BMW of North America and the University of California at Davis (UC Davis) are partnering on a year-long field study to determine the viability of electric vehicles. MINI E customers, based primarily in Los Angeles with a few in the New York City-area, will participate in the study.
Marking the first comprehensive study of its kind since the mid-1990s, the UC Davis-led research will focus on user interactions with the MINI E, and is expected to yield insights into real-life usage and perceptions about electric vehicles. The study will gather in-depth information from 50 voluntary participants, a subset of the 450 MINI E customers in the US, through online travel diaries, written questionnaires and a series of interviews conducted throughout the one-year study.
The UC Davis Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) Research Center, administered by the Institute of Transportation Studies and funded by a three-year, $3-million grant from the California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) Program, will conduct the research. UC Davis’ findings will be made public and will influence understanding of the future role of electric vehicles for many stakeholders, including electric utilities, governments and automakers.
This is an exciting opportunity to talk with users about their daily experience of the cars, about their driving habits and impressions of the electric vehicles. We are pleased as a public university to be partnering with BMW to find solutions to our urgent public problems of transportation energy supply and environmental impacts.—Dr. Tom Turrentine, director of UC Davis’ PHEV Research Center
A global research methodology, developed jointly by UC Davis and Germany’s Technische Universität Chemnitz (TU Chemnitz), will form the basis for the study and will ensure consistency across the US and European markets, where similar MINI E studies are planned for Berlin, Munich, and London.
With the US field trials of the MINI Es already underway for two months, BMW is already gathering data from the 450 drivers of MINI E electric-powered vehicles.
These vehicles are now in daily use in metropolitan New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles, where they are being driven by private customers, municipalities, universities, public utilities, non-profit and commercial organizations.
The feedback and data provided by these early users is valuable because it comes from real-world, everyday use and not some laboratory experiment. Whether it’s coming from the UC Davis research, consumer blog sites or from direct feedback to our company, this trial is giving us an important insight into the practicalities of using an electric powered vehicle in this country.—Jim McDowell, Vice President, MINI USA
Residential charging stations have been installed in the garages of MINI E drivers. There are two high voltage charging systems—the 220 volt 32 amp system allows a full charge in three to five hours, while a 48 amp system allows a full charge in two to three hours. Every MINI E comes with a 110 volt cable that allows MINI E drivers to also charge the car at locations away from home charging points.
The 100-mile range on a single charge that is being reported in the trials is an accurate reflection of the typical range of the MINI E on a full charge driven in the variable conditions of the real world. (One contributor to a dedicated MINI E Facebook group has reported that he has achieved 141.2 miles on a single charge.) The driving range of an electric vehicle depends on the driving style and environmental conditions, much more so than a conventional vehicle and is an important real-world consideration for future attention and product development.
In preparation for the field trials, the BMW Group was involved in discussions with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help determine an official range for the MINI E and obtain EPA certification as well as the appropriate Electric Vehicle Energy Consumption labels. The company also worked closely with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to obtain Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) certification.
This experiment has presented several challenges, according to BMW. As part of the installation process for MINI E residential charging systems, the project was complicated by the flexibility needed to meet a range of local community code compliance issues. There were some initial delays in supplying the 220 volt cables for the fast-charging wall boxes and in obtaining Underwriters Laboratory (UL) approval for the charging boxes from local building inspectors in some cities.