2010 mini e electric vehicle ev la auto show 022Enlarge Photo
The 450 lucky U.S. drivers who were picked to test the BMW Mini E between June 2009 and June 2010 are one happy bunch.
They love their cars, they like electric driving in general, they're willing to overlook the car's faults, and they willingly talk not only to BMW but also amongst themselves about it all.
BMW released the most recent study of their experiences on Monday, with 120 families surveyed by telephone and online. In-person interviews were conducted with "more than 40" drivers.
Fun and practical
As did last year's smaller study of 57 Mini E drivers, the new research concluded that Mini E drivers viewed their cars as fun, practical, and easy to recharge.
Mini E electric vehicle - nope, no engine in thereEnlarge Photo
Every single driver called the Mini E "fun to drive and practical for daily use," saying the car met 90 percent of their daily needs. They collectively drove their electric Minis more than 1 million miles in California, New York, and New Jersey.
Fully 95 percent of the drivers covered fewer than 80 miles a day, within the car's fully charged range of 80 to 100 miles. More than 70 percent of them covered fewer than 40 miles, roughly in line with national averages.
Home charging was deemed easy to use by 99 percent of respondents, and 7 out of 10 are more likely now to purchase a battery electric vehicle than they were before the test.
Almost 90 percent are interested in buying either a battery electric or plug-in hybrid car within five years.
For the record, last year's study found roughly the same things, with the two-seat electric Mini's biggest drawback being its lack of a rear seat and minimal cargo space, most of it occupied by the lithium-ion battery pack.
Conflict of interest?
The inference is that electric cars are easy to use, accepted as "real cars" by real-world drivers, and will offer a seamless transition.
Mini E electric vehicle - rear seat and load area mostly occupied by battery boxEnlarge Photo
Which may or may not be true, but we're not sure this study proves those points. We have five concerns.
First, it was commissioned by BMW, which has an obvious interest in its outcome. That's what accounting firms call an "appearance of conflict of interest."
Second, the pool of Mini E drivers hardly represents the U.S. public at large. They were chosen from volunteers, many of them long-time electric-car enthusiasts, and BMW not only provided them with charging stations but also made sure they had alternative transport. The Mini E wasn't the sole car in any household.
Third, we note that the survey group represented less than half the total of 450 Mini E drivers, which seems odd. It's unclear whether their views represented those of the entire Mini E pool.
Hot and cold weather a challenge
BBC Correspondent complains about MINI EEnlarge Photo
Fourth, the Mini E didn't appear to handle climate extremes very well. Users in cold-climate areas (like New York and New Jersey) almost uniformly reported dramatic drops in range when using the electric resistance heater during the winter months.
When cold, the remaining-range calculator proved erratic, and more than half of the users (56 percent) viewed having to adapt to the car's reduced range in cold weather as "unacceptable."
Some California users, on the other hand, reported issues with pack overheating that not only reduced range, but caused problems with recharging.
Covering fewer miles
Finally, while most drivers' daily routines fit neatly into the Mini E's range during temperate weather, the cars averaged only 8,650 miles over the year.
Mini E electric vehicle - start button and speedometerEnlarge Photo
The average U.S. vehicle logs mileage of 12,800 miles--almost half again as high.
Users said that was largely because the car had only two seats. In the U.S. market, two-seaters are only a tiny proportion of overall sales.
Moreover, 81 percent of Mini E drivers did say that there were places they would have liked to drive their cars but couldn't--due to the limited range.
So: EV enthusiasts like EVs
We conclude that a small number of electric-car enthusiasts who were given the chance to drive a battery electric car from a major automaker found it to be a good experience.
Whether that says much about how the public at large will react to plug-in vehicles, particularly pure electric cars, is a different question.
The studies were conducted with the University of California-Davis Plug-In Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Research Center.