Confessions of an Electric Car Driver
By Michael W. Brace
EV World's tech editor has owned a BMW i3 for a year. Here are his experiences and impressions.
Michael Brace is an Oregon State University graduate, former Marine Corp fighter pilot, who now works as an aerospace composites engineer. He is also EV World's volunteer tech editor and a Quikbyke investor.
It's been just about a year now since I bought my electric car. This isn't my first electric car, just the first car I've owned and driven that I didn't build myself. Now that I have owned it for over 9,000 miles, I must admit there is something to the philosophy about not buying into the first-year introduction of any new model. That being said, I would like to share some interesting insights after the first year of being the strange, new kid on the block.
I often wondered why none of the car manufactures advertised that they even made an all-electric car. And unless they watched last year's Superbowl most of the car-buying public doesn't even know that BMW makes a pure EV; and even then the few people who recognize it (I should say the VERY few) ask me how I like my hybrid not knowing mine is pure EV. I'll let you in on a secret: The reason why the car manufactures don't tout their pure EV wares is that the dealers don't want to sell them. Don't believe me, go buy one. They'll practically give it to you for what they paid for it. Why? Because after it leaves the showroom floor it instantly becomes a warranty and service liability and they want nothing to do with it. They had just as soon not have them on their showroom floor or in their lots. And seeing how there is no routine or scheduled service that they can make a profit from, they lose coin every time you bring it back for a repair. My BMW dealer hates them so much they won't even stock parts for it and refuse to give me an EV as a loaner car when I do have to bring it back in (which was all too often…at least until I gave up on getting any service or support from them all together). They do like their hybrids however…
Knowing that the only way you can fuel your new car is with the power chord they give you, one might think that the manufactures would supply a decent charge cord with your shiny, new EV - alas this is not the case. The i3 comes with a dirt cheap, anemic Delphi charger that has already failed on me once. When I took it back without scheduling a service call the dealer was pissed they had to rob one out of their showroom model after I told them "No, I do not want to drive your gas-burner around while I go a week without my car". So here's a word of advice for every EV owner out there: buy an aftermarket charge cord for your EV. I recommend the Electric Vehicle Institute's smart charger. It's cheaper than the Aeroviroment dual power cord, 50% more powerful than what the manufacture gives you and it has a really cool digital display to tell you how much power you are getting from the outlet. (It's also long enough to be useful no matter how you pull your car in to park).
Which brings me to a dirty secret that I've recently come to realize: if you don't have a 220 volt outlet at home (of which I don't have) and only have a 115 volt outlet to charge from (like I do) you can't commute to work more than 65-70 miles round trip unless your place of work gives you a plug to top off at while at work (or you buy a better charge cord). It simply takes too long on the factory-supplied 115VAC charge cord to charge up overnight - even if you beat-feet and get back to your home outlet before 6 pm. The good news is that I've never been turned down for an outlet anywhere I've worked. All of my employers are jazzed I'm driving an EV and the maintenance shop thinks it's way cool to set me up with an outdoor rated outlet. And here's another dirty secret I'll let you in on: all of the outdoor plugs they put in are the 20 amp, GFI type. Since I drive 33 miles [one way] to work this also means my EVI charge cord can pump in 1,880 watts of power instead of the pitiful 1,000-1,200 the factory cord does, and I'm fully charged by 2 pm (in case I want to sneak out early) or I can simply forgo the charge at work and still only need 8 hours to charge up at home.
This leads me another confession: of the 9,000 or so miles I've racked up on my odometer I've only paid for about 200 of them. I almost feel guilty when I tell that to everyone who asks me ‘how do I like my car?'. Between the free plug-in at work and the free plug-in at my marina (where I live) I've only had to swipe my ChargePoint card 2 or 3 times. Most of the public chargers and virtually all of the restaurant chargers are free. Deep down I think that most of us EV owners become less and less of a tree-hugger than what we started out as and quickly evolve into just cheap car-drivers over time. (I know I'm always looking for a free top-off even when I don't need it.) I would like to think that it didn't start that way, but let's face it: I'm an engineer by trade and an admitted techno-geek at heart. The thought of driving around in some clean, cool technology that can last for years without maintenance, cost nothing more than the wear and tear on my tires to operate and doesn't burn gas is the only excuse I need to keep my bicycle on the rack and drive my car around on a hot Florida evening looking for the perfect ice cream cone vendor along the beach.
I know I‘ve gained at least 15 pounds over the last year and I think it's my EV's fault.
Originally published: 21 Nov 2015
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