Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Part 1: MINI E Test Drive…

#251 is not a new perfume from Channel. It is one of 500 MINI-E’s that is currently part of a year-long US pilot. I had the chance to take the MINI E for a test drive and it was peppy and maneuverable, just like its ICE (internal combustion engine) namesake.


The Test Drive.
#251 is out of its BMW sanctioned “hood” and can be seen frequenting the highways and byways of Silicon Valley. [Note 1] My host was Vice President of Sales at Coulomb Technology, Mike DiNucci.

The MINI E was parked at its reserved space and plugged into the Coulomb charging station. It looked like a traditional MINI E except for the “251” nameplate and “e” symbols. Inside, the front seat was also a MINI with one new dashboard gauge – fuel remaining in the battery. When I placed my handbag out of the way, it rested on the battery pack that took up the entire backseat.

The test drive started just like a test drive at the car dealership. Mike pulled the MINI E out of the Coulomb parking lot off Winchester Boulevard in Campbell. The engine was indeed quiet, but the quietness was difficult to appreciate.  Being an unseasonably warm October afternoon, we had the a/c at full blast and Mike, a born sales guy, was enthusiastically pointing out features.  We found a place to pull-over and traded places.

In the peak of rush hour traffic, I pulled onto CA-Interstate 85 going north and accelerated quickly --- experiencing the extra torque provided by the electric motor.  The next part of the route was CA-Interstate 280 south through San Jose. As I approached heavier traffic, I eased off the fuel pedal (previously known as the gas pedal) and the car reacted as Mike DiNucci warned, it quickly slowed down. There is no coasting with the MINI E and it was equivalent to braking. Mike explained that the MINI E harvests the energy when slowing down to recharge the battery. Most traditional cars waste this energy, but other BMW’s and hybrids also use this technique.

My first attempt to leverage this new feature was herkey-jerkey and Mike gamely smiled through it all. I could see getting accustomed to it quickly as it reminded me of using the engine to brake when down-shifting in a manual transmission; my previous cars were stick. CA-Interstate 280 going south was clogged by commuters ready to start the weekend, but we had the benefit of the car pool lane. We then eased over to CA-Interstate 17 south and to our exit. Coming off the freeway provided some fun curves and using the braking feature of the fuel pedal allowed me to de-accelerate into the curve then accelerate out of the curve without my right foot dancing between 2 pedals. We returned the MINI E to its spot and plugged it into the recharging station after an exhilarating 20 mile trip.

Note 1: The story of #251.
BMW limited its pilot users to New York and Los Angeles to keep the cars close to its two engineering facilities. The leaser of #251 is Richard Lowenthal, CEO of Coulomb, the start-up working to fuel the e-car age. The CEO has a home in LA (and connections with BMW) while his company is headquartered in Silicon Valley. The MINI E #251 makes a great prop to the Coulomb’s charging station and hence lives mostly in Silicon Valley.

Read PART 2:The Marketing Analysis >>

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