That start appears to be a bit
rockier than EV advocates pictured, though. Across the
country participants in the program are expressing a variety of
frustrations including irritation at poor range, lack of charging
stations, and poor performance in hot or cold weather. While
these problems won't necessarily effect every EV, they are
relatively universal -- for example, GM's engineering team says the
Chevy Volt EV may not be a good fit for customers in the U.S.
Southwest, due to performance issues in hot weather.
the Volt, though, the Mini E is a pure electric. This makes it
more akin to the upcoming 2011
Nissan Leaf EV. Under normal conditions it gets about 100
miles on a charge, with a max-range of 150 miles, similar stats to
Nissan's (the Leaf's target range is 100 real-world miles).
lack of a gas engine backup is presenting even more new problems.
Nationwide there only 734 reported EV charging stations, mostly
located in California, while there are 117,000+ gas stations.
This makes it hard to find places to charge when on the road and away
A company called Ecotality has paired with
Nissan to deploy 7,000 EV recharge stations nationwide, with the help
of a $100M USD government grant. However, that does little to
help drivers who have already run out of juice. With a gas car,
you could simply walk to the station and bring gas back to your
vehicle in a can. You can't do that with an EV, so their use
requires more planning, and can create headaches at times, users are
Paul Heitmann, a Mini E leaser, recalls a close
call where he almost ran out of power, before spotting a powered Coke
machine at a gas station. He remembers, "I thought
'Finally!' because I knew if there was light, there would be
electricity. I sat there looking at the gas pumps that said
$2.45 a gallon. And I thought, 'What I wouldn't give to be able
to use that.' Two and a half dollars, and I could have gotten another
Of course, as his story indicates, the system
is flawed -- desperate EV owners are stealing electricity from
sources they can find, for lack of an official charging/payment
infrastructure. And it's hardly a pleasant experience for the
energy thieves either -- Mr. Heitmann had to sit for an hour in the
dark, waiting for his car to recharge.
Weather is yet another
problem for virtually all EVs approaching the market, save perhaps
models like the Tesla Roadster. In the cold the Mini Es'
range -- already less than half that of a gas vehicle -- drops even
more, to 80 miles or less. Comments Robert Hooper, 44, a
computer manager from New Jersey and Mini E leaser, "I was
shocked. I'm nervous."
Timothy Gill, 59, a software
engineer from Maplewood, N.J., had his Mini E towed after it ran out
of charge on a cold winter day. He blogged, "Towed! After
only 87.8 miles. . . . Sheesh!"
Jim O'Donnell, chairman
and chief executive of BMW North America, admits that the experiences
are indicative of a rocky road ahead for the EV movement. He
states, "I would argue that the case for the electric car is not
proven. We're not quite sure people are willing to go for it.
We're asking consumers to pay more and get less. Our view is: Proceed
However, with many manufacturers like GM,
Ford, and Nissan planning mass-market launches of 10,000 units per
year or more, it may be sink or swim time for the movement's mass
market appeal. With all the problems afflicting the Mini E, the
real question is whether these players are pushing
EVs to market prematurely, and risk permanently damaging
customers image of plug-in vehicles.
Still, some remain
optimistic. Timothy Gill, another Mini E leaser cheers, "The
car is a joy."
His license plate reads "WHY GAS."