Saturday, January 19, 2013

Celebrating one year with the BMW ActiveE

Wow, how quickly a year flies by.  On January 16th, 2012 we picked up the ActiveE and 23,000 miles later, we couldn’t be happier.  I still smile when I catch someone snapping a photo of the car in the rearview mirror.  Although I’m the only driver, my wife and daughter love riding in the Ultimate Electric Driving Machine.  It’s been our only vehicle for 11 of the past 12 months and has met all of our needs.  Let me explain that a bit because some may say that’s not possible.  As folks who’ve read my posts in the past know, we had the MINI E (aka Electric MINI Cooper) for 2 ½ years prior to transitioning to the ActiveE.  It didn’t take long to realize the MINI E could be our one and only vehicle provided it had a back seat, however since it didn’t; we kept our Ford SUV for those times we went places as a family.  Once the ActiveE  arrived, the For Sale sign went up and the Ford was out the door.  There was nothing wrong with the Ford but I realized that driving a 7 passenger vehicle to work and back every day was pretty silly. 

It all started with the MINI E.    

The MINI E got me thinking about driving in a way I’d never thought about before.  I’d always thought that we need a large vehicle, heck we may need to move something, pick up a piece of plywood, transport 7 people, etc.  but in reality, like a lot of folks driving large vehicles, those times are rare.  Granted, there are large families and others who couldn’t live without a larger vehicle and I totally understand that but for us we realized we could approach this differently.  What if we were to drive a smaller electric vehicle and simply rent a larger vehicle for those times we needed more space or traveling out of town.  It not only made financial sense for us, it opened up more garage space and helps from an environmental standpoint as well.  With places like DriveNow and ZipCar some folks take this way of thinking even one step further and choose to rent a vehicle only when they need one and utilize public transportation, bicycles, walking etc. as their main way of travel.  As folks migrate to larger cities and choose to live closer to work, this way of thinking becomes easier and easier.

I love driving and before the MINI E and now the ActiveE, sitting in Southern California traffic slowly drained the love right out of me.  Granted, I still don’t like traffic but I can honestly say that now, every time I get into the ActiveE, the sense of excitement I felt when I drove off the dealer lot is still there.  The driving experience is simplified but now the love has returned.  From the rush of acceleration all the way to the max with no pause for shifting gears, to the single pedal driving provided by strong regenerative braking, the ActiveE has helped me maintain my sanity and love of driving.  It allows for a smooth, quiet and exciting driving experience.   I really didn’t realize how all the jerking around you typically experience in stop and go traffic with a traditional gas powered car wears you down.  I would get home worn out.  Now when I leave work, the driving experience relaxes me and I arrive home refreshed.  I know this may sound like a bunch of mumbo jumbo but it’s true.  

There are some things in life that no matter how wonderful they may sound, until you experience it yourself, skepticism remains.  The electric car could indeed be one of those things.  From range anxiety to the thought that one must have one vehicle for every possible need, manufactures indeed have their work cut out of them.  What can be done to change this? 

Here are some ideas in no particular order.   I have no doubt that some of these ideas are on the table or currently being considered by BMW and others:

  • Get folks behind the wheel by hosting no pressure driving events staffed by the most knowledgeable folks at the company.  GM, Ford and others have hosted these over the year’s at large stadiums, airfields, etc.
  • Offer an EV loaner to customers who are having their gas powered vehicles serviced.  Take the time to discuss the vehicles benefits and limitations to ensure the vehicle will work for that particular person’s needs while their vehicle is being serviced.  
  • For those folks leasing/purchasing an electric vehicle, have other vehicles available for those times the customer needs one.  This doesn’t need to be free but hopefully can be done at a reasonable cost. 
  • Have people at the dealership who know the vehicle better than the customer.   You may laugh but nowadays a lot of folks arriving at a dealership know WAY more than the salespeople.  Heck, take it one step further and have the salespeople drive the EV they’re selling on a regular basis.  
  • Sell the experience and alternative way of approaching driving and getting places, not just the vehicle itself.  Most importantly, after discussing the vehicle and the customer’s needs, steer them away from the vehicle if it’s determined the vehicle isn’t the right fit.  Upset customers driving something that doesn’t go as far as they thought, can’t hold as much stuff as they needed, etc. can kill the best advertising campaigns in a few keystrokes. 
  • Initially as we are early in the EV rollout, offer attractive leases with no mileage restriction.  The cars are rolling billboards.  We should encourage people to drive their cars as much as possible, not restrict them with traditional car leases.  Folks seeing the cars out and about beats seeing them in a commercial or on a website.  This could be used as a sales incentive too.  First 1000 vehicles leased have no mileage restriction, for example.
  • Work with cities and employers to provide incentives for electric vehicles.  Los Angeles International Airport recently decided to stop offering free parking for electric vehicles on their inner lots starting March 1.  While you’ll still be able to charge for free, parking will now be the posted rate of $30.00 a day.  I sent an email urging them to reconsider not because I believe driving an EV makes me special and I deserve free parking but because it’s incentives like these along with carpool lane access, reduced tolls on toll roads, etc. that help folks on the edge of getting an EV to go for it.  Once they have one, folks quickly realize how wonderful driving electric is and incentives will matter less and less but now, early on in the rollout, it’s crucial to have these incentives.  Employers can help too by offering employees areas to plug inMost times, 110 outlets will suffice.  The cost is minimal and the company can advertise being green and supporting EV acceptance at the same timeWin, win!
  • Find a way to get the younger folks excited and behind the wheel of electric vehicles as they’ll be leading the charge into the future.
In closing, it’s been wonderful to play a small part in the rollout of BMW’s upcoming electric vehicles. Knowing that the comments and suggestions that myself and fellow MINI E and ActiveE drivers have made over the past 3 ½ years helped shape BMWi  and the upcoming BMW i3 is quite exciting.  Another year is upon us and another year of emission free driving awaits!  May we all charge forward into the New Year!