An EV Awakening
Hi, my name is Christopher and I was born electric on August 6, 2014.
In retrospect, ending up behind the wheel of BMW’s new electric i3 feels like it was inevitable. If you let it, life has a funny way of getting you where you belong. My path into an i3 took about seven years, but with the benefit of hindsight, it feels like destiny.
1972 BMW 2002
The car I took to college in the late 80s was an Inka orange 1972 BMW 2002. That was followed by a jade green one, which I still vividly remember driving across the country in the summer of 1989. I have been a fan of the BMW brand since those days and have owned five of them of various types in a continuous chain over the last 30 years. For me the design, the handling, the safety, the quality, the purity of focus, the racing heritage - all of these things made BMW a brand I kept coming back to. I have also always been drawn to the geeky technical side of things in life, so the cutting edge in technology, including as applied to automotive design, has been an enduring interest of mine.
*Editor's Note: This post appears on Tom Moloughney's BMW i3 blog. Check it out here.
But as I have grown older I have become more and more concerned with trying to protect some semblance of our environment for my children’s generation. And, probably in part because of my kids, as I have matured, I have become a more conservative and less aggressive driving, realizing that while pushing hard does not really shorten your trip, the stress and increased risk of aggressive is likely to shorten your lifespan. Work, urban living, extreme road congestion, and family responsibility all conspired to make storming around in a sporty car less of a priority. Given my day to day reality, a thirsty high performance car is simply the wrong tool for the job.
So not surprisingly, over time, the BMW brand’s focus on luxury, power, speed and performance slowly drifted out of sync with my mental frame of reference. I still loved and admired the cars, but the idea began to gnaw at me that burning gas just for the joy of it was an irresponsible thing to do, especially day in and day out while commuting. At least for me, there had to be a better way.
As my daily driver, a beloved BMW 3 Series wagon, tuned somewhat severely by Dinan Engineering for more performance and handling, hit about ten years old in around 2010, I began to feel the first stirrings of a need to replace it with something better suited for the job at hand. Something more reliable, more comfortable, more efficient, more sustainable. I began, as a sideline, to leisurely consider the options available in the market at that time.
My 3 Series Dinan-tuned wagon
Some of the BMW diesels were interesting, but they were a bit too expensive - the pay-off was way too long given the high price of diesel in my region of the US. The early BMW hybrids were not serious, or credible, efforts. The small nimble 1 Series cars were sort of appealing, but there was no reason to downgrade to one of these from the beloved Dinan wagon. So I began to look at other options. When we converted our home to solar my search began to look more seriously at the growing market for non-BMW hybrids and electrics. I had always followed the hybrid and EV technology, but the cars suddenly seemed like plausible alternatives for the first time.
So after a bit of research, we took the plunge and replaced my wife’s BMW 5 Series Wagon with a Prius V wagon. With its arrival, the surprising pleasures of driving as efficiently as possible first became apparent to me. The car was a bit of an eye opener. Setting the cruise for 65 and just chilling out in the right lane was a whole new experience for me. Before long, between the hybrid joining the motor pool and the solar house generating a surplus of electricity each year, I had been bitten by the EV bug badly.
But there was still nothing I was tempted to bite on for myself. I really didn’t like the way the Prius felt and drove and handled (it might crash test well, but in reality, to someone used to the solidness of a BMW, the Prius feels like a pretty flimsy car and drives like the transportation appliance it is). Given the demands of my work and lifestyle I didn’t feel comfortable with a 60-70 mile range EV - I needed to be able to jump up and drive 125-250 miles at a clip if necessary, and couldn’t imagine spending good money replacing a car that could easily do that with a more expensive one that couldn’t. And I didn’t want a big sledge-hammer of a car like the 16 foot long, 4700 lb, Tesla. They are undeniably excellent cars in many ways, but the engineering approach, the size, the cost, and the short track record of the manufacturer completely ruled them out as an option for me personally. So I was kind of stalled. (pun acknowledged)
The concept i3 is revealed
Not surprisingly, BMW’s announcement of the i Division in 2011 really caught my attention. The first BMW i car was still years away, but I began following the project closely and learning everything I could. At each step of the way, I felt BMW made the right choices. The emphasis on total sustainability in design and manufacturing. The emphasis on lightness as a way to make the car more efficient and get to longer range (a sharp contrast to the just-add-more-batteries school of design). The willingness to do radical things and use radical materials to advance the state of the art. The focus on trying to keep the price reasonable. The boxy, geek-chic utility of the package. I began to feel certain that this was going to be my next car.
As the project progressed, I continued to read everything I could find to keep up to date. The leaks and speculation grew increasingly enticing. I was biting my nails that BMW would not make a design choice that suddenly disqualified the car for my needs. My main concerns, even in those days of exaggerated range estimates, was whether it would go far enough on a charge and whether it would be prohibitively expensive. If the rumors of reasonable pricing “between the 3 and 5 series” were comforting, the announcement of the Rex was a total revelation. Once it became clear that this car was going to be available with a very smartly-designed range extender, it became inevitable that it was going to be my next car.
Tom and Dr Julian Weber, BMW's Head of Innovation Projects E-Mobility at the i3 launch in July 2013 in New York City
With great excitement, I watch the world-wide unveiling of the i3 on my laptop at work one morning in July 2013 . And I followed the European launch of the first customer cars that Fall very closely. As the US release drew closer, and final US pricing was announced, I began to make my plans. I joined Tom’s excellent i3 Facebook group and began to learn about the real-life issues reported by cars in the field.
Oddly, my first opportunity to put down a deposit and order a car came before the first test drive cars were available in my area. But the deposit was refundable, and demand was projected to be through the roof, so I put down a deposit in early February 2014. The Launch Edition requirements were a bit of a headache, but my first few test-drives confirmed all my instincts were correct. It was clear from a couple test drives that this was a very special car.
As manufacturing issues stacked up, I tracked the Leipzig production weeks and watched with despair as my build date slipped repeatedly from mid-March into late April. However finally in late April the build began. As a projected single week in the factory turned into an inexplicable six week delay in the Leipzig plant, I vicariously enjoyed the tales of the first cars being delivered in early May to the Electronauts who had tested the i3 drivetrain in the Active-E program.
My ClipperCreek EVSE
Widespread reports of initial quality hiccups, combined with mounting delays, really tested my patience (and at times probably the limits of some of my online i3 friendships.) But the joy most people took in the car combined with the knowledge that BMW would stand behind their multi-billion dollar investment in this project and the certainty that a large silent majority was not having any issues, was enough to keep my tattered faith intact. Having Tom and some of the other experienced Electronauts there to answer questions and offer advice was indeed extraordinarily helpful.
Researching and installing a charger kept me somewhat busy as May and June dragged on and my shipping delays mounted. Eventually, my car made it to the port of departure in Bremerhaven in mid June and, after another wait, finally got on a boat in early July. Tracking the boat was painful given how close, and yet so far, my car was. But eventually I caught a glimpse of my ship on a webcam in Halifax Nova Scotia, and it suddenly started to feel very real for the first time. Arrival at the vehicle processing center in New York was like entering a black hole - the car sat in processing for three weeks before being released to trucking, and that was only after placing a couple calls to get it prioritized. And, naturally, the trucking took forever. Long enough, in fact, that the car arrived about two hours too late to take on a multi-state loop to visit family that had been planned to take advantage of the car’s arrival.
So off we went in the Prius, and in a great irony, the just-arrived car sat for several days before I could pick it up. But eventually I made it to the dealer, and after 30 years of BMW enthusiasm, 7 years of evolving awareness, three years of studiously following the i3 project, 6 months of post-deposit waiting, the perfect car for me arrived, and I was born electric on August 6, 2014.
Has the car met my initial expectations? Without a doubt. The design and build quality is outstanding, and the car is as comfortable as any I have driven. But the way it performs has been the biggest surprise. This car is just such an amazing juxtaposition of serenity and fury. Driven hard, it leaps off the line with instantaneous torque - you can drive a week and never meet a car that can beat it from a green light down a city block Out in the country, when accelerating out of tight corners, it has enough power to break the rear wheels loose (and trigger the traction control) even on dry roads. But driven more gently it is supremely smooth and silent and tranquil. The ride is firm as to be expected of a teutonic car, but the drivetrain is so quiet, and the cabin so tight and noise-free, that the car is just amazingly relaxing to travel in. Further stress reduction is afforded by the optional automatic cruise control, which allows you to set your maximum speed and forget it from there forward. The car will track the traffic in front of it and maintain a safe distance regardless of traffic speed (even down to stop and go speeds) and then silently leap forward when the road opens up in front of it. A dream for urban and suburban commuting. This is a car that will play when you want to play, and lay down the miles without tiring you when you just need to get efficiently from point A to point B. To paraphrase E.B. White’s famous words about Wilber: “That’s one swell .”
Christopher Mirabile is an early stage investor in Boston MA, USA. He is the co-Managing Director of Launchpad Venture Group and the co-Founder of angel portfolio management site www.Seraf-Investor.com. He blogs about technology, investing and entrepreneurship at www.scratchpaperblog.com. and Tweets under the name of @cmirabile