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All-Electric Car

Field testing the first MINI-E all-electric vehicle

I picked up my new car on Tuesday, June 23, 2009: an all electric MINI. It is serial number 300, of the total 450 that were built (actually, they call is the "side scuttle number" rather than serial number). I paid to test drive it for 12 months as part of the "field trial," after which the cars must all be returned to BMW/Mini (and probably destroyed).

The high-voltage control box for the MINI E's electric motor (front) is encased in a protective housing unit and uses a forced-air cooling system to maintain level temperatures. The actual motor sits below the casing unit.

The MINI E is powered by a 150 kW (204 hp) electric motor fed by a high-performance rechargeable lithium-ion battery, transferring its power to the front wheels via a single-stage helical gearbox. Specially engineered for automobile use, the battery will have a range of more than 240 kilometers, or 150 miles.
The MINI E’s electric drive train produces a peak torque of 220 Newton meters, delivering seamless acceleration to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 8.5 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 152 km/h (95 mph). Featuring a suspension system tuned to match its weight distribution, the MINI E sports the brand’s hallmark agility and outstanding handling.

The lithium-ion storage unit will have a maximum capacity of 35 kilowatt hours (kWh) and transmit energy to the electric motor as direct current at a nominal 380 volts. The rechargeable battery is made up of 5,088 cells grouped into 48 modules. These modules are packaged into three battery elements that are compactly arranged inside the MINI E.

A full recharge draws a maximum of 28 kilowatt hours of electricity from the grid.

The heavy-duty battery delivers its power to an electric motor, which transforms it into thrilling agility. Mounted transversely, the drive train unleashes its full thrust from a dead standstill. This provides for the car’s fascinating launch capability.
The MINI E’s intense driving experience is augmented by its dynamic deceleration potential, which is also directly coupled to the accelerator pedal. As soon as the driver releases the "gas pedal," the electric motor acts as a generator. This results in braking force, and the power recovered from the kinetic energy is fed back to the battery. This interaction ensures extremely comfortable drives. In city traffic, some 75 percent of all deceleration can be done without the brakes. Making substantial use of this energy recuperation feature extends the car’s range by up to 20 percent. 
There is little storage space in the back, because the batteries take up the space where the rear seats usually are found.

The cable seen here is the backup charging cable in case needed to plug into a conventional 120v outlet.

Charging connection is made where the "gas tank" usually is!
This is the wall box charging station installed in my garage. I simply plug in every night.

One friend asked:

What did it cost to have the additional electric service installed?
It was paid for by BMW/Mini Cooper. So it cost me nothing explicitly, although I had to pay to be a test driver for one year.


Here's what BMW's promo literature says about this field test:

"Putting 500 cars on the road under real daily traffic conditions will make it possible to gain widely applicable hands-on experience. Evaluating these findings will generate valuable know-how, which will be factored into the engineering of mass-produced vehicles." (In the end, BMW put 450 on the road.)



These are actual questions friends have emailed me...
0 to 62 mph in 8.5 seconds is quite respectable. Top speed of 95 mph is adequate. Please tell me that you’ve confirmed that.
Not yet. However, I did find myself cruising along with traffic on I-287 the other day at 80mph. It felt no different from any other car. The biggest noticeable difference is the torque (at any speed) when you "floor it."
Can you plug it in anywhere? How long does it take to recharge?
There is a "40-amp" wall box in my garage that charges it relatively quickly (see photo above). I carry an emergency cable for 120v plug-in, but that draws 12 amps and charges slowly, estimated 24 hrs for a full recharge.
I assume that the 150 mile range was measured at a constant rate of speed, with no stops, and all accessories off. How quickly does the rate of power consumption change when all the accessories are on (A/C, lights, CD, radar detector, microwave, etc.) and the car is driven like I would?
Correct. The actual, practical range is about half that, so it is just an around-town car. I figure 75+ miles on a charge.
How did you get to be part of the test group?
I applied in 2008, answering many questions (essay questions, like a college admission application). Then they screened me early in 2009 and did a background and credit check (because I need to pay to be part of this elite group – Ha! Isn't that a sweet irony?)
How long does it take to recharge?
Recharge time on the 40-amp wall box is reportedly 5 hours for a full charge. I plug it in every night, however, with only a partial charge needed, so I'm not sure.

3 people asked questions about cost:
(a) Amazing. If my calculation is correct, a full charge costs 35 kwh x $0.12/kwh = $4.20. This comes to $4.20/150 miles = $.028/mile. If this is correct, watch out EXXON and the mullahs.
(b) If my calculations are correct, at 0.06$/kwh (our rate in Maine), this car only costs a little over a penny/mile to drive. Amazing!
(c) Based on the info, the MINI gets 5 miles per kwh. If electricity costs 20 cents per kwh, your fuel cost is 4 cents per mile. A gas-powered car might get 30 mpg on $3.00/gallon gas, for a fuel cost of 10 cents per mile. So you're saving 60% on fuel costs. The bad news is that you would have to drive 16,667 miles a month to recoup the $12,000 paid to be a test driver for one year.
Unfortunately I don't think it will be that good.
I think I'll get about 100 miles per complete charge and the electricity cost here in Westchester (full cost) is > $.20 per kwh. . .
So the MINI-E may be slightly cheaper than gasoline.

In one place, the MINI-E reference material says that a full charge is 28 kW-h; in another place they say 35kW-h; on the window sticker it says something else. Therefore, at $.20/kW-h for 35 kW-h charging, the cost would be $7.00 for a full range of about 100 miles, so the cheapest I predict would be about 7 cents/mile (which is probably about the same as a Prius hybrid).
At 204 hp, that’s more hp than my track car (190 hp). What’s the foot-pound equivalent of 220 Newton meters?
So, how many miles to the gallon is the Mini Cooper getting?
Well, one way to look at it is simple -- it's electric, so there is no "miles per gallon" calculation possible.
However, the window sticker shows the following numbers for "EPA Energy Estimated Consumption Information":
   33 kW-h/100 miles CITY
   36 kW-h/100 miles HIGHWAY
You can do the math and compare the cost to a gas-powered car.
What's the driving experience like?
At one level, it is not luxurious. After all, the MINI isn't a luxury car: no power seats, no steering wheel heater, no heated/cooled seats, no GPS, no built-in garage door openers, etc.

On another level, it is sporty to drive, with a very tight suspension and lots of torque. Finally, in terms of utility, it's not too useful because there is no back seat and no trunk and therefore virtually no storage space. There's room for my briefcase, and that's literally all. (see photo above)

Once you adjust to the driving style necessitated by the regenerative braking, it's actually pretty fun. Simply let your foot off the accelerator completely and the car switches into recharging the battery. It feels like you are braking hard, similar to a manual transmission downshift to a much lower gear, and the car literally comes to a stop without touching the brakes! (The brake lights come on, however, to warn motorists behind you while you are decelerating in this mode.)
What is the primary material used to construct the Mini? Carbon fiber?
This is a regular 2008 Mini Cooper that has been modified.
Does that have heat for winter and A/C for summer?
Yes, it has all the regular car capabilities because it is essentially a 2008 model year MINI.
How much range extension would you get with a half hour charge on your 40 amp circuit?
I'm guessing that a 30-minute charge would be about 10% of a full charge, or about 10 miles more range.
How does driving at night effect the overall mileage (using headlights, etc...)
It definitely reduces the range, but I don't know yet how much. Everything that uses electricity will draw down the battery, even the turn signals. I presume the draw for most appliances is minimal, however, compared to the 204 hp motor.
How much did you electric bill at home go up this month?
I'll watch this over the course of the 12-month test. So far I haven't noticed it because it's summer and we haven't needed A/C this year so generally I've been using less electricity than prior years in the summer.

From the website
June 30, 2009

(L-R) Dr. Joseph Hankin, President, Westchester Community College; Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano; Dr. Zimpher; Ted Nygreen, Associate Dean of Mathematics, Computer, Engineering & Physical Sciences and Technologies standing in front of Nygreen’s “Green” Mini E Cooper – powered by a 150 kW (204 hp) electric motor fed by a high-performance rechargeable lithium-ion battery, transferring its power to the front wheels via a single-stage helical gearbox nearly without a sound and entirely free of emissions.

From the Journal News
Read the entire article in this Gannett newspaper
July 26, 2009, 2009

Coverage from MIT:

Are Electric Cars the Answer to Energy Woes? Here’s the Lowdown
by AMY MARCOTT on JULY 21, 2009

Ted Nygreen ’67 is one of 500 field testers of the first all-electric Mini Cooper (MINI E). Last month, he began a yearlong trial to provide insight to BMW for when it mass-produces the vehicles. And he created a Web site to quench curiosity seekers’ thirst for empirical data.

So does the car live up to the hype touted by auto maker, which claims the lithium-ion battery has a range of more than 150 miles? Maybe, Nygreen says, if you measure at a constant rate of speed with no stops and no accessories in use. Turn on the air conditioning or lights or radio and that number drops by about half in Nygreen’s opinion, to about 75-100 miles on a charge. Just an around-town vehicle.

One of the car’s most interesting features, and one Nygreen had to get used to, is the regenerative braking system. Remove your foot from the accelerator and the car begins recharging the battery as it slows down (which feels like downshifting a manual transmission into a much lower gear). The car actually comes to a complete stop without touching the brakes. In city traffic, BMW says, some 75 percent of all deceleration can be done without the brakes, which recoups energy and can extend the car’s range.

Certainly the MINI E’s zero emissions beat gas-powered vehicles in a which-is-better-for-the-environment contest. But will it save money too? BMW estimates that it’s about 40 percent cheaper to drive its electric car than one that gets, say, 28 mpg. But after crunching the numbers and per mile cost himself, Nygreen estimates the MINI E will cost about the same as a hybrid.

Read more about Nygreen’s experiences with the car, including how long it takes to “fuel” up, how much torque it gets, whether it’s comfortable, and exactly how it all works.