Hi, my name is Scott Lawson and I was Born Electric on August 11, 2014.
I confess: I am not a ‘car guy’. For me, cars are dirty explosion factories full of toxic liquids and endless grime. Oil changes, frequent fill ups, dusty air filters, and a noisy engine seemed to be an unnecessary evil. If I was to get an EV, I wanted it to be 100% electric, no engine, no gas, no oil, no going back! At times, I have even thought that if I lived in the city I would outsource my transportation to taxis, buses, and trains. But living in the so-called mega-city of SoCal (from San Diego to Santa Barbara) with inadequate public transportation options, a car is required. And since I am confessing, I should say I love traveling fast and zipping around in a driver’s car. Over the years BMWs have fit my needs well but were still powered by gas. I considered the LEAF for a fleeting moment and the Tesla Model S seemed like a car for executives or super models! And costs twice as much as any car I have ever owned.
BMW decided several years ago to create the BMW “i” sub brand and delve into creating a new kind of transport which they call ‘sustainable mobility’. More than just making an electric car, BMW is looking to change how personal transportation is defined. When the i3 hit the market I was excited to learn more; and the more I learned, the more I felt one with the design principles and philosophy. I am a system architect and strive to make technology useful to people and efficient for business. As I discovered more about the BMW i project and their first product, the all electric i3, I appreciated the innovative use of technology both in the machine and for the consumer.
The i3 driving machine’s body is made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) including fibers from the Kenaf plant (Hibiscus cannabinus), a form of hemp, for the interior. The manufacturing of the car is computer-controlled and ultra clean using robots, clean rooms, heat-activated glue welds, an all aluminum body, and powered by wind and hydroelectric power. As I read how BMW designed the car as ‘electric first’, I appreciated the lack of a large front hood, the use of tall skinny tires for less rolling resistance, that the ultra-light CFRP and aluminum construction allowed more efficient range. The opposing doors are possible because of the structural integrity of the material and the short overhangs on the front and rear help parking the car in a busy city. All of this adds us to a futuristic design not only in looks but in function. All of the thought that was put into the sustainability and design impressed me even before the first torque-filled test drive.
As an explorer of new technology I was impressed with the consumer technology built into the car. Integrated sensors and computers help in safety and convenience from the door locks to the theft protection to active cruise control to the integration with internet applications. The maps not only have traffic, but charging stations, mass transit stations and other points of interest. The i3 can listen to you with voice commands and read news and social media updates. The iDrive controller even has one-finger handwriting recognition so you can spell destinations or peoples names. The 20 GB music storage is fast and you can even play video from a directly connected USB drive (while parked, of course!). All of this adds up to the i3 being more than just the ultimate driving machine and turns it into the ultimate transportation machine. I feel it can transport me in time by delivering information to keep me efficiently connected to my social circle and work activities.
This is a new way of thinking. Just as cloud computing and mobile have changed the way we think about file storage, applications, installing software, and upgrades, the i3 alters the way we think about driving. It is something you have to not only experience, but something you have to work with and adapt to. It is a new way of driving. The “one pedal” experience is awkward at first, almost annoying, until you get the feel of it and think about electric propulsion. Driving one pedal is the best way to accelerate and decelerate and you begin to think about gliding to a stop and working with the force of the car. Your right foot is always active but never leaves the main accelerator pedal.
You have to change your thinking about “fuel” and trip planning. You can charge in your garage with a ‘level 2’ 240v charging station. While it relieves you of having to get gas, you do have to remember to plug the car in when you get home. This behavior is becoming familiar as many, if not all, i3 owners will have some form of mobile phone or mobile device that they plug in everyday. When it comes to trip planning, that requires a deeper shift in thinking. With an EV you just cannot ignore this aspect. Most technological shifts require new modes: you have to plan to record your show if you want to watch without commercials, you have to sync your laptop files if you want to work on them while on a flight, you have to schedule a PC virus check at night to avoid malware. Going on a trip up a mountain in the i3, you need to plan to see if there are charging stations, what kind they are (to make sure you are able to charge on them), and to figure the most efficient path there. The i3 itself helps with this by warning you on your state of charge (SOC) and showing you charging locations near you. But with only 25 miles of range to every 1 hour of charge, this is a slow process. More ‘level 3’ charging stations (also called DC Fast Charge) are coming and the i3 can be configured to use them to get charged up in 20-30 minutes. Unfortunately only in some places in the world today have a large enough concentration of DCFC stations to make longer trip travel carefree.
To get the most out of the i3, subtle shifts in thinking make all the difference. To save your potential range you can pre-condition the cabin for comfort while it is plugged in. To save on electricity you can set it to charge when your electricity rate is low. To more easily find your destination you can search online at your desk and send the address to the car via the internet. How you navigate these subtle shifts in thinking is the key to success in the modern EV world.
The i3 has taught me that driving an EV is not just changing how your vehicle is powered. It requires that you accept a new type of mobility and adjust how you approach your car. Many people will say an internet news site is just an electronic newspaper or that Google is just an electronic yellow pages, or that cloud file storage is just a “hard drive in the sky”. All of these ways of thinking miss the point that new paradigms like the i3 are a leap into something new. James May of Top Gear recently wrote this about the i3: “Being a car is just one of its apps”. A famous petrolhead, he sees the paradigm shift, too. You have to challenge yourself and think different. And owning an i3 will help you do just that.
I’d like to thank Scott for sharing his i3 story here. One last thing I’d like to point out is that Scott created a BMW i3 Owners map. You can enter your location and add yourself to the map HERE. I’m going to do a dedicated post on this soon though because it was a great idea and something I think other i3 owners will enjoy.