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UC Davis study highlights results of MINI E field trial in US; MINI E met 90% of daily driving needs

13 June 2011

The University of California, Davis and the BMW Group released the largest publicly available study of electric-car users yet conducted, including more than 120 families who drove the fully electric MINI E automobile more than 1 million miles in California, New York and New Jersey from June 2009 to June 2010. The report shows that the participants found the cars to be fun yet practical, easy to drive and recharge, and many said they would buy an electric car in the next five years, according to UC Davis researchers.

The MINI E is a conversion of the BMW Mini Cooper developed for trials with drivers, and deployed in several test sites world-wide, including Germany, UK and new sites in France, Japan and China. The report from the Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle (PH&EV) Research Center at UC Davis investigates the US pioneers’s experience during the field trial.

Through online and telephone surveys of the participating households, and diaries and in-person interviews with a subset of more than 40 households, the UC Davis MINI E research team examined user behavior, infrastructure use, costs, environmental benefits, and other aspects of electric driving. Among the key findings of the study are the following:

  • 100% of respondents said BEVs are fun to drive and practical for daily use
  • Respondents said the MINI E met 90% of their daily driving needs
  • 71% of respondents drove fewer than 40 miles/day; 95% drove fewer than 80
  • 99% of respondents said home charging was easy to use
  • 71% of respondents said they are now more likely to purchase a BEV than they were a year ago while only 9% said they are less likely
  • 88% of respondents said they are interested in buying a BEV or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle in the next five years

By the end of the lease period, MINI E drivers overwhelmingly thought that the electricity for charging their BEV should come from renewable resources such as solar, wind and hydropower, and were strongly opposed to using coal to generate electricity for their vehicles.

The UC Davis study is part of a whole set of studies being conducted by the BMW Group on electric vehicles, which includes research in China, Germany and the UK.

UC Davis Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center director Tom Turrentine said the study highlights three new and potentially significant ways that drivers value BEVs:

  • The MINI E meets drivers’ desire for a vehicle that is both environmentally friendly and fun to drive. Drivers loved the vehicle’s quick acceleration and quiet operation.

  • Drivers find value in using electricity as a fuel and in mastering their individual energy use through efficient driving behaviors. Additionally, the drivers learned to appreciate the car’s powerful regenerative braking function, which returns energy to the battery and allowed them to drive using a single pedal for acceleration and braking.

  • Drivers like to develop their clean driving territory. “Drivers start talking about the MINI E as a special way to explore their region. They of course can go anywhere in their gas car, but they like to talk about where they can go in their MINI E,” Turrentine says.

While range is often held up as a limitation of BEVs, the MINI E’s range of around 100 miles was acceptable to most drivers most of the time.

By studying the MINI E drivers’ usage patterns and need for range, researchers were able to determine that strategic placement of charging stations could allow drivers to reach most of their desired destinations using a BEV that has a range of 90 to 100 miles. Most charging occurred at home, at night, and 99% of respondents said home charging was easy to use.

The MINI E studies are extremely valuable for us as they show that electric cars are already today offering an attractive mobility solution to a broader spectrum of customers. While reducing the tail pipe emissions to zero, the MINI E provides the fun that users expect when driving our products. The results of the UC Davis study have a direct impact on the development of all BMW Group electric vehicles to come.

BMW Group now is developing the next generation of full electric cars, with the BMW ActiveE test fleet coming into the market in 2011 and the series production BMW i3 following in 2013.

—Ulrich Kranz, head of project i, BMW Group

The all-electric BMW ActiveE will be available in select US markets beginning in late 2011, for a two-year lease at $499/month, with a $2,250 down payment.

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90% of their daily driving needs

But when you are signing that loan for $30,000, you want 100%.

And the Mini-E was a prototype vehicle with LOTS of charging and temperature management problems. Imagine what the test group might say if they were driving Volts or Leafs that were full production vehicles.

There will be resistance at the Active E $500/month lease. It's $150 more than the Volt lease and delivers less proven technology.

All in all a good report for auto execs to peruse when considering their futures.

Once EVs get out there in numbers, we may see stories about how the drivers love the car and how they never want to go back to gasoline and so on. That will have a powerful impact about how people think about EVs going forward.

No prophecy needed to see that; it's the same story as the EV1.

A good 70% of my annual 8-10k mileage is covered by journeys, with a round trip of more than 100 miles, some involving 500 or even 700 miles. Not for me i'm afraid.

So it will be good to see the evolution of drop in syntheic fuels and perhaps even hydrogen if the technology from Cella Energy takes off (see: http://www.cellaenergy.com/ ), which incidentally could be good for fuel cells to get over the range anxiety and charging issue.

I predict it will be different cars, powered in different ways to meet people's different needs and preferences be it EV, ICEs or fuel cells.

Fuel cells are competing with improving batteries, both have their place. Mercedes claims to be able to make a fuel cell that costs no more than a diesel engine in a few years. With their NECAR experience, I do not discount that statement.

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