One of the earliest electric-car prototype test fleets of the modern day was made up of several hundred MINI E two-seaters, which hit U.S. roads on two-year leases from 2008 through 2010.

MINI E drivers who loved driving electric--which is to say, many of them--were offered replacement BMW ActiveE electric cars, and the electric MINIs were taken back by BMW.

DON'T MISS: First Drive: Mini E Electric Vehicle Is Far From Ready For Primetime

Now, however, a few Delaware residents can have the chance to lease a piece of electric-car history.

Mini E and BMW ActiveE electric cars, New Jersey, Dec 2011 (photos: Tom Moloughney)

Mini E and BMW ActiveE electric cars, New Jersey, Dec 2011 (photos: Tom Moloughney)

The University of Delaware is offering a "small number" of MINI Es to the general public in Delaware as part of a larger vehicle-to-grid research project.

The university's fleet of retrofitted MINI E cars had previously only been offered to university departments and some local businesses.

While we didn't find the MINI E particularly refined or pleasant to drive, many of its long-term test drivers--predecessors to the BMW ActiveE "electronauts"--loved the cars anyway.

BMW has said it learned many lessons from the MINI E fleet, which gave the German company its first real-world experience with how drivers actually use electric vehicles.

Lessons learned

Among those lessons were that two seats aren't enough.

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Even if the car is rarely occupied by more than one person, the ability to hold a third or fourth person, not to mention to fill the rear seat or load bay with cargo, is important to

Mini E electric vehicle - rear seat and load area mostly occupied by battery box

Mini E electric vehicle - rear seat and load area mostly occupied by battery box

electric-car users.

The MINI E was a two-seater, unlike its gasoline counterpart, because its rear seat and much of the load bay had been replaced by a large battery box containing a pack that combined thousands of small lithium-ion cells--the same approach Tesla uses.

Another lesson: Electric-car owners need to have confidence in the car's range, which has to remain predictable regardless of weather, temperature, load, speed, and other variables.

The BMW ActiveE is said by drivers to have far more consistent range than the MINI E did, helped by liquid cooling and heating of its battery pack--whereas the MINI E's battery suffered far more from temperature-induced range variations.

Returning power to the grid

While mass deployment of electric cars that can feed power back to electric grids is still many years away, it's a hot topic for research and test projects--which is where the retrofitted electric MINI fleet comes in.

Power lines by Flickr user achouro

Power lines by Flickr user achouro

"The new individual-lease cars can be used in the same manner as a personally leased car, with the addition that the cars provide electricity to the power grid when parked and plugged in," the university says in its release.

"If the car is kept plugged in most times when not driving, it can earn payments back to the driver of roughly $100 per month, or $1,200 per year."

The researchers are looking specifically for Delaware residents who have a fully enclosed garage and whose electricity is provided by Delmarva Power.

The cars will be leased for two years at $300 per month, which includes any required major maintenance on the now-six-year-old MINI E.

Lessees will have to buy and install a 240-Volt Level 2 charging station at their own expense, however.

Interested Delaware residents should contact Joan Rosman, whose e-mail is jmrosman (at) udel (dot) edu. She can also be reached between 9 am and 1 pm at 302-831-2336.


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