I visited Mini’s Oxford plant this morning to witness the majority of the 40 battery-powered Mini Es being handed back by the ‘pioneers’ who had been running them since June last year.
In the UK test, the 40 cars travelled a total of 128,000 miles, with 7000 miles being the biggest mileage accrued by a single Mini E driver.
The project was effectively a live experiment, using on-board data loggers, to find out the true nature of typical journeys. It’s a project being repeated across the globe, using 612 Mini E models.
Dr Julian Weber, from BMW’s Project i division, told me that the company had learnt that the range of the Mini E was enough for 95 percent of journeys. ‘Single trips averaged about 20 miles and people quickly learnt when they really needed to recharge the car. Typically a Mini E would be recharged every three days and most of the drivers preferred to recharge at home. Two thirds of the drivers never used a public charging point’ said Weber.
‘What we learnt from the Mini E journey data confirmed our engineering assumptions about range and customer behaviour for the Mega City project. However, we also discovered that drivers became fans of Electric Vehicles for their inherent driving abilities. The first reactions were that EVs are also smooth, quiet, powerful and dynamic.'
Weber admitted that the Mini E project was about driver behaviour, rather than engineering. The Mini E was basically a simple EV conversion using 5000 laptop batteries, as well being a left hand drive and a strict two-seater.
This year’s 1-series-based ActiveE will use the same battery packs and electric motor technology as BMW’s upcoming i3 ‘Mega City Vehicle’, the test fleet acting as a serious technical test bed.
I also spoke at length to Jackie Paulson who ran up the biggest Mini E mileage. A mother from Brockenhurst, who worked in Hampshire, she racked up a 70 mile round-trip commute and typical daily average of 95 miles.
Using the 32w and Economy 7 charging system installed by Southern Electricity, Paulson reckoned she could get 100 miles out of the Mini E for just £1’s worth of overnight Economy 7 electricity. A confirmed fan of the Mini E (especially for the interior refinement, smoothness and gearless progress) she admitted that she had to make numerous concessions.
Through the recent severe winter she, like the other Mini E drivers, would always wear a coat and gloves in the car because the heating system drained the battery. Journeys would have to be planned more carefully and she found a real problem with the fact that pedestrians couldn’t hear the Mini approaching, which was particularly tricky in supermarket car parks. Frequent near misses with birds (which also seem to rely on noise to detect vehicles) was also a present danger, she told me, something the other drivers had also mentioned.
I challenged Dr Weber with the unarguable fact that EVs will always be more expensive than a conventional car and, therefore, always a niche vehicle. His argument was that the BMW offering - the i3 - would break new ground in interior packaging and the sense of interior space, as well as being made of carbonfibre. These attributes, he claimed, would help justify the extra cost of this battery-powered vehicle.
For the city-bound and affluent, EVs are an attractive proposition. And BMW may be right that range anxiety is misplaced. But the cost of batteries will have to fall dramatically before EVs have a chance of becoming relatively mainstream.