BMW's UK MINI E Test Ends: Drivers Happy, But...

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A few months after BMW and MINI's electric car study ended in the United States, a similar scheme run in the U.K. has also come to a close, and the results are in...

...and if you've read the results of the American tests, the figures coming from the U.K. will all look very familiar. Basically, all the drivers loved driving the MINI E, as you might expect from a small, fun, 204 horsepower electric hot hatchback.

The results are about more than just whether people enjoy driving EVs though, and for BMW the focus is on collecting data for its current and future EV projects, the 2011 BMW ActiveE 1-Series and more importantly, the upcoming 2014 BMW i3 electric city car.

First, the good news

As we're becoming accustomed to from MINI, and from a BMW product, owners enjoyed the driving experience. Every user appreciated the quietness unique to the EV experience, but also the futuristic noises of an electric motor doing its thing.

All appreciated the "fast pick-up and quick acceleration" as a result of the way electric motors deliver torque, and many even took it upon themselves to turn improving range into a game - something we've seen with a lot of economical vehicles. Drivers made as much use of the regenerative braking system as possible and three quarters of the sample said they aimed to reach their destinations having used as little battery power as possible.

Range, in general, wasn't an issue. The average distance travelled by the 138 drivers was only 29.7 miles per day (the UK average is fewer than 25 miles per day), and with MINI quoting a realistic range of 112 miles, many didn't even see the need to charge every night, averaging 2.9 charges per week, recorded by charging smart meters. When they did recharge the car, all made use of cheaper night-time tariffs. The usage figures draw parallels with the U.S. survey, in which 95 percent of drivers covered fewer than 80 miles per day, meaning "range anxiety" was rarely an issue.

81 percent said they preferred plugging-in to filling up at a gas station, and 82 percent used a wall-mounted charging box at home for 90 percent of their recharging needs. Nearly three quarters of those questioned didn't show much concern for the lack of public charging options as a result.

In the end, 96 percent of the participants said they'd now consider buying an electric car as a result of taking part, and half said they'd pay as much as a third more than that of a regular car to own an EV. 30 percent would buy an EV within a year.

One MINI E driver covered almost 8,000 miles in six months so high milage usage is possible, and when asked whether electric cars needed an artificial sound to alert pedestrians, over half responded that drivers should simply pay more attention, so there are definitely some EV myths being busted.

BBC Correspondent complains about MINI E

BBC Correspondent complains about MINI E

Enlarge Photo
...And the not-so-good

We've seen that level of positivity from the U.S. tests earlier this year and early in 2010. As with those tests though, there are some caveats.

Extreme climates are still an issue. Whether you live somewhere that experiences very low temperatures each winter like New York or the extreme heat of states like Arizona, your range can dramatically reduce as a result, and charging speeds can also be affected. The 2010 results showed the same issues with cold-weather testing.

The U.K. doesn't get extremes to that degree (the country's copious amounts of rain indicates a fairly temperate climate...) but even so, 84 percent said range was affected during an unusually cold winter. BMW doesn't say to what extent, but reports one user regularly drove 88 mile journeys each day all winter, and that 4 out of 5 participants thought the car suitable for winter use.

Although range wasn't an issue, this was undoubtably helped by the majority of drivers averaging only 3,226 miles over six months. An equivalent of 6,500 miles per year is only half the national average, or a little over two thirds that of small cars like the MINI.

Reading a little deeper, it's unsurprising that the drivers' range concerns were minimal, as BMW clearly picked individuals unlikely to cover too many miles, and indeed fewer miles than they might cover even in a regular small car. BMW did use drivers in control vehicles - gasoline MINIs and BMW 116s who apparently covered even less distance, but this just marks the control vehicles as below-average users, rather than an example of the national norm.

And lest we forget, with the $540 per month UK lease cost for each owner, far more than a regular MINI, there's still an element of "spending money to save money", even at the 2 pence (3 cents) per mile owners were running the cars for. Future owners might not be lucky enough to have BMW install a free charging point at their house, either.

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Comments (10)
  1. Hi Antony - thanks for the review. My latest Tweet speaks directly to your analysis: "EV buyers tend to be a well-educated bunch". After selling NEVs for a year I learned that education is PARAMOUNT to EV sales, alleviating the tech fears & creating an empowering consumer mindset. As for colder/hotter climates, manufacturers should take note from MCEV dealer Steve Mayeda on how to create battery warmers (& coolers I suppose) to enhance charging during weather extremes.

    What most surprises me about the study is how much people actually enjoyed the Mini E EV driving experience. Yes, I'm an EVangelist, but when I test drove one at the AltCar Expo I found the regenerative breaking a bit too stiff for my own tastes...not smooth like the LEAF.

  2. The problem here is the failure to realize that most people actually have to do things during their normal day that require more than just going to work and then home. And locales where driving distances are healthy
    make many itinararies impossible if dealing with less than 100 miles. 100 miles is not very far in many locales. Many in California and here as well, have two way commutes way over 100 miles. And then there's
    always the possibility of a detour.... EVs such as these are obviously only as very, very expensive second cars. And those "gas savings" are likely to more than disappear when buy-a-new-battery-pack time comes along. Claiming inexpensive operation and not mentioning battery replacement costs is total fraud, in my book.

  3. "Claiming inexpensive operation and not mentioning battery replacement costs is total fraud, in my book"
    Agreed, all costs must be considered. The more you evaluate all costs, the better the argument is for EV's. Brakes for example. I have 63,000 miles on my MINI-E and still have the original brake pads. At 63,000 miles all I've needed is a few tire replacements and wiper blades. My fuel savings is close to $5k at this point and by 100,000 miles it will be around $8,000. Couple that with no oil changes, no tune ups, no rotting muffler & exhaust to replace, let alone timing belts, fuel pumps and the hundreds of self-destructing parts that make up an ice and I'll be way, way ahead when it comes time for a new battery. Your FUD is getting old

  4. @Tom - You are so right! When you add in long range maintenance costs for EVs vs. ICE cars, EVs win hands down. Auto manufacturers do not "plug" this truth because it will set a tailspin in motion for their industry. Fact: car dealers earn most of their income by selling parts and/or service (not cars!) Mechanics: now is the time to update your skills and learn battery / EV technology.

  5. Ramon, let us say you need to replace the battery after 8 years (that is what Nissan warrantees, so expect to see the trend continue). Do you or anyone really know how much the battery will cost in 2019 ?

    More importantly, do you know how much gas will cost in 2019 ? Do you even know whether there will be enough gas for everyone ?

  6. If you bought your EV right now, by the time you needed to replace your battery, it would probably only cost as much as your acid battery does now. There is incredible advancements in electric batteries and mass producing those, like Ford is now doing for their electric; you will not have to refinance your house to buy the battery. Even at $20 thousand for those minis, and that is still overpriced, you will be saving a fortune in labor and parts that the EV will not need that the ICE will need within a ten year period.

    If Telsa brought their EV price down to the family budget, you would never have to buy another car for decades or probably not even a battery.

  7. After these two tests, I only have one problem with the Minis...better make that two problems since they are way overpriced, and that is - they are too ugly. They look like they belong in a circus with clowns crawling out of them. Why is it so hard for the builder to make those cars creative and appealing to artistic (no, I didn't say autistic) people? It looks like you need to fire all your design engineers and start over.

  8. "81 percent said they preferred plugging-in to filling up at a gas station"
    Wow, that means 19% of the EV drivers prefer to go to a gas station instead of filling up at the convenience of their own home.... Unbelievable!

  9. Heh, very droll, I'm sure you knew what I meant ;) On the other hand, it does make you wonder about the 19% who actually prefer going to a gas station and filling up their regular car rather than coming home each night and plugging in an EV. Even if you enjoy internal combustion I can't see anyone enjoying the "gas station experience"...

  10. I look forward to seeing more sporty electric cars. minis are so much fun and BMW needs to step up the electric game!

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