My BMW i3 Blog – laying the groundwork for 2p per mile mobility

I’m rather excited about a new arrival expected in our household next month.

Having test driven it on the launch day, I’ve ordered a BMW i3, and I plan to document my experiences as an early adopter of this exciting new electric car in a regular series of blog articles.

For this, my first blog post, I thought it would be helpful for potential electric cars buyers to describe my pre-sales experience, as the process was far from straightforward.

So, while not intending to be critical of my personal experience of BMWs sales knowledge, I do think the decision process, or help with making the decision, could have been better.

However, this car is the first of whole new product category for BMW so perhaps it’s understandable if the sales message has yet to be perfected. The company’s website does, actually, detail charging options on the i3 section.

Redefining the company’s intended market too – not just to the 20 or 30 something urbanites shown in the i3’s advertising – will take some time, but for me the key factors in my decision process were practicality and reduced running costs.

The fact that my children are becoming more transport independent means I don’t need a big family car anymore and the i3 fits around being a second family car. It also fits me because my commuting journeys are within Milton Keynes.

Plus, I expect the running cost to be dramatically lower.

For others looking to buy an electric car I’d recommend some advance preparation work. You should think about which charging systems you will use away from home and the charging system you have to set up at home.

You may, as I did, need to have work done in your house or garage to be ready.

My pre-buying experience

There are differences in the way you run an electric car I didn’t fully appreciate before I went into the showroom. Clearly, you’ve got to plug it in but I expected there to be a very easy choice of cable or socket, but I now realise that is an issue, and helping me get past that misapprehension could have been a bit better.

What I wanted to buy was complete flexibility, so with an electric car I want to be able to charge it wherever I’m able to charge it, whenever I’m able to charge it. That means at charging posts on the streets or at service stations I want to plug in whenever I park up and leave my car – for a few minutes or a few hours.

I clearly want to be able to charge it at home and I want the ability to plug in to a rapid charging system.

What I now understand, however, is there is a way you can plug in at home through the normal three pin socket, but that takes 8 hours to full charge.

There is, forming, a standard – the Type 2 socket – of a higher power rating which gets you a charge in 3 hours. For that you need a cable and for that you need a dedicated charging point at home, which is subsidised by the Government or local authority.

BMW offer their Wallbox solution but that would have cost me £315. Instead I paid £95 to Chargemaster  for a box with a type 2 plug to be fitted to the garage wall.

That’s a better option for me because it charges in just three hours not eight and also because most of the posts out on the streets, I think, use the same Type 2 cable.

What I also learned was that there is about to be a very high capacity type of charging post using a DC system which charges in just half an hour – so that really starts to be getting close to filling up a tank of diesel – you can have a cup of coffee, a sandwich and use the loo at a service station, then bang, you’ve got another hundred miles in your tank, or batteries.

I had to pay extra to be compatible with that very high capacity charging system. I’ve chosen to pay that money because I wanted full flexibility but I didn’t understand all of that when I walked in to the showroom for the first time.

There’s a messaging issue here generally for communicating to ‘petrol-heads’ that still account for 99.9% of all purchasers – that you do need to think about the flexibility and the types of auxiliary equipment that you need, either at home or carried in the car, such as which cables you need.

Another thing I still haven’t got an answer to is about high capacity charging points (that charge in half an hour) – do I need a cable for that or not?

I think the cable is on the post because it’s of such a high current rating that it’s going to need a really big cross-section cable and therefore you shouldn’t have to carry the cable with you – it should be like a fuel nozzle, you just plug it in for half an hour and – job done – you walk away.

A nice but expensive car

My other reflection is that whilst the car comes with a £5000 government subsidy it’s still an expensive car for what it is.

It’s a small B Class car really – a nice one and I’ve added some options but it’s still costing me £33,000.

That’s quite a lot of money. I am interested in the technology and looking forward to lower running costs, but it’s still a lot of money. Plus I live in Milton Keynes and work in Milton Keynes. Most of my journeys are the five or six miles between the two – and that’s ideal for an electric car.

It’s a good solution for what I need as a second family car right now. And it’s new and exciting and interesting – and it allows me to do a blog!

So, I’m really excited about picking it up in the middle of next month.

Expected Running Costs

As well as the i3 fitting my practical needs, the other main factor that led me to the decision to buy was, as I understand it, the costs of running the car are dramatically different from running a petrol or diesel car.

At the moment, the car that I’ve been running for 8 or 9 years costs me about 20p per mile just in fuel.

The equivalent cost for the i3, and, OK, the size of the car is not quite the same, is about 2p per mile. So I’m hoping to save about 90% of my running costs.

I don’t know how much my maintenance costs will be yet, but, assuming that’s like-for-like, overall running costs should be dramatically lower.

I will be trying to use it for longer distances too. I bought the range extender version, which alleviates my range anxiety at little bit. It comes with a motorcycle engine that charges the batteries and with a little nine litre tank that gets you another 75 miles of range. So the total range quoted is 150 to 186 miles in the brochure. So, taking the lower figure that means with a full charge and full tank my maximum range without topping up is 75 miles which will take me from Milton Keynes to Swindon. That’s where the Technology Strategy Board are – that’s a journey I do – and I should be able to get there and back on one charge and one fuel tank. That’s OK.

But would I go to Glasgow in it? That’s 360 miles from here… probably not. I’d take my wife’s car, or the train, actually!

Would I go to Cambridge in it, that’s 50 miles away from Milton Keynes? I probably would. There and back is 100 miles, that’s safely within the combined range of electric full charge and the 9l tank for the motorcycle engine.

So, my usage of the car is going to be slightly different I think but I am going to try to use it as much as I can as if using my current car.

But, my running costs should be dramatically lower.

By the way, I have tracked every cost I have put into my current car. I’ve got a benchmark: every new tyre, every bit of road tax, every bit of fuel is all recorded in a spreadsheet over the 8/9 years I’ve had it. So I can call on that – and I’ll keep doing that with the electric car.

I don’t yet know how to measure how much electricity I put in at home – perhaps BMW can provide that as the car is internet connected – there’s data comms between the car and somewhere… perhaps using an App. I’ll report in the blog what I find out.

If I charge at public charging points in Milton Keynes, it is free at the moment. Not free to the country, or society but it’s free to me so in theory I could charge it and get zero costs per mile, as opposed to two pence estimated so far.

So, all that really bodes well.

Really looking forward to receiving it

Overall, it looks like great car. Having had a test drive the low speed torque and acceleration is phenomenal and I’m really looking forward to receiving it.

I still need to arrange a charge card. You can’t just go up to a charging post and charge. You need to buy a card that allows you to access the charging system, either through Chargemaster or BMW. I understand that BMW have an arrangement that means if you have a BMW card you can use Chargemaster posts throughout the country not just BMW posts. I’ll probably take that route… I’ve got a month to go so I should be OK.

I also need to trade in my old car.

Another factor in my buying process was battery life, but BMW have dealt with that. I was concerned that the charge carrying capacity would degrade over time but BMW offers an 8 year warranty on the battery modules which gave me assurance.

If over that time the i3 car depreciates to zero the effect overall isn’t likely to be very different to the depreciation I’ve experienced with my current car.

So, watch this space – I’ll let you know how I get on with my i3.

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