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BMW Mini E electric car at press briefing in Beverly Hills.
BMW Mini E 001 has the wraps pulled off of it during the November 18, 2008 press reveal on the terrace of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Photo credit: EV World.

BMW's 'Bad Compromise'

EV World takes BMW's Mini E electric car for test spin around Beverly Hills.

By Bill Moore

The Hemi 5.7 L-powered Jeep Commander seemed to be spoiling for a fight.

BMW had just entrusted to my care one of the ten Mini E electric cars they had brought to California just before the Los Angeles Auto Show. Unlike the gas-guzzling SUV stopped next to me at the stop light on Avenue of the Stars, this little two-seater was powered by a 200+ hp AC Propulsion electric drive. He was spewing carbon, I was buzzing on electrons.

He glanced over to check out the gray and yellow Mini, probably unaware of its hidden potential. When the light changed, he raced off down the hill to the stop light at Santa Monica Blvd. I dropped into the inside lane next to him, relishing the car's regenerative braking. You don't have to use the brakes on this car. Let off the accelerator and the car immediately starts to slow. It's an AC Propulsion trademark and one of my favorite features.

As we both turned left, I slipped behind the Hemi, got into the outside lane and forgot about him, enjoying the car's taught, tight suspension and crisp handling. Despite the growing stream of early afternoon rush hour traffic on Santa Monica, every chance I got, gave it the spur and raced off ahead of the two exact twins trailing behind me.

It was further down Santa Monica, when I tried to change lanes to get around a slower moving vehicle, that I caught glimpse of the Hemi racing up from behind, clearly intent on cutting me off. I had plainly signaled my intention and checked before changing lanes, but he wasn't having it. He was bound and determined to stop me from getting in front of him.

What he didn't count on is the Mini E's nimbleness and acceleration. I was in the new lane in a flash as he angrily laid on his horn for what seemed at least half a mile. Even when he finally got around me as I moved back into the outside lane for my approaching right turn on Westwood Blvd, he continued to express his hostility, blowing the horn and deliberating cutting in front of me.... only to find himself now trapped behind a slow-moving transit bus.

So this is what California road rage is.

Gratefully, we parted company at Westwood Blvd, when I turned right and headed north for Sunset Blvd. The rest of the 9 mile drive through posh Beverly Hills and back to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel was fun and largely uneventful.

Work on the electric version of the Mini Cooper began in September, 2007 when BMW formed Project "i", a sort of 30 person skunk works to investigate "Innovative" "Ideas", either of which could be the "i" in "i". The company isn't particularly choosy which.

Due to packaging considerations, they picked the Mini, which is built at their plant in Oxford, England.

For their electric drive system, rather than engineer their own -- a process that could takes month, if not years, they turned to San Dimas, California-based AC Propulsion. While the source of the battery pack remains somewhat of a mystery -- we were world told three different stories: it's Chinese, it's Koreans, its Canadian (Mollicell) -- its specs aren't. It consists of 5,088 16850 lithium ion cylindrical cells arranged in 48 modules. It has a capacity of 35kWh at 380 volts. It can be recharged in as little as 2 hours at 240 volts and 50 amps maximum. BMW is using the same plug as found on the Tesla. The pack is air cooled and fills up most of space where the rear seats are in the conventional model. The entire electric drive system, including the battery pack adds a bit over 300kg (661 lbs.) to the weight of the car, which comes in at 1465kg (3229 lbs.)

The engine-less Mini is shipped to Munich for mating with the electric drive, which has been shipped from California. As configured, the car will have an estimated range of between 200-250 km (124-156 mi.)., though the way I was driving, I estimated I'd do good to maybe get 70 miles based on the percent of energy I drew down from the battery by the time I got to North Rodeo Drive.

During an earlier press briefing held on the outside terrace of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel at the intersection of Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Blvd (one of the most upscale intersections on the planet), we learned that BMW will have built by the end of the year 500 of the Mini Es, most of which they plan to lease in Southern California and in the greater New York City area for a whopping $850 a month for just 12 months, at which time the company is likely to recall all the cars for evaluation. Part of the lease includes installation of the necessary adapter box and wiring to allow faster charging where feasible. Insurance is also included, but they aren't certain yet about taxes and license fees.

The company is limiting deployment to just these two regions so they can have trained service people available to work on the cars if needed. Owners will be required to initially bring in their cars at their first 3,000 miles for a data dump and any possible service issues. Company representatives indicated that should things go well during the first 12 months, it may elect to extend the lease period longer, but no decision has yet been made. The fate of the cars after that is uncertain.

Executives also let it be known that while the Mini E remains for now largely a technology demonstration and evaluation effort, it is paving the way to other possible electric car programs.

In the words of one BMW executive, "a conversion is always a bad compromise." Any future BMW electric car could be expected to be designed from the ground up.

Meanwhile, somewhere in LA tonight there is a very competitive Hemi driver who probably will not take kindly to the notion that he'd been beaten by a "bad compromise."

Times Article Viewed: 7252
Published: 19-Nov-2008

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