It's always good to be suspicious when an automaker sends out a press release saying customers are "delighted" with its products.

In the case of the Mini E, BMW offered data to back up the claim.

At the Washington Auto Show today, BMW released early results from a study of 57 customers who leased its Mini E electric vehicle, conducted with the University of California-Davis.

2009 MINI E

2009 MINI E

Mini E electric vehicle - nope, no engine in there

Mini E electric vehicle - nope, no engine in there

Mini E electric vehicle - battery charge gauge shows charge and range falling, percent by percent

Mini E electric vehicle - battery charge gauge shows charge and range falling, percent by percent

MINI E Schematic

MINI E Schematic

Among the conclusions:

  • The Mini E's stated 100-mile range is enough for most daily usage.
  • Home charging is much more important that availability of public charge points.
  • Driving electrically is fun, and the Mini E more or less works the way a "real car" would.
  • The two-seat Mini E suffers from the lack of a rear seat and minimal cargo space.

BMW leased 450 Mini E test vehicles in the U.S., along with 150 more in the UK and Germany, in a one-year trial to accumulate data on how real-world consumers use electric vehicles.

They like it, they really like it

"There's been a lot of conjecture about electric vehicle user demands," said Rich Steinberg, BMW's Manager of EV Operations and Strategy. The company's conclusion, based on the data so far: "The Mini E suits their daily driving needs, and they really enjoy driving it."

Most Mini E drivers report liking their cars, and they've actually banded together on Facebook and in other venues to support each other.

Many even open their garages to other Mini E drivers to let them recharge away from home.

User challenges

But not all has gone entirely smoothly with the program. Drivers report charging difficulties in cold weather, with at least a handful of cars refusing to charge their lithium-ion battery packs at temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

And more than a few have grumbled about the challenges of getting timely responses to service requests, citing difficulties in reaching Mini E specialists in the central support organization.

$850/month, running or not

If cars needs to be taken away for service, owners sometimes wait weeks before they're returned. Apparently the monthly lease payment of $850 is due whether or not the car is working.

Most Mini E drivers know they signed up for a test vehicle, and that they were subject to some hiccups in what were, after all, hand-built prototypes with non-BMW powertrains.

And few complain about the drive experience, although we found it disappointing.

Electric BMW rev 2.0

But regardless of glitches, BMW is powering ahead with a second electric-car project, unveiled at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show as the ActiveE Concept. Leases on that car will be available next year.

In the end, BMW's Steinberg said, the data from the study thus far makes BMW "optimistic that electric vehicles have a role in the future of mobility in America."