Sunday, June 28, 2015

BMW i3 REx One Year Review

Delivery day: May 21st, 2014

Well that went by fast. After waiting patiently for years for BMW to bring the "Megacity" car, their first production electric vehicle to market, my first year of ownership really flew by quickly. On May 21st of last year I was the first i3 REx delivery in the US. My one year review is about a month late, but that has only given me some more time to gather my thoughts about it.

About a month into ownership last year, I authored two posts dedicated to my initial likes and dislikes. Many of those initial thoughts still hold true, but I've also had some changes of opinion as well as discovering new annoyances and new attributes which I appreciate.
One of the few pictures I have of my car in its real color; Laurel Grey. I wrapped it red the first week I had it.

Overall I'm very happy with my i3 and there isn't another car I'd prefer to have. It really suits my needs while offering the perfect balance of performance, utility, comfort and efficiency that I desire. I managed to pile up a little over 25,000 miles by my first year anniversary (I'm up to about 27k now) with 23,700 miles on battery alone and 1,300 miles with the REx engine running. That equates to about 95% all electric miles. I'm sure some will question whether I needed the range extender option at all since I only used it for about 5% of my driving and that's a valid question. I guess I didn't really need it, but I definitely don't regret spending the additional $3,850 for it and I'll explain why.
The REx performed perfectly on my 462 mile road trip from New Jersey to Vermont. Going there and back I drove a total of 111 miles on battery and 351 on the REx, needing a little under 10 gallons of gas for the trip. I'll gladly replace gassing up on long trips with a couple 30 minute quick charge stops once the infrastructure matures, but for now the REx is my best option for the occasional long trip.

First and foremost, the range extender allowed me to take the car every day without even thinking twice about whether I had enough range or whether or not I would have the opportunity to plug in during the day. Back when I did my initial likes and dislikes, the first thing I pointed out was that I think BMW missed an opportunity to separate themselves a bit from the pack of "80 mile EVs" out there. The 81 mile EPA range rating for the BEV i3 was just a little too low for me so I went for the REx. As it turns out, there weren't too many days which I needed the REx, but having it there allowed me to take the car on days I may not have because I wasn't sure how far I might need to drive that day. So in reality, the range extender allowed me to drive more electric miles than if I didn't have it. I'd say I probably only needed the REx about two or three times a month on average, and even then it was usually for less than twenty miles. There were a couple long road trips which accounted for the majority of miles, and a few times I needed it for 30 to 50 additional miles. When I first got the car I took it to get wrapped and the shop was about 130 miles from my house. The drive back was nearly all on the range extender. I took a couple 150 to 200 mile round trips, my wife took the car on a business trip to Pennsylvania and I also made a 462 mile round trip to Vermont. It's true I could have managed without the REx, but having it there increased the utility of the vehicle immensely and if I had it to do all over, I would definitely get the REx again. However, if BMW had optioned it with a 28-29kWh battery pack (33% larger), I would definitely choose that over the REx.

The car is holding up well and there are no squeaks or rattles to report. My interior still looks brand new, even with heavy use and high mileage for one year. I'm pointing that out because I have heard a few i3 owners report their leather seats showed premature wear, and even a couple people say the eucalyptus wood dash panels developing cracks (which BMW replaced under warranty). I have nothing negative or unusual to report on this though. Since I wrapped the car shortly after getting it, I can't really comment on how the exterior painted surfaces are fairing. Since this is the first BMW with all plastic body panels, and since BMW developed an entirely new way of painting the panels which uses 70 percent less water and 50 percent less energy than painting systems employed for their steel body panels, I think it's fair to wonder how well the painted panels will hold up over time. I have had a few people ask me how the wrap is doing and I can say that after a year of driving in New Jersey (including a harsh winter with a lot of snow and ice) the wrap is beginning to show signs of wear and even peeling on some of the corners. You really have to be looking at it hard to find the problem spots, but small issues are surfacing which I'm sure will only get worse. I really only intended to keep it wrapped for a year or so, so I'm not concerned. I figured this would happen after about a year. Just keep this in mind if you are planning to do a vehicle wrap. 
The wrap is bubbling a bit on the side mirrors
Wheel well beginning to peel












The redesigned fuel sensor
Over the year I had a couple of maintenance issues which needed service. The good thing was my dealer, JMK BMW, has i3s in their loaner fleet so I was able to drive an i3 even when my car was in for service, which amounted to a total of 14 days. The first issue was one that all the early i3's had, a blown onboard charger, or as BMW calls it, a KLE (Komfortladeelektronik or Comfort Charging Electronics in English). One good thing about the way BMW engineered the onboard charging is that there are two 3.7kW on board chargers, one in the main EME (Electrical Machine Electronics) and the other, the KLE, is installed separately from the EME. So if you do have a KLE failure, you can still charge the car, albeit at half speed. I can't give BMW a pass on this issue though. They had five years of field testing with the MINI-E and ActiveE, and to come out of the gate with a faulty on board charger is inexcusable in my opinion. To their credit, they quickly resolved the issue by re-engineering the KLE, and installing it in the existing i3 fleet. I've had the new KLE  in my car for 10 months now, and it's been working fine. There was another issue that all i3's with the range extender had, which was a faulty fuel pressure sensor. Almost immediately after the i3 launched, REx owners were getting a Check Engine light, even if they never fired up the REx. It turned out a fuel pressure sensor was getting corroded by the gasoline used in the US. Evidently the mixture is different from the gas used in Europe where the i3 had launched 6 months earlier without this issue, and the additives in the US gas were creating havoc with the sensor. Again BMW quickly made a new fuel pressure sensor, this one actually has gold plated connectors to resist corrosion.
My battery pack dropped from the car. The heating element is inside, below the battery modules

I also had a flaky voltage regulator for the battery heating element which was occasionally sending an error message. I don't think BMW was sure if the sensor was bad or if the regulator was bad so they just replaced both. That required removing my entire pack to replace the regulator. I was surprised that this major service was accomplished by my dealer in less than two days. The only other issues I had were flat tires; four of them to be exact. It's difficult for me to really assess blame on this, since flat tires are usually the fault of the driver for running over debris or adverse road conditions, but four flats in one year is a little troublesome. Could it be related to the rubber compound Bridgestone used to make these unique tires, or related to how tall and thin they are? The two main problems I have with this are the fact that since the i3 doesn't have a spare, you are left stranded unless the mobility kit (an air compressor and tire sealant) can temporarily seal the hole and allow you to drive home or to a repair shop. Secondly, the tall thin tires are unique to the i3, so they aren't always in stock at the dealer. One time I had to wait four days for the dealer to get one. 
With no spare tire onboard, a flat means you're getting towed

At least with a sidewall bubble you can drive to the dealer, but you still need to buy a new tire and hope it's in stock
Three of the four flats I had were caused by sidewall bubbles, which happen when the inner liner of the tire is damaged. Sidewall bubbles typically happen when you hit a pothole, curb or road debris. In all three cases when I had this happen, I hit a good sized pothole and immediately figured I'd have a problem. Pulling over once it was safe confirmed what I had expected. The other flat I had was caused by a large metal screw. In that case I was actually only a couple blocks from a BMW dealer who actually had the tire in stock and I was able to wait there and drive off about an hour later. A few years back I had a Porsche Boxster with low profile Pirelli tires and had sidewall bubble issues with that car also, so I know this is something that is common with low profile tires. The difference was the car had a spare tire and the Pirellis were available everywhere. If I could go back in time I probably wouldn't have gotten the $1,300 optional 20" sport wheels and I certainly would have paid the $1,000 for the tire and wheel insurance. I definitely like the look of the 20" wheels, but they are lower profile than the 19" stock wheels, and that makes them more susceptible to bubbling. 
91 miles on a charge is my personal best to date

As for the range, in warm weather (over 65 degrees) I can usually beat the EPA rated range of 72 miles per charge. In fact, I average about 78 miles per charge in these favorable conditions. The cold weather takes its toll and the worst range I ever got was 48 miles on a full charge before the REx turned on. This happened back in January when the temperature was below zero with ice covered roads and I didn't precondition the cabin or battery. I actually wanted to see just how bad the range could be in those conditions. However most of the winter when temperatures were under 30 degrees I averaged about 58 to 60 miles per charge. The furthest I ever drove before the REx kicked in was 91 miles, which I did shortly after taking delivery.

I'll now list the top ten things I either find annoying, would like to see corrected or added features to future i3s.

1) Configurable regenerative braking. I'd like to select how aggressive or weak the regenerative braking is. Other manufacturers offer this and the owners I've spoken with appreciate having control over their regen. The i3's regen does increase in strength when in Eco Pro and Eco Pro+ modes, but I'd prefer the ability to manually adjust it.

2) The car needs an extension flaps on the sun visors. There is a huge gap between the visors and early morning drives can be difficult when heading East. 

3) The charging connector needs to unlock from the vehicle when the charging session ends. BMW had said this would be part of the March 2015 software update (which I have) but it still doesn't work. 
The large gap between the visors allows the blinding sun to get through. Visor extension flaps would be appreciated.

4) The front storage compartment (frunk) should be waterproof. If that is problematic then install a snap-on or hinged cover to keep dirt and water spray out. 
The current configuration allows leaves, water and dirt to get into the frunk storage compartment. Anything stored up there gets dirty and wet. A cover would solve the issue. 

5) Remove the annoying disclaimers and seat belt gong every time you turn the car on.  The seat belt warning should give you ten or twenty seconds to buckle up before it sounds the alarm. I might code my car just to remove these.

6) Fix the windshield wiper. It currently pulls water back into the drivers view when it changes direction. During heavy rains there is a significant obstruction to the drivers view of the left side of the windshield. 
The wiper leaves a line of water on the windshield, and actually pulls it back into the drivers line of vision when it changes direction.

7) Add a battery temperature readout. BMW can bury it in iDrive if they don't want it on the main display screen, but put it somewhere. Many experienced electric vehicle drivers want to see their battery temperature.

8) Add a heated steering wheel. In my opinion heated seats and steering wheel should be standard on all EVs, especially ones from premium brands. I would have really appreciated it last winter.

9) Include an AM radio. Other EV manufacturers have figured out how to reduce the interference and offer it in their vehicles. I'm sure BMW can figure this out too, even if the reception isn't perfect. 
When the ACC disengages, you get this warning. The problem is by then it's already disengaged and the car is applying the regenerative braking.

10) Fix the Adaptive Cruise Control and Parking Assistant. These are really great features, and this kind of technology is expected in a car like the i3. The problem is the ACC disengages suddenly and doesn't recognize certain vehicles because of their tail light configuration. The car will drive right into the rear of a Dodge Charger for instance, because the Charger's taillights (which extend across the entire rear of the vehicle) for some reason confuse the ACC. Direct sunlight and sometimes overpasses also cause the system to shut off without warning. I dedicated a post to this issue a few months ago. The Parking Assistant is an automated parking feature which does an incredible job of parking the i3 in very tiny parking spots. It only needs an opening which is 22 inches longer than the car to park it. The problem is, I've had numerous people report to me that the car rubbed the curb during the automated parking, scratching the rims. I've had enough people tell me this happened to believe it wasn't just a couple cars malfunctioning. I believe there is an inherent flaw in this feature which needs to be fixed, so for now I recommend not using the Parking Assistant until we get word that the issue had been corrected. 

OK, so by now you must be thinking I must really hate the i3, considering all these things I've pointed out that I don't like. That wouldn't be correct. I actually love the car and wouldn't trade it for anything, but nothing's perfect, and BMW can definitely make adjustments which would improve the i3 in my opinion. Now I'll dive into my top ten i3 likes

1) Spacious interior. For a car that is only 13 feel long, it has a lot of interior room. It actually has nearly the same interior volume as a 3-Series which is more than two feet longer than the i3.
Spacious, comfortable and well laid out. The i3's interior is definitely one of its strong points

2) Beautiful interior. In my opinion the i3's interior is stunning and laid out perfectly. The seats are very comfortable and the outward vision is excellent.

3) It's incredibly fun to drive. The instant torque, combined with the light weight make the i3 the most fun to drive electric vehicle this side of a Tesla P85D. The low end acceleration (under 60mph) is fantastic and it's actually the fastest one of the fastest BMWs from 0-30mph. Somehow the tall, thin tires do their job and keep the car under control in hard turns. While it doesn't corner like an M3, it really does just fine when it needs to. I've let dozens of friends and family members drive it and they all walk away with an ear to ear grin. It's really a blast to drive.

4) Futuristic, sustainable construction. I love the fact that I'm driving the only volume production to ever be constructed with a passenger compartment primarily made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic, an all aluminum frame and thermoplastic body panels. There is absolutely nothing else like it on the road today. Plus, every stage of manufacturing and assembly was developed with sustainability in mind.100% of the electricity used in the Leipzig assembly plant is derived from the wind farm BMW installed on the site. It actually generates so much excess electricity that BMW sells the excess to the Volkswagen AG. Even the carbon fiber plant in Moses Lake, Washington where the CF is made is powered 100% by renewable hydro-power. 
BMW's Leipzig plant where the i3 is made. The on site wind turbines produce more energy than the plant uses.
5) The charging rate. I can consistently pull 7.2kW at home (30 amps @ 240v) and now that there are finally some CCS DC fast Chargers being installed I can look forward to fast charging on the go. I'll soon be installing a 24kW CCS DC Fast charger at my restaurant so I'll have access to it every day. One of the advantages of having a relatively small battery is it charges quickly! I can fully recharge in a little under four hours while charging level 2, and I can be at 90% in about three hours. Tesla is the only EV manufacturer in the US making on board charging equipment which can deliver more than 7.2kW from a level 2 (240v) source.

6) The efficiency. According to the EPA, the i3 is currently the most efficient car sold in America. Over the entire year I averaged 3.9 miles per kWh. In the warmer weather I'm usually around 4.5 mi/kWh and in the winter I was averaging about 3.5 mi/kWh. I should note that I don't drive the car softly, and I'm certain many other i3 owners see much better consumption figures. It's way too much fun to drive it like it was a Prius. Averaging 4 mi/kWh the i3 would cost the average American about $400 per year to drive 15,000 electric miles.
I needed to drive over 200 miles on the range extender when I drove it to Vermont last winter. I set the cruise control to 70 mph and the REx was able to sustain the charge level the entire trip without any issue, even with needing to make a few elevation climbs.
7) The range extender. I know above I said I'd prefer a larger battery over the REx, but that just isn't an option at this time. As far as range extenders go, I like how BMW set this one up. It's truly an auxiliary power unit, one that has no physical connection with the wheels and cannot drive the wheels under any condition. It's sole purpose is to maintain the battery state of charge and allow the driver to continue along until they have the opportunity to plug in. You'd never buy an i3 REx and not charge it, simply driving on gas all the time. It's not meant to drive just as well on gas as it is on electric and I like that. It's an electric car with a secondary power source meant for occasional use, and in that vein it works perfectly - well for me at least. In all of my REx-ing, I never had the vehicle go into reduced power mode which can happen if you are using more energy than the 650cc engine can deliver. This can happen under long sustained hill climbing at highway speeds. BMW is currently working on a solution which will allow for more robust range extender use. This feature will be called Hill Climb Assist and will be available in the Fall. All current REx cars will get the update. There is another option which some owners have done, and that's coding the car to allow REx-on-demand. I have not done that to my car because the range extender has been able to do anything I've called for it to do so far, and I've found that as long as I set the cruise control for 70 mph or lower, I can drive indefinitely, provided I keep refueling every 60 miles or so. Probably the best thing I can say about the range  extender is it's allowed me to never even think about my range anymore, I just get in the car everyday and drive. 
Resting at home. You can see the winter tire/wheel combo on the rack above the car. The Bridgestone Blizzak tires were excellent in the snow. I suspect this was an instance where the tall, thin tires actually improved the traction.
8) The attention. Everywhere I go people stop and ask me about the car. I understand many people might not like that, but I do like talking about it and having a discussion about why they should consider driving electric too. I know there are people who think the i3 is ugly, but the response I get from the majority of people is they think it's cool. I don't think the i3 is the best looking car on the road, but I definitely don't see it as ugly and neither do most of the people who stop me to ask about it. When I'm working I can see it through the windows in the parking lot. Every day people walk up to it, look inside and many take pictures of it. Like it or not, it generates a lot of interest.
9) Battery management system & preconditioning. The i3 has a sophisticated thermal management system which works with the preconditioning feature to keep the batteries within the optimum operating temperatures. Which, for the Samsung cells used by BMW is 67 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. When the batteries are much cooler than 67 degrees, you begin to lose range and when the battery temperature is above 104 degrees the cells degrade and begin to lose capacity. Excessive heat can be one of the biggest enemies for prolonging lithium ion battery life so a good thermal management system will help extend the battery's life. The i3 uses R134a refrigerant which not only works very well, but also is extremely safe in the event of an accident. Liquid based thermal management systems have an elevated risk of fire in the event of a battery module rupture. In many of these systems it's possible for the liquid to act as an accelerant, and intensify the fire. R134a is an inert gas and simply dissipates in the event of a ruptured pack or fire. It's actually the same refrigerant used in most car air conditioning systems. I'm not saying I think liquid thermal management systems aren't safe, because that's not the case. I just believe using an inert gas is better, and the i3 is the only EV to employ this technology so it's worth noting. It's just another aspect of the car which demonstrates how far outside the box BMW went when engineering the i3, and a perfect example of why the i3 has been called "The most advanced vehicle on the planet".

The i3's navigation "spider map" offers a pretty accurate visual display on the cars current range in the different driving modes.
10) A lot of small things add up to really enhance the ownership experience. Besides the usual attributes expected in all electric vehicles like the quiet cabin and the smooth linear acceleration with instant torque, the i3 has some extras that really seem to make the whole car exceed the sum of its parts. I love the hill hold feature which keeps it from rolling like many other EVs do while stopped. The absence of artificial creep is a welcomed "addition" that some other EV manufacturers just don't seem to get. I've done more than one poll on this topic and the vast majority of people say they don't want artificial creep in their electric vehicle and BMW got this right. I love how the aggressive regen really allows "one pedal driving". While I did mention above that I wish the regen was adjustable, the level it's set at now is just about perfect for me in most driving conditions. Adjustable would be better, but as is the regen level is very good, probably the best of any electric vehicle in my opinion. The soft speed limiter helps to coach you to drive more efficiently if you want to, and the three different driving modes (Comfort, Eco Pro & Eco Pro+) gives the driver the ability to extend their range significantly. The "spider map" display in the navigation system shows how far the car can go in each driving mode, and alerts the driver if their selected destination is beyond the range, pointing them to possible charging stations along the desired route. The brake assist will sound an audible alert if it senses the car is rapidly approaching the vehicle in front of it and it will even apply the brakes automatically if you are going under 30 mph and it determines you are about to have a possible collision. I also really appreciate that most BMW dealerships now have i3s as loaner cars so i3 owners can continue to drive electric even if their car is in for service. Finally, the large center display screen is as crisp and clear as any I've seen. It is positioned so there is almost no glare issues and the HD rear view camera is television-quality clear.
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The "Secret Service Menu" shows I have 19.1 kWh available when fully charged
So that pretty much sums up my thoughts after one year of ownership. I listed ten positives and ten negatives and hope the information above helps to paint a picture of what I believe are the i3's strengths and weaknesses. One more topic I'd like to touch on though is battery degradation. There are a lot of people curious about how well the battery is holding up over time and use. I'm going to be doing a more comprehensive post on this soon, but I'd like to at least mention what I've observed after 13 months and 27,000 miles. Fortunately, the i3 has a "secret service menu" in the OBC which allows the battery capacity to be displayed. While BMW officially states the i3 has a usable 18.8 kWh of the 21.6 kWh total battery pack, the service menu indicates we get a little more to access. An entire kWh more in fact. When new, the service menu shows approximately 19.8 kWh available. I've had others report seeing slightly less, but the majority of people who know how to access this info have told me the highest capacity figure they've seen was 19.8 kWh. I have been checking my capacity and watching it slowly decrease. It's currently showing that I have 19.1 kWh available, which would mean I've lost about 3.5% of my capacity in 13 months and 27,000 miles. I've plugged about 700 times during the year and virtually always charge to 100%. I'll be keeping an eye on this and will report back on the capacity loss here from time to time.
I have an 8.8kW solar array on my home in Chester, NJ. It generates most of the electricity I use for the house and charging needs.

I'd like to also point out that during the year, BMW added a numeric state of charge display. This was something I, and many other i3 owners asked for. It might seem like a minor detail, but what's most encouraging is BMW responded to their customer requests and through a software update added the SOC display. Of course there was always a SOC display there, in the form of a bar graph, but many people wanted to see it displayed more precisely, in a numeric value as well and BMW delivered. Now let's see if we can get the battery temperature display in year two...
By toggling through the OBC options, you can see the SOC of 47% in the upper left hand corner of the drivers display screen.
In closing, the i3 pretty much ended up as I expected. It's far from perfect, but so is every other car I've ever driven. I wish it had a larger battery (or a larger battery option), a few monochromatic paint scheme options (like I did with the wrap), offered in a "sport" version with the coilovers that come standard in the Japanese market and a few other sporty upgrades and I think BMW needs to address the issues with the ACC and Parking Assistant features. I don't mind that the moonroof isn't available in the US, and the unconventional exterior styling doesn't bother me. I am much more concerned with the car's interior since that is what I interact with while driving. Speaking of driving, for me it really all comes down to that. The i3 delivers more fun than you should legally be allowed to have at 4 miles per kilowatt-hour.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Featured EV Product: The JuiceBox Pro 40 EVSE

The latest addition to my EVSE obsession collection is the JuiceBox Pro 40, seen here charging my i3

One of the first things many first time electric car owners ask once they've bought (or are about to buy) their new car is what home charging solution should they choose. Other than asking for advice on specific plug-in cars, it's the most popular question I get from readers here.

Luckily, there are some really good choices on the market now, and the prices for home EVSEs are considerably less than they were when I first started driving electric in 2009. Back then, the only level 2 home EVSEs that I would recommend were from Clipper Creek. Clipper Creek still makes very good products, and I still recommend them, but the competition is getting better all of the time, and one company in particular, eMotorWerks has been gaining momentum in this competitive market.

Before I get into the review, I'd first like to explain some basic EV charging levels and terminology. This applies to charging in North America, as electric supply is different for most European countries.

EVSE: Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment. These are quite often called "chargers" or "charging stations." That really isn't the correct terminology though,  because they don't actually charge the car. They really just safely supply the electricity from the power source to the vehicle. The actual charging equipment is built into the electric cars. Some EVSEs are portable, while others are hard wired and permanently installed.

Level 1: Every electric car sold or leased in the US that isn't a Tesla comes with a Level 1 portable EVSE. Some manufacturers, like BMW, call it an "occasional use charger." Level 1 EVSEs can be plugged into a simple 120 volt household outlet and typically charge at 6, 8 or 12 amps. Tesla doesn't bother with Level 1, 120 volt EVSEs because their vehicles have such large batteries that they would take very long to slow charge on 120 volts. For that reason, every Tesla comes standard with a portable 240 volt EVSE for more robust charging at home or on the road.

Level 2: Level 2 EVSEs charge at 240 volts and most of the time are permanently installed in a garage or public parking lot. However, recently some manufacturers have been selling portable 240 volt EVSEs, allowing the owner the flexibility of using the equipment at home as well as on the road, provided they can find a 240 volt outlet that they can plug into. The JuiceBox Pro 40 which I'll be reviewing here today is one of those newer units, and comes with a NEMA 14-50 plug instead of requiring the owner to hard wire it to their home.

DCQC / DCFC: DC Quick Charge or DC Fast Charge. DC fast charge allows rapid charging of electric vehicles, enabling long distance travel with little inconvenience. DC Quick Charge stations can charge many EVs up to 80% full in about 30 minutes, but are not something an individual would buy for home use because of the cost and required 480 volt electric supply. These units are very expensive and are only just beginning to really proliferate. Unlike Level 1 and 2 charging, there are multiple connectors used by different manufacturers, as a single standard hasn't been established yet.

Some people live fine with their EV, charging solely with the supplied 120 volt portable EVSE. However most owners will prefer using a 240 volt EVSE, so that they can charge much faster, enabling the vehicle to be driven more miles if needed. For example, a basic 120 volt EVSE will replenish about 4 to 5 miles of range per hour, while a standard, 30 amp 240 volt unit will add 20 to 30 miles of range per hour to the typical EV. That can make the difference of being able to use the car or not on some days.

JuiceBox Pro 40 EVSE
I think I've charged my EVs on every brand of EVSE on the market today, and I have a host of EVSEs in the garage at my house which I use for various testing and when I have visitors that also have cars that plug in. I had been reading a lot about how eMotorWerks has been expanding lately, and how they recently sold their 3,500th JuiceBox EVSE. So when the opportunity came for me to test out the latest offering from eMotorWerks, the JuiceBox Pro 40, I happily accepted. I want to make it clear I did receive the EVSE free of charge, however I wasn't paid to do the review, and there were no conditions or promises on what I would write. In other words, if I didn't like it, I would say so, or perhaps not even write a review.


First, I'd like to point out the JuiceBox Pro 40 can deliver up to 40 amps of power. The vast majority of Level 2 EVSEs currently on the market are limited to delivering 30 amps of power. There are a few other companies like Clipper Creek for instance, that do offer a 40 amp EVSE, but for the most part, the industry norm is 30 amps and even less in many cases. When buying any EVSE, make sure you find out what the maximum power the unit can deliver before purchasing it. I know more than one EV owner who bought an EVSE and didn't know it could only deliver 16 or 20 amps until they installed it. Why does 40 amps matter as compared to 30 amps? Well, for most EVs today, it doesn't. Only Tesla makes on board charging equipment that can accept more than 30 amps from a level 2 source, however that is going to change. I like to recommend future-proofing your garage, and if you're investing in a home charging solution which you may be using for ten or more years, why limit the charging supply to today's norm when home charging will only get faster as EV adoption increases? If your home has the capacity to add a dedicated 50 amp circuit (a 50 amp circuit is required for a continuous 40 amp load), then I say pay the few extra dollars today so you don't have to go back and upgrade in the future.

Voltage, amperage and kW draw displayed
Switch between Amperage or kW draw screens




















The feature I love the most about the JuiceBox Pro 40 is that is has built in WiFi and connects to eMotorWerks servers. This allows for real time charging monitoring which includes voltage and current measurement accurate to 0.2%. This is the only EVSE I know of currently available which allows you to monitor this kind of charging data. I know a lot of EV owners, and one of the things that keeps coming up is people asking how they can find out what the car is drawing during charging. ChargePoint allows the current measurement to be viewed on their app if you are charging on one of their networked EVSEs, and they used to offer a home EVSE (CT-500) which allowed the same, but that has been discontinued. Having the ability to monitor your vehicle's electric draw is particularly useful to BMW i3 owners like myself. The original i3s shipped with faulty onboard chargers, causing many of them to fail. This resulted in the car charging at half the speed than it was supposed to (15 amps instead of 30 amps). To make matters worse, while BMW engineered a new onboard charger, the dealers were instructed to de-rate the i3's current charging capabilities to about 24 amps, in an effort to keep the charger from failing. Many i3 owners didn't know if their car was de-rated, if their charger had failed or if they were charging at the full 30 amp rate. Without a way to really measure the energy the car was accepting, many were left in the dark for a few months while BMW built and installed the new, modified onboard chargers. If they had an EVSE that had the capability of displaying the rate the car was charging at, they would never have to wonder what the car was capable of drawing since they could simply look at the app when they plugged in.


If you're wondering if you can mount and use the JuiceBox outdoors, this video demonstration should satisfy any concern you have.  

The connector has a cover
As mentioned above, the JuiceBox Pro 40 doesn't need to be hardwired. Instead, it comes with a NEMA 14-50 connector. This allows the owner to take the EVSE with them, all they need to do is find a NEMA 14-50 receptacle and they can plug in. The 14-50 outlet is commonly used by RVs and thousands of RV parks across the country have 14-50 receptacles where you can plug in on the road if needed. But in my opinion, the real beauty of having a portable, plug-in EVSE is you can install 14-50 receptacles in places like your parents or friends home, or even work, and take the EVSE with you and charge at your destination. This is much less expensive than installing EVSEs in locations you may need to occasionally charge at. The JuiceBox is small and light enough to take with you when needed. You can see this on the photo above compared to the other EVSEs I have mounted on my garage wall. The connector also has a rubber cap if you do mount or use it outdoors.

The app is very easy to set up, and should take you less than ten minutes to complete. There is also a web portal which you can log into for past history charging info (it stores data from your last 20 charging sessions) and soon you'll be able to set up notifications from the site. eMotorWerks also offers 60 amp, as well as 30 amp EVSEs, with and without WiFi connectivity. The JuiceBox Pro 40 with WiFi currently costs $599.00 which is $100 more than the basic JuiceBox 40. Personally, the WiFi feature is well worth the upcharge and I highly recommend getting it. You'll really appreciate the ability to look at your past charging sessions and energy consumption and it definitely helps you to see exactly how much energy your EV car uses because you'll have a true "wall to wheels" measurement, which includes charging losses. The in-car energy use calculators don't include charging losses or the energy used from battery or cabin preconditioning while charging, but this does. The difference can be significant, especially during the winter months when the battery may needs to be warmed while charging. The JuiceBox Pro 40 comes with a 24 foot cable which is a little longer than most standard EVSE cables. The extra few feet of cable can make the difference of having to back into your garage or pull straight in, and possibly allow you to park on either side of the garage in any position and still have enough cable to plug in.  
Don't let the plain, metal box look fool you. This is a seriously good EVSE
The EVSE market is getting better all the time. The products available today are more powerful, lighter,  some are portable and overall less expensive than the products available only a few years ago, and this is welcome news to EV owners. eMotor Werks is a relative new comer to the field of EVSE manufacturers, which is mostly dominated by larger, well established companies. However, the people there seem to understand what the EV owner is looking for in an EVSE, and they have delivered it with the JuiceBox Pro 40, which is why I recommend it. The price is right, the size is right, it's powerful and portable. About the only thing you can criticize is the plain-looking metal case which houses the electronics. If that really bothers you, you can always paint it, or apply a vinyl wrap or sticker to add some pizzazz. :)

Monday, June 8, 2015

Georgia Tax Credit Ending Soon, BMW i3 Owners Rejoice at SAE Combo DCFC Rollout

With the proliferation of electric vehicles like the i3, the absence of a robust fast charge infrastructure becomes more and more difficult to ignore. There are indeed areas of California which are served very well with DC Fast Charge stations, however for many EV owners outside California, Fast charge stations are something they only dream about. Georgia however, has been making some great progress with DCFC. Georgia resident and i3 owner Chris Campbell tells us what's happening with DC Fast Charge in the Peach State.

Chris with his Volt back in 2010
You may remember Chris from a post he made here last year. Chris was the very first Chevy Volt owner in Georgia back in 2010. He authored a guest blog post here telling his story and why he had decided to get a BMW i3 when he turned in his Volt. Many i3 purchases have come from buyers which were early adopters and had leased an early Volt or LEAF. Chris has been active in the Atlanta area's EV scene for a while and maintains a website full of EV information, which can be found here: www.http://electrifyatlanta.com
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For over a decade, Georgia has offered a generous $5,000 tax credit in support of getting an electric vehicle (EV). But only in the last three to four years has the market offered affordable cars with usable range, and suddenly huge numbers of Georgians have taken advantage of that incentive. In the last session, the state legislature took notice of this growth and killed the tax credit altogether, with it officially ending this month. June 30th is the last day that Georgians can get an EV (purchased or leased) and still be able to claim the credit when filing taxes next year.

So there is now one last mad rush to take advantage of one of the best EV incentives in the country. Potential EV owners are making their final decisions and dealers are scrambling to respond to demand and maintain inventory.

BMW i3 owner "heat map" illustrates Atlanta hot spot
The Nissan Leaf, by far the highest volume EV in the Georgia market, continues to dominate sales, but the BMW i3 has also enjoyed success in the Atlanta market, as illustrated by this "heat map" showing locations where owners voluntarily listed themselves on the i3 owner map. Atlanta is a true hotspot for EV ownership, and has an active i3 owner group!

NRG EVGO station at Mall of Georgia, CHAdeMO only
Besides the state tax credit, however, there has been another factor energizing EV uptake in Georgia: a large and accelerating roll out of DC Fast Charging (DCFC) stations. The first DCFC stations (CHAdeMO for Leafs) arrived in north Georgia in July 2013 via The EV Project (aka Blink), but the CHAdeMO rollout really accelerated in November 2014 when NRG entered the Atlanta market with their EVGO CHAdeMO stations. As of this writing there are now over 30 CHAdeMO stations in the metro Atlanta region, with another dozen expected online in June.
Two competing DCFC plug standards, SAE Combo (left) and CHAdeMO (right)

Of course, as most EV owners know, there is not just one DCFC plug standard -- there are three!  In 2008, before the current wave of EVs, the automakers all (except for Tesla) agreed on a Level 2 standard, the J1772 plug that is now familiar to all EV owners. But they did not come to an agreement on DCFC (sometimes inaccurately called Level 3), and so the EV market split into three camps:

- Nissan and other East Asia automakers: CHAdeMO
- Tesla: Proprietary Supercharger
- Everyone else including BMW, VW, GM:  SAE Combined Combo System (CCS)

Since that market split, the three different camps have proceeded with their respective DCFC station rollouts, with Chademo and Tesla fighting for the lead and SAE Combo in a distant third. However, we have started to see "dual standard" DCFC stations hit the worldwide market, offering both CHAdeMO and SAE Combo. While these stations do not directly support the Tesla interface, Tesla owners can now buy a $450 adapter from Tesla Motors, that lets them charge from CHAdeMO stations. So these dual-standard stations effectively support all three standards. Of course Tesla cars have far larger batteries, offer far more range, and typically take advantage of their own network of ultra-fast DCFC stations.
BMW-branded DCFC unit, SAE Combo only, 24 kW
The SAE Combo flavor of DCFC (compatible with the BMW i3) first appeared in Atlanta in late 2014, with a single dual-standard cabinet at a Georgia Power testing facility, unfortunately accessible during weekday business hours only. In January a second SAE Combo unit appeared at BMW NA's offices, however that BMW-branded unit only offers 24 kW peak power. Obviously with just these two i3-compatible DCFC stations, one with limited access and the other offering low power, and both located in the same side of town, they were of limited utility to i3 owners.

It was not until this week that the true potential of the BMW i3 was realized in the north Georgia market, with a wave of SAE Combo DCFC sites going online.
Georgia Power's first dual-standard DCFC station
Following nearly a year of planning and construction, regional electric utility Georgia Power has now launched their network of DCFC stations, which are DUAL-STANDARD. These new stations offer both CHAdeMO and SAE Combo plugs, and thus are able to charge every DCFC-capable EV in the U.S. (even the Model S via Tesla's new adapter).  Georgia Power's DCFC sites deliver 50 kW and will offer Level 2 charging stations as well. Their network launched in May with pilot stations at 11 Georgia Power locations in 4 cities, and will expand to a total of 60 stations statewide by the end of 2016. The first wave of stations launched temporarily with only CHAdeMO capability, but on June 2nd Georgia Power finally delivered on their promise and brought their first dual-standard station online, with more expected this week.

This is just the first wave. Georgia Power plans to spend 2015 installing 25 more stations at locations around the state, and then another 25 in 2016. Some will be in metro areas, essentially serving commuters, but some will be installed along interstate corridors, serving those EV owners eager to stretch the legs of their new car. Since every one of these stations will offer dual-standard DCFC, these stations will support ALL EV owners. Atlanta-area BMW i3 owners have been straining at the leash for these stations to finally go online, and the day has now arrived.

Pictured at left: NRG's new dual-standard BTC hardware

But Georgia Power is not the only player in the market offering dual-standard charging.  NRG entered the Atlanta market in November 2014 with CHAdeMO-only stations, but recently has been expanding their presence with dual-standard DCFC stations made by BTC Power. Unfortunately, while these BTC stations have internal hardware that supports both CHAdeMO and SAE Combo charging, these new stations have been popping up with the SAE Combo side disabled. It is rumored that NRG (and partner Nissan) have asked BMW to chip in on the cost of these stations. If that is indeed the case, I believe it would be wise for BMW to step up and contribute to this much needed infrastructure.


Signet DCFC cabinet with Greenlots network
A similar situation is playing out with some state-funded stations. The Georgia Environmental Financing Authority (GEFA) is an arm of the state government that normally funds projects like water and sewer improvements, but in 2014 they announced a grant opportunity for GEFA-funded electric car charging stations at municipalities and educational institutions. Following a frenzied application window that reportedly lasted only hours before the funding was all used up, GEFA delivered on those grants in late 2014, and since then stations have been popping up in locations around the state, beyond metro Atlanta. Three of these locations are Athens, Augusta and Columbus, where GEFA-funded DCFC stations went online in April.  These stations launched with only CHAdeMO capability, despite the GEFA grants specifically requiring dual-standard DCFC. Indeed the Signet hardware that was physically installed did include SAE capability, with even the cord and plug installed and ready to go, but the SAE Combo plug was disabled in software (via the Greenlots activation network). Again it appears that Nissan maneuvered to have the stations installed with SAE Combo, but with that capability disabled until BMW chipped in. Local i3 owners raised this concern with BMW via a variety of methods, and in late May, these three locations saw their SAE Combo plugs quietly get enabled. The rumor now is that this solution will soon spread to similar stations that have appeared in the Carolinas, further enabling regional travel by i3 owners. BMW of North America has made no public statements about what is going on at any of these, frustrating local i3 owners.

Table comparing DCFC cabinets seen in Georgia market
Georgia now boasts EIGHT different makes of DCFC station hardware, operating on six different networks (click here for details on the station hardware now operating). Thus, the state now has one of the most heterogenous DCFC station populations in the world, exceeded only by California, and certainly Georgia can be seen as a great market to evaluate DCFC developments and test car compatibility.

All of this DCFC activity, especially the SAE Combo roll out, has delighted local BMW i3 owners, who have been chomping at the bit to go on road trips in their new cars!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

BMW i3 Year One Celebration


The BMW i3 Year One Celebration in underway across America with various dealerships hosting events, and local owners getting together to celebrate the one year anniversary of the launch of the i3 in the US.

JMK BMW in Springfield, NJ had a good showing
The idea for the Anniversary Event began with a conversation back in February between a few i3 owners in the BMW i3 Facebook group. Roman Vazquez actually was the one who first thought of having an official nationwide i3 anniversary celebration. At first the thought was that we'd pick a day and coordinate local meets for i3 owners to get together. We've done similar meets like this before, where we get together in a parking lot somewhere, but Roman thought meeting at a dealership might be interesting. The idea quickly expanded to, "How about we try to get dealerships across the country to host an event?"
Crevier BMW in Southern California had the largest turnout with over 200 people in attendance! Photo credit to Harry Lin

BMW supplied pins
We knew we couldn't coordinate something that large ourselves, so I reached out to BMW i Marketing Manager, Joan Bowen, and asked if BMW would be willing to help us get this off the ground. She loved the idea and simply asked, "What can we do to help?" So BMW created the event logo, contacted their dealer network informing them of the event (of which participation was optional) and created some swag (T-shirts, pins & stickers) which they would send to participating dealers to give out during the day.

Some dealerships took it one step further and gave away prizes. Two dealerships that I'm aware of that really put extra effort into the event were JMK BMW in New Jersey and Crevier BMW in Southern California. Both dealerships raffled off a free JuiceBox Pro 40 EVSE (Crevier also raffled off other prizes including a JLong charging extension cable), offered catering for the attendees and did their best to make the day special for the i3 owners. 


The official anniversary event lasts for the remainder of the month of May, but the majority of events happened on May 9th, which was the day we originally planned, before BMW joined in to help us get more dealerships involved. It was really nice to get together with other i3 owners, swap stories and EVangelize a bit. There's already talk of formally making this an annual event and I think that would be a great idea. We put this year's gatherings together on short notice and without many of the dealerships participating. It was a lot of fun and I think we're on to something here, so watch out for next May!
No local participating dealership? No problem! Just meet somewhere on the street or in a parking lot like these i3 owners in Virginia did. Photo courtesy of  Reony Tonneyck

Photo: George Betek
One thing I'm particularly happy to see, is BMW's willingness to participate in events like these. They didn't hesitate to say they thought it was a great idea and then asked how they could help. It's important that the manufacturers continue to offer strong support for their plug-in offerings. It's not enough just to make the cars. A successful plug-in vehicle program needs the support of the manufacturer with a healthy marketing budget, and continues with community outreach, like these kinds of events offer. The EV market in still in its infancy, and if a manufacturer is really serious about being a market leader in this space, then these kinds of events are a great way to build consumer confidence in the brand. 
Ariel view of Crevier during the celebration. Photo courtesy of Roman Vasquez
A special thanks goes out to Roman Vazquez, Heather Somaini, Kris Kluzak, George Betak, Shawn Wooten, Wilfred Fojas, Manny Antunes, Dave Avery, Peder Norby, John Higham, David Vottero and Brandon Watson. All of whom put a lot of time and effort behind the scenes to make the i3's first birthday party a memorable event.

What kind of a party would it be without a parade? Photo courtesy of Jamie Dow
BMW made these T-Shirts for the event and provided them to the participating dealer

Friday, April 24, 2015

EV Charger Sharing Made Easy

EV Charging Hangers are a simple, low-cost solution to a nagging problem for some electric vehicle owners
As recent as six years ago, there were probably less than 3,000 highway-capable electric cars on public roads in the US. Since 2010, over 300,000 fully electric and plug in hybrid electric vehicles have been bought or leased in America.

During that time, the number of public charging stations has increased dramatically and we now have tens of thousands of public charging stations across the country. It's a good start, but there is a long way to go before there are enough charging locations to service the ever-growing electric vehicle market. On average, each month more than 10,000 plug in electric vehicles are sold, increasing the disparity between plug in vehicles, and public charging locations.

It's good news that the vast majority of EVs don't need to use public charging, at least regularly. However for those that do, finding an available and working public charging station can sometimes be a challenge. Then there are the times when you pull up to a charging station in desperate need of a charge, only to find that there is a car already plugged in. You immediately start wondering, "Does that car REALLY need to charge like I do, or are they just opportunity charging to top off the battery?" The urge is there to just unplug the other car and plug yours in, especially when that other car is a PHEV. If it's a PHEV, it really doesn't need to charge, since it can operate just fine on gas. But they were there first, and it's not right to unplug (or even touch) another vehicle without permission, even if they don't "need" the juice like you might.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and recognizing this to be an issue led some electric vehicle owners to begin employing "charger sharing" techniques. This actually dates back to the old GM EV-1 days in California. Owners would leave notes on their dashboard stating a time when it was OK to unplug their car. Others would simply write, "I'm opportunity charging; unplug me if you need to." For the most part this worked pretty well, but that was when there were a few hundred electric cars to service and it was easier to self-police with such a small number of cars on the road. Now, with hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles it's more complicated, and many EV owners haven't even thought of the concept of charger sharing.

One electric vehicle owner, Jack Brown, has indeed thought about this, quite a lot in fact. Jack came up with the idea of connector hangers which an EV owner could use to let others know whether or not they can unplug their vehicle and share the charger. After a few revisions, a two sided hanger was developed which the owner hangs on the J1772 connector and offers instructions on whether or not another EV owner can unplug their car if they need to. One side states "OK TO UNPLUG" with instructions on when it's OK, and the other side says "DO NOT UNPLUG." On the "OK TO UNPLUG" side, you can write the time when your car will be charged enough to allow someone else to use the EVSE, and even leave your phone number so the other person can text or call you if necessary. Jack sells them through his site TakeChargeAndGo.com. You can buy them individually or in a ten pack. They are reusable with dry erase markers which just wipe off clean.

From Take Charge and Go Website:

Electric vehicles are becoming more popular and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find an available public EV charging space. Good etiquette by the user community is vital as the infrastructure catches up with demand.

Take Charge and Go EV Charging Hangers are an excellent way to indicate to other Electric Vehicle drivers know how long you will be charging and to share proper etiquette. Simply plug your car in with the hanger on the charging port or dashboard of your car and let others know when you can share the spot.

The charging hanger is made from durable 120# recycled Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified recycled paper card stock

  • The hangers are printed on both sides to indicate whether you are necessity charging (RED – DO NOT UNPLUG) or opportunity charging (GREEN – OK TO UNPLUG)
  • The color coding makes it easy for fellow EV drivers to tell if they can share the plug

  • A keyhole cutout provides a sufficient fit for most J-1772 charging handles. A slip-on cutline is provided for easier installation and removal while charging

  • The red DO NOT UNPLUG side has space to write what time you should be done charging with a dry erase marker or a post it note

  • Both sides have a space to leave contact information and provides tips for good etiquette
    • Never park in a charging space if you are not charging
    • When charging in public, limit your charge, don’t charge to your limit. Move on so others have the opportunity to to charge
    • Never unplug another car without permission

  • A QR code and website link are provided for additional information about public EV charging and different car brands charging indicators

  • Hangers are UV coated provide protection from the elements and work well with permanent and dry erase markers and post-it notes to leave information

  • Designed and Made in the U.S.A.
The hangers are currently available in a ten pack for $19.99
If purchased individually they currently cost $2.49, and a ten pack is $19.99. They seem to be made well with a durable coating. I believe they will last a long time even when used in the rain and snow. However there is still one issue with charger sharing. Some new electric cars have chargeports that lock the connector to the vehicle while charging, preventing charger sharing. I do understand the reasoning for this, but I believe it's a flawed feature if the owner cannot override it when they choose to. There should be a setting in the car that allows the owner to unlock the connector from the car while charging if they wish to. This is a perfect example of OEMs not listening to the customer. I totally understand why an engineering team would have never even thought of charger sharing, so it's easy to understand why some EVs don't allow connector unlock. However it's time the OEMs start listening to the EV community and employ the features unique to electric vehicles that improve the EV ownership experience.

My i3 is one of those cars that doesn't allow the connector to be removed unless the doors are unlocked. However BMW has listened to their customers, and will soon be rolling out an update that will unlock the connector once the charging session is complete. This is good, but it's really only halfway to the proper solution in my opinion. I want manual control of whether my connector is locked to the car. It should be a setting in iDrive with a box that I check or uncheck if I want the connector locked to the car or not. They can even make the default setting locked if they are concerned someone will forget they unlocked it one day and end up with an uncharged car because someone unplugged them without permission. Unlock after charging is complete is a step in the right direction, but I'll continue to lobby BMW to finish the job and offer owners full control over their chargeport.