2009 Mini E Electric Car Preview

Jeff Youngs | Dec 31, 2008
FAST FACTS
  • Initial run of 500 battery-powered vehicles
  • Will be leased mostly to regular (non-fleet) motorists, in or near Los Angeles and New York City
  • Mini claims range of up to 156 miles
  • Full-electric Mini produces zero emissions
  • Feedback from project participants will help Mini executives decide how to proceed with production
  • Regular production of the Mini E appears likely

Introduction

At a time when hybrids are still getting most of the attention in fuel-efficiency conversations and engineering projects, several major automakers have been promoting full-electric cars. General Motors and Toyota, definitely ahead of their time, has been there and done that with the now defunct EV1 and RAV4 EV. Now, nearly a decade later, Mitsubishi says it intends to bring its little to the U.S. market and Nissan has also been working on an electric car. Thus far, though, BMW's Mini subsidiary is the only manufacturer that's taking substantive action in reintroducing battery-powered cars to American customers.

Known as the Mini E, the battery-powered hatchback will soon be on the road in three states: California, New York and New Jersey. No Mini Es are being readied for regular sale, and that isn't likely to happen for a while yet. But if Mini's plans go as intended, hundreds of them will soon be tooling around urban areas on the east and west coasts. Specifically, by the end of 2008, some 500 Mini Es will be available for leasing by regular drivers in and around Los Angeles and New York City. The monthly lease payment of $850 includes all maintenance and insurance, as well as replacement of wearing parts. Technical inspections will be conducted after 3,000 miles of use, and also every six months. Mini executives note that feedback and suggestions from these drivers will help prepare the company for series production of a battery-powered Mini E.

Mini hosted the world premiere of its battery-powered model at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November of 2008. By then, interested parties were signing up at the company's Web site, hoping to be selected for the evaluation project. Participants will be granted a one-year lease, with an extension option. All 500 Mini Es for this project will be built by the end of 2008, according to the company, at both Oxford, England and Munich, Germany.

Model Lineup

At a glance, the Mini E looks just like a regular retro-styled Mini hatchback, except for graphics that identify it as a battery-powered offshoot. Special yellow logos depict a stylized power plug, shaped like an "E." All of the initial models come in the same color scheme: metallic Dark Silver body with a Pure Silver roof.

In its initial form, the electric Mini is only a 2-seater. The backseat area is needed to hold the battery pack. On the dashboard, a battery level indicator (graduated in percentage) replaces the usual tachometer. An LED display shows power consumption in red, and power recuperation in green.

Hardware

Made up of 5,088 cells in 48 modules, the Mini E's rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack is separated into three sections and generates 380 volts. The battery pack can store 35 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy. (One kWh translates to about 5.4 miles of driving.) The Mini E's electric motor is rated at 150 kilowatts (204 horsepower), and develops 220 Newton-meters of peak torque. A single-stage helical gearbox sends its output to the front wheels.

Running solely on battery power, the Mini E has a range of up to 156 miles, according to the company. The lithium-ion batteries, mounted beneath the rear storage compartment, may be charged in 24 hours using a conventional 110-volt AC outlet. Lessees will be given a Wallbox that may be installed in the home garage, to produce higher current (amperage) for shorter charge times. A full charge can then be delivered in as little as 2.5 hours.

Mini claims its battery-powered model can accelerate to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, and reach a top speed of 95 mph. Dr. Klaus Draeger, member of the Board of Management for BMW AG, noted that the Mini E "delivers the full torque from basically zero speed." Underneath, the Mini's suspension has been tuned to match this car's revised, essentially even, weight distribution. The Mini E weighs 3230 pounds. That's considerably more than a gasoline-engine Cooper with an automatic transmission, which has a curb weight of just 2634 pounds.

Safety

Except for lack of front/rear curtain air bags in this 2-seater, the Mini E's passive safety features are essentially the same as those on a regular Mini hatchback. Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) has been adapted to the Mini E. Extensive crash-testing has been done, affirming that the battery's location within the car is non-hazardous. Fully-charged prototypes have passed nine front, five side, and four rear crash tests at varying speeds and impact angles.

Technology

Although the Mini E drives much like a conventional Mini, there are differences. When releasing the accelerator pedal, the electric motor functions as a generator, providing noticeable braking force without ever touching the brake pedal. In fact, Mini says three-fourths of deceleration in city driving may be accomplished without using the brake pedal. Power that's recovered from the car's kinetic energy while slowing down is fed back to the battery.

As a safety measure, if you open the hood, electricity is cut off immediately. Opening a door may also result in a loss of power. An emergency switch in the storage area isolates the battery, to minimize the risk of fire or injury that might result from the presence of unwanted high-voltage electricity, if a threatening incident has occurred.
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