User Results from First Phase of the MINI E Field Trial in the UK

Minietrans
The MINI E. Click to enlarge.

As the second half of the twelve-month MINI E field trial begins in the UK this week, BMW has released an overview of the outcome of interviews and objective data collected from the first three months of the December to June 2010 phase of the trial. (Earlier post.)

In summary, users liked MINI E’s lack of noise, the convenience of home charging, low off peak power charges, not having to go to a gasoline station and queue, driving a zero emissions vehicle, MINI E’s acceleration characteristics and regenerative braking. Drawbacks include current mileage range for certain journeys, limited carrying capacity and sub-optimal car performance during the extremely cold weather conditions in December 2009 and January 2010.

The MINI E is a two-seat development of the MINI Hatch. It is powered by a 204 hp (152 kW) electric motor that also generates 220 N&iddot;m (162 lb-ft) of torque. It is powered by a 35 kWh Lithium-Ion battery pack containing 5,088 cells. The battery can be charged by a special home charger supplied by consortium partner Scottish and Southern Energy. This enables a charge time of 2.4 hours at 50 amps. The MINI E has a top speed of 95 mph (153 km/h) and an official range of 149 miles (240 km) according to FTP72 standards, although a realistic range is 112 miles (180 km), according to BMW.

The UK field trials mirror those taking place concurrently on the East and West coasts of the USA and in both Munich and Berlin. In the UK 40 examples of the MINI E have been operating for six months from late December 2009 until June 2010, 20 being private individuals and the balance with corporate customers. The 40 MINI E Pioneers were selected from applicants in the South East of England.

They are predominantly highly-educated males aged 35 and over, earning above average income and with a high level of interest in ecological issues. A second group of 40 take the MINI Es over in September 2010 and will run the cars in normal road conditions until March 2011.

The key findings from the first six months of the UK field trial are as follows:

  • MINI E usage differs only marginally from a control group of MINI Cooper and BMW 116i drivers in terms of average journey distance, daily mileage and frequency of use.

  • Before the trials began, users expected limitations in terms of range and charging times. In practice these have only proved to be barriers in a very few specific cases.

  • Users felt reassured that both the MINI E itself and the charging process are completely safe.

  • There was a very strong feeling from both private and fleet users that renewable energy should play an important role in future electricity generation. There was also a strong feeling that the battery of an electric vehicle (EV) should be charged using renewables to optimize the ecological advantages of an EV.

  • The BMW Group is trusted to provide a technically mature solution to the challenges presented by EVs.

  • Users reported a need for more interior space for journeys requiring more passengers and more storage capacity.

  • Users felt strongly that public charging facilities for EVs were desirable and even essential. However, at the same time, the majority claimed that they coped without public charging facilities.

MINI E average trip distance mirrors that of cars in the same segment. The National Travel Survey reveals that the average single trip length for car users in the UK is 8.6 miles (13.8 km), a distance almost exactly matched by MINI E drivers at 8.5 miles (13.7 km). Using the same survey data, 90% of all trips are 15 miles (24 km) or under, while another 8% are between 20 and 35 miles (32 and 56 km). Only two percent are above 35 miles.

Using a control group of MINI Cooper and BMW 116i customers these statistics are reinforced, MINI Cooper drivers averaging 7.3 miles (11.8 km) and 116i drivers only 6.8 miles (10.9 km). The conclusion to be drawn from this is that there are no objective limitations on average daily use for MINI E drivers.

The same conclusions can be drawn by analysing average daily distance driven. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirms that 22.8 miles (36.7 km) is the average private daily mileage across the UK. For MINI Cooper and 116i it is 27.0 and 26.1 miles (43.5 and 42 km) respectively while, again, MINI E experience slots right in the middle at 26.7 miles (43 km). The conclusion is that MINI E daily driving use matches cars in a similar segment almost exactly.

Reasons for non-use. Reasons quoted by users for not using their MINI E were for longer journeys (89% said this had occurred for them) and limited space, either for carrying shopping or because they needed more than two seats. Lack of space was quoted by 67% of users for not using MINI E on odd occasions. These are characteristics that the future Megacity vehicle will address, BMW said.

Charged experiences. The process of charging MINI E from the charging box supplied and fitted at users’ homes was convenient and appreciated by the MINI E pioneers. On average the cars were charged every two to three days. Two-thirds of users charged their car three times a week or less while only six percent charged daily. Users quickly adapted to charging overnight when electricity costs are cheaper and it also suited the daily routine of the drivers.

When asked whether users saw a need for a public charging infrastructure 87.5% agreed that it is necessary, with only 12.5% seeing no need. However 75% of all users also said they could use their MINI E without a comprehensive charging infrastructure.

In summary, the home charging was seen as safe and easy to operate, users easily adapted to a charging routine and most charged their MINI E overnight. Actual charging times were seen as efficient with some users finding it more convenient than having to queue up at a gasoline station. Participants would like a public charging system but did not need to rely on one.

Renewable energy. All users, both fleet and private, feel that renewable energy generation should play an important role in future electricity generation. There is a similar agreement from users that it is important to charge the MINI E batteries with renewable energy with 100% of fleet users and 89% of private drivers holding this opinion. However, only 22% of private, and 72% of fleet, drivers thought that EVs should be exclusively powered by renewable energy.

Would they buy one? Would this early experience of MINI E encourage the pioneers to buy an electric vehicle? The initial conclusion from the first phase of the trial is a qualified ‘yes’. The MINI E drivers all appreciated the use of a zero-emissions car that removed emissions from their immediate environment, the reduced reliance on fossil fuels and the lower noise pollution inherent with an EV. They also appreciated the dynamic acceleration characteristics of MINI E and its regenerative braking performance.

However, both the current driving range and the carrying capacity for passengers and cargo are viewed as limiting factors. Also, the sub-optimal performance of the car in very cold weather needs improvement.

On balance, though, all were convinced about the viability of electric vehicles in an everyday UK road environment and all claimed that taking part in this study had increased their enthusiasm to buy an EV as well as reducing the time frame in which they plan to do so, according to BMW.

Like all drivers their purchase intentions are price-sensitive. However, almost half of the users stated that they would pay one third more than a conventional MINI in order to benefit from the advantages of a more sustainable form of personal mobility. This implies a UK acceptable price of around £16,000 (US$24,700). The strength of purchase intention would be increased with improvements to luggage and passenger space.

The early learning from this first stage of the MINI E trials has given us very positive feedback and pointers as to where we will need to improve. One has to remember that MINI E, despite being very thoroughly engineered for its task, is in the end a modified existing production MINI Hatch. An EV designed from the ground up will be able to address some of the criticism on packaging and driving range. That is precisely the reason we are holding these trials.

—Jochen Goller, Director of MINI UK

The MINI E field trial is informing the design and development process for the upcoming Megacity EV, due to be launched in 2013. (Earlier post.)


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