30 June 2009

Day 5: Full charge, full speed ahead!

Ralph's Ices store front
This is a stock image of Mini's Mini-E #001 and not a picture of my #339. (I'll try to take some more pics of 339 this weekend.) But I thought this stock image was a good representation of how I felt (and drove) my 339 today! (click to enlarge)
After two days of "rest and recharge," my Mini-E 339 had a 100% charge (Yipeeeeee!!!!) and was ready to go for a full-day of "testing" on Monday (June 28)!!!

Yaaaaayyyyy!!!

The numbers, in short:

Odometer mileage, start: ~ 130 miles

State of Charge (SoCs), start: 100% (WOW!!!!!)

Odometer mileage, end: ~208 miles

State of Charge (SoCe), end: ~38% (Ooops...)

Travelog:

With her first ever (at least, the first I've ever seen since getting her 4 days ago) completely full charge, I felt 339 was really gonna get a hard real-world test.

That is to say: A full-charge means, 339'll go (roughly) 100+ miles before her batteries cry "Uncle!" More than enough for my usual 60+ mile round-trip daily commute. So, on this Monday, the whole "Range Anxiety" limitation -- which I had the thrill of experiencing last Friday -- was pretty much a non-factor.

And since I no longer had the whole "Will I have enough juice to...?" thought process that apparently becomes the mindset of most electric-car owners, I could really focus on how my 339 drives.

In other words: Could 339 fool me into believing "I'm in just an ordinary, petrol-powered Mini?"

The answer: ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! (And that's a negative answer in a GOOD way!! Read on!)

First... a side note!

Ralph's Ices store front
This is the Ralph's Ices store/corner stand near my house where I ran into a fellow Mini driver who commented on 339. (Ralph's, by the way, makes the best Italian ices EV-ah!! Check them out on the Web: http://www.ralphsices.com
I took 339 out on Sunday, when it was only 95% full, to run some local chores. We made a small detour to Ralph's Ices (Mmmm... Italian ices... just the thing for a bright, slightly humid Sunday!) and both of us were recognized!!! The total opposite of what happened at the end of Day 1, when I took 339 home!!

A dude in dark shades, sitting in 339's near-twin (a two-door Cooper S in a flatter gray, and of course, without the distinctive "E" appliqu├ęs), was waiting for someone to come back from Ralph's stand. I parked 339 next to him on his Mini's passenger side. As I was getting out of 339, his passenger (Wife? Girlfriend? With a cup of Ralph's icy goodness!!! Mmm....) was getting into his Mini.

He lowered the passenger window, looked right at me (past his passenger) and said: "Hey, is that a Mini-E?"

To which, I (wearing my Wiley-X SG-1 wraparound shades and probably the biggest grin I've had in a long time) looked at him and said (in a Barney Stintson kinda way) : "Why, yes... It. Is..."

"Wow, man... You won the lottery? I mean, they actually chose you?"

"Yup."

"Wow, man... I applied... But... $800 per month??? That's a lotta money, man... I couldn't afford it." [Did I detect a subtle nod to his passenger? BTW: the monthly lease cost is $850, dude. :-( But, whatev.]

"Yeah, I know... It's real steep. But it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, bro. Sometimes you just gotta be a part of something big because... ya know, you only go around once, yea?"

"Heh. Man..." [Again, another sub-conscious head-tilt to the gal seated to his right?] "How's she [my 339] drive?"

"Only got her last Thursday. so I haven't driven her much... But so far, pretty good. Fun. And I never drove a Mini before, but friends tell me a Cooper S -- like yours -- is a pretty sweet ride. So, I'm thinkin' this here Mini-E is prooooob-a-blllyyy not that far off from drivin' like yours." (Sh'yeah... right! But I had to say something, cuz it was clear that his "passenger" was more than just... and she appeared to be getting a little bit annoyed at what looked like a long, drawn-out "big-boys-and-their-toys" kinda chat -- something I didn't want to start with an "unbeliever" in the middle! Not to mention, I wanted some Ralph's of my own... ;-))

"Ah, well... She [339] looks beautiful.... Good luck, man!"

"Thanks, man. You have a good one, too, yeah?"

(Well, ok... 339 was recognized. Me? I was just the lucky schmuck to be her "driver/owner." Although can any of us "pioneers" truly be considered "Mini-E owners" since in just 11 short months we all know our great affairs will be over?)

Anyway, having said what I said on Sunday about 339, how well would my statements hold up on Monday? Not well, really.

You see, during Monday's commute, I really did try to think of 339 not as being an electric, battery-powered Mini. "Just drive like you normally would, Paul," I thought. And to some extent, 339 does behave (I think) like an ordinary Mini.

Driving my sister to the subway, merging onto the highway, picking up the intern, powering up steep and curvy up-grades... 339 behaved pretty much as anyone would expect of a normal car. It was easy to maneuver -- slaloming 339 between bigger, slower moving cars and buses; nudging her into tight spots (say, between two big SUVs to get to the curb and drop off sis) -- and responsive to my right foot. ;-)

Small, nimble, quick... "Go-kart performance," I believe, is the marketing term the fine folks at Mini use to describe these Coopers. And 339 seems to live up to that image. (Again, I never drove a gas-powered Mini, so I'll just have to assume that my experience in a conventional Mini would be similar.)

BUT as hard (or easy) as I may try to "not think" about 339's electric-only nature, it is hard to ignore. Specifically:

The regenerative "braking." The moment you lift your foot, easing the pressure off the accelerator pedal, the Mini-E's motor turns into an electric generator. The energy of the car's spinning wheels is captured by the motor-now-turned-generator to create electricity that's sent back to the battery. (This energy would normally be wasted as heat and friction when you step on the brakes.)

There are some pioneers and professional car reviewers who say the Mini-E's regen braking is "aggressive" or "intrusive." And I suppose it can be. Lift your foot off and switch to "cover" the brake as you would in a car with automatic transmission and the Mini will seem to "lurch" or "jerk" backwards while your head lurches forward -- as if your sitting in a car with a very bad driver!

While I'm no stranger to regen braking (my sis has a 2001 Gen-1 Toyota Prius), I initially did find 339's regen as... "strong." To counter the herky-jerky driving style that would make it seem I was a "novice" driver, I began "driving" the Mini-E like I would a car with manual (stick-shift) transmission -- something I was fortunate to learn back in the '80s with my sis' Renault Alliance(!)

With a manual, you "down-shift" and use the lower gear ratios to "absorb" the forward momentum of the car, pulling it back and (in effect) slowing the car down. That means giving yourself a lot more stopping distance but the trade-off: You use your brakes a LOT less.

In fact, using this method, I've very rarely had to actually step on 339's brake pedal during local road driving -- or, even when sitting in stop-and-go highway traffic. And the Mini-E is "smart" enough to know that if you're lifting you foot off the accelerator, it probably means your desire is to slow down. So, to prevent the car behind you from becoming your new "backseat buddy" (i.e. "rear-end you") the car automatically lights up the rear brake lights. Nice...

Seemingly instant acceleration. At the other end of the speed spectrum, my 339 feels -- and is -- fast. As I posted on the first day, I haven't experienced any problems in leaving pricey sports sedans and even sports cars behind when we're all coming off the line of a stoplight.

Now naturally, I'm not sayin' that the 339's electric motor (rated as equivalent to a 201-HP engine?) will beat out a sports car like a Camaro or "super-cars" like a Porsche or a Bugatti Veyron in a standing quarter-mile run. But, I found that it was easy -- maybe a little too easy -- to "kick" the 339 "to the next level" during highway cruising.

During Monday morning's commute, there were countless times where I'm cruising at 60 or 70 MPH in the left lane, passing cars on my right at a leisurely pace. But then I'll have some idiot in a big honkin' (and powerful) SUV or "sports car" come roarin' up behind me in the left lane. And yes, I know the left lane is the passing lane and if I'm not passing the cars on the right "fast enough" for the jerk behind me, then...

A simple tap on the accelerator and my 339 easily jumps up another 10, 20, 30 MPH (leaving the butt kisser eating my wake) so I pass the cars on the right faster and then I find an open slot in the middle lane, slip in, ease off the accelerator (and the regen kicks in slowing me down just as quick as the speed up) and watch that "speedy" tailgater (finally) catch up and then pass me. (Hehehe... So much fun to see them SPEED by... "Trying to justify something, fella?" I think, "Trying to reassure yourself that the all that money you spent on that burly, beefy, gas-guzzling super car/SUV -- which just got left in the dust by a tiny electric Mini -- really is still 'powerful' and zippy?" I love it! :-D)

There are many other tiny aspects that make it hard to forget that when I'm driving 339, I'm not in "an average Mini."
  • The no-noise, stealthiness of the car when going slow -- like when going through a parking lot -- or even at a complete stop. I find that for a short time, you're reminding yourself, "Yes, the car's 'on.' It's ready to move at the slightest tap of the accelerator."
  • How the radio's volume is just that much softer. (Again, since it doesn't have to "fight" the "growl" and roar of a big, thirsty gas-engine, the radio just has to be "loud enough" to drown out the minimalist "road, tire and wind noise.")
  • And the distinctive "wheeeeeeee" sound of the electric motor as it spins up to pull the Mini to the speed you want. It certainly doesn't make as much noise as a conventional car -- especially in the "passing" situation described above. It's kinda freaky. More so for someone outside of the car. It looks like any other Mini, so you expect it to go ""Vrrroooooommmm..." But all you hear is this ghostly whine...
I had the opportunity on Monday to give a co-worker (and BFF here at work) a hop/demo ride from one side of the parking lot to the other. (Had to move my car to be closer to the building.)

As usual when I get in the car, I reached for my seatbelt. She said to me: "Uhh, we're just staying in the lot, aren't we?"

"Oh.. Yeah... No need for belts.... Right." [It was just us and the lot was devoid of pedestrians or other moving cars...]

So... Step on the brake, insert key, press "start" button, drop the manual parking brake, click/shift from "P" to "D"... Tap the accelerator...

(Soft "Rrrrrreeeerrrrr..." from 339's motor...) as we pull out of the parking slot...

"Whoaaa..." says my friend.

I tap the switch for the driver's window to slide the window down all the way. (It was stuffy inside since 339 sat in the sun all day...) Then, I tap her accelerator a little harder cuz I had to make it up a longish, winding parking ramp...

"RRrrrrr... eh-wheeeeEEEEEEEEE..." goes 339's motor while her tires are noisly grabbing for more road...

"HOooooo...!!!" my passenger yelps as she reaches for and grips the door's grab bar.

We mount and climb the ramp under 339's steady "Wheeeeeee..." sound... crest the ramp onto a flat stretch of pavement and her motor switched from "Wheeeeee... " to "Eeeeeennnnnnnnn..." of a steady paced "cruise" on to the building...

"Holy smokes!" my friend says. "I expected it to be quiet and such... But wow... it's like, it's like..."

"One of those fancy new roller coaster or other thrill ride at Disney that sorta just 'launches' or 'shoots' you out of a gate?" I suggest.

"Exactly!!! That's what I was thinking of... Wow... This is totally Awesome!!!!"

That pretty much sums up day #5... A full charge meant pretty much a "carefree" day of just "motoring" with my unique Mini-E #339.

And that, my friend, is pretty awe-sum!!! Read more!

29 June 2009

My first weekend with 339

Mini-E electric Mini Cooper #339 My Mini-E field trial battery chargers
Here's all the "other stuff" that came with my Mini-E #339. Clock-wise from the top left: Card with the list of Mini-E dealers in the Metro NY area, a "leather"(?) pouch to hold the books (and insurance papers, registration, business cards for dealer's sales and service people), two "smart" wireless keys, manual of "safety tips," quick "Getting started booklet (pages produced by my dealer using a color printer/copier), a folding "booklet" on how to operate the radio, a guide to service and maintenance, the full 116-page owner's manual, and (finally) a "Mini-E Insider's Guide." (Click to enlarge for a cruddy image. Sorry. Only have my cell phone camera!)
So, it was a beautiful (if muggy) weekend here in Neuva York. But alas, I couldn't drive 339 since I drained it so much after Friday's commute from hell. :-(

Given the sticky weather (and my own laziness), I really didn't want to go anywhere anyway. (Now if 339 were a convertible Mini-E... ;-))

Anyway, I spent some time with the fairly substantial (116-page!) owner's manual. A LOT of time! Wow... BMW/Mini really tried to cover EVERYTHING in a pretty substantial manner. Everything except that burning question I had yesterday:

Could I have charged 339 in the rain yesterday without worrying?

There's nothing in the manual about it, at least not about the 110-V charger.

I suppose that the cluegy charger wouldn't be covered in the manual. It is, after all, called the "Occasional Use Charger." (Uhhh.. it takes 26+ hours to charge a Mini-E with it. I'd call it something more accurate -- if a bit politically incorrect!)

No, BMW wants us all to be using the 220-Volt charger since it could completely recharge a dead Mini-E's battery in just 4 or 6+ hours.

Speaking of which...

I got a call from Clean Fuel Connection, the folks who are coordinating all the contractor work that needs to be done in pioneers' homes.

The good news: The local contractor wants to come over and install the box (and 220-V line) this Friday, July 3rd!!!

Woo hoo!!!!

Mini-E electric Mini Cooper #339 My Mini-E field trial battery chargers
This is the 220-Volt "wall box charger" that will (supposedly) be installed by my local contractor, tapped by Clean Fuel Connections to do the work. I don't know if this "Clipper Creek" box will be actually installed on the outside of my house. But it seems to be the wall box other Mini-E pioneers are blogging about (Click to enlarge.)

That's quite symbolic, now that I think about it... On the day I have time off from work (for the Saturday July 4th celebration of our nation's independence from tyrannic British rule), I'll be getting a box installed that frees me from the high price of gas and taking a step that might help our nation end our dependence on foreign oil!!!

More personally (and immediately) satisfying: Pat (my local contractor) will finally put an end to the whole mess that plagued me from nearly the beginning of the Mini-E program.

Will my house support yet another 240-volt line running 40- (or even a 32) amps? And will BMW/Mini pay for it all? The answer, thankfully, is "yes"... To BOTH questions! YAY!! (There were, as late as mid-June, questions about BMW's commitment to paying for the "long run" of cable to go from my electrical panel to where I want the wall charger. But we got that all worked out, too!)

Yes, getting that box will really free me -- especially from insufficient charges due to manually stopping the 110-V charger way short of the 16-26+ hours it really needs to juice a Mini-E's battery.

BTW: I didn't get a "100%" on 339 until Sunday. That's not to say my Mini-E needed a continuous 48-hours to recharge from 8% on Friday!

I spent some time during Saturday trying to isolate an indoor 110-V outlet with enough amperage to charge 339 without tripping a breaker. And, it had to be accessible from the outside. Thankfully, I found one in the basement laundry room that was close enough to my driveway (through a cellar window!) So, 339 spend almost all-day Saturday and all night Sunday, drinking down juice without "sharing." (Really, no one in the house could do laundry this weekend! What a shame! ;-))

Still... I can't wait until Independence Day! Read more!

28 June 2009

Day 2: How NOT to feed 339 on 110-Volts @ 12 Amp

Mini-E electric Mini Cooper #339 My Mini-E field trial
This is my Mini-E's "scuttle," or "badge on the side of the car, showing it's #339 of the 500 Mini-E's built in Germany and assembled in the UK. Mini-E #339 and it's all mine!!! (Click to enlarge.)

I was really psyched on Friday. It was going to be the first full day where I'd be able to test my 339 in its abilities (and capabilities) as a daily, zero-emissions, commuter car. I mean, my "first day" was fun. But is navigating the mean streets of Manhattan or sitting in infamous NYC rush hour traffic a true test of 339's capabilities?

I. Don't. Think. So.

First, the data:

The numbers, in short

Odometer mileage, start: ~ 66 miles

State of Charge (SoCs), start: 80%

Odometer mileage, end: ~124 miles

State of Charge (SoCe), end: ~8% (Yes... That's right... Eight percent! Read on!)

Travelog:

Mini-E field trial 110-volt charging cable standard gear Mini-E pioneers battery charger Clipper Creek
This is the 110-Volt charging "cable" Mini provides to all of its pioneers. Does anyone else think this looks a bit clugey(sp)?"
Click to enlarge.

OK, so Mini tells us pioneers that it'll take over 26-hours to fully recharge a depleted battery using the 110-Volt charger. Unfortunately, that's all I have. (I'm still waiting for the contractor to come and install the wall-box.) And while I haven't completely drained 339's battery, I did drop it down to less than half (47%) capacity. Worse yet, I had less than 12-hours of charge time -- came home @ after 8 p.m. Thursday and I need to leave ay 7 a.m. or so for my usual commute to Westchester.

Surely, even using the 110- charger for 11 or so hours, I'll be able to get a decent amount of juice into 339 for my 60-mile round-trip commute, right? Well... Sorta.

First off, 339's feeding (which pulls 12 amps of juice) popped the circuit breaker twice during the night. Apparently, the outlet outside my garage wasn't an isolated circuit, but a shared one... Shared with my home entertainment gear! (And a dehumidifier in the basement.) But thankfully, much of my more sensitive gear is on an uninterruptible power supply so there was no harm done to my 57-inch HDTV. (At least I hope not!)

But watch TV... Or feed the Mini? Wow... tough choice! (How do you parents decide among your favorite children?? ;-))

Mini-E electric Mini Cooper #339 My Mini-E field trial fuel door charging port
This is what's behind the Mini-E's gas cap. And the "port" where you plug in the cable (see next picture) is HUGE. And take a look at the plug in the next picture. (Doc Brown of Back to the Future would be so proud! Also, check out the "No fuel" sign. Ha! If Electricity isn't a "fuel," I don't know what it is! (Click to enlarge.)

Well, it was getting late... And it was going to be a big day for me and my Mini-E #339!! Our first true test... What will it be like driving 339 at highway speeds -- maybe even faster, given my condition: pes pedis plumbum ("lead foot")? What will my friends and co-workers think? This will be both our "trial by fire!" Ooo... Big day indeed.

Little did I know just how "big" a day me and my little 339 would have!

First, on Friday morning, I discovered that despite the overnight feeding, my 339 got only an 80% charge! That's barely double the capacity I had before connecting her up!! I guess 339 really got about only 7- or 8-hours of uninterupted feeding the night before. (And no, she didn't trip a circuit while I was sleeping. The UPS would've woke me up if 339 was "fighting" my other "children" for juice in the middle of the night!)

A bit disappointing, but the "range-to-empty" gauge still read "78 miles" -- more than enough power to get me through my commute.

So, I thought.

The first five or so miles were on major (traffic light controlled) local roads, taking my sis to the Jamaica subway terminal. And again, 339 was still all smooth, all quiet. BUT it was a humid day... again! And since neither my sis or I love oppressive "stickiness," the A/C was back on. By the time I dropped sis off, "range-to-empty" dropped to 70-miles.

"Ok," I thought. "Still enough power to get me there and back -- with a 10-mile 'safety net.' And maybe I'll catch some serious re-gen once I get up on the highway."

And the next 30 miles were mostly highway, although I did a small local road detour to pick up a summer college intern who lives nearby.

And here's where the 339 really passed its first test: The "wow factor."

We spent the entire 35-minute ride discussing the "green" factor of the car and how cool it was to be driving/riding a car that "sounded" and acted so high-tech. And since he was a computer science major, we talked a lot about laptops (lithium batteries) and programming -- how "smart" is my Mini that it does all the range calculations... on-the-fly?

Speaking of which... By the time I parked my 339 in the company lot, range-to-empty was just a shocking 32-miles! Huh?

Oh yeah, I forgot how "hilly" some spots are on my daily commuting route. And we ran into a "spot shower" that morning... So, I had to "cycle" the A/C rather than leave it on. (Note to Mini: How come you didn't equip the "E" version with a smart climate control system? One that keeps cabin temperature constant?) But then again, I also had to use the defogger (which uses the A/C, right?) and wipers because we ran into a "spot shower."

Anyway, so there was a real danger that now that I got to work, 339 might -- just might -- leave me and the intern "high and dry." (The irony of this phrase will hit you as you read on.)

I ran into one of our "car guys" (one who knew I was becoming a "pioneer") and explained the situation to him. He hooked me up with one of his "engineers" who was very much interested in seeing my 339. So, after a brief "peek-under-the-hood" -- Sorry, I mean "a peek under 339's bonnet and boot" (boy, that sounds "dirty!" ;-)) -- the engineer says, "Well, if you need a charge, let's see if I can hook you up at the Utility shed."

So, we take 339 all the way to the far end of the parking lot, toward the back of the company property where most of the "support facilities" are located. And my Mini-E finds an outlet and jacks in. (Good thing I packed the 110 charger!)

All is well, I thought... Except after lunch, I find out from the engineer that he had to unplug 339 from the outlet because other engineers had to use the Utilities shed's power. And, I had to move 339 out of Facilities' way. Great...

So, I move 339 back into the employee lot... and as I'm driving (very quiet, again thanks to the all-electric nature of Mini-E) I noticed that practically all the lamp posts in the employee lot have an outdoor outlet!!! Hmmm...

I park 339 near a lamp post at the farthest, most inconspicuous part of the lot. I jump out with the charger and jack in 339. Success!! And I walk away at 3 p.m., happy yet a bit anxious. Will even just 2 hours or so on 110-Volts @ 12 amp give my 339 enough juice to make it home? Or will I be testing the special roadside assistance number?

I lose myself in work, until I noticed the ambient lighting in my office waning. Ut oh... Did the forecasters predict rain today? I hurried to finish my work. But the skies got darker and just as I shut down my computer...

Mini-E field trial 110-volt charging cable plug standard gear Mini-E pioneers battery charger Clipper Creek
This is the plug on the 100-Volt charger that goes into the Mini-E. This thing is GIANORMOUS and looks like something Dr. Frakenstein would've loved! Still, it feels VERY solid (like I could kill somebody with it!) and that's probably a "Good Thing!"
Click to enlarge.

Crash! Boom!! And the skies opened up in a massive summer thunderstorm! And right on cue at 5 p.m.!!! Great...

Oh wait, is the 110-charger water-proof? Will the downpour of water short out the charger? 339? Is the lamp posts properly grounded against lightning? Will I be zapped trying to unplug 339 from the lamp post? How much juice is coming out of that connector into the Mini-E anyway? Will I be safe touching it while standing in, say a flood of rain water?

Well, only one way to find all this out, I thought. That, and why didn't I bring an umbrella into the office today?

A mad dash to the far end of the lot. I'm soaked. I unplug the connector to 339. Good! No mind-numbing, death-inducing electrical shock!! I unplug the other end. Again, no shock. GREAT! I throw everything back into the Mini, unfortunately on top of the battery cover inside -- where you're NOT suppose to put anything. (Safety hazard. If you stop short, anything on top will slam right into your head. Tough. I'm soaked and not gonna stand out in the rain to properly pack everything.)

I call the intern on my cell ("Bring towels... I'm soaked!"), pick him up and off we go.

Range-to-empty: 40 miles. The wipers are slapping out a ten-fold of water... The A/C (defroster, actually) is humming cuz our soaked condition is pumping out the humidity to fog all the 339's windows.

Will we make it home under these conditions?

We hit the highway near work and just five minutes into the commute home... It stops raining!! It even looks like the skies clearing! Even better, it looks like there's not a lot of traffic -- amazing because, typically, once water hits NY-area highways, traffic just comes to a crawl!

The result: I got home, after dropping off the intern, with just 8% battery charge capacity left!! Getting the big red "!" on the dash was not fun. (Practically, "Danger, danger! Warning Will Robinson! Danger, danger!")

Still, 399 "passed." Barely! :-(

In summary:

Talk about having "Range Anxiety!"

Pros:
  • Mini-E 339 is a "head-turner" among the geeks. (Ahhh... My peeps!)
  • Good, quiet near-immediate acceleration on the highway. (Passing cars on the highway was a breeze!)
  • "Stealthy" driving in parking lots
Cons:
  • "Range anxiety"
  • Wiper controls. (Although I suspect if I spent more time reading the manual...)
  • Clunky 110-V charger
Yet undecided:
  • When will I get my 220-Volt wall charger???

Read more!

26 June 2009

Notes of Day 1 with Mini-E-339

I was going to post some of the things I learned from Catherine Clark (CC), who walked me through the particulars of Mini and getting me acquainted with 339 (my 3-3-9!) while we sat in the dealership's garage.

But I figured I better put some thoughts and actual "logbook" type data down now that my very first day with my 339 has come to a close. (And before I forget!)

The numbers, in short

Odometer mileage, start: ~ 30 miles

State of Charge (SoCs), start: 96%

Odometer mileage, end: ~65 miles

State of Charge (SoCe), end: ~44 or 47%

Travelog

Picked up from Mini of Manhattan (58th St. & 11th Ave.) @ approx. 16:00, after 15-min. of paperwork and 45-min. or so of "orientation" -- included several "laps" around the dealership and Manhattan's West Side.

Approx. first 9-10 miles traveled within NYC (inner-city, stop-and-go traffic) -- from dealer to sis' office (near Holland Tunnel) then back to dealer. (Sis has to drive my beloved '97 red Honda CR-V while I drive 339 home.)

339 took potholes well... Even some of the cobblestone streets of the Village, where I ended up thanks to a roundabout detour! How could I forget they closed off Time Square to vehicle traffic!! Even to COOL cars like my Mini-E!!! Grrrr!!!' And not that I don't know the City, but... it's been a while since I drove thru midtown and can't remember which streets go through and which just dead-end. Not having my Garmin didn't help... and note to Mini: You didn't give us GPS (not that we could use!)... Or Bluetooth! (Note to self: "Dialing and driving" is illegal in NYC and there are TOO many traffic cops and NYPDers watching!!)

Speaking of cell phones... Need to be TRIPLY cautious around NYC pedestrians and bikers. Street walkers too busy yapping away to even be aware of noisy internal combustion engine (ICE) cars... Bikers weavin' in and out... Neither will be expecting my 3-3-9, which makes practically NO discernible noise which could serve as awarning -- that is, if they were even paying attention to anything but their own little world...

BTW, I LOVE their startled looks when I accelerate from the stoplight and all "they" hear is the rising "WhhhirrrRRRRRRRL...." noise (see embedded Jay Leno video!) made by the 'lectric motors as they instantly pull me off the line!! (Eat that you jerk in the white Porsche 911 with Florida plates!)



Still, oddly enough, not one pedestrian or onlooker has asked me "What kinda Mini is that?" despite the distinctive (if minimalist) badging -- the stylized "e" plug on the hood ('scuze me, "on the bonnet" as Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear would say!), on the roof and "gas" cover.

Next 30-odd miles, stop-and-go rush hour traffic on BQE, LIE, GCP... Amazingly, car interior VERY quiet despite crawling alongside big diesel tractor trailers and "ricers" with their tricked out, rolling "boom boxes." (Sheeesh... I hope they go deaf when they hit their 30s!) Proof of good sound-insulation, shielding and solid body fit-to-frame in my 339, methinks.

Downside: I feel VERY small -- esp. since it seems like the truckers' tires alone seem "taller" than my Mini-E. Also, making it hard to adjust: I use to be in one of those "high-riders." (Yea, ok... CR-V is only "modestly" taller but seeing my sis behind me... She looked a lot "taller" in the CR-V. She confirmed later: "Weird seeing how your Mini's roof is below my eye-level when I was following you. And it looked like those bigger SUVs would crush you!")

Last 5 or so miles of the day was through local neighborhood, suburbia streets running errands. Again: AMAZINGLY shocked at how quiet the car is on local roads. No radio on, no cars or other traffic on the streets... and all you hear is 339's tires as we roll. A true stealth mobile!! (I'm sure my neighbors would love that for the times I come home late -- as in, "in the oh-dark-30 hours." Hehehehe...)

Noticed how low SoC became. "44 or 48%??? Huh?" Means I'd barely get 60 or 80 miles before 339'd need to limp home!! Oh yeah... Bright sunny day (after DAYS of rain) in NYC, sitting in rush-hour traffic -- With the A/C blasting full on the coldest temp. Yeah... Makes sense.

Plugged into 110-volt with special charger provided. Won't get full 12-hours of charging in. (Plugged in after 8PM... Need the car by 7AM tomorrow...) Let's see how well it goes.

Final thoughts for the day

Pros:
  • Very quiet
  • Feels solid and soaks up bumps, potholes and usual NYC road conditions well
  • Good A/C
  • RDS radio (Love seeing what 'PLJ is playing at the moment)
  • Comfortable seat(s). (I haven't ridden in the passenger seat... yet! ;-))
Cons:
  • "Idiosyncrasies" with the controls. (Why is the main radio volume control lower on the dash, while the knob just under the display is used to control switching between the radio's presets? Huh?)
  • Not "thrilled" with the gianormous "speedo" on the center of the dash. (I don't like to "advertise" how fast I'm going. Also, is the glass face of the gauge polarized? When I wear my polarized sunglasses, I see one nickel-sized black "dot" right in the middle of the LCD line that shows the radio info. :-( )
  • The horn. Sounded a bit wimpy for the car. Also, the steering wheel control for it takes some getting use to?
  • No Bluetooth? Oddly enough, there's a "phone handset" symbol on the dash... Pressing it does nothing... Except give your finger exercise. ;-)
The "Undecided yet" bits
  • Overall exterior/interior styling. Ok, I "get" it's suppose to look like any other Mini. But part of me goes, "But I want other people to see it and go, 'wow, that's different...'" I want acknowledgment that here stands before you something -- and someone! -- "special"... a "one-in-500" kind of special... (#339 of 500, in fact! ;-))

    See my Mini-E... Bow in adoration and acknowledgment of me and my 339's vast technological prowess, our commitment to a better Earth and our overall awesomeness... Love my Mini-E... Love me, dang it!

    That's all I want!! ;-)
LOL!! JUST kidding. (I really am NOT that vain... Really... :-D)
Read more!

25 June 2009

How I met Mini-E #339...

I took half-a-day off from my job (in Westchester) to pick up my Mini-E from Mini of Manhattan today. I left a little later than I wanted... then got stuck in traffic. (Traffic? In New York? During the mid-day? What was I thinking? Not, obviously.) And if I was going to make the usual 30-minute trip -- even though I left 15-minutes later than I liked... Well...

Anyway... I met my Mini-E "sales consultant," Catherine Clark, just slightly later than the 3 o'clock appointment we set-up last Monday. And this was our first "face-to-face" meeting -- even though we've known each other since January/February, when she called to let me know I was among "the chosen."

Catherine, in a word, is just super!!! She's been through this whole Mini-E leasing thing with nine other NYC pioneers already, so she's got it all down pat! The "paperwork" (the DMV stuff, the insurance papers, the checklists, the lease agreement... all the legal mumbo-jumbo, bureaucratic stuff I think everyone hates!) went like a breeze.

In short, she's GREAT!! (I regret that I didn't take her picture to share here... 'Cuz I'd certainly buy a car from her again and would recommend her to anyone looking to buy a Mini in metro NYC!)

Anyway, with paperwork -- and first payment ($1,901 including tax and tags.. Owie!! :-P ) -- all signed, done and accounted for... It was "time."

Time to meet "her." Wow... My heart was beating!!!

I'm really doing this, aren't I? I'm really now part of a very small group of people on a grand (hopefully) year-long experiment. I'm really committing myself contractually, financially... But... What will happen?? How will this Mini-E perform as my daily 60-mile (or thereabouts) roundtrip work commuter car? Will it be better than my current vehicle -- my very beloved red '97 Honda CR-V SUV -- which obviously has been a more than able (and cherished) daily driver?

Then, walking through the dealership's indoor garage... those "first steps" toward this year-long commitment...

Ooo... All those Minis!!! A sea of similar... "smallness" yet... So many colors... So many body styles... the squeal of virgin rubber tires on the garage's clean and painted concrete floors... the smell of new paint... the shine of freshly-polished and flawless metal surfaces... like mirrors...

But where's the one that's looks like pewter?? The metallic-gray colored body with the stylized plug on the roof? You know... ?? The one... that "special" one... The one with the unique "numbered badge" that signifies it belongs to me and only me??? (Well at least exclusively to me for a year...) And what was its number?

I kept hoping it was a "cool" number, like #111 that was given to Peter Trepp -- the first Mini-E lessee (a "pioneering pioneer?") on the West Coast. (See his blog: Peter's Mini E)

"911" would've been cool -- if there were more than 500 Mini-Es made. Of course, that meant the "lucky" Asian number ("888") was out, too. Ditto my birthday since I was born after May -- unless you write dates with the day in front of the month. (And I woulda been ok with that...)

All these thoughts were running in my mind... And just as I was thinking, "Nines... A number ending in '9'...." Catherine and I turn a corner and...

Catherine: "There she is, Paul."

My eyes quickly take in its "smallness"... its smooth curves... The low-key pewter color, broken by accents of very-noticeable green... And then I catch the small "scuttle" badge on its side...

Me: (Gasp...) "Nine... Three three nine... "
Catherine: "Something wrong?"
Me: "No... Just that I wanted, to some extent to be 'surprised' by my Mini's number..." (We had traded e-mails about practically all the other details of "my" Mini-E. But not its actual number -- the one that signified my "place" among the "pioneers." ;-))

Catherine: "Uh-huh... And....? You don't like this one...?"
Me: "No, no... Just... I mean... '3-39'... Mini-E... Mini-E-Threeeee-three-nine... "3-3-9... And she's alllllllll miiiinnneee!!!!"

We laughed and as we got in... into the one-and-only "3-3-9"... my 3-39... my Mini-E... I thought, "Yea... Here's to the start of an interesting next-12 months..."

Next up: How 30 minutes with Catherine in the 339 (my 3-3-9!) got me through my first 30 or so miles! Read more!
On my way to get my Mini-E! Read more!

24 June 2009

The future of liquid fuel-based cars is... "Grass"???

So, I'm sitting here after a long day of work -- made more difficult as with each passing hour, the little voice inside my head going: "You're thaaaaaaaat much closer to getting your Mini-E...." (Needless to say, concentrating on any one particular work task was just... ahhh... "slightly affected!" ;-))

It also didn't help that through-out the day, I'd get the "Hey, so I hear you're getting a Mini tomorrow...??" from several co-workers (fellow "car buffs" and "techies"like me) and office mates -- the "gang" that I hang out and go out to lunch with and "do stuff" with cuz, ya know, we're really all good buds and actually like each other's company. :-) 

Of course, when you get stopped and asked that, ya can't help but stop and go, "Oh no... It's not just a 'Mini Cooper,' it's a Mini-E which means its a..." (And I wonder "Where did the day go?"  ;-))

Anyway... I'm home, "rewarding" myself with some Popeye's fried chicken (my fav... Mmmmmm...) after having completed a fun -- but very "demanding" -- task yesterday. I then turn to some reading material and see the latest issue of Scientific American. And lo, what's on the cover?


The headline: "Grassoline"
The cover language: "Forget ethanol from corn. New fuels made from weeds and waste could halve U.S. oil needs.

Hmmmm... Turning to the article, the deck (the stuff after the article's headline) says: 

Scientist are turning agricultural leftovers, wood and fast-growing grasses into a huge variety of biofuels -- even jet fuel. But before these next-generation biofuels go mainstream, they have to compete with oil at $60 a barrel.


Among the article's key points:
  • Second-generation biofuels made from the inedible parts of plants are the most environmentally friendly and technologically promising near-term alternatives to oil.
  • Most of this "grassoline" will come from agricultural residues such as cornstalks, weedlike energy crops and wood waste.
  • The U.S. can grow enough of these feedstocks to replace about half the country's total consumption of oil without affect food supplies.
Hmmmm... The second bullet caught my eye as I munched on the delicious, golden-fried, crunchy, goodness of a juicy, meaty Popeye's drumstick. (Mmmmmm...)

"Wait a sec... So, if we all demand and eat more chicken, farmers will have to have to raise more chickens to be butchered... Which means, there will be more demand for "feed corn" to "feed" (duh!) the increased number of chicken... Which means that other farmers will have to grow more feedcorn... which leads to more "agricultural residues" (like cornstalks)... which leads to more source material for cheaper, clean biofuel!!! (Not to mention, an increased amount of "fry oil" from all those fried Popeye's chickens, which can be used as a clean bio-diesel!)"

Hmmm... More fried chicken = more "agricultural residue" and more used fry oil = more "U.S.-made," clean "grassoline" and bio-diesel (AND) = LESS money for petroleum from foreign countries that hate us and would use our own money to buy more weapons and sponsor those that would kill us!!! 

WoW!!!! A win-win-win-win situation!!!

C'mon people! Smell the grease!! Eat more fried chicken! The environment as well as the security of America depends on it!!!

Just kidding...(But still, check out the SciAm story! Good stuff!)

And OBVIOUSLY this is proof that I need to stop eating greasy fried food late at night and get some sleep!! But can I?? In less than 14-hours or so, I'll be behind the wheel of my very own Mini-E!!! How can I sleep?? (Especially if there's still some Popeye's left in the house?? ;-))
Read more!

Less than a day to go

I can't believe in less than 24-hours, I'll be part of something so "unique" that I'm literally one of only 500!!

Kinda mind-numbing for a shy and timid geek. (Really, I am. Just ask my non-existent friends! ;-))

More later... Maybe. Read more!

23 June 2009

Almost here...

(...which is more than I can say for this blog!)

Well, tomorrow–Thursday June 25, 2009–is the Big Day... The day I get my Mini-E!!!!

But...
  • Who am I?
  • What's so special about this Mini-E?
  • Why am I doing this?
  • How did I become (or "soon become," really) one of these few "Mini-E pioneers?" (Only 500 Mini-E's leased... worldwide?!?!?)
    and
  • Why should you, dear reader, care?

I can't answer that last question... But I s'pose I shoulda addressed the other points back when I registered and created my blog (which was weeks ago) rather than procrastinate 'til now... Two days before I'm suppose to go visit my local Mini dealer and pick up my very own Mini-E! (Number unknown.)

And yeah, there are plenty of other pioneering Mini-E bloggers (Google Blog search for "'Mini-E' pioneers") who are already sharing their experiences with the vast 'Net. (Yea, yea, yea... They're obviously much more psyched, vocal, Web-savvy and organized than yours truly... So? Sue me!)

But in my defense, I do have a "day job," ya know... And believe it or not, it's with an organization that does a lot of testing of consumer products–including cars! And like all of the other "Web editors" in my organization, I'm busy blogging about what we do!! (More on that later... Maybe!)

So, a bit of warning... This blog will be very much a "work-in-progress" kinda thing, which means there's no telling what kind of posts you'll find here—or when!

I'll try to do a weekly post, even if it's just to say:
"Wkly Log: +600 mi. Odo tot.= 3K. All's well. NOTE: Mini-E 2 quiet! Con: Turkey pop. -1 bird. Pro: Free meat 4 me! (Mmmm... Turkey!) Is "Pro" & "Con" reversed? Rolling on..."
Or something like that... Maybe without the (20-something year old's) Net short-hand. (But no guarantees!)

After all, I have no idea what I will be experiencing over the next year or so with this high-tech, unproven electric car, which is just a little bit less exclusive (but not by much!) than say, the $100,000 Tesla roadster! (And did I mention that I have a day job–and a life outside of work... and the Net?)

So, think of it this way: If you follow my humble little blog with its eclectic posts, it'll be like you're sharing my "adventure" into the unknown...

Anyway, as they say on the Mini site...

Let's motor!

P.S. - A shout out to my friendly colleague (and Mini owner) who started me down this path. (More on that later... Maybe.) Anyway... Thx, "Magnum!" You ROCK!!! Read more!