Mini E field trial complete: met 90% of needs, drivers say

The results are in for the largest public study of electric-car users: for the vast majority of your life, an EV will suffice.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

The University of California, Davis and BMW on Monday released the results of the largest public study of electric-car users to date, and the verdict is clear: for the vast majority of your life, an EV will suffice.

Between June 2009 and June 2010, more than 120 families were asked to drive the all-electric Mini E more than a million miles in southern California, New York and New Jersey. Their homes were also outfitted with 240-volt chargers.

The MINI E drivers were not a homogenous group, rather they represented a broad spectrum of lifestyles, values, and interests. Some drivers were most interested in advanced car technologies. That group was divided between those who were interested specifically in high tech electronics or power systems and those who were most interested in high performance vehicles.

Other MINI E pioneers were most interested in the environmental benefits of battery electric vehicles (BEVs). Of those, some were primarily concerned about local emissions (especially Los Angeles residents) while others were more concerned about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

A third group of pioneers was most interested in BEVs as a way to reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign oil. A fourth group of pioneers was motivated by the excitement of their colleagues, friends, and children to embark on a new adventure by leasing the MINI E.

Despite the broad lifestyles and sensibilities of this group, the drivers had similar experiences and reactions using the MINI E during the one­‐year lease.

The challenge: find out if a battery electric vehicle like the Mini E -- no hybrids, no "safety net" gasoline engine like the Chevy Volt -- could really work for the average American family.

What the UC Davis researchers found:

  • 100% said BEVs are fun to drive and practical for daily use.
  • The cars met 90% of their daily driving needs, respondents said.
  • 71% drove less than 40 miles per day.
  • 95% drove less than 80 miles per day.
  • 99% said home charging was easy to use.
  • 71% said they are now more likely to purchase a BEV than they were a year ago while only 9% said they are less likely.
  • 88% said they are interested in buying a BEV or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle in the next five years.
  • Most charging occurred at home, at night; 99% of respondents said home charging was easy to use.

And, in a bit of a halo effect, Mini E drivers "overwhelmingly" thought by the end of their lease that the electricity for charging their EV should come from renewable resources, not fossil fuels.

You can read the complete report here.

According to UC Davis Plug-in Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Research Center director Tom Turrentine -- yes, it's a real institute -- the study also demonstrated that drivers had considerable enthusiasm for the futuristic cars once they got behind the wheel.

The question is whether that excitement fades after a year's time.

But the biggest challenge is overcoming range anxiety. According to the results, the Mini E's range of about 100 miles was "acceptable to most drivers most of the time." Drivers adapted their driving to the vehicle's capabilities, researchers said.

Further, researchers said that strategic placement of charging stations could allow drivers of a 100-mile EV reach most places they want to go. (Of course, the build-out of such an infrastructure is a daunting proposition.)

We asked MINI E drivers where they would want access to public charging. Drivers wanted access to their favorite recreation spots and relatives’ homes. Most drivers chose to place public chargers at or along routes to these destinations. About a quarter of drivers stated that workplace charging would be important to them. Drivers considered shopping locations less important because those locations were close to home. Very few households made use of the 120-­‐volt charger or charged at locations away from home. Furthermore, most MINI E drivers did not view public charging as a prerequisite for buying a BEV.

The UC Davis study is part of a series that stretches across the globe, including research in China, Germany and the U.K. The results are encouraging for BMW, which along with the Mini E will soon offer the all-electric ActiveE in late 2011.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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