Rich Steinberg Interview: Electric Bimmer Man
When did you start leasing the Mini E?
The car debuted in November 2008, and we opened up applications - we got about 1800 for 450 slots. We started deliveries in May and June 2009.
What's the term?
It was originally a one-year lease - we called it a short-term field trial - and we just announced that we will offer extensions for an additional year, to bridge people over to the introduction of the BMW ActiveE.
How much are customers paying?
They're paying $850 per month, which includes collision coverage, maintenance costs, and having us install the charging station at their home.
Does the home charging station use a high-voltage connection? Is there also a regular voltage connection for charging elsewhere?
We have three charging choices. We have a 240/60 amp, which allows you to charge in two to three hours; most customers do not have that. Our dealers have that because they have industrial electrical capacity. Most of our customers have a 240/40, which takes three to five hours to go from fully depleted to fully charged. We also provide what we call an occasional-use cable, which can be used in any standard outlet. It takes an awfully long time; if you were fully depleted, it would be more than twenty-four hours.
What kind of range are people seeing?
Most of them are saying between 90 and 100 miles is typical. It really depends on the driving conditions, the weather conditions, et cetera.
How much are lessors spending to recharge these cars?
Kilowatt-hour charges are all over the board depending on where you live. Using 20 cents per kWh - which is on the high side - we have 30 kWh of [usable] battery. So, if you're completely depleted, at 20 cents - that's six dollars to go 100 miles.
The same calculation on a gasoline-powered car - say it averages 25 mpg, 100 miles is four gallons, three bucks a gallon - that's twelve dollars. So it's half - and it could be significantly better than that.
What are people telling you?
The big thing we heard going in was range anxiety. What we've learned is that a 100-mile range is more than sufficient for these particular drivers' needs. They quickly became comfortable driving the Mini E as much as they possibly can. Their limitations are more due to only having two seats [the battery pack takes up the trunk and back-seat space] and lack of luggage capacity than because of range.
How is the program for the 1-series electric, the ActiveE, going to be different?
It's coming in 2011. It will be a similar field trial. We'll have more cars but still fewer than 1000. We'll return to L.A. and New York, but we're also considering expansion to other areas. All this is part of something called Project i. Project i addresses mobility and sustainability for people who live in megacities. The Mini E was the first effort out of that group, and the things we learn about the technology and driver habits are going back to the engineers who are working on this thing called the Megacity Vehicle, which should come out no later than 2015. The ActiveE is sort of the in-between step; it uses the same battery and powertrain that will end up in the Megacity Vehicle.
The Megacity Vehicle won't be a Mini or a BMW?
It's a new sub-brand of the BMW group. It will be a volume, series-production vehicle with nationwide distribution.
We're looking at electric-only as our going-in position but also exploring extended-range electrics - the [Chevrolet] Volt solution - as another way to address consumer desires.
It seems that the city-car philosophy was the earlier notion of what an electric vehicle would be, but the more recent thinking is for electrics to come into the market from the top down, with high performance, and a high price tag, because the technology is very expensive . . .
You're right. But from our perspective, our entry into the electric world is with the megacity solution, at the entry-level area. At the high end, the combination of diesel and hybrid [as seen in BMW's Frankfurt show car] is something we're also looking at.
Mini E Connectivity
1 Power electronics
2 Control module
4 Electric motor
5 Electric vacuum pump
7 High-voltage cable
8 Contractor box
9 Charging plug
10 Service disconnect