UC Davis Mini-E Consumer Study (June 2011)

UC Davis Study Highlights Results of all electric MINI E field trial MINI E meets 90 percent of participants’ daily driving needs.

Davis, CA – June 1, 2011

The University of California, Davis and the BMW Group together have released the largest publicly available study of electric-car users – including over 120 families who drove MINI E automobiles more than 1 million miles in California, New York and New Jersey. The report shows that the participants found the cars to be fun yet practical, easy to drive and recharge, and many said they would buy an electric car in the next five years, according to UC Davis researchers.As battery electric vehicles (BEVs) enter the commercial marketplace for the first time, the results of a yearlong study by the UC Davis Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center provide valuable insight into new ways that consumers value BEVs.The UC Davis MINI E Consumer Study tracked the experiences of 120 private households in greater Los Angeles and New York/New Jersey that leased full electric conversion MINI Es during the study period of June 2009 to June 2010. A total of 450 private households and public fleets participated in the MINI E demonstration in the US. The UC Davis study is part of a whole set of studies being conducted by the BMW Group on electric vehicles which includes research in China, Germany and the U.K.

Through online and telephone surveys of the participating households, and diaries and in-person interviews with a subset of more than 40 households, the UC Davis MINI E research team examined user behavior, infrastructure use, costs, environmental benefits, and other aspects of electric driving.

Among the key numbers from the surveys are the following:

  • 100% of respondents said BEVs are fun to drive and practical for daily use.
  • Respondents said the cars met 90% of their daily driving needs.
  • 71% of respondents drove less than 40 miles/day; 95% drove less than 80 miles/day.
  • 99% of respondents said home charging was easy to use.
  • 71% of respondents 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% of respondents said they are interested in buying a BEV or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle in the next five years.
  • By the end of the lease period, MINI E drivers overwhelmingly thought that the electricity for charging their BEV should come from renewable resources such as solar, wind and hydropower, and were strongly opposed to using coal to generate electricity for their vehicles.

Compelling combination of “clean and fun”

UC Davis Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center director Tom Turrentine said the study highlights three new and potentially significant ways that drivers value BEVs. First, the MINI E meets drivers’ desire for a vehicle that is both environmentally friendly and fun to drive. Drivers loved the vehicle’s quick acceleration and quiet operation.

“What we heard over and over again in our interviews is how fun it was to drive. That’s in part because it’s a MINI and in part because of the feel of electric drive,” Turrentine said.

Second, drivers find value in using electricity as a fuel and in mastering their individual energy use through efficient driving behaviors. “The combination of limited onboard energy and extreme efficiency make BEVs the premier appliance for people to experience energy use,” says Turrentine. “People respond to the immediate feedback they get from the dashboard displays.” which tell them how much electricity they are using going up and down hills, or accelerating onto the freeway. Additionally, the drivers learned to appreciate the car’s powerful regenerative braking function, which returns energy to the battery and allowed them to drive using a single pedal for acceleration and braking.

Third, drivers like to develop their clean driving territory. “Drivers start talking about the MINI E as a special way to explore their region. They of course can go anywhere in their gas car, but they like to talk about where they can go in their MINI E,” Turrentine says.

“Range anxiety” not a big issue for experienced MINI E drivers

While range is often held up as limitation of BEVs, the MINI E’s range of around 100 miles was acceptable to most drivers most of the time. Most MINI E drivers found that having only two seats and limited cargo space of this conversion design was more restrictive than limited range. “We found that households adapted their driving around the capabilities of the vehicle and even explored ways to maximize the use of the MINI E,” says Turrentine, adding that, collectively, the households drove more than one million miles in their leased MINI Es. The often referred to term of “range anxiety” was not a primary issue for MINI E drivers who became experts on the capabilities of their vehicles during their lease. The exception was very cold weather on the East Coast in winter 2010, which demanded extra energy for heating.

By studying the MINI E drivers’ usage patterns and need for range, researchers were able to determine that strategic placement of charging stations could allow drivers to reach most of their desired destinations using a BEV that has a range of 90 to 100 miles. Most charging occurred at home, at night, and 99% of respondents said home charging was easy to use.

“Where does my electricity come from?”

Most drivers entered the demonstration without much consideration of where electricity comes from, but grew interested in the topic. Fifty-six percent viewed the current electricity grid in California as environmentally friendly. When asked if driving the MINI E had changed the way they think about electricity or energy use 67% answered yes. By the end of the lease period, MINI E drivers overwhelmingly thought that the electricity for charging their EV should come from renewable resources, such as solar, wind and hydropower.

A significant number of respondents said driving the car inspired them to adopt more environmental measures, ranging from monitoring parasitic energy loads in their homes to carrying reusable bags to the grocery store.

The results are applicable to the broader BEV market, Turrentine says, even while acknowledging that these drivers, as early adopters, had a unique BEV driving experience. “The well-known limitations of range and longer recharge times may be outweighed by a whole new set of activities and benefits discovered through their lifestyle exploration.”

UC Davis study has direct impact on developing next-generation EVs

Over the last 20 years, Turrentine and his colleagues at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis have developed the nation’s leading academic research program on consumer response to alternative fuel vehicles, including methanol, compressed natural gas, hybrid, fuel cell, battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The MINI E study is the natural follow-on for Turrentine’s team, and offers real-world context on consumer response to BEVs.

BMW Group prepares 2nd phase of its EV strategy with BMW ActiveE

“The MINI E studies are extremely valuable for us as they show that electric cars are already today offering an attractive mobility solution to a broader spectrum of customers. While reducing the tail pipe emissions to zero, the MINI E provides the fun that users expect when driving our products. The results of the UC Davis study have a direct impact on the development of all BMW Group electric vehicles to come,” says Ulrich Kranz, head of project i, BMW Group. “BMW Group now is developing the next generation of full electric cars, with the BMW ActiveE test fleet coming into the market in 2011 and the series production BMW i3 following in 2013.”

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Read the New York Times article

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