A year ago today my wife Meredith and I were guests of BMW at the North American headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. After a nice lunch with the BMW i program managers I found myself standing with BMW NA President Ludwig Willisch as he and I made brief speeches about the launch of the BMW ActiveE program. I was then handed the keys to my ActiveE, becoming the first customer in BMW history to buy or lease a 100% electric BMW. A couple days ago I watched the odometer roll past 35,000 miles, which is more than double the amount of miles the average American drives per year*.
Driving a lot of miles isn’t an accomplishment; in fact I wish I drove less. The point I like to make is that a plug in electric car can fit into the life of even high mileage drivers; something many people don’t believe is possible. I have 240V charging stations where I work, so once I arrive and plug in, a couple hours later the car is back to 100%, allowing me to pretty much drive all I want without having to worry about running low on charge. Next to home charging, workplace charging is definitely the most important place to have a charge point. As electric vehicle proliferation continues, more and more employers will offer charging for their employees, which will in turn continue to encourage mass adoption.
The ActiveE has been a pleasure to drive. Even though it wasn’t designed from scratch as an electric vehicle, BMW did a great job with the conversion. With the exception of the quiet electric powertrain and strong regenerative brakes the car is BMW through and through. Even with a 992lb battery system, BMW engineers were able to get a perfect 50/50 weight distribution and you can tell the car is well balanced going through turns. Not until you really push it to the limit can you feel the extra weight the car is carrying which is nearly 800lbs more than a 135i.
It’s at that point you realize why BMW is going to purpose build all their electric cars they sell, and not convert a gas car as they did for the ActiveE lease program. By purpose building the i brand cars and using aluminum drive platforms with CFRP passenger modules BMW will cut the weight of a comparable sized car by 1/3 even with the extra weight of the heavy battery system. This will allow BMW to use a smaller battery on the i3 and deliver the same range as the ActiveE, which will help to keep the cost down since the batteries are the most expensive component of an electric vehicle.
If I had been driving a 128i this year instead of the ActiveE, I would have had to buy about 1,600 gallons of gas to drive 35,000 miles. That would have set me back about $6,000. I have a solar array on my roof that produces the electric for my home and car needs, so I don’t have an actual figure of what I spent on electric, but if I did pay for every kWh that the car used it would have cost me about $2,000 based on the current electric rates where I live.
Then figure I would have had to get about 6 or 7 oil changes and it’s easy to see the low cost to fuel maintain the ActiveE probably saved me about two-thirds of the monthly lease rate of $499.00. That’s one aspect of EV’s many people overlook, the fact that they cost much less than gas cars to fuel and maintain. Over the lifetime of the car, the total cost of ownership of an EV will probably cost you less than a comparably gas car, even though the initial cost is higher.
So after a year in the ActiveE I am as convinced as ever that I’ll be driving electric from now on. I can’t wait to get behind the wheel of an i3 and hopefully I’ll have the privilege of being one of the first people outside of BMW to do so. The instant torque feeling of an EV can’t be matched by all but the most powerful gas cars. The silky-smooth acceleration and quiet cabin offers a peaceful driving experience when you want it, but stomp on the accelerator and you instantly whisk off as if being pulled by a rope. Will electric cars become widely accepted? I believe they will.
Not because governments offer incentives, not because they are going to “save the planet”, and not because you have to buy one. I believe once people have the opportunity to drive a properly engineered modern electric car they will want to buy one for the simple fact that it offers a better driving experience. The biggest challenge in my opinion is simply getting people to give them a try. One they do, I think many people will be surprised how much they like it.
I maintain a blog about my experiences living with an electric BMW and it can be found at: http://activeemobility.blogspot.com/ *Average miles driven taken from US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration website.