter - just returning the arrows that are stuck on my back :)

Friday, June 26, 2009

This isn't what I signed up for: 130~140 MINI E giveaway

So none of the Pioneers care that nearly 3rd of the MINI E fleet is going to cities, utilities, law enforcement, businesses (non-profit and for-profit) at $10/month? I'm not being petty here - this isn't the MINI Cooper Pioneering spirit I signed up for. On Nov 2008, the application process stated 500 Pioneers, all paying $850 per month to gauge viability of an EV.

I can live w/ 50 going to Berlin and 10 going to NYC (announced in January).

I cannot tolerate the recent fire sale of MINI Es in both coasts. By my account, we're up to 130~140 MINIs at $10 per month. I'm going to use my week off away from the MINI E to decide what to do next.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I'm going to dedicate this section for no-holds-barred, honest-to-goodness feedback for the MINI-E experience. The only ground rules will be no profanity (broadcast TV equivalent) and it must be a first-hand MINI-E related experience. I will keep this section on top everyday.


MINI E Paradox

OK – one of the key attributes of signing up for the 1 year field trial was “going green” or the perception (appearance?) of going green. We can argue about the methods of how my electricity is generated (coal vs. natural gas) and transferring tailpipe emission to the power plant’s smoke stacks – that will be a topic for another day.

I’ve driven the E for 1 full week now (427+ miles). Not having the high voltage quick charger operational has been a drag (you guessed it, another topic for another day), but I’m finding myself WANTING to use (waste?) more energy with the E.


I only have the vehicle for 12 months. Anyway you slice it, I can’t justify this trial financially. In order to recoup as much of the investment ($923 per month), my brain is telling me to drive the E as much as I can. This could all change once I have several months of electric bill to reset my brain, but as of this time I want to drive it past 15,000 miles – heck, 20,000 miles if I can swing the charging logistics.

Beer run several blocks to the grocery store to pick up a six pack? Forget the usual walk – it’s MINI E time! For that distance, I don’t even seem to draw down any charge – in fact, the regen seems to charge the battery more. Does eating a celery stick burn more calories than what you intake? It’s kind of like that reverse logic.

How about my commute? I checked my 30 miles one way commute every which way using Google Maps. The shortest way is taking the freeway exclusively. 3 different freeway/surface street combos I’ve tried all add more miles to the trip. While I can regen few % more and eke out few more miles, it’s a wash when you consider the longer trip and stop-and-go intersections w/ drivers in a hurry.

So how fast should I drive? I started adopting mild hypermiling techniques in 2008 when gasoline price went through the roof. I’ve been leisurely perusing the slow lanes, traveling around the posted speed limit of 65 MPH. Anything slower and I risked getting run off the road by all kinds of vehicles. With the E, I’m routinely driving 75 MPH which is still slower than the left lane speed jockeys. I could easily zip around the traffic in 80 MPH+ and not be out of place.

Once I get the HOV lane access sticker, I’ll have to drive upwards of 85 MPH if I don’t want to get rear ended by the HOV rockets. What would my energy consumption be then? I suspect my realistic range will be around 80 miles per charge. If I were to exceed 100+ miles on a charge, I would have to maximize the surface streets – ending up in longer commute and encountering more cross traffic. Nyet!

In the meantime, I’ll continue to collect more data while I figure of the optimal route to work - scenery and efficiency wise. Stay tuned… we'll see if I end up wasting more energy than with my ICE car.

Monday, June 15, 2009

MINI E #017 is home - finally...

So I finally took delivery of SSN #017 after many months of delays - am I smiling? Yes, even though some clown tried to take the cover off my Discovery which is now parked outside to make room for the 017. And no, it wasn't the wind that was the culprit. Good thing I used 2 bungee cords to keep it in place. Now I need to devise a locking mechanism - and I know who you are...

I enjoyed the 20+ mile drive home - and it was certainly the long way home so my two daughters can touch the car before my coworkers do tomorrow ;) They liked the new car.

It didn't take me too long to get used to the regen feature - I just need to master it so I don't "stop short" at the intersection. MINI E does have gobs of torque, seemingly at any speed, up to the electronic nanny at 95 MPH - no, I didn't test the limiter. Not yet ;)

My HV 240 V charger is not functional - and I'm not going to fiddle w/ it until it passes the city inspection. It's just not worth the risk to damage the controls or the PC board. 110 V will do for now, especially w/ access to an outlet at work. No shade at the new spot, but I'll take the much needed juice.

I'll post updates tomorrow after a potential photo shoot for Motor Trend Korean edition...

Friday, June 12, 2009

My email to BMWUSA and MINIUSA

After the inspection incident, I proceeded to write a detailed, organized, and passionate email to BMWUSA and MINIUSA. I searched my Rolodex to grab as many relevant email addresses as I can - then I hit Google to get names of more executives at BMW & MINI. I let the email marinate overnight and review it several times before I hit the send button. Surprisingly, my laptop didn't spontaneously combust. I expect someone from BMW, MINI, ClipperCreek, Crevier or CFCI to reply within 24 hours. The first reply is from Enid, then Crevier and followed by MINIUSA after my 1 hour call with Enid. I'll leave out the gory details but my email has received a lot of attention and several conference calls ensue as a result. I relay my concerns and grievances and now I wait patiently. Oh yeah - Crevier told me the day after my email that I will be getting #017 in few days w/ a 110V cable. And I coin the term "MINI PIGS" for the fellow MINI E Pioneers...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Irvine Inspector - Part 1

On June 8th, Mr. Art Villa came by to inspect the wall charger. Unfortunately Andy from Sunpower Electric was running late to install the cable, and Art told me he has to leave for his next appointment. I panicked and got Andy on the horn to get his butt over to the house pronto. Another missed day at work and I would be sleeping out of the MINI E. Once Art started inspecting the charger, real bad news started - inspection has failed due to lack of a UL sticker (UR/RU sticker doesn't count). I tried unsuccessfully to contact ANYONE at CFCI. My call to Crevier MINI reached Christian Banks, but he couldn't help much. I told Art that inspections in Newport Beach are going just fine - Art's answer was perhaps the Newport inspections are done improperly - case closed. My further follow up later in the day w/ ClipperCreek came to the same conclusion that Art was right. And I find out that Pasadena is also failing inspections - which leads to my email to BMWUSA, MINIUSA, CFCI, ClipperCreek and Crevier...

Monday, May 25, 2009

So why the MINI E?

Why am I doing this? It’s noble to be GREEN, yet there are other ways to do this. Sorry if this sounds like a rerun of earlier post. Let’s first list the arguments against participating:

1. It’s expensive: for $850 per month, there are many other fine automobiles to choose. One example – Range Rover Sport can be had for $799 per month – I can’t surf for 1 minute without seeing the ubiquitous banner ad. The Sport is a fine vehicle, on road and off, and it’s a Land Rover.
2. If I were to choose another fuel efficient vehicle, I can select one of the latest generation hybrids (Honda Insight, Toyota Prius and Ford Fusion). I can also go for one of the VW diesel powered cars. If I must have one with HOV lane access, Honda Civic GX is available.
3. MINI E is only a two seater – I’ve looked at it closely to see if we can squeeze a 3rd person – nope. In fact, the rear hatch area looks too small to carry 3 grocery bags.
4. It will only go approx. 100 miles on a full charge – MINI USA observed about 150 miles “in an ideal condition”. If I get a call middle of the day to drive up to LA or the Valley, I’ll have to rent another car. I expect to run out of juice sometime during the 1 year field trial.

How about the Pros?
1. There are about 450 MINI E to be deployed in the US for the next 12 months. Take away the vehicles given to MINI USA staff and municipalities, there will be about 400 “Field Trial Participants”. Of those, Southern CA will have about 200 participants. I don’t want to lay claim to “MINI E Pioneer” yet, but I’m ready to try. Will I feel smug? Ask me again in 2 months.
2. As clich├ęd as this sounds, I am doing this for my daughters. They will be part of a unique experience that I can’t wait to share with them. We are already attending other GREEN and Clean Energy events.
3. I love cars. Especially Land Rovers, BMWs and MINIs. I was looking at the MINI Cooper Clubman for a while, and the MINI E will fill that need/love. I’m going to drive the MINI E every day. I’m sure mine will have one of the highest miles logged in the next 12 months.
4. I haven’t bought a new car since 2000, not counting the 2 previous leases my ex-wife had (2001 & 2004). If I’m going to splurge for 12 months, MINI E is a good candidate.
5. I really think this field trial will provide valuable experience to my family as well as MINI and BMW USA. I’ve always enjoyed sharing my opinion on focus groups and surveys. This one will run little longer than the usual focus groups. And if anyone else wants my opinion (Tesla, Fisker, Aptera – whomever), I’d be more than willing to share my experience with them.

E mood? Happy

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My fleet of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles

My Disco was launched during the short tenure of Land Rover ownership by BMW (1994 ~ 2000). I bought it new in February 2008 from Land Rover Newport Beach – more on the Disco later.

The ’93 e32 has been in my family since my dad bought it new in the winter of 1993 at Competition Sports in Greenwich, CT. After 7 years of TLC by my dad, my sister was the lucky recipient of one of the finest sedans in BMW’s long history. She and her husband proceeded to log mainly freeway miles in Marin County, CA until they were generous to hand it to me in 2003 with approximately 80,000 miles on the odometer. My brother-in-law had just leased a brand new 2003 BMW 528i (e60) and they had to make more room in their driveway. By this time, e32 had seen several seasons of the best and worst of Northern CA weather, and it showed in its fading trims and paint job. The car still ran well when pushed hard – it was the stop and go traffic of the I-405 that it didn’t seem to care for. It leaked various species of petroleum based lubricants, mainly the power steering fluid which has confounded many fine mechanics. It still runs strong today with 160,000+ miles on the odometer; however, with soon to arrive MINI E to my crowded garage my time with the e32 is coming to a close.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

MINI E Field Trial Details

Here is the official info from the MINI-USA website:

There are 500 MINI E in the US for the field trial in NY NJ metro area and Southern CA. 250 are allocated for the Greater Los Angeles area which includes Orange County. Of those, Crevier BMW will receive 29 MINI E. I was still pleasantly surprised and skeptical about my selection. It’s not false modesty about my qualification to be a field trial participant. My first reaction was “there must have been unexpectedly low number of applicants. $850 per month lease isn’t chump change, especially in this crappy economy. Throw in the 100~120 miles range on a single charge, there’s even fewer volunteers.” Captain Kirk’s answer was MINI received approximately 10,000 applications. I re-read my essay which was saved on my hard drive. Was this good enough to be picked? Do I still want to go ahead with the lease given unknown job security? What if…? After about an hour of deliberation and few well placed calls to my buddies, I decided to jump in with both feet.

$850 per month plus tax, and MINI USA picks up Insurance

So here are the benefits that come with the E:

1. Access to HOV lane
2. Unlimited miles for 12 months
3. Free scheduled maintenance
4. Cheaper insurance cost
5. Theoretically less expensive operating cost of a car (daily expenses)
6. Real world experience with a full electric vehicle, perhaps a look into the future of what daily automobile commute might look like
7. Chance to network with limited number of like-minded car nuts
8. Opportunity to share the experience with any interested people
9. Being on the bleeding edge of automotive technology
10. And so on (list will be expanded as needed)

And the drawbacks too:

1. Expensive monthly lease
2. Limited daily range - really need to plan your day in advance
3. Limited room in the E (it’s now a 2 seater)
4. And so on

It turns out only 1,800 people filled out the online application.
Program participation requirements were very specific which limited number of applicants. Here are some of them:

1. Must be a homeowner
2. Must have a locking garage (umm - how many people can say this in Manhattan?)
3. The said home must have 220V service
4. Clean driving record
5. Clean credit / high credit score

Of the initial 1,800 applicants, significant number have dropped out or didn't accept the invitation for variety of reasons. Of course you can't easily find this info either officially or unofficially (MINI USA was accepting applicants as late as May 18th - that's almost 5 months after the initial deadline...).

Why do I care? Because even this limited sample size is an indicator of where we will be WRT electric or fuel cell powered vehicle adoption in the future.

E Mood: Neutral to pensive...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I finally get a call...

2 months later (Oh, around Fri Jan 23rd – 2:24 PM: checked the call log on my account online. Damn, there's whole lot of information out there on the web), I got a call on my cell phone on my drive home. Caller ID indicated Crevier BMW car wash. "Strange..." I thought as I didn't have my car at Crevier. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a call from “Captain Kirk” Larson at Crevier MINI telling me that I have pre-qualified to lease the MINI E.

Taking few steps back, the field trial news of the E caught my attention for several reasons. First and foremost, I consider myself to be a car nut and I’ve always leaned favorably to the good folks in Bavaria and their fine products. I currently own a 1993 BMW 740i (e32) and a 2000 Land Rover Discovery Series II (aka Disco: w/ ACE and 3rd row option). More details about my fleet will follow in all its gory detail.

Second, I am turning into a cranky hippie as I hit my forties in full stride. I believe we are not doing our part as individuals to conserve our precious natural resources, and there are many improvements we can make in our daily lives. Some of these actions are simple and easy: some are more difficult and requires planning and sacrifice.

My 7 year stints at various petroleum industry jobs give me deeper perspective on the supply and demand of fossil fuels than an average citizen. Some lessons were global and macro in nature. Other lessons were practical and close to home, including ways to save money at your local gas station.

I’ve seen Chris Paine’s “Who Killed the Electric Car” twice, the last time at the Pacific Design Center in LA with a post-screening Q&A with Chris Paine (hosted by 97.1 FM's Leo Quinones). I’ve driven the EV1 many years ago at the Dodgers’ Stadium during a GM "Auto Show on the Road" event. It was very Star Wars-ish with its red LED lights and hard plastic surfaces. I remember it starting quick off the line followed by eerie silence as I drove it around the mini autocross course. It had potential but certainly needed more development to become a mainstream car.

I’ve watched with interest as other green vehicles came and went, lesser known EVs, later followed by various hybrid powertrain vehicles and clean vehicles as my job change in March 2008 dropped me in the morning commute in the Southland (50 miles one way) with fellow commuters. Add to this mix the stratospherically high gasoline prices in the summer of 2008 ($4.50 per gallon for 87 octane?!?), my need for more economical car especially with HOV lane access became almost a necessity, not merely ideological social responsibility.

I began looking seriously at the CNG powered Honda Civic NGV GX and even made few calls to the local Honda dealers. I researched various CNG refueling stations and frequented NGV message boards. I also started to practice my version of hypermiling to squeeze few more miles from each full tank. It was eye opening to see how much fuel I saved by driving 10 MPH slower. And it brought the morning commute to brand new perspective, next to the 18 wheelers on the I-605 every morning.

E mood: Very Happy...