Thursday, January 9, 2014

Green or White? Which HOV Sticker will the BMW i3 Get in California?

As trivial as this question might sound, it could have serious consequences for future buyers of the i3. Wait, what I am talking about? As you might have heard already, the range-extended version of the BMW i3, which is slated to arrive in the US sometime in April, is apparently at risk of not qualifying for all the incentives in California, which is the largest market for plug-in vehicles as of this writing.

What incentives are those exactly? Well, for one thing, there are the carpool lane stickers, which permit single-occupant vehicles to use HOV lanes. Some people have said that it was "tantamount to having a helicopter for commuters". OK, not quite, but it's still an incredible perk. Then there is the clean vehicle rebate, which allows owners and lessees to apply for a rebate check, if they have either purchased or leased a new vehicle, and commit to keeping it at least 36 months.

That all looks pretty straightforward, wouldn't you agree? I guarantee you that it won't be this simple when we delve into the specifics. The devil is in the details. Literally. Take the carpool lane stickers. They come in several varieties in California:

  • yellow
  • white 
  • green

The yellow stickers were introduced in 2004 by Assembly Bill 2628, which allowed hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, to access HOV lanes. It was limited to 85,000 cars, and the stickers were issued on a first-come first-served basis. This program was extended several times, and the original more limited allocation of stickers has been more than doubled. Although some owners kept them as a souvenir on their cars, the incentive came to an end on June 30, 2011.

The white stickers were established though Assembly Bill 71 in 1999. Eligible vehicles must meet strict emission standards set forth by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The following categories would qualify: pure battery electric vehicles (BEV), dedicated compressed natural gas (CNG) or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (FCV). There is no limit on the number of stickers that can be issued. As of September 1, 2013, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) had issued 32,764 white stickers; the recent run rate has been about 1,500 decals per month. This program was set to expire on January 1, 2015, but has recently been extended until 2019 via Assembly Bill 266.

And finally, there is the green sticker program, which came into life on January 1, 2012. The stickers will be issued to the first 40,000 applicants, who purchase or lease cars meeting California’s Enhanced Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (Enhanced AT PZEV) or Transitional Zero-Emission Vehicle (TZEV) requirements. Examples of qualifying vehicles include Ford C-Max Energi, Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid and Chevrolet Volt. As of November 8, 2013, 24,452 green stickers have been issued; the recent run rate has been about 1,000 decals per month. At this pace, the sticker allocation could be exhausted in approximately 14 months. If the program is not extended, the green stickers will expire in 2019, just like the white decals mentioned above.

It's worth noting that the HOV decal program is administered by the California DMV following guidelines set forth by the Air Resources Board, which maintains a comprehensive list of all eligible vehicles. This list does not mention or include the BMW i3 yet. That's understandable, since the first i3 is not supposed to be sold in California until May 2014. While it would seem only natural that the pure electric version will qualify for the white stickers, some thought that the range-extended version would get them too.

What is the big deal then, aren't the stickers interchangeable? At first blush, it would appear so. The green stickers, which the BMW i3 REx trim might end up getting, are limited in number. If BMW and the Air Resources Board cannot come to an agreement on this issue, it could start affecting i3 buyers as soon as late 2014 or early 2015. However, this problem would not be unique to the range-extended variant of the i3; it would affect other vehicles, such as Chevy Volt, Plug In Prius or Ford Fusion Energi, as well.

Additionally, although both sticker types are slated to expire on January 1, 2019, some believe that the white decals had a better shot at getting an extension. All that said, this should be a non-issue for current BMW i3 buyers, so long the i3 will qualify for some kind of HOV decal. Green or white. It doesn't really matter. Although some might prefer one over the other, the practical difference is likely zero as of this writing. Should the green stickers run out in about a year, and an additional allocation is not approved, then early i3s with REx could have a better resale value. Much like a Prius with the yellow sticker would command a premium in the years past.

That leaves us with the clean vehicle rebate project. This project is a voluntary incentive program introduced by Assembly Bill 118 in 2007. The program is administered by the Air Resources Board (CARB) to fund clean vehicle and equipment projects. It is managed by the California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) in San Diego, and has expanded its funding considerably over the past few years to keep up with the increased volume of new clean-fuel vehicle registrations.

There are two types of cars, which qualify under the program: zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). Light-duty zero emission cars and trucks are eligible for up to a $2,500 incentive, while motorcycles and neighborhood vehicles are eligible for up to $900.

PHEVs are eligible for up to a $1,500 incentive. To qualify, PHEVs must:

Meet California’s most stringent tailpipe emission standard
Have zero evaporative emissions
Have a 15 year / 150K mile warranty on the emissions system and
Have a 10 year / 150K warranty on the zero emission energy storage system.

While the pure electric version of the i3 would clearly qualify for the $2,500 incentive as a light-duty ZEV, the range-extended version of the i3 should get $1,500. Right? Well, not quite. The California Air Resources Board has recently established a new category: the range-extended battery electric vehicle (BEVx). It's a new regulatory category initially approved as a zero-emission vehicle type in the clean vehicle rebate project in June 2012. In the current fiscal year, the BEVx continues to be an approved eligible vehicle category.

How does a plugin vehicle get classified as a BEVx? According to the 2012 amendments to zero vehicle program regulations, it comes down to four criteria:
  • The APU range is equal to or less than the all-electric range 
  • Engine operation cannot occur until the battery charge has been depleted to the charge-sustaining lower limit
  • A minimum 80 75* miles electric range
  • Super ultra low emission vehicle (SULEV) and zero evaporative emissions compliant and TZEV warranty requirements on the battery system. 
*CARB then decided to once again amend the criteria with this key alteration (hat tip to Eric Loveday):
The minimum range qualification has been corrected from 80 miles range to 75 miles range for range extended battery electric vehicles (BEVx) to match the minimum requirements for BEVxs in 2012 through 2017. 
This means that the new BMW i3 with range extender should qualify for the $2,500 incentive, just like a pure battery electric vehicle would. It does not automatically imply that the i3 will qualify for the white HOV stickers, although it would seem logical. It's also worth noting that the HOV decal and the CVRP are two separate programs, even though CARB establishes guidelines for both.

I have recently contacted the California Center for Sustainable Energy and the Air Resources Board, and I'm led to believe that the i3 with REx will qualify for $2,500 CVRP and green HOV decals. There is apparently a chance that it might get white stickers as well. Finally, there has been some talk that the range-extended i3 might not qualify for the BEVx classification in its first year, perhaps it would be best to table this type of speculation for a future post.

I hope that you found this write-up helpful. Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The EPA Range of the BMW i3: A Prognosis

Originally published on Torque News.

Whenever someone strikes up a conversation about the ActiveE, which I have been driving for nearly two years now, the first and seemingly most important question is about the range. I usually say "The EPA range is 94 miles, but my personal best is 125 miles on a single charge". That seems to satisfy  most people, although I often field additional questions.

Why is the range of an electric vehicle so important? Nobody seems to ask this question about a conventional car with a combustion engine. There appears to be a perception that charging an EV is inconvenient, and that it will take some time. The range on a single charge seems to determine the utility and perhaps even the value of an electric car in the mind of many prospects.

While charging infrastructure and the speed of refueling are certainly an important consideration, I will focus on the question, which appears to be on the mind of every prospective BMW i3 buyer. What will be its range?

Although the official EPA figure is not going to be available for a while, it's worth  noting that BMW went on record to say that the i3 will manage between 80 to 100 miles, depending on driving conditions and style.

That narrows it down a little bit, but that's hardly enough. Range figures seem to be as important and as closely scrutinized like the MPG rating for conventional vehicles and hybrids. Will the i3 have a range over 90 miles? And how will it will compare to the Honda Fit EV or the LEAF? I will do my best to answer these questions.

Before we delve into the specifics, it's important to realize that the EPA rating is determined by following a very specific test protocol. This involves a complex driving profile with particular speeds, ambient temperature settings and test duration. Although it will not be possible to take all these factors into account, and calculate a precise range figure, perhaps we can get a realistic estimate by comparing the i3 with other similar vehicles.

An obvious choice would be the 2013 Nissan LEAF. The LEAF has comparable outside dimensions and weight. Additionally, the LEAF has a similar aerodynamic profile, and it seems to consume approximately the same amount of energy at different driving speeds.

The 2013 LEAF has a rated EPA range of 75 miles. This is an average of test results achieved on an 80% and a full charge (66 miles and 84 miles respectively). The i3 will not have a comparable charge setting, and it's very likely that the EPA will only test the car on a full charge.

Taking this comparison a step further, it might be worth to have a look at the NEDC range figures for both vehicles. This acronym stands for the New European Driving Cycle. The corresponding test protocol emphasizes moderate to low-speed city driving and is quite different from the test cycle the EPA uses on this side of the Atlantic. In short, it's a useful benchmark.

A direct comparison indicates that the NEDC range of the i3 and the LEAF is within 5% of each other. Assuming that the LEAF achieves 84 miles on a full charge on the EPA test cycle, this would put the range of the i3 between 80 to 88 miles on a single charge.

Another interesting metric is the usable battery capacity of each vehicle. The i3 has 18.8 kWh of usable capacity per manufacturer specifications, and the Nissan LEAF has 21.38 kWh based on an NREL teardown analysis. This metric suggests that the i3 should have about 12% less range than the LEAF.

While it makes complete sense that a vehicle with a smaller battery should have a shorter range, this does not consider any differences in driving efficiency. These can be quite important. Take the LEAF, for example. The manufacturer has reportedly tuned various drivetrain components between the 2012 and the 2013 model year, which resulted in a 15% greater range on a full charge, even though the rated battery pack capacity remained the same. Could the i3 be more efficient than the 2013 LEAF? Let's have a look.

While one could examine individual differences between the vehicles, such as the size and weight or regenerative braking, this will not be easily quantifiable. Luckily, the NEDC yields another useful metric: kWh used to travel 100 kilometers. The LEAF reportedly needs 15 kWh, and the i3 12.9 kWh. This translates to 4.16 miles per kWh for the LEAF, and 4.84 for the i3.

The implied 16% better driving efficiency should effectively erase the consequences of using a smaller battery pack. Not only that, the i3 should be able to achieve about 2% more range as well:

1.16 x 18.8 kWH / 21.38 kWh x 84 miles = 85.8 miles

If we only consider the battery size and driving efficiency, the i3 should have a slightly higher range than the LEAF on a full charge. Since the i3 will be available in two trims: one a full electric (BEV), and the second one a range-extended hybrid (BEVx), we might want to come up with an estimate for both.

Per manufacturer specification, the range-extended version will be 4.5% less efficient than the pure electric trim due to higher weight and increased aerodynamic drag. Additionally, the range-extender will engage when the state of charge has reached 5%; effectively protecting the battery from reaching very low charge. This means that the electric range of the BEVx trim will be reduced by about 10%.

0.9 x 85.8 miles = 77 miles

If we assume that the BEV trim will achieve 86 miles on the EPA cycle, then the BEVx should get about 77 miles. That's a shade more than twice the EV range of the 2014 Chevy Volt.

And how about the range-extended mode? The tank in the i3 will famously only carry 9 liters or 2.38 gallons of premium gasoline. The range extender in the Volt is rated 35 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway, and it uses premium fuel as well.

Interpreting the technical specs from BMW, the REx autonomy figure is about 16% lower than the BEV range when driving inefficiently, and about 5% lower when driving conservatively. This translates to a REx range between 72 and 82 miles, and a fuel economy of 30 to 35 mpg. The average of these two range figures is 77 miles, and the total projected autonomy of the BEVx trim is 158 miles:

77 miles + 77 miles + 4 miles (reserve) = 158 miles

I hope that you enjoyed the article. Please let us know what range you might have expected or would like to see from the i3.

2014 BMW i3 Range
2014 BMW i3 Range

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Let the experiment begin

I'm relatively new to BMW's electric vehicle project, and I should probably introduce myself. I'm an engineer and a technology enthusiast. An unrepentant early adopter, I see technology not as means unto itself, but rather as something that's supposed to enrich our lives. Although it might sound like a cliché, I'm sure that everyone has used a product or a service that instilled a sense of awe. Something that makes you wonder how you could have ever lived without it.

Imagine a life without cell phones, Google or your iPod. You probably can't, and don't want to. I believe that driving electric will be such a formative experience, and in a few short years many people will not understand how they could have driven fossil-fueled cars before.

I grew up in Southern Germany, and I started following electric cars when I was still in college. It took a lot longer for the technology to mature, but I was thrilled to see the EV1, and later the Tesla Roadster on the road in Northern California, where I moved in the meantime. By that time, I have already decided that my next car will be electric, preferably from Tesla. Then disaster struck, and the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico prompted me to sign up for a Nissan Leaf, the first mass-market electric vehicle.

I had a lot of fun with the Leaf, and I grew very fond of it. I don't think that it's possible to forget your first EV, it's like learning to drive all over again. Although the Leaf is a wonderful car, I was thrilled when I heard about the ActiveE program, and I signed up for it. I used to drive German cars all my life, and I missed this type of handling in the Leaf. The ActiveE had more range as well, which was another reason why I was interested.

Once you start driving electric, you will likely arrange yourself with the limited range, but more is always better. Unfortunately, batteries don't seem to be improving as fast as computer technology. With computers, we seem to have twice the performance for half the price whenever you decide to buy a new system. This is not exactly the case with batteries. The Leaf has slightly better range than the first-generation EV1.

The ActiveE is an improvement over the Leaf, and the Model S from Tesla, will take things even further. Both BMW and Nissan know this, and they are apparently diligently working to improve and refine their own technology.

Although my professional career started at BMW FIZ in Munich, I have not kept in touch, and I'm new to this program. Given this context, you can imagine my surprise when my dealer asked if it would be OK to install some experimental upgrades in my car.

I consented, of course, and to my surprise I found the car to behave very differently. It appeared to have a lot more range! I'm not sure if a software update alone could do this, and I suspected that something else was installed along with it. You can imagine my surprise when I learned from Tom Moloughney's recent blog post that BMW was apparently testing new battery technology. This felt a bit like a lottery win! I've been diligently putting miles

on the car, and performed a series of range and speed tests. Obviously, I will redouble my efforts to help thoroughly vet this new technology. Hopefully, BMW will feel confident enough to put it into production vehicles soon. This would be a major win.

That being said, I've noticed that the car was markedly faster off the line as well.

I remember Tom mentioning launch control, and how it apparently did not work. I figured that BMW probably fixed that as well, and I approached a friend of mine to see if we could test the ActiveE against his Murcielago. My tennis buddy agreed, and off we went to a race track.

Unfortunately, I don't have any official times and measurements, but I can assure you that the ActiveE performed beautifully. I remember beating a Ferrari 456 off the line in the Leaf once at a red light. Although that was a lot of fun, the ActiveE is in a whole different league now. I'm not sure if BMW managed to make the new batteries lighter or not, but something has changed. It cannot be just a software update.

I would love to have a battery pack with twice the capacity and half the weight, and it looks like they might have pulled it off. Again, I don't have any official numbers to back it up, but the improvement is quite dramatic. Please stay tuned for further updates.