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
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.
It's important to eliminate bias when analysing results such as these.
A survey by BMW on a BMW-built electric car on a BMW-run trial is likely neither to criticize the vehicle too heavily, nor put the car into any situation where it might struggle to cope with an owner's usage. With some big-budget electric BMWs in the pipeline, there's commercial interest in the vehicle appearing fit for purpose.
At the same time, you can argue that it was the perfect test, because at this stage, nobody is likely to buy an electric car if it doesn't suit their needs, so the people who do "go EV" already know they can live with one. Some car owners do huge distances every year and need a large car for their families and paraphernalia, and they're obviously not going to choose an EV for the task. Many drivers just do short distances though and many others are part of two or more car families, and in both cases an EV may be perfect. If your daily commute is 25 miles then an EV with a 100-mile range offers far more than you need.
We're discovering that EV buyers tend to be a well-educated bunch and as such, we don't see anyone accidentally buying an EV to find out that it doesn't meet their needs. In this respect, BMW's test could be considered quite realistic.
The important thing is to understand that for many people, an EV still isn't a suitable method of transport for reasons of cost or because their longer journeys are regular enough to make it inconvenient. BMW's test results are very positive for EV ownership and as an example of how well EVs can work to the wider public, but we can't scorn those for whom EV ownership still isn't a realistic option.
One of the most telling figures of the test? Despite loving the MINI E, 55 percent of the testers said they'd wait another few years before buying an electric car. BMW isn't quite there yet - could the i3 turn the tide?