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Tom Moloughney: BMW's Uncomfortable Ambassador

By Bill Moore

What happens when you know more about a car than the dealer who has signed up to sell it? It can put you in high demand and in an uncomfortable position.

He's not on BMW's payroll. In fact he has to pay BMW $499 month for the privilege of driving their experimental electric cars, which haven't always worked perfectly, he admits. His full-time day job is running Nauna's Bella Casa Italian restaurant in Montclair, New Jersey, which he's owned now for nearly 30 years.

But back in 2008, he decided to apply for BMW's Mini-E electric car program, which used converted Mini Coopers that he and several hundred other early adopters leased for nearly $900 a month. As Moloughney points out, he could have leased three of Minis for that price. Still, he wanted to reduce his dependence on gasoline, a move that turned out to be prescient in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, as the New York Times reported.

That first foray by the German carmaker was plagued by early technology teething problems and was supposed to run only a year, a short enough period of time, Moloughney thought, that if it didn't work out, he wouldn't be out that much money. The year passed and he was hooked, irrespective of the technical hiccups. The Mini-E's drive system, developed by AC Propulsion under contract, was okay, but it wasn't perfect. What he loved about the car, however, was its handling.

When BMW moved its research program on to an electrified version of the 1 series called the Active E, Moloughney leased one. He soon discovered that its drive system, this time developed in-house by BMW, was miles ahead of the Mini-E. Still largely an experimental research program, the car did have issues, including a motor that burned out and had to be replaced due to faulty seals. But clearly, BMW was learning and improving, and so was Moloughney's reputation as a trusted source of information about the cars, sharing his knowledge through his blog postings.

When BMW officially launched the i-Series in New York City last summer, he was on hand and has since had a chance to drive the i3 on a number of occasions. He finds it has the just the right blend of sophisticated electric driving he's come to appreciate in the Active E and the spritely handling he loved about the Mini-E.

Now, however, he finds himself in the curious and maybe just a bit uncomfortable position of unofficial product ambassador for BMW. Between his hands-on experience with their prototype electric cars and his widely-read blog, he's not only spending time answering reader questions, but now increasingly inquiries from BMW dealers who are looking for help in preparing their sales staff to advise prospective customers about the i3 and i8. He has even had a BMW dealer in Toronto pay his way to Canada to spend the day at his dealership, answering questions and offering insights into what they can expect customers are going to be asking when the car shows up late this coming Spring.

The entire interview lasts just over half-an-hour. You can listen to it using the embedded MP3 player below.

Times Article Viewed: 9597
Originally published: 26 Feb 2014

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