One of the advantages of not being first to market in any industry is the fact that you get the opportunity to study the competition's product and see what worked and what didn't so you don't make the same mistakes. One example in the EV industry would be to look at how Nissan is having difficulty with early battery degradation in the LEAF, especially in hot weather climates.
It seems clear a sophisticated active thermal management system greatly reduces these issues by keeping the cells from overheating and from remaining at very high temperatures for prolonged periods of time. Besides watching the competition, BMW also gained a lot of useful data and feedback from the MINI-E and ActiveE programs. This, in my opinion, should have greatly reduced the chance that BMW would make a major mistake with the i3.
*Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on Tom's "The Electric BMW i3" blog. We urge you to check it out by clicking here.
After driving the i3 four separate times now, I am pretty convinced it provides the driving experience I was hoping for. It's very quick and instantly responsive, has very precise steering and extremely short braking distances. The regenerative braking is nice and strong, although it's slightly weaker than it was on the ActiveE. It's definitely is the "hot hatch" I was hoping it would be.
That being said, it's not perfect - and I didn't expect it would be, but I didn't expect BMW to make an obvious critical error that could have easily been avoided, which I believe they did by omitting the state of charge display.
Both the MINI-E and ActiveE had a numeric SOC display and honestly that is all I ever use when I'm driving. I don't care what the estimated range indicator says. No matter how precise it is, it doesn't know how fast I'll be driving, if I am carrying three passengers with cargo or driving alone, if I'm going to be driving up a mountain or on flat ground. All these factors will influence how far the car will take you on any particular trip.
The state of charge indicator is crucial for me and I believe I'll feel lost for a while driving an electric car without it. Sure, I'll get used to the bar graph on the drivers display screen, and I can kind of figure out the approximate state of charge, but that's unacceptable as far as I''m concerned. Let me see my state of charge and I know how far I can go. I'm not saying BMW should eliminate the other information they what to show, like the bar graph and estimated range. Go ahead and display that on the main drivers screen if you like, but give me the SOC somewhere so I can look at it if I want to. The car has the information available, why not include it on a screen somewhere, I don't mind if I have to look in the iDrive to find it.
BMW had a special event private at the LA Auto Show for ActiveE drivers only. I believe most people felt as enthusiastic about the i3 driving experience as I did, yet a lot of the conversations were about the lack of a state of charge gauge and how baffled many of us were about this.
When the time came for a Q&A session it didn't take long for it to be asked and BMW tried their best to explain that the i3's range predictor will be so accurate that a proper SOC gauge isn't needed. That didn't sit well with the ActiveE drivers and the protest continued until the managers said they hear our displeasure and promise to revisit this, opening the possibility to adding the state of charge display before the US launch - or possibly just to quiet us down a bit and move on the the next topic!
BMW i3 - Where's the SOC? What's the state of charge? 54%? 56%? I guess it's somewhere around there but I want to know precisely. Every percentage point counts some days in an EV when you are stretching the range.
One thing I found interesting is that on the European i3's, at least the one's with the range extender option, there is a state of charge display. A BMW i3 forum member sent me the picture to your right as proof. However, here in the US that screen isn't available since unlike in Europe, US customers will not have the ability to manually turn on the range extender once the state of charge dips below 75%. The inability to do so does make the range extender less useful, however how much less useful is a story for another day once I've had the opportunity to properly test drive an i3 REx with a depleted battery in range extender mode.
The point is, the car knows its state of charge and can display it for European REx customers, so why not just make the display standard on all i3's and make everybody happy?
There it is! 85.5% state of charge - only US customers don't get to see it!
Will this prevent me from buying an i3? No. Will it make the driving experience much worse? Probably not. What bothers me more than anything else is this is something the MINI-E and ActiveE were overwhelmingly in favor of and I don't know how BMW missed it. The point of the MINI-E and ActiveE trials were to find out things like this so the i3 and future BMW electrics would be the best they could be. I hate to really harp on this so much but I'm really disappointed this was somehow overlooked. It's not a little oversight, it's a major omission to me.
When the Nissan LEAF launched back in 2010 it didn't have a state of charge gauge and the LEAF owners were very disappointed. So much so that they complained continuously until Nissan added the state of charge gauge two years later.
How did BMW overlook this? It's really baffling.