BMW Mini E program has major problems, maybe

There was excitement last year when news of an officially electrified Mini from BMW.  But now that the vehicles are in owners hands some problems have cropped up.  Some may be the matter of small flubs on BMW’s part but one is a an accusation by Plug In America that BMW is gaming California’s ZEV mandate program.

There is a Mini-E Facebook group as well as a growing number of blogs by individual Mini-E owners.  These public writings offer a glimpse into the range of experiences they are having (positive and negative), and they provide an interesting counterpoint to PIA’s accusation.

The Pioneers, as BMW calls them, are the lucky few who were accepted into the Mini-E lease program.  The Pioneers are paying $850/month for the privilege of being in the program.  However the program also includes nearly 150 cars which went to municipalities.  The lease charge for municipalities is only $10/month, and that difference bothers some of the Mini-E Pioneers.

Another issue is the availability of charging cables and that the charger equipment doesn’t have the appropriate certifications (e.g. UL) to easily pass building inspections leading to delayed approval and installation.  The lack of charging cords left 300 of the Pioneers with an unworkable 23 hour minimum charging time.  One Pioneer cites big project management flaws astonishing for a large engineering company like BMW.  BMW and their contractors seem to be addressing these problems, and they are suspending lease payments for those currently without correct charging capability.

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There is a major issue however, noted by both Plugged In America (PIA) and Marc Geller.  Namely that BMW is gaming the requirements in the CARB ZEV program in order to gain ZEV credits by fulfilling the letter of the regulations and not the spirit of them.  Paraphrasing the PIA press release, BMW delivered the vehicles 5 months late, that there was a rush to meet a June 30 deadline dictated by CARB regulations, and that the vehicles aren’t properly “production EV’s” but pre-production prototypes.    The Mini-E’s as delivered are EV conversions (e.g. the back seat is taken up by the battery pack) performed by AC Propulsion rather than properly designed EV’s.  The flubs over chargers and charging cords are taken as further evidence that BMW is not serious about delivering a production EV.

The ZEV credit PIA accuses BMW of gaming was meant to encourage the development of production EV’s.  Instead the Mini-E is a prototype offered only under a one year lease program described by Chelsea Sexton as a “a half-baked, poorly executed program by BMW, who is acting solely for the sake of regulatory compliance“.  In a separate posting Marc Geller (also associated with PIA) said: “The rules and regulations now are byzantine, a kludge upon a patchwork altered every few years. BMW found that the quickest and cheapest way to get the credits that it will need to accumulate is, of course, to build electric cars…. It is past the time for R & D for electric cars. The ZEV program is meant to commercialize ZEVs.

The problem stems from the overcomplexity of the ZEV program.  The original program was a simple requirement that carmakers sales in California be n% of zero emission vehicles.  That simple requirement has morphed over the years into byzantine proportions with a confusing range of credits for different offerings.  The requirements start with this simple-seeming table which implies that we should all be frequently seeing zero emission vehicles on the road.  But this table is followed by special conditions one after another.

Model Years Minimum ZEV Requirement 2005 through 2008 10 percent 2009 through 2011 11 percent 2012 through 2014 12 percent 2015 through 2017 14 percent 2018 and subsequent 16 percent

For example.. a PZEV gains 0.2 credits per PZEV and hybrid EV’s likewise gains up to 0.5 credits per hybrid sold.  All of the hybrid EV’s are currently on sale are incapable of being charged by plugging in leaving the hybrid owner still 100% addicted to gasoline.  The credit for which the Mini-E qualifies is the “Type II” tier, which are “full function EV’s” with a range of 100 miles or greater.  As a Type II EV placed in service before June 30 2009 it counts as the 2008 model year and gains a 12x multiplier, but if the Mini-Es had gone into service after June 30 they would have received a 3x multiplier.

It’s unclear whether PIA is hyping this issue beyond recognition, or whether BMW is egregiously gaming the system.  A query placed in the Mini-E Facebook group drew a variety of responses, most of whom acknowledged the preprototype state of their cars.  Most expressed a belief that since BMW spent so much money developing the Mini-E and that they seem to be credibly interested in researching EV acceptance issues, that BMW is seriously moving forward towards eventually producing a credible electric vehicle.  Others point to project management issues and the like that show a lack of planning one would expect from a credible research effort.  The truth remains to be seen and in the meantime we are all suffering environmental and health damage from the prevalence of gasoline and diesel vehicles on the road.

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About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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