BMW officially jumped on the electric car bandwagon with the 2008 announcement of the limited edition Mini E car for production. The 2010 Mini E—an all-electric version of the Mini Cooper—is capable of more than 100 miles on a charge, and boasts a 0 to 60 mph time of 8.5 seconds with a top speed of 95 miles per hour. These numbers fall short of specs for the standard MINI Cooper, but the Mini E will grant performance—especially acceleration from zero—much better than virtually all compacts or subcompacts currently on the road today.

Approximately 500 Mini E cars were produced—and beginning in June 2009 leased to municipalities and individuals in Southern California, New York, and New Jersey. Individual participants are paying $850 a month for the year for the privilege of driving the stylish electric Mini E—and serving as EV guinea pigs.

The car's 380-volt battery back is comprised of 5,088 individual cells, and can be recharged using a standard 110-volt electrical outlet. The battery pack has a maximum capacity of 35 kilowatt hours. BMW provided specialized high-amp wall-mounted charging devices that allow a full recharge in less than three hours.

The long-term prospects of a mass-produced Mini E are uncertain, but that’s not the point of the project. BMW’s main goal was to learn about the driving and charging experiences of real-world drivers. The data started rolling in early 2010. "There's been a lot of conjecture about electric vehicle user demands and being the first to the market with obtaining 'real world use' patterns. We're now able to shed some accurate light on this subject," said Rich Steinberg, manager, EV Operations and Strategy for BMW of North America. "What they shared with us is that, for the most part, the MINI E suits their daily driving needs and that they really enjoy driving it.”

Lessons Learned

BMW experienced a number of bumps in road during the early days of the Mini E project. The problems included months-long delays in delivery of vehicles to lessees; a shortage of high-power cables leaving owners with 110-volt charging requiring as long as 21 hours for a full charge; and months of delays in the installation and inspection of home charging equipment, some requiring expensive upgrades to home power service.

But in due course, those problems were solved and the Mini E drivers could go about the business of putting electric miles on their cars. “We have learned a bloody ton, and we intend to use that learning in the future," said Steinberg.

What did they learn?

  • The range of about 100 miles is sufficient for most daily needs.
  • Charging at home provides enough energy for most daily driving.
  • Demand for additional charging is centered on the place of work, or where
    sufficient time is spent during the day (shopping centers, stadiums, etc.)
  • The first 500 Mini E units are two-seaters. The lack of a back seat and a usable trunk, rather than range, is most often the reason the MINI E is not chosen for a particular outing.
  • Cold weather cuts down range, causing range anxiety when the mercury dips.

Despite the early hiccups, the Mini E drivers have been delighted by the vehicles—and were bummed out by the limited 12-month leases. But BMW corrected that problem as well by granting current Mini E drivers the opportunity to extend their leases at least another year.

Moving Forward

The 2010 Mini E is just one step along the way in BMW’s electrification program. One step at a time—slowly but surely—BMW is developing the knowledge and capacity to deliver a small all-electric car by 2013.

Beginning in 2011, a similar number of drivers will lease BMW’s next electric test vehicle, the four-passenger ActiveE—essentially an electric-drive version of the BMW 1-series. The ActiveE will allow the company to further refine the requirements for a line of large-volume future electric cars, as part of its “Megacity” project. That name, the current working title for its 2013 small electric car, is based on the idea of targeting urban commuters in, well, megacities. Although the ActiveE will cleverly package the power electronics to allow for a decent sized trunk, the Megacity is expected to be a four-seat, three-door hatchback—similar in size to a Honda Fit.

BMW executives believe that zero-emission electric cars, and fuel cells for that matter, are a must—that is, if the company is going to meet stricter guidelines for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the world’s major global auto markets.

Mini E specifications

Availability: Discntd.
Est. tax credit:
Technology: Electric Vehicle
Body type: Coupe
Seats: 2
EPA Range: 100 miles pure electric
Battery size: 35 kWh
Charging rate:

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