Tuesday, June 23, 2009

First recognition, mileage envy

So as I was entering the Holland Tunnel last night on my way home I heard a beeping coming from the car next to me and there was a rolled down window in a large (Suburban sized) SUV. He asked if it was an electric car. So in the middle of traffic trying to stop and go enter the tunnel I had my first recognition of the car. The driver of the SUV seemed genuinly surprised that this was an all electric car...."It's all electric? really? no gas at all?"

I think from his elevated vantage point he could see the large plug graphic on the roof. I have opted not to ge tthe side graphics added later, but it was nice to finally have the car recognized by someone totally unaware of the program.

Just topped 200 miles yestreday, had to go out of town last week, so limited driving. Plus my daily commute is just about 35 miles. But the good news is that this is just far enough to top off my charge with 110v when I get home and be able to make it through the entire week commuting. So Mini, please, no rush on the 230V cable, you can put me low on the list. I will gladly trade off making the monthly payment for using the 110v cable. I can see how for most people the range limitations of the 110v cable are a restriction to extended use, so I count myself lucky.

I travel in real stop ang go traffic for most of my commute, through there are brief periods of 65-70 travel as well. Welcome to NJ. But I am not seeing the "extended range" of stop and go benefit that I thought. My napkin calculations are still putting me right at the 100 mile range. I'll be honest though, I a not fixating on the numbers or "efficient driving style" . When traffic allows I am really enjoying the torque steer level of acceleration. I am assuming that Mini will be able to capture the data they need without me. If the range gets to be an issue, I am sure I will start paying more attention.

I wish there was a charger equipped Mini dealer in central Ct. My family is in Hartford and I would love to be able to bring the car up there. My house to my parents house is 137 miles of mostly all highway driving. When I signed up for the program, I was really hoping that the 150 mile range they talked about was achievable, but for a drive like this it seems to be out of the question based on mine and other pioneers experience.

Has anyone topped 120 miles on a single charge yet? I am curious how far people have pushed it yet. Drop me a comment and let me know how far you have gone on 1 charge.

Monday, June 22, 2009


So in this week's Mini-E Plugged-In update the good folks at Mini let me (and I am guessing a few others) know that the auto-neutral hill issue was not an issue at all. And after trying it this morning it appears to be correct. Aparrantly the answer was avilable all the time hiding out on page 72-75 of the Owners Manual.

My bad. Thanks for the pointer.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Blinking N -and- Local online news

Blinking N

So it has been raining on and off for what feels like 2 weeks here in metro NYC. As I
mentioned in a previous post, that means puddles. Lots of puddles. So when I heard flash flood warnings this morning I thought knew what I was in for, I thought it would mean slow traffic. Well traffic wasn't bad, except for when I was holding it up twice.

So no matter how hard I try on a day like today, I can not avoid driving through the occasional large'ish puddle on the way to work. I really try to swerve around them and if forced go through as slow as possible, to limit the undercarriage spray. But today there were a
few good ones. I made it through them fine, maybe a little holding of the breath I'll admit. Soon after was when I had my first problem.

I was stopped in traffic, I'm going to guess for 15 seconds, when I noticed the dashboard drive indicator was a flashing N. I didn't think anything of it, I actualy thouht, "I never nocied that auto-neutral actually diaplays N". It does not. Apparently the car had put itself in Neutral. The drive selector was in D, but the display was flashing N, when I took my foot off the brake to apply to the accelerator, nothing happened, except rolling. I hit the brakes, tried again, rolling.

I am now holding up traffic going toward the Holland tunnel (not recommended). The quick thinking mode kicked in and I put the car in Park, then Drive, rolling......

Tried this again (stubornly thought that was a good idea and deserved another try), rolling, flashing N.

At this point I put it in Park, Hit the OFF button pulled out the key and started over.
Hit START, put it in Drive.....and we are moving.

It was quite a hectic 20 seconds, and I wish I had been in a quiet place where I could have spent a bit more time "diagnosing", but at least was moving. For about 10 mins.

As I approached the toll plaza for the Holland Tunnel, I was stopped, again for Im going to guess 15 seconds and there it was the blinking N.

Again I tried back to Park, then Drive...rolling
Pack to Park, OFF, ON, Drive... and we were going again.

As an IT professional, I understand the power of the reboot, so I'm not surprised that this helped. (Non IT people, it really does help)

But if it continues, I think a call to service will be in order. Just something to watch for now. I have no idea if it was the puddles or not, though that would be a strong suspicion. As I mentioned in my previous post, they seem to have instilled the"no-car wash" thing pretty strong in the dealers as they passed out the cars. We will see.

On another note, I was recently interviewed by a local community online site southorange.patch.com, which as I can gather is a local version of .patch.com. The article was posted last night and linked here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

NJ to NYC commute - Day 1 (puddles ,hills, horns and parking)

So I decided to participate in the MINI-E trial so that I could evaluate a few things as I mentioned in an earlier post. 1) driving to NYC 2) feasability of electric cars.

Well after 2 days of driving I am convinced that the answer to #2 is complete. I would buy this car today if it were available. Whoever makes the batteries small enough and the range a bit larger is going to sell out as many cars as they can produce. Every single person who has ridden in the MINI-E has had to confront the belief that they would have to give something up for an electric. After being pushed back in their seat once or twice (I am still enjoying doing that to people), they are convinced.

I am also learning a few things about the logistics of my upcoming year long commute, that I will outline here for day 1.

I am commuting from South Orange, NJ to midtown Manhattan. For me the best route is through the Holland Tunnel. The traffic on the Lincoln can be far to unpredicatable. My route to the Holland Tunnel how ever goes through some very low lying areas. they are prone to flooding. The entire way into the city today I could not help but recall that serious "no really" look that I got at the dealership when I picked up #269 when it got to the part of the handover process for "No carwashes with under carriage spray". Immediatatly followed by that "No REALLY" look.

Well I am convinced that while I did avoid and go slowly though as many of the deepish puddles as I could that the undercarriage of #269 is drying out in a garage in midtown as we speak.

So going in and out of these low lying areas also brings me back to something I noticed in my post from my initial drive home.

hills and auto-neutral

I'm not talking about big streets of San Francisco hills (thank goodness), but there are many many times during my commute where I am in traffic on an incline with my foot on the brake to keep me from rolling backward. This alone would be fine. But NYC commuting traffic certainly lives up to the "bumper to bumper" name. The idea of rolling backward at all is a bit unnerving. There is often a person much closer than you would expect. I tried a few times to explore my idea of brake / gas in tandem to try to engage the drive before the slide could start. This did not seem to work. One of the software folks from MINI or AC Propulsion would actually have to come out of hiding and publically comment on our blogs to get the answer to that.

BTW, if you check your blog stats there are
a number of reader hits from great places like

Greenville, South Carolina, United States
Bmw Manufacturing

Greer, South Carolina, United States
Bmw Manufacturing

but my favorites so far have been...(but I digress)

Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, United States
General Motors Corporation

Dhahran, Ash Sharqiyah, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabian Oil Company

I still see the auto-neutral as an issue on an incline in traffic. It appeared to me that holding the brake canceled out the signal from the accelerator. Now granted in traffic with another car close in front was not where I was willing to expand too much on my experiment, but I could not achieve the result that I wanted with the brake and the accelerator in combo. I really had to go to leaning heavy on the accelerator and hope they arent "that close" that a little roll wont get me in trouble. It worked out, but I count this as still far from ideal.

Again, not writting the software I cant tell for sure but it seems two forces are at play here. First, I'm assuming that auto-neutral plays some kind of a role in enabling the regenerative braking to engage. It is the only thing I could come up with for why it would be there in the first place. so lets start with the premice that we need it. But not at full stop, with the brake applied. It seems like either that combo of functions should trigger some other code that turns off auto-neutral until we move forward 10 feet or we need some kind of "disable" button, like turning off traction control, that would disable auto-neutral. And again, maybe only for the next 10 feet. But the effort of having to remember to push the button each time would be worth it to me. I imagine this is a user interface / feasability issue, but one that I hope they are working on.

Now I am sure that with "no noise" I can hear the road honking more than usual, but I definately got the impression that more than one of them (3 or 4) were directed at me. And all during regen braking in slow traffic. I am afraid that the brake lights are not engaging nearly enough in slow driving. That was the only thing I could guess after the 2nd or 3rd honk. Like everyone else, no one recognizes what the car is for that to be the reason. I really think that I slowed more than the other person expected, with no brake lights. This is somewhere that I think we could really choose to go on the side of caution. If there is some kind of % deceleration formula that I could user select through my settings I would certainly be dialing that one down on the way home. I am tempted to have someone follow me around town and tell me when my brake lights are on, since we can not tell. Except that I havent recieved my car bluetooth kit yet. Realy MINI, no bluetooth, I doubt it drains that much battery.

So today also marked the first time I had to hand someone the keys and walk away. Afte trying to impress on the attendant that this car was different and the start/stop button and that it is very responsive, I got a few blank nods and a ticket and that look of "ok, we'll see you at 6pm". Now for non-NYers, virtually every parking facility in NYC is one where you pull in give them your keys and come back later. They perform a logic puzzle dance of moving cars around all day that would give most of us a real headache. But it is a fact of life in NYC. I was able to find an indoor lot less than 2 blocks from my office (near Madison Park) and for <$300 a month. NYC based folks know that is a really good deal. I would be willing to find another place near my office, love to find one with an outlet, so any better ideas please let me know.

OK. Now let me state this again. While that may have come off a bit as ranting and complaining, it was intended as none of the above. I LOVE this car and would buy it on the spot if available. I provide all of this feedback as I believe it was requested by the program that we keep a blog, to provide feedback and opportunities for improvement. I am glad to go into a deeper discussion with anyone who is interested, ut this post I think is long enough.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Project attention - impressive

So I aded a little stat counter on my blog (stole idea form someone else)

And I just looked at some of the stats that it keeps. I am sure that my blog is getting only "average" attention as there has been no exposure other than my family and fellow bloggers. Though I did just realize from the stats that a google search of "mini-e nj" does return my site.

"the new phonebook is here....I'm somebody"

Well one of the items is a map of recent visitors, surprise, surprise...

I had no idea that this broad an audience was interested. I expected some metro NY / California and maybe a few family locations.

Project i folks, I think you are on to something....

Welcome home MINI-E #269 (hello auto-neutral)

At long last it has arrived. So far I have only had the initial ride home from the dealership back to the house.

First thing that I can certainly mention as different is "auto-neutral". WOW

Getting used to driving with 1 foot was actually pretty easy. Only real thing that is going to take more time is starting from a stop. First thing is that you quickly learn that even going near the brake pedal during regular driving is going to stop you much more than you think. It really is akin to pulling on the E-brake slighlty, not necessary. So you adapt to giving yourself just a little more time than you think you would need to let the regen braking kick in to slow you down. Even all the way to a stop at a light.

Here is where you are going to need to be careful. When you do come to a stop, you MUST lean on the brake to keep you from coasting backward if you are on any kind of an incline. Even in Drive, "auto-neutral" will let the car coast when at a stop and not on any pedal. my first instinct was to feather the gas slightly to keep the car engaged enough to keep it from rolling backward. But this quickly strikes you as wasteful. I can't help but think, "wow, you could just hit the brake".

Here is thing to get used to #2. When you want to move from a stop on an incline. Even with the brake pedal engaged, you can tell that the car is in "auto-neutral". As soon as you lift from the brake you need to apply the accelerator. It actually quickly starts to kick in your brain like engaging a clutch with the gas. Here is a problem, you need to be heavier on the gas in this car than you would with a regular stick an a clutch.

Many have mentioned that while the accelaration on the MINI E is impresive, that torque is not fully available from the line. It appears, as many have said, that the cars are de-tuned ro limit some of the power from stop. I think this will prove to be a mistake. People who want to "tear off the line" should not be engineered back into good behavior, and everyone else should not have to nearly floor the accelarator and just hope that the car engages fast enough to stop that backward sliding down the hill that you experience.

Maybe the key is in the brake, maybe I need to feather off the brake slower when I feel the pull engaged. This is mentally backward since you quickly start to think of the brake as a "heavy stop" device.

Maybe by next week this entire post will be obsleted by a bit more experience. I have not heard anyone else mention this sensation, so maybe I just have to put some more miles on. But I do think "auto-neutral" is an electric car feature that people need to be a bit more aware of in the front of our mind while you are driving.

I will be interested to hear how other are experiencing this .....

Beleive me, I am tring to be thorough in my "driving experience". It is by no way significant enough to make me hesistate driving for 1 second, nor do i feel un-safe. It is just a difference that i think warrants some more brain cycles to get perfect. It is not a driving expereience I have had in an other car, manual or automatic. I can't wait t get back out there and work it out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

It's here!!!!! - no # yet

Just got the call from Mags at Morristown MINI. They just got a batch of cars and one of them is for me. It will be ready to be picked up by tomorrow, but I will likely not be able to get there until Friday. So I should be electric motoring by this weekend. Now the anticipation is fevorish.

no Bluetooth

Well I guess my bigger complaint is still no car. Though Mags at Morristown Mini has been great keeping me up to date with info. Apparently there was a truck Monday and they were hoping for another 8 last night. Fingers crossed

But as a daily commuter car, no bluetooth is going to be sad. Something I've grown used to in my environmental balancer to the MINI-E (our Audi Q7).

Any recommendations for a good bluetooth adapter alternative? I'm sceptical of most... But will certainly need to be on the phone driving in. I know that isn't a good thing to write.

Monday, June 8, 2009

NYC MINI-E parking

So when I was at the Meet the MINI-E event in NYC a few weeks ago, I met someone (not smart nough to have taken his info) who mentioned that the city was installing chargers in a few garages because of the cars that they are getting. I will be using my MINI-E to commute everyday from NJ to NYC. I expect to really learn the potential of the regenerative braking system in stop-go traffic in and out of woark each day. But I owuld still love to know where the friendly charging garages are located. If anyone has any hints on how I might be able to find out moreon this, please let me know. I do not expect that they will apepar on the MINI-E charge sharing site.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The MINI-E's are coming to NJ

Just got the call from Morristown MINI that a few other people have mentioned. The first 2 trucks are en route and should be ready for delivery by mid-week hopefully. Very exciting news. I have a VIN number so it now feels much more real. Now a call to the insurance company is next to remind them of that "experimental, liability-only, one-off" quote that they gave me in January so they can likely start over with underwritting to give me a real price.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Unfortunately nothing to report

After getting my charger unit instaled exactly a week ago, I was kind of hoping to hear something about some next steps. I even politely pinged my Mini dealer rep to let her know that this step had been completed. I haven't heard about any East Coast MINI-E deliveries, so I don tthink I am missing out. But after a week it would have been good to hear something.

It has been great seeing all the new blog's popping up. If you are a metro NY / NJ derive (any really), I would be glad to link your blog to mine as well. I have enjoyed reasing the experiences of the few people who have them already. Making me more jumpy all the time. On one blog I read something about trucks arriving on the east coast the 2nd week in June. Well that is in 3 days, so more fingers crossed.

While I am sure it will be common for the "pioneers" to keep an active communication channel, I think it would be great to see some blogs from some of the key MINI-E engineering folks as well as the BMW Project i folks to see how they are percieving our experiences. A little quid-pro-quo...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Background info

I guess I left out a few things from that very long first post. Namely anything about me and what the program is all about.

First things first: About me

I live in South Orange, NJ and am married with 2 daughters. I work in Manhattan in IT for a financial services company (non-US).

I got notified about this program some time late last year on an RSS feed from somewhere. I followed the link and proceeded to complete one of the most entertaining application forms I have ever seen. More about that some other time I guess. I will say that it took me about 5 tries and well over 2 hours to actually fill out the application. Which all I can deduce was by design.

I was interested in the program because it was new, and because I think the idea is a great one. There is no real option on the market right now for a commuter car (I do not consider the Tesla a commuter car). So this program filled a few of my goals.

1. get a car to drive into the city for work (did I mention I am not a fan of the train)
2. try out the whole electric car thing, see if it turns out to be feasible.
3. It was closed ended as the cars must be returned in 1 year.
4. I figure by this time next year hopefully there will be some option on the market if I decide that I like 1&2 after all, or go back to taking the train.

OK, what is this Mini-e

If you have not google'd it by now let me save you the trouble. This is an experimental program that is based in California, NY and metro NJ. It is a one year lease of a Mini-s (I think) with the back seat taken out and about 700lbs of batteries installed instead. All sounded great to me. You can go to the official site for the gory details.

My New Mini-e blog

So as a part of being in the Mini-e program we said that we would keep a blog about our experiences. So here it is. I will be adding things as there is information to report. So far it is very early days. Though it has seemed that way for a while.

The good news is that I have had my charger unit installed this past Friday. I took the day off of work to be here while it was being installed (and to watch the girls as our nanny is on her honeymoon). According to John from O'Sullivan Electric, who performed the install, I was the first wall unit installed in New Jersey. Or at least the first one installed by them. I am not sure if there are other companies doing the installation.

I will include a link to the photo of the installation. One interesting thing is that PSE&G had them install a port for an additional meter. This will allow PSE&G to monitor the draw of the car on the grid. I am hoping that it will allow me to do the same. If so I will try to estimate the charges I am incurring for power. I guess I will not be able to do that from the beginning as we have been told that while there are at least 400 cars in the pilot program for "pioneers", there are only 150 high voltage charging cords to go along. As we have also been informed there are monetary benefits to getting the cars delivered in most states if they can get that done in June. While that means nothing for us pioneers, I imagine it is beneficial to Mini. So we will be getting our cars with 110v charging cords (est 20+ hrs to fuly charge). There is no outlet on the other side of the new meter, so I guess we will start measuring actual draw after the cords are delivered and installed. Good news for us though is that it means we will like finally see our cars in January and the good folks at Mini realized that this is not a really feasable solution for daily use so we will not be required to pay the monthly charge until we get the garage charges functional. I was pretty impressed to see that in the email.

So more to come after I hear something more. I have pinged the folks at PSE&G and been told that they are going to tr to get a meter install scheduled (no mention of when), but since it will not be in use soon, I guess that is not a showstopper for anything.