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.


  1. Fantastic news! This type of hange blows the entire EV game wide open. Look forward to hearing more about your "extreme" Active E.

  2. Meant to say "range" not "hange". Congratulations on the upgrade.

  3. Thank you for adding me to your blogroll, Keith!

  4. I'm glad you just came out and admitted it George, there's no reason to hide anymore!

  5. Thank you, Tom. It wouldn't have been possible without your help!

  6. talk about hypermiling! ;) congratulations again, george! looking forward to more blogposts from you. ~MK

  7. Thank you, Mariel! I enjoyed reading your blog posts as well. I appreciate the blogroll reference, and I will reciprocate.

  8. you are hereby officially charged with aiding and abetting the mother of all pranksters. i had an inkling but you corroborating the story put me over the edge. geez! and i thought you were my friend... NA, it was awesome! loved it! ~MK :D

  9. Mariel, if it's any consolation, I was not forewarned, and had to roll with the punches like everyone else. I tried to plant some clues without spoiling it, but it looks like everyone wanted to believe. Including, and especially, veteran EV drivers! It is very much to Tom's credit, that this turned out to be one of the best April Fools pranks I have witnessed :-D