Thursday, September 15, 2016

The 2014 (60Ah) i3 REx vs The 2017 (94Ah) i3 REx

255 miles of combined range? This range estimator is probable a little more optimistic than real life, but I definitely believe 200 miles is possible with the new 2017 i3 REx. 
What a difference three years makes.  I was able to secure one of the first 2017 BMW i3 REx cars that made its way into US dealer inventory, compliments of Chris Chang, Sales Manager at BMW of Bloomfield here in New Jersey. The vehicle is mostly the same as my 2014 i3 REx, the one big exception is it has the new 94 Ah battery cells, which increase the overall battery capacity from 21.6 kWh to 33 kWh without increasing its physical size. That was necessary, since this isn't a redesigned i3, so the battery modules had to fit in the existing battery tray.
The 2017 i3 REx in Fluid Black next to my "Moloughney Red" wrapped 2014 i3 REx
As much as I wanted to check out the moonroof option that this car had (finally the moonroof is available in the US!), there is no denying the single most important improvement I was interested in was to find out how much more range the new model has. The EPA range rating for the 2017 i3 REx is 97 miles per charge, and BMW claims 180 miles of total range when combined with the added miles from the range extender. The full 2.4 gallons of gas is now available for the REx. Previously it was software limited to only 1.9 gallons so the vehicle would qualify as a BEVx vehicle. My 2014 i3 REx has an EPA rating of 72 miles per charge, and BMW claimed a total range of 150 miles including the range extender miles. So the new i3 REx should offer about 35% more all-electric range, if the EPA test results are accurate. One thing to note is the auto manufacturers do the range testing in house, and reports it to the EPA. I think many people are under the assumption that the EPA tests the cars, and they do not. Manufacturers have been known to "massage" these numbers to fit their needs.

Range Testing

I wanted to perform three tests. The first was to fully charge the car and drive it easy. I didn't hypermile, but I took it a little easier than I usually drive. It was 83 degrees, which is favorable for good range, but I did have the A/C on the entire time. I drove in Comfort Mode because that's pretty much the only mode I ever drive in. I took a combination of highway and secondary roads and basically drove the speed limit with moderate acceleration from stops.

After 100 miles of driving, the car still had 26% state of charge and was estimating an additional 37 miles available. I've driven my i3 long enough to know how far it can go, within a couple miles, and I'm sure if I were driving my i3 in those same conditions it would have gone about 72 to 76 miles before the range extender would have needed to turn on. This new i3 REx easily beat the 35% range increase expected by the EPA range rating. In fact, based on these results I think it would be hard for me to get less than 100 miles per charge even if I tried. So that's what I did for the next test.

This time I was going to drive it harder. Not Autocross hard mind you, but I'd punch it from all the stops, drive 75 - 80 mph on the highway and not concern myself with using the regenerative braking to their fullest advantage. Basically, I'd drive like I was late to an important meeting. Halfway through, I realized my efforts weren't making much of a difference. At 50% SOC I had driven 62 miles and the range estimator still showed 62 miles to go. I did noticed that the gas range estimate had dropped from 85 miles to 75 miles though, even without using any. That's because my driving efficiency was much worse than it had been on the first 100 mile drive.

Seeing how I was still on my way to 120+ miles of range, I stepped up my assault on the tires, and really thrashed the car around a bit. It worked, and I further reduced my efficiency. I finished up this 100 mile trip with only 13.5% SOC and estimated 16 miles remaining. I was able to reduce the single charge range by 21 miles, but I couldn't manage to get less than 100 miles of range, which was my goal. In my opinion this is great news. Honestly, I don't know how this car is rated at 97 miles per charge; that's nearly impossible to attain unless it's being operated in cold weather or perhaps being driven at a very high rate of speed. I'm sure once the winter months roll in and the temperature drops it won't be hard to get less than 100 miles of electric range. However in moderate temperatures, I think most people will always be in triple digits. Based on the experience with my car, I'm guessing this new i3 REx will probably average about 85 to 90 miles of all electric range in the winter. My car only averages about 60 to 65 miles of electric range when the temperatures are below 30 degrees Farenheight, therefore 85 to 90 miles sounds about right for this new, longer range model.
Even with trying to get less than 100 miles, I still managed 100 plus an estimated 16 miles remaining. 

The REx Test

The final test was to see if the range extender performance was any different. Much has been made over the fact that the i3 REx can enter Reduced Power mode, and slow down under certain strenuous driving conditions. So I depleted the battery, drove it for 50 miles and made sure to take it up some hill climbs at highway speeds. The first thing I noticed is the range extender operates the exact same way as it always has. It doesn't turn on until the battery state of charge reaches 6.5%. The "Hold State of Charge" option is still disabled here in the US, so if you want that feature, it will still have to be unlocked by coding the vehicle, as before. There was some speculation that the automatic turn on point of the REx might be at a higher SOC with the new model, but I can confirm that's not the case. However, there were two observations that I noticed that were positive.

First, the range extender seemed quieter from inside the cabin. In my car, the REx motor is pretty quiet and unnoticeable until it kicks into it's highest output mode. At that point you can definitely hear the scooter engine revving up high from underneath the rear seats. It's kinda like you're being chased by lawnmower. On long highway trips it will operate at its highest level for most of the journey and the noise is noticeable. I'll usually turn the radio up a notch to cancel it out. With this new car, driving at a constant 75 mph to 80 mph the motor seemed much quieter than it does on mine. My wife was with me for part of this test and she also noticed. She actually asked me if the REx was even running. It seems to me that BMW improved the REx soundproofing. It does sound just as loud as before from outside the vehicle, but it's definitely quieter on the inside.

Secondly, (and I've reached out to BMW for confirmation on this but haven't received a response yet) it does seem like the REx motor has been tuned for a slightly higher output. I took the vehicle on highway roads that I drive on regularly, and have on occasion done so when the REx was operating. The range extender was able to hold the state of charge higher, and under more strenuous driving conditions than my 2014 REx can. There's one particular long incline that I drive every day. With my car, if I start at the bottom with 6% SOC and drive 70 mph up to the top I'll deplete the battery to about 2.5%. I did this same test with the 2017 car and I reached the top of the climb with 5% SOC remaining. I repeated the climb with the same results. I also noticed that I could drive at about 75 mph on flat ground and maintain the 6% SOC. My car can maintain the SOC on flat ground with a constant 70 - 72 mph, but not any higher or the charge will slowly deplete.

I know the 6.5% buffer is now larger, because it's holding 6.5% of 30 kWh instead of 6.5% of about 19 kWh, so that extra energy is definitely helping, but to me it appears that the REx motor has a higher output for the 2017 model. The REx motor in my car is rated at maximum power output of 28 kW. I wouldn't be surprised it we find out the power has been increased to about 33 kW, but I don't have any official confirmation on that. I'm just going on what I've experienced with the previous REx cars and how this new one compared to it. Another hint that I may be correct is the REx is now rated at 35 mpg, down from the 39 mpg which the previous models were rated at. I don't think the extra 170 lbs alone would cause a loss of 4 mpg. I believe it working harder now to produce more energy, which was I'm guessing was achieved through a software adjustment.
After driving 42 miles on the highway I still had 70.5% SOC and an estimates 93 miles or range remaining. My 2014 i3 REx doesn't even go 93 miles per charge!  The range of the 2017 is a substantially greater than previous i3s, even more than the EPA rating would seem to advertise.  

Faster Charging With A New Profile

Previous model year i3s were capable of charging at 30amps which, at 240 volts, gave a maximum draw of 7.2 kW. The new i3s can accept 32 amps which translates to 7.4 kW. Not a huge difference, but it can help if you're waiting for the car to charge to a certain SOC so you can unplug and drive. I should note that most public charging stations are limited to 30 amps, so it won't make a difference on those units. However at home, I have charging stations that can deliver 32 amps so I was able to monitor the difference. My car usually accepts 7.1 to 7.2 kW (depending on the voltage supply) but this new i3 was consistently drawing 7.3 kW to 7.4 kW, so I can confirm the onboard charger upgrade.




















The charging profile of my 2014 i3 REx is on the left, and the 2017 i3 Rex is on the right. 
Both charged from 6.5% to 100%. The 2014 car charges fully in about 3.5 hours and the 2017 in about 4.5 hours.

I did observe something interesting while monitoring the charging profile of the new i3. Instead of the charge rate gradually tapering off as the SOC reached 90%, and slowing down for the final 40 minutes of charging, this car took the maximum rate nearly right up to the end of the session. I charged it three times to monitor this and it behaved the same way all three times. I've never observed this on any other EV. Normally, the vehicle slows down the charging rate considerably as it approaches the end of the session to slowly balance the cells. This takes place once the vehicle is over 90% and the final 5% to 10% of charging takes much longer than charging at lower SOC. That's not happening with this vehicle. It only slows down slightly, and only for a couple minutes at the very end. The charging rate doesn't gradually lower until it shuts off, it more closely resembles falling off a cliff. Interesting.

Finally, a Moonroof


This is fully opened
The moonroof is a new option for the US. It's been available all along for i3s outside of North America, and now it's available here also. The moonroof is a $1,000 option and is a split version, having two openings separated by a solid center section. Each opening has its own manually-operated sunscreen, but the moonroof itself is one piece, and slides back with a push of a button. However it only opens about eight inches, slightly more than half of the actual opening in the roof. It's not even large enough to stick your head out of it - not that you would want to do that; but the point is, it's a small opening. The moonroof does accomplish two things, though. It allows more light in the cabin, giving the feeling of it being more open. It also allows you to eliminate side window buffeting by simply tilting the moonroof open.



Available Battery Capacity - Surprise!

BMW states that the new battery is 33 kWh, and 27 kWh of that is usable. That's only 81.8%  of the total pack, much less than the ~90% they allowed to be accesses on the 60 Ah battery pack. When I read that I wondered if it was perhaps sign that the new 94 Ah cells were less tolerant to deep discharge than the 60 Ah cells were, so BMW was going to be conservative with them. So when I fully charged the battery after the first 100 mile test run, I checked the hidden diagnostic menu and to my surprise it was showing a full 30 kWh accessible. So BMW is allowing access to roughly 90% of the overall pack, just like they do with the 60 Ah cells. That explains the extra range I've witnessed but it doesn't explain why BMW's official stance is that there is only 27 kWh accessible. Perhaps it's for battery capacity warranty claims?
While the "Batt.Kapa.Max" isn't an exact measurement of the available capacity, but it is very close. Close enough to prove there's much more than the 27 kWh that BMW claims is available.


Gained Some Pounds

The only negative I've found is that the new battery is heavier, and adds 170 lbs to the curb weight (3,064 lbs to 3,234 lbs). This does effect performance a bit. The car doesn't feel quite as responsive as my 2014 does. Without testing the performance times, I'd say it's probably close to a half a second slower from 0 to 60 mph. Handling didn't seem quite as crisp as mine either, but that might not be this car's fault. It has the 19" turbine wheels, and my i3 the 20" wheels with the sport tires, which are wider and have a larger contact patch. I also recently lowered my car with sport springs from H&R which have improved the handling, so it's not fair to compare the handling to my car.

My i3 before and after installing the H&R Sport springs. It dropped the car 1" in the front and .8" in the rear.
The other performance change I noticed is the regenerative braking seems to be blended in differently. When driving slowly, it seems pretty much the same as my car does. However at higher speeds the car will coast more when releasing the accelerator. The regenerative braking doesn't initially come on as aggressively as is does on my car. It will get progressively stronger if you continue to coast, but initially upon releasing the accelerator, the car freewheels a lot more than previous versions do. I like this for highway driving, as freewheel coasting improves efficiency. If you slightly depress the friction brake pedal, the friction brakes aren't used, instead the car used first uses only regenerative braking, until you depress the brake pedal harder.

Summing Up

After a couple days and driving over 300 miles I feel it's safe to say that I believe most people will find the average usable range greater than the EPA rating of 97 miles per charge. I almost wonder if BMW purposely underestimated the range a bit in an effort to under-promise and over-deliver. On my 2014 i3 REx, I've found the range to be pretty close to the EPA rated range of 72 miles per charge. I do average a few miles more than that during the warmer months, and about 10 miles less per charge during the winter when it's cold. But this new i3 has unexpectedly trounced the EPA range rating by a healthy margin. I think most people should average well over 100 miles of pure electric range on these vehicles. The range increase will undoubtedly push some people deciding on whether to go BEV or REx into the BEV camp. I know if I were buying one today I'd go BEV also. Getting this kind of range with the REx, I'm certain 125 to 140 miles per charge would be easy to attain with the 2017 BEV. That, combined with the ever increasing CCS DC fast charge networks, would really be all I need for all my driving needs.










Thanks again to Chris Chang and BMW of Bloomfield for providing me with the use of this car for three days of testing.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

27 Months & 56,000 Miles: 15,000 kWh of Electricity & 50 Gallons of Gas

Over the course of 56,000 miles, I've driven on pure battery 96% of the time.
My 2014 BMW i3 REx is now 27 months old, and the mileage on the odometer just recently surpassed 56,000 miles. I've needed a little over 15,000 kWh of electricity, and exactly 50 gallons of gas to power the vehicle thus far. That means I've driven on pure battery about 96% of the time, and managed an impressive overall gasoline consumption of 1,120 mpg.

Normally I wouldn't highlight the gasoline use in my electric car; it's really not something most electric vehicle owners like to do. However, as many Chevrolet Volt owners can attest to, adding a range extender to a short range (under 100 mile AER) electric vehicle can expand its versatility immensely. While I haven't needed to use the REx often, there were plenty of times, especially in the winter, that I was very happy it was there.

Back in early 2014, a few months before the North American i3 launch, I openly debated whether I'd buy the BEV or the i3 REx. I ultimately decided on getting the range extender, because the EPA range rating wasn't as high as I had previously hoped. If the i3 BEV had an all electric range of 95 miles per charge or higher, I would have opted for the BEV. The EPA rating of 81 miles per charge just wouldn't be enough for my high mileage driving needs, and even though I had lived the past five years with two pure BEVs - the MINI-E and ActiveE, I chose to go back to gas with the i3 REx.

The vast majority of energy used to power my i3 was generated by the 9kW solar array on the roof of my home.
However I have to admit, I thought I'd need to use the range extended more than I actually have.  Of my 56,000+ miles, only 1,925 miles have been with the range extender running. I've bought 50 gallons of gas (I kept records) and averaged 38 miles per gallon while the range extender was running, just slightly less than the EPA rating of 39 mpg.

But just how little gas is that? Well, as I've said I've owned the car for 27 months now, so that averages out to me needing to refill the tiny 1.9 gallon gas tank about once every month - I drink more coffee than that in a month! However, refueling hasn't been nearly that regular. I've gone stretches of four or five months at a time without needing to buy gas. But I've also taken the car on a couple road trips of two or three hundred miles where I needed to refuel three or four times in the same day to complete the journey. In fact, the majority of my REx miles were accumulated on long trips. These trips simply wouldn't have been possible in an i3 BEV, as charging infrastructure is only now becoming available along the routes I've traveled.
My lawn maintenance contractor cutting the front lawn
To put the tiny amount of gas my i3 needed for the past 27 months into perspective, more gas is used in a year to mow my lawn. I have a large lot, it's a little over two acres and most of it is grass. So I asked my lawn maintenance contractor how much gasoline he needs to mow the lawn and he told me about a gallon and a half. Our lawn gets cut between 32 and 36 times a mowing season including Fall clean-ups, and that adds up to about 50 gallons of gas. I've spent about $145 on gasoline, but since I have solar it's difficult to assess exactly how much the electricity cost me. To simplify things I'll just assume I was paying market rate for the approximate 15,000 kWh I've needed. I'm currently paying about 11 cents per kWh, so that's $1,650 for the electric. Therefore, even if I had paid market rate for all my electric, the total cost to power my car 56,000 is $1,795, or $.03 per mile. I'm sure if I could factor in the exact solar discount, I'd be closer to about $.015 per mile which is pretty incredible.

I can now look back on the decision to get the range extender and confidently say it was the right choice. I probably could have managed with the BEV if the climate here in New Jersey was more like Southern California, but along with the harsh winter weather comes reduced range. From December through February, I averaged only about 55 to 60 miles per charge, down from the 70 to 75 I can rely on during the rest of the year. If only the BEV i3 offered the 95 or so miles of electric range I had hoped, then it would have adequately served all of my needs outside of the occasional long distance trip. In which case we would have just used my wife's car for the long trips instead. In fact, if I didn't have the range extender, there would have been many days where I took my wife's car, just in case. Most of these days I never needed to fire up the REx, but having it there allowed me to use the car that day and not worry about rearranging my day to find a place to plug in. I'm sure if I had bought a BEV i3, it wouldn't have 56,000 miles on it already.
The harsh winters of New Jersey meant opportunity charging whenever possible, as well as more use of the REx.
The good news is the 2017 i3 is getting a battery upgrade, and the range for the all electric BEV i3 will increase from 81 miles per charge to 114 miles per charge.  That's an impressive 40% increase in range without increasing the physical size of the battery. The new battery is simply better, and more energy dense. The i3's battery pack is comprised of 96 battery cells, packed 12  cells per module, with 8 individual modules. Each cell now holds 94 Amp-hour (94 Ah) of electricity, up from the 60 Ah cells used in the 2014 through 2016 i3s. The 2017 models will be available in the US within a few weeks, and I've already heard reports from new owners in Europe where they driven as far as 130 to 150 miles on a single charge with the new, improved battery.
The intense competition within the industry is creating improvement in battery technology faster than ever before.
Battery improvements and increased electric range is happening across the industry. The 2011 Nissan LEAF had an EPA range rating of 73 miles per charge. The 2016 LEAF now has a 107 mile rating and by next year it's rumored to jump up to approximately 200 miles. By the end of the year Chevrolet is introducing the all electric Bolt EV which will have a 200+ mile range and replace their current all electric offering, the Spark EV which has an 82 mile range. The 2016 Volt now has 50% more electric range than the 2012 model did. Sometime in late 2017, Tesla is scheduled to launch the 2018 Model 3, their affordable 200-mile electric sedan. However even with longer ranges, increasing the public infrastructure will be key in gaining market share, especially in the more rural areas of the country.

Before long, 200 miles of electric range will be the norm, and BMW will have to up the ante again. They know that, and their battery supplier, Samsung SDI is already far along in development of the next battery which will undoubtedly end up in future i3s. That being the 125 Ah cell which is not only much more energy dense than the current 94 Ah cells, but it's also smaller and lighter. As EV ranges increase, and public charging infrastructure continues to mature, they'll be less and less of a need to bother with the added complexity of a range extender. Sounds good to me, we're just not quite there yet in my opinion. Extended range electric vehicles like the Volt and i3 REx are still a good choice for many who want to transition from gas to electric drive. There's no magic bullet, the more options available, the healthier the plug in electric vehicle market will be. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

BMW i Home Energy Storage System Announced at EVS29

Yesterday at EVS29 in Montreal, BMW announced an energy storage system which uses BMW i3 battery packs. The system can utilize a used i3 pack, or it will be able to be purchased with a brand new battery pack. Perhaps the best aspect of the program is the fact that if you own an i3, you can have your old battery pack built into the system when you upgrade your car with a new pack.

I've been waiting for this announcement for a while now. I can remember talking with one of BMW's top program managers from Munich three years ago. We were discussing my home solar system, and how I'd been powering my MINI-E and ActiveE electric cars with clean, renewable energy from the system for many years at that point. He then asked me the question, "What do you think will happen to your EV's battery once it has reached its end of life?" I answered that I would imagine it would probably be taken apart and recycled, with the lithium being used for new batteries. To which he said, "What if I told you when you need a new battery for your car, you'll be able to keep your old pack and put it in your house. You'll then have the ability to store your unused solar energy, and use it to charge your car at night when you get home. That will assure you're driving a true zero emission vehicle all the time." At that point I remember just smiling and he told me: "When you get your i3, I promise you you'll be able to do just that."
BMW displayed a smaller, more stylish energy storage system at CES in Las Vegas earlier this year. It appears as if each layer of this system could hold one module from the i3's battery pack.

That was three or four years ago, so obviously I'm not quoting him verbatim, but that's pretty much exactly how the conversation went. So this program has been in the works for many years now, and hopefully will be launched soon. The press release doesn't specify when the system will be available, or have any hint of pricing. The one thing I really like about this program is that BMW will allow the customer to keep their old battery pack for use in the system when they upgrade their car to a new pack. No other automaker has provided their customers a path for a 2nd life use of their own battery pack. You already paid for it, why not get another 10 years or so of use from it? Plus, it will be a great comeback when people ask sarcastically (and they do ask this), "Where do you think those toxic batteries from your electric car will end up when you need to replace them?" I can now say, "I'll hang them on the wall in my home for home energy storage," and walk away smiling.

 “With a battery storage system electrified by BMW i, our customers can take the next step towards a sustainable energy lifestyle. Coupled with the home charging and solar energy programs, the system enables BMW drivers to embrace holistic sustainability beyond e-mobility,” Rob Healey, Manager of EV Infrastructure for BMW North America.
My i3 in front of my home with an 8.775 kW solar array on the roof. I've been powering my electric cars  (MINI-E, ActiveE and now i3) with clean, renewable energy since 2010 and would love a system like this to store my excess generation for later use. Having the ability to use my old i3 battery when it's time to replace it would make it even better.
I currently have 52,000 miles on my i3. If I keep the car long term (still undecided on that), I'll probably want a new battery in two to three years when I have about 120,000 miles on the odometer. By then I'm certain BMW of North America will have started the battery upgrade program which is currently only available in Europe. In order for this 2nd life energy storage system to work, BMW would have to allow customers to upgrade their battery packs. Therefore I take this announcement as further evidence that BMW of North America will absolutely participate in BMW's battery upgrade program, even if they decided not to do so just yet.

Although it wasn't mentioned in the press release, I suspect these complete battery packs are stackable. This will allow commercial applications to stack a tower of perhaps ten of them, and store 100 to 150 kWh of energy in a 4' by 6' space. If they were using new 94Ah cells in the pack, it would store over 300 kWh in the same footprint.

This is clearly where the industry is going. Tesla was the first automaker to offer for sale a home energy storage system, and since then other OEMs have announced that they too are exploring this market.

For the complete BMW press release on the subject, follow this link.

Friday, June 17, 2016

2017 BMW i3 Specs Revealed With Some Surprises

Fluid Black as pictured and Protonic Blue Metallic will most likely be very popular colors in 2017
While many of the changes that the 2017 BMW i3 will be getting have already been announced; such as the availability of the anticipated 94 Ah battery cells, the new Protonic Blue color and a moonroof option, I've now learned there are also more subtle changes in the US for the new model year.

First, and most interesting, is the revelation that BMW will indeed continue to offer the i3 with the current 60 Ah battery, offering a lower range and lower cost i3 alternative. This is something that I don't believe has been reported on any other EV news site to date. I speculated that BMW would do this back in March, when I wrote this post dedicated to the topic. BMW hasn't made any statements regarding offering two battery options, and made no mention of it in the the official press release of the 2017 i3. Still, my sources tell me otherwise.

The 60 Ah i3 will only be offered as a BEV; the range extender will not be an option. BMW will hold the price and offer it for the same $43,395 ($42,400 plus $995 for destination and handling) as the 2016 i3 sells for.  The 60 Ah i3 will keep the same packages as previously offered. Mega World is the standard model with Giga World and Tera World serving as the upgrade packages. The 60 Ah BEV offering will allow customers that don't need the extra range a way to save some money.
The 19" BMW i Star Spoke 427 style wheels (pictured above) will remain the standard wheels for the 60 Ah BEV i3 in 2017. They will however not be offered on the 94 Ah i3. For the 94 Ah i3's (BEV or REx) the 19" Turbine 429 style wheels that were previously only offered as an option in the Giga World package will be standard. The 20" Sport wheels are still optional, and cost the same $1,300 as in previous years  
Personally I don't see a big demand for the 60 Ah model. It's only $1,200 less than the new 94 Ah i3 and will have a much shorter range at 81 miles per charge compared to 114 (est) for the 94 Ah i3. Forty percent more range for only $1,200 makes the decision a no-brainer in my opinion. So why is BMW even bothering to offer the 60 Ah battery anymore? My guess is mainly for fleet sales. They'll probably offer up a very competitive lease deal for fleets, like they recently did for the Los Angeles Police department. It's also possible that they have excess supply of 60 Ah battery cells that need to be used. BMW no doubt had to guarantee to purchase a certain number of cells from Samsung when they negotiated the original supply contract. Perhaps they didn't sell as many i3s as planned, and still have a few thousand 60 Ah packs to use, however that's pure speculation.
The 94 Ah 2017 i3 will finally have a moonroof option. It will be available for $1,000 on both BEV and REx cars. It will not, however be offered as an option on the 60 Ah i3.
The 94 Ah BEV will list for $44,595 and the REx will now cost $48,350. Comfort Access and the Universal remote garage door opener are standard on the 94 Ah i3. To get them on the 60 Ah i3, you need to upgrade to the Giga World package. So that alone helps to close the $1,200 gap in pricing between models. The much anticipated moonroof is available as an option on both models for $1,000, but it's not available on the 60 Ah model. The 94Ah i3 has a new standard trim called Deka World. With the standard Deka trim, as mentioned above, the Turbine 429 style wheels are standard, as is the Deka Dark cloth, an interior not previously offered in the US although it had previously been offered as the standard interior on European i3s.
The new standard Deka World is called "Atelier" in Europe. It's a combination of dark gray and black cloth, with BMW i blue trim. 
There are then three optional "Worlds" to choose from, instead of the two in past years. Mega World, a $1,400 option, offers the 19" Turbine 428 style wheels and the Mega Carum Spice cloth interior.  Mega World doesn't  offer an interior upgrade, like Giga and Tera Worlds offer. Instead it's actually just a different color cloth with no upgrades in the dashboard trim. One potential problem I can see with this, is that Mega World is the standard interior on the 60 Ah i3, and it doesn't offer the 19" Turbine 428 style wheels. So "Mega World" isn't the same on all i3s, you need to know which battery the car has to know what wheels it comes with. It's standard on the 60 Ah, but optional on the 94 Ah, and has different wheels depending on the battery. That's certainly going to give some client advisers and customers a headache.
The Dark Oak wood trim is a new offering on the i3. It is available in the Giga or Tera World packages and customers get to choose if they prefer this, or the lighter Eucalyptus wood which was previously the only wood trim offered.
The next level up is Giga World which costs $1,800. Giga World also upgrades the wheels to the Turbine 428 style wheels but also upgrades the interior. In previous years, Giga World upgraded the wheels from the standard 427 Star Spoke wheels to the turbine 429 style wheels. Now for 2017 it upgrades from the standard 429 style wheels to the 428 style wheels which is also a bit confusing, especially since a Giga World 60 Ah i3 comes with the 429 style wheels - different than a Giga World 94 Ah i3! The interior for a 94 Ah Giga World i3 is the same as it has been in past years, and the same as it is on a 60 Ah i3 for 2017. The only change is the customer now has a choice of the light Eucalyptus wood trim, or the new Dark Oak Wood trim.
The Tera World interior remains the same. The only exception is there is now a Dark Oak Wood trim option. My i3 pictured above has the Eucalyptus wood trim. Customers now have their choice of which wood they prefer.
The top of the line World is still the Tera World, and it's a $2,600 option. It has the exact same offerings as the Giga World, except it has a full leather interior. It's the same Dalbergia Brown color as in previous years and what I have in my i3.

As for exterior colors it appears that only Capparis White is standard, and any of the other five other colors will cost an additional $550. Those include: Fluid Black, Ionic Silver Metallic, Protonic Blue Metallic, Platinum Silver and Mineral Grey. Also of note is the new Protonic Blue Metallic will not be available on the 60 Ah i3.
The new Protonic Blue Metallic will likely be a popular choice. However you'll have to order the 94 Ah battery if you want this color because it's not available on the lower cost 60 Ah i3. 
That's all I have for now. Based on my research I believe everything above is correct. However BMW hasn't formally released these details and it's possible that I didn't get everything 100% correct. I'll follow up and make any corrections necessary if that proves to be the case.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

BMW i3 REx Lawsuit: How'd This Happen & Who's Really at Fault

The "Hold state of charge" feature shown here on this i3 display is at the center of the recently filed lawsuit alleging the BMW i3 REx is unsafe to drive.
Recently news has spread of a class action lawsuit filed in the state of California by MLG Automotive Law alleging that the BMW i3 REx is dangerous and "can result in a catastrophic situation for all those on the road." This, in my opinion, is grossly misleading. However in fairness, to say the vehicle can be driven like any other car while the range extender is in use is also grossly misleading. To understand the juxtaposition of those two statements takes some explanation.

The truth is, the plaintiffs aren't making this up. What they are describing in the lawsuit is called "Reduced Power Mode" and it can happen under certain strenuous circumstances when the vehicle continues, for a prolonged period, to consume more power than the range extender can provide. In this post I'm going to attempt to explain why and when this can happen, how this became an issue, and what could have been done to prevent it from getting to the point of a lawsuit. 

Far and away the most misunderstood aspect of the BMW i3 is its range extender. Ever since early February 2011, when BMW's Financial Officer Frederick Eichinerto announced that the i3 (then known as the Megacity Vehicle) would have an optional gasoline motor to extend the vehicle's range, there have been questions. I remember early adopter electric vehicle enthusiasts speculating over the potential efficiency and power output of the motor on numerous online forums and EV news sites. I was in fact, one of them. 
The 650cc two cylinder range extender sits next to the electric motor over the rear axle.
Fast forward to 2016, two and a half years after the i3 launched and most people still don't really understand the i3's range extender. That's because it's different than anything on any other car sold. No other OEM before or after has offered an optional range extender on an electric vehicle, allowing the customer to decide which form (BEV or extended range PHEV) better suits their personal driving needs. BMW designed the vehicle with as small, as efficient, and as light weight a range extender as they could, while still delivering the power necessary to perform its task. The problem is, it's unclear to many owners what exactly its task is, and therein lies the rub.

If you ask BMW, they'll tell you the range extender is an APU (auxiliary power unit), and its primary function is to extend the range of the vehicle, in order to get the driver home safely or to the next charge point, without worrying about being stranded with a depleted battery. The range extender is not a fully capable large engine, as found in series-hybrid type vehicles such as the Chevy Volt. Vehicles like the Volt can run indefinitely without the need to ever actually plug it in to charge it, while the i3 REx, cannot. However it's unclear if the majority of i3 REx customers actually realize that. It seems many believe the i3's range extender is supposed to operate like the Volt's range extender, to power the vehicle as long as necessary and under any circumstance needed, and that's simply not the way BMW engineered this vehicle. BMW i3 product manager Jose Guerrero once said he viewed the range extender as being “almost like training wheels for the BEV.” I've spoken to Guerrero extensively about this, and he's consistently referred to the range extender as a backup system which is meant to keep the driver from having range anxiety, and worrying whether or not they'll make it home.

The i3 was the first, and still is the only vehicle that is classified by the California Air Resource Board (CARB) as a "BEVx" vehicle.  According to CARB, a BEVx vehicle is,"a relatively high-electric range battery-electric vehicle (BEV) to which an APU is added." Additionally, the vehicle must meet the following criteria:
  • The vehicle must have a rated all-electric range of at least 75 miles
  • The auxiliary power unit must provide range less than, or at most equal to, that of the battery range
  • The APU must not be capable of switching on until the battery charge has been depleted
  • The vehicle must meet "super ultra low emission vehicle" (SULEV) requirements
  • The APU and all associated fuel systems must comply with zero evaporative emissions requirements
I highlighted the third line because this is really the crux of the issue which has caused this class action lawsuit. BMW designed the software on the i3 to allow the customer to manually turn on the range extender once the state of charge was below 75%, recognizing the occasional need to hold back extra energy in the battery pack for later in the journey when they would need it. By selecting this "Hold Mode", the range extender will turn on and hold the state of charge at that level, or close to it, depending on the current power draw. The Chevrolet Volt has a similar feature to accomplish the same result which is to reserve electric power for later in the journey when the driver expects they may need it.  Because of this, a Volt can climb any mountain road in North America without issue, as long as the driver properly uses this feature.

However, if BMW allowed the i3 REx customers in California to have access to a REx hold mode, the vehicle wouldn't qualify as a BEVx vehicle. It would then be classified as a plug in hybrid (PHEV) in the Transitional Zero Emission Vehicle (TZEV) class. In that case, BMW would lose thousands of dollars in zero emission vehicle credits for every vehicle sold, because BEVx vehicles are treated as pure battery electric cars, and thus get the maximum ZEV credits. Of course BMW could have placed the restrictions only on the cars they sold in California and other CARB states to qualify as a BEVx, and sold the car everywhere else with a hold mode as they do in Europe, but it was explained to me that they didn't believe selling the car which operated differently in different states in the same country was prudent. So in order to comply with the BEVx rules, BMW modified the software on all cars sold in the US. This modification eliminated the hold mode option. The range extender therefore only turns on when the state of charge is 6.5%, and the driver has no control over it. They also had to limit the amount of gasoline available from 2.4 gallons to 1.9 gallons to make sure that the all electric range was less than the range while running on gasoline, another criteria of the BEVx classification. So even though the gas tank could hold 2.4 gallons, only 1.9 gallons is available to the driver. This modification caused the delay of releasing the range extended i3 to the US customers back in 2014. I was one of the customers whose car was held up at the port so BMW could modify the software, and print the Monroney label for the window.

Even though the range extender turns on at such a low SOC, the little 34hp motor can keep up with the power demand under most conditions. I've driven my i3 REx on quite a few trips which covered hundreds of miles without any issue, even though it wasn't ideally designed for that type of use. It's been my experience that I can set the cruise control for 70 mph and the range extender can supply the needed power to allow me to drive indefinitely on relatively flat terrain, even climbing a few hundred of feet in elevation from time to time. However, I've noticed if I drive faster than 70mph after a while the state of charge will erode, and the possibility of the car entering reduced power mode is introduced. For that reason, whenever I'm driving long distance on the range extender I keep an eye on the SOC, and slow down a little when I begin a long, sustained climb. For me, the beauty of the range extender is it means I never have to worry about coming up short on range. If I pull up to a public charging station and it's broken or being used, I can still continue driving without having to drastically alter my plans.

Where I live and drive the terrain is relatively flat, and as such a hold mode isn't really as necessary. However driving in areas that have long sustained climbs, especially where the vehicle will be traveling at highway speeds, the operator could certainly benefit from a hold mode. This would allow the driver to engage the range extender at a higher state of charge, reserving the extra energy needed to complete the climb.

Despite calls from some armchair engineers, in my opinion the i3 doesn't need a larger engine. Doing so would add weight and reduce efficiency. The 650cc engine is fine for just about any use, the only exceptions being prolonged high speed (over 70mph) driving, and long, sustained hill climbs which are many miles long at highway speeds. European i3 owners don't seem to have any issues because they can switch the range extender on early if they believe they will need the extra battery reserve at a later time in their journey. So what can US i3 owners do to alleviate the problem? Many have resorted to coding their car which will restore the hold mode. It's a relatively simple procedure, but one that can possibly void the vehicle's warranty. Although whether or not doing so can void a new vehicle warranty has been disputed by some in the vehicle coding community. Coding the car not only restores the hold mode, but can also allow full use of the car's 2.4 gallon gas tank.
Even though the car actually has a 2.4 gallon gas tank, BMW restricted the amount of gas available to 1.9 gallons through software. Had they left the entire 2.4 gallons accessible, the range on gasoline would be slightly greater than the electric range, and therefore not qualify for the BEVx designation.

I've never coded my i3, because I've never had the problem of the car going into reduced power mode. I understand the limitations of the range extender, I watch my state of charge and if I see it getting dangerously low I simply slow down a little. That said, I do understand that many owners don't know how the REx works, and expect it to be able to do anything, under any condition, which it cannot. The APU isn't a large engine that one would expect to find in a car. It's actually a BMW scooter engine which was modified to act as a generator for the i3. That said, with the proper use of a hold mode, the vehicle is capable of climbing any mountain road in North America, as proven by i3 owner and engineer John Higham, when he set out to prove just that by climbing 7,228 feet to Donner Summit in Lake Tahoe last year. John proved the i3's engine is robust enough to power the car up any incline at highway speeds, as long as the operator had access to, and properly used a hold mode.

So what's the problem? Why doesn't BMW just sell the car in the US as they do in Europe, and allow the hold mode and solve the problem. They may eventually have to if the lawsuit is successful, but until they are forced to as mentioned before, it's all about the extremely valuable CARB credits. BMW (along with Chrysler and Volkswagen) lobbied hard to convince CARB to create the BEVx class in the first place. GM was right there with them, but was unsuccessful in trying to convince CARB to relax the criteria enough to allow the Volt to also qualify. The difference between being classified a BEVx vehicle as compared to a PZEV may be as high as $10,000 per vehicle, although that's only an estimate I got from someone familiar with the CARB credit valuation. I don't personally know the exact amount, but I do believe it's many thousands of dollars per vehicle. When you consider BMW has sold nearly 15,000 i3's with the range extender in the US already, you can see how the BEVx qualification may have netted BMW over $100,000,000 already.

It's clear people are buying these cars without really understanding how they work and what the limitations may be, and this lawsuit only further proves that point. I highly doubt many i3 owners in the US even know BMW purposely restricted software that the car has which allows for manual operation of the range extender, and I'm sure the people behind the lawsuit had no idea the car could enter a reduced power mode under certain conditions when they bought it. There's a clear disconnect between BMW and the customer with regards to how the range extender functions, and what its purpose is. Is it an APU designed to keep you from being stranded with a flat battery, or is it a dual-fuel system which allows you the freedom to go wherever you want and at any desired speed? There's really nothing else on the market quite like the i3's range extender, so it's really important that the customer has access to the information necessary to understand how it works. This lack of understanding has been simmering for two years and it's now come to boil in the form of this class action lawsuit.

So is it all BMW's fault? Is this simply a case of a greedy manufacturer putting their customer's lives at risk in order to line their pockets cash? I don't think describing it that way does the whole situation justice. BMW obviously has to take the majority of blame for this resulting in a lawsuit, but to say it's all their fault isn't correct. There's plenty of blame to spread around if you really want to be fair. Here's how I see it:


BMW

It's clear the majority of blame has to fall on BMW's shoulders. They built an electric vehicle that was really unlike any other. They included software to allow the operator to turn the range extender on early if they felt they needed to. However, for the US market they disabled that software in order to comply with the California Air Resources Board's strict BEVx criteria. BEVx is a category of electric vehicle that BMW lobbied CARB to create in the first place, and gives the manufacturer full ZEV credits, even though the vehicle burns gasoline in some conditions. It's the only vehicle in the US that is capable of burning gasoline, but is still treated as a pure ZEV by the California Air Resource Board.
An audible warning and this visual alert comes on when the state of charge drops below 3%, warning the driver that reduced power is possible. You can also see the SOC display in the top left corner. That was also added to help the driver avoid reduced power mode.  These warnings were added in 2015, slightly less than a year after the i3 launched in the US.
When the i3 REx was first released, the driver had no warning before the vehicle went into reduced power mode. One minute you'd be cruising along at highway speed, and suddenly it would slow down drastically because the range extender couldn't keep up with the power consumption. Less than a year after the i3 launched in the US, BMW made a software modification to help warn the driver before the car went into reduced power by adding audible and visual alerts.

BMW has provided their dealer network literature to help them understand how the REx works. They have also held BMW i certification training programs, which were deep-dive, extremely informative training sessions for the i3 & i8. The information is there, but does it reach the customer? In most cases I'm afraid it doesn't. BMW's share of the blame: 50%

CARB

CARB created the BEVx classification with the hopes of increasing the amount of miles driven on electricity. They view the BEVx vehicle as one that fits a category between plug in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) like the Chevy Volt, and pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs). The goal for BEVx was to increase the amount of miles driven on electricity from 80% (that of an average PHEV) to over 90% and be a "Transitional Vehicle" between ICE and pure BEV. (John Higham went deep into CARBs BEVx classification reasoning in this 2015 post.)

However in doing so, they created criteria so onerous that no manufacturer other than BMW has made a vehicle that fits the stringent rules of the classification. In fact, in order for the i3 to qualify for this category BMW had to disable features that actually prevent i3 owners from using the car more often! The restrictions, and the fear of the vehicle possibly going into reduced power mode actually forces some i3 owners from taking the vehicle on certain days, instead electing to drive their ICE vehicle that day. This is counter productive and acts exactly the opposite of what BEVx was trying to accomplish, which was to facilitate MORE electric miles driven. If CARB needs to feel like they're getting something in return for removing the restrictions on manual control over turning on the APU, then I suggest they raise the all electric range from 75 miles per charge to 100 miles per charge.

I want CARB to make it difficult. I want CARB to continuously increase the electric range which vehicles need to provide in order to qualify for credits, and I want automakers to be forced to innovate to come up with solutions to CARBs mandates. However I also want the criteria to be attainable. The BEVx category has the potential to deliver over 90% electric miles and simultaneously allow the manufacturer to build in software to allow the driver to manually turn the APU on if they feel they need to. CARB may argue that doing so will result in drivers turning on the APU needlessly, and burning gasoline they didn't need to. That may happen on a very small percentage of case, but I contend the net result will indeed mean more all electric miles driven because more BEVx vehicles will be sold, and their owners will use the vehicle for journeys they currently don't for fear of reduced power occurring. People who buy electric cars don't want to burn gasoline unless they really believe they need to, and they aren't going to just turn on the APU for the fun of it. Owner's have paid more money up front to own and drive an EV, to think they would then fire up the gasoline range extender when it isn't needed is nonsensical. CARB's share of the blame: 25%



BMW Dealerships

Whatever transpired behind the scenes with BMW & CARB, once the cars landed into the showrooms it became the dealers' job to make sure the customers understood how the vehicle worked before they drove home with it. 

I know for a fact that early on, when the car first launched BMW dealerships did not have the information or training necessary to explain how the i3 worked. Many client advisers sought help from online forums and i3 enthusiast groups. Through my i3 blog I had dozens of client advisors reach out to me with questions, many of which centered around the range extender. However a few months after the launch BMW caught up and started offering i3 & i8 training programs, along with instructional literature that helped the client advisers immensely. Still, comprehensive electric vehicle information is rarely available at dealers. This isn't a BMW specific problem, though. Most manufacturers selling EVs have struggled to provide information about the cars needed at the dealer level.

However, BMW had a particularly difficult task with the i3 REx since the range extender is complex. Because of the software limitations there are tasks that the vehicle cannot do, but how do you explain that? Can it climb a 5% grade at 65 mph for 5 miles? How about 3% grade at 75 mph for 10 miles? That's just impossible to explain to customers even if the dealer actually knew. I think the best solution given the current circumstances would be to develop a simple "range extender 101" guide that dealers could give to potential customers. I know this may scare some customers away, but isn't the goal to put the client in the vehicle that suits them best? I feel a little bad blaming dealers for this because they have so many vehicles to sell that they can't possibly know everything about every vehicle. However if they did a better job explaining that the range extender does have limits, there might not be a lawsuit pending today. Dealership responsibility: 15%

The Customers

Two words: Caveat emptor. So much has been written about the i3's range extender and it's inability to perform certain tasks that I find it impossible not to place some blame on the customers filing the lawsuit. A simple Google search of "BMW i3 range extender" yields nearly half a million responses, many of which detail the limitations of the range extender. Refine the search to "BMW i3 range extender problems" and there are over 90,000 results that all, in one way or another, speak of the limitations or potential problems it has. I find it very hard to believe that people today buy a $50,000 car without doing even limited internet research, especially when that vehicle is unlike any vehicle they have ever purchased before. If the people in this class action suit had spent even 15 minutes doing some research before they bought the vehicle than perhaps they would have realized the range extender had limitations. I can't help but look at this as another example of "it's not my fault" syndrome, and a clear reminder of how litigious a society the US has become. Customer responsibility: 10%

Summary

It will be very interesting to see how this lawsuit plays out. I fully expect BMW to rigorously defend themselves, and I'm sure CARB is also watching this closely. I know it wouldn't hold up legally because nobody forced BMW to comply to CARB's requirements, but I'd love it if somehow CARB could have been named in the suit because I absolutely find them complicit to the root cause of this issue. Whatever the outcome I do expect this issue with the i3's range extender to go away soon. The 2017 i3 will be available in a few months and has a 50% larger battery. I suspect BMW will build a much larger battery buffer into the low end of the i3 REx usable battery capacity. Therefore even without a hold mode the car may very well have so much energy stored in the battery buffer that it will be able to sustain prolonged climbs at highway speeds. It may not be able to climb Pikes Peak at 70mph, but it should be able to just about anything short of that. Of course if BMW loses this suit, and is somehow forced to restore the hold mode on all i3's, then the larger battery buffer in the 2017 i3 wouldn't be necessary.

I have over 50,000 miles on my i3 REx and as mentioned I've never had an issue with the vehicle going into reduced power mode. However as noted, that doesn't mean it isn't a real problem because it does happen to others. The heart of the issue is the question of what's really the purpose of range extender? Is it what BMW designed it to be, what CARB wants it to be, what the dealers sold it as, or what the customers thought it would be? In my opinion everybody involved had a narrow vision of what it was, and saw only what they wanted to see. BMW should have done more to prepare the dealers to sell this unique vehicle. The dealers should make sure their clients know what they're buying before the leave the lot. CARB should have realized the BEVx restrictions are actually hurting EV adoption, and if the plaintiffs in the suit had done even minimal research before they bought the car they would have realized the car has limitations.

Should issue this have ended up in court? Whatever side you're on I think we can all agree it's very unfortunate that it's come to this. The BMW i3 REx is a wonderfully unique vehicle, too bad it's so misunderstood.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Here's Why an i3 Battery Upgrade Currently Doesn't Make Sense

The 2017 i3's 33.4 kWh battery pack is the same physical size as the current 21.6 kWh pack. BMW purposely designed the battery tray this way, so that future battery upgrades would be possible. Allowing the i3's battery to be upgraded was always BMW's plan.
The concept of upgrading an electric vehicle's battery pack is certainly not a new one. In fact, it's something that many EV owners have been vocal about wanting to see offered. So the news that BMW will begin a battery upgrade program for their current i3 owners is good indeed, even if it may be something that isn't really necessary, or practical - yet.

The big news in BMW i's May 2nd press release was, as expected, that BMW would be upgrading the i3's battery cells from 60 Ah to 94 Ah. This means the 2017 i3 will have an EPA range of 114 miles, up from the current 81 miles per charge. These new battery cells are physically the same size as the currently used cells, but can hold 50% more energy and are only slightly heavier. About halfway down the press release, this interesting bit was stated:

Retrofit Program: The Battery Can Be Exchanged Optionally

"The Main focus at BMW i is on sustainability. The consumer is given the assurance that his (her) BMW i3 can be adapted to the latest technical developments in a resource-saving way. This is safe-guarded by the flexible LifeDrive vehicle architecture. The BMW i3 is the first automobile in the premium compact segment in the world to have been designed from scratch as a purely electrically powered vehicle. This design also includes retrofitting new battery technologies.


With the introduction of the new 94Ah battery, BMW gives BMW i customers the opportunity of retrofitting their purely electric BMW i3 (60 Ah) with the new 33 kWh battery as part of the a high-voltage retrofit program. This program is available in select markets. The 22 kWh batteries traded-in by customers are used to build stationary storage battery modules thus starting their second life. This effectively proves how sustainable BMW i technology is across its entire production and service life cycle."

I highlighted "select markets" because it appears that BMW AG is allowing its regional offices to decide if they want to participate in the retrofit program. BMW of North America and BMW UK have both declined to participate at this time. It's believed that is because the cost of the retrofit is high, and since the cars are still relatively new, they believe few customers would elect to upgrade. While there hasn't been any official cost announced for the upgrade yet, I've had people in European countries that will participate contact me, and tell me they were quoted roughly $8,000 US. I've also seen people in i3 Facebook groups discuss a number similar to that, so I believe $8,000 is likely accurate.



This is actually pretty close to what I predicted an upgrade would cost, and why I've previously said it will be very hard for BMW (or any manufacturer for that matter) to offer a reasonably priced battery upgrade as new, better battery cells become available. There's a reason why no OEM has offered a battery retrofit program for a currently-available model like this. The exception being Tesla, which has offered a battery upgrade option for their Roadster owners to consider, however it costs $29,000 and was offered three years after Tesla sold their last Roadster. Tesla does not offer battery retrofit upgrades to vehicles that are currently in production, namely the Model S and Model X. Roadster owners were generally underwhelmed by the upgrade offer, and while it's unclear how many took advantage of the program, it's most certainly a very small number.

The only other upgrade comparison worth noting is that Nissan will allow LEAF owners to replace their pack with the same size 24 kWh battery for $5,499. They won't however, allow a customer with a 24 kWh to upgrade it to the new LEAF 30 kWh battery. This isn't a battery upgrade program since Nissan only gave customers the option to replace their battery with the same one, albeit new pack. Offering a battery pack upgrade isn't an easy thing to do, it's not just a matter of swapping the modules with the new cells. There's plenty of reasons why BMW is the first OEM to offer this on a currently available model. In fact, Transport Evolved covered this topic in depth with this post a couple months ago.

So BMW's retrofit program is indeed something unique, and hopefully something the other OEMs copy. The fact that BMW uses the traded in battery packs to build stationary energy storage modules opens up another question: Who's going to use them? Will BMW sell them to a third party or will BMW refurbish them in house and sell the battery storage unit themselves, ala Tesla's Powerwall?  I'd love to upgrade my battery pack in about three more years when I have 130,000 miles on it, and get my old battery back from BMW, refurbished and ready to be used in my home. BMW hasn't elaborated on exactly what they plan to do with the "stationary storage battery modules" made from the traded-in packs, but this is an option I believe and may very well end up being what they do.

Personally, I like the idea of getting my car's old battery back to use in my home. It would really expand the sustainable life-cycle model that I'd like to employ. It would also be a cool conversation piece, especially when someone asks me sarcastically, "Where do you think those EV batteries go when you replace them?" Intimating that they will end up in a landfill, leaking toxic acid which is a common misconception about high voltage lithium ion batteries used in EVs. I would be able to answer, "After powering my car for 130,000 miles, I replaced the battery pack with a new one that now allows me to drive twice as far as the original pack. I then took the original battery pack and put it in my basement where it will be used for about a decade, storing energy generated from my solar array, so now I'm always driving on sunlight, whenever I plug in to charge."
So why doesn't battery retrofit make sense now?

While this sounds great, the truth is it's still a little premature to get excited about the retrofit program. The i3 is only about two years old, and even the earliest i3s delivered in Europe aren't even close to the point where they need a battery replacement yet. Here in the US we just passed the two year anniversary of the first i3 delivery this week. It just doesn't make sense to replace an EV battery which is only two or even three years old, especially since the vast majority of i3's are leased. I believe this is why BMW of North America and BMW UK both decided against offering the battery upgrade program at this time. It's not that they don't think battery retrofit is a great idea, it's just not time yet.

I took delivery of the first i3 REx in the US on May 25th, 2014, so I've owned my i3 for almost two years now. I have a little under 50,000 miles on the odometer and so far my battery has about 94% of its original capacity. I have one of the highest mileage i3s in the country and still have 94% battery capacity; why would I, or anyone for that matter, want to buy a new battery pack now? As I mentioned above, I definitely plan to upgrade my battery at some point, but I first want to get value out of the pack I already paid for. If I continue driving at the same rate I am now, which is 25,000/yr, then in three more years (2019) I'll have 125,000 miles and will probably be ready to upgrade.

Coincidentally, in 2019 BMW's battery supplier Samsung SDI, is scheduled to release their next generation of automotive lithium ion battery cells, which will be 125 Ah. The cells BMW will be using in the 2017 i3 are 94 Ah, replacing the 60 Ah cells I have in my i3. I'll most likely skip the 94 Ah generation and upgrade directly to the 125 Ah cells once they are available, and that's exactly what I expect most 1st generation i3 owners will do. Upgrading to the future 125 Ah cells will effectively double the car's range, as opposed to the 40% increase in range the 94 Ah cells are delivering.

That's how battery retrofit makes sense. Paying $8,000 to replace a two year old battery just to add 35 miles of range simply doesn't add up, and it's why most markets won't offer the retrofit program just yet. However replacing a battery with 125,000 - 150,000 miles, after it's been used 5 - 7 years or longer, and doubling the range of the car when it was new does make sense, even at a cost of $8,000 if you plan to keep the vehicle long term. Plus, the cost of the cells will most likely continue to drop, and the replacement pack will probably cost less in three years than it does now, even though you'll get better batteries. I really like that BMW AG is starting the program now, even if it's not likely to get many takers. This will allow them to work out any potential problems, gradually improve the program, and in a couple of years time when the early i3 owners start inquiring about it then BMW will be 100% ready. By 2018 I expect most major i3 markets will be participating in the retrofit program, just as the demand for battery pack replacements begin to rise.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

It's Official: The 2017 BMW i3 Will Have New Battery, Moonroof Option, New Colors & More

The 2017 i3 comes with 40% more range than the current model. It's also available in a nice new color: Protonic Blue
The worst kept secret of the BMW i3 is officially no longer a "secret". BMW has formally announced that the 2017 i3 will have a new, longer range battery pack. They are indeed using the new Samsung 94 Ah battery cells that I speculated they would five months ago.

Just as I predicted the new battery pack is increasing from 21.6 kWh to 33.4 kWh, which in an increase in capacity of about 50%. However the range of the i3 BEV will only increase by 40% from 81 miles per charge to 114, which is less than i predicted. That's because BMW is now using a larger buffer (the difference between the total battery capacity and the usable capacity) and also because the car now weighs more (roughly 100 lbs more) because the new higher capacity cells weigh slightly more than the ones they replace.  The slight increase in weight will likely only have a very minor effect on performance, if any. The old battery used 60 Ah cells and had a capacity of 21.6 kWh, of which 18.8 kWh was usable. Which means BMW allowed the 87% of the capacity to be accessed. The new pack uses 94 Ah cells, has a total capacity of 33.4 kWh, and 27.2 kWh is accessible. That means only 81% of the total new battery capacity will be usable.

The reduction of usable capacity could simply mean BMW just wants to be more conservative, and with more available capacity they didn't need to squeeze every possible kWh out as they did with the much smaller 21.6 kWh pack. Or, quite possibly the new battery cells don't fare as well as the current cells do when they experience frequent deep discharges, so it's necessary to build in a larger buffer.

The new range rating for the REx model hasn't been announced yet, as it is still undergoing official EPA range testing. I have a theory about why this is so, but I'm going to wait until we get the range rating of the new REx before I elaborate. I do expect the REx to have a smaller percentage of range increase than the BEV i3 did, but I'm going to leave it at that for now. I'll dedicate a new post to this subject once the official EPA range for the new i3 REx is announced.
The new Protonic Blue will likely be a popular choice
While the increased range is the biggest news for the 2017 i3, it's not the only changes. The i3 will be available in a new color, Protonic Blue. At the same time the popular Solar orange is being discontinued. So the color options for 2017 on, will be: Fluid Black, Protonic Blue, Capparis White, Mineral Gray, Platinum Silver and Ionic Sliver.

One interesting nugget which was announced in the BMW AG press release, yet not in the US press release was the BMW i battery retrofit program:

"With the introduction of the new 94 Ah battery, BMW gives i customers the opportunity of retrofitting their purely electric BMW i3 (60 Ah) with the new 33 kWh battery as part of a high-voltage retrofit program. This program is available in selected markets. The 22 kWh batteries traded-in by customers are used to build stationary storage battery modules thus starting their second life. This effectively proves how sustainable BMW i technology is across its entire production and life cycle" 

This is very exciting news, even if it appears that initially only BEV i3 (not REx) owners will be able to upgrade their battery, and initially at least, the US market won't be able to participate. I'd be very surprised if this upgrade program isn't made available to the US market at some time in the future, but I believe the real question is what will the cost be? I would imaging the entire pack, including the thermal management system and packaging probably costs BMW somewhere between $7,500 and $10,000. If they offer a $3,500 discount for the old pack as a trade in, than the customer's cost is somewhere between $4,000 and $6,500 without adding the cost of labor for swapping the packs. So unless BMW subsidizes a big chunk of the cost it's going to be a very costly upgrade, especially considering the owner is replacing a battery that is less than three years old.
The new 94 Ah Samsung battery cells are the same physical size as the current 60 Ah cells, but they weight slightly more. 
I think that's partially why BMW of North America isn't rushing to bring the battery upgrade program here. The i3 just passed its two year anniversary here in the US, so even the earliest buyers still have a relatively new battery. I have one of the highest mileage i3s in the US, and currently have just under 50,000 miles on my car. My battery still has about 18 kWh of usable capacity, after starting with about 19 kWh. So in two years, I've recharged the vehicle about 1,200 times, driven nearly 50,000 miles and my battery has only lost about 5% of its original capacity. I'm definitely not ready to drop $5000 or so on a new battery just to add 30 or 40 miles of range.

I do expect BMW of North America to eventually offer a battery replacement program, but honestly it's just not necessary yet. I could definitely see myself buying the replacement pack in another two years, when I have about 100,000 miles on the car. I'd also be interested in buying back my old pack, once it's been refurbished into the stationary energy storage unit, and using it in my home. My solar array could charge the unit during the day, and when I come home at night I'd use the stored energy to recharge the new pack in my car. I don't know if BMW has plans to make this kind if home energy storage units, but if they did, I'm definitely interested, especially if I could reuse my old battery pack.
Atelier will be called Deca World for the North American market and will be the new base interior trim
The new Dark Walnut wood dash trim
There are also a few interior changes on the new i3. Finally (Let me repeat that!) FINALLY, the US market will be able offered the moonroof option. Much to the chagrin of i3 owners across the country (and particularly the ones in California), until now the moonroof option that was available on the i3 everywhere else in the world, wasn't available in North America. It will now be offered once the 2017 i3 begins shipping sometime in late August. There is also a new interior option being called Deca World (to go along with Mega, T\era & Tera Worlds). Deca World replaces Mega World as the base trim and is an attractive Black fabric with BMW i Blue trim. It has been available in Europe since the i3's launch, where it's called "Atelier". There's also a new dark oak wood option to go with the lighter Eucalyptus wood dash panels. Customers who order other of the two top interior trim levels (Giga or Tera World) will now be able to choose which wood trim they prefer.


             BMW's "Born To Go Further" video ad for the 2017 i3

In all it's pretty much what I expected the 2017 i3 would offer. BMW calls this kind to product refresh an LCI (Life Cycle Impulse). That's a mid generation refresh for the vehicle where they make improvements, but don't create a new vehicle. The battery upgrade is the big deal of this LCI, and will probably the biggest improvement the first generation i3 has during its lifespan, which will likely be until about 2019. I expect a totally new 2nd generation i3 to emerge about that time, along with the next generation of batteries that Samsung is still working on. These new future cells are low profile, are 125Ah with a specific energy of about 250Wh/kg. They pack about 33% more energy than the new 94 Ah cells BMW will introduce in the 2017 i3. So while 2017 brings some nice improvements for the i3, the next big leap forward in battery tech is once again only a couple years away. It's not difficult to see how similarly priced EVs will soon attain cost and utility parity with internal combustion engine vehicles. It's all about the batteries.