Mini Electric Car Drivers: BMW “Botched” Program

As we reported last month, BMW has encountered several problems with its program to evaluate the all-electric Mini E. The program continues to stumble as a growing number of volunteers—who are leasing the Mini E for $850 a month for a year—are going public with their issues.

The Mini E—an all-electric version of the Mini Cooper—is capable of approximately 150 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. Approximately 500 Mini E cars were produced—and leased to municipalities and individuals in Southern California, New York, and New Jersey.

The list of complaints includes:

  • Mini Es were delivered as EV conversions—with the back seat taken up by the battery pack—rather than finished production cars
  • 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
  • Months of delays in the installation and inspection of home charging equipment, some requiring expensive upgrades to home power service

The most serious accusation levied against BMW comes from Plug In America, the electric car advocacy group. The group said the Mini E program was “botched,” and accused BMW of establishing the program merely to get credit for California Air Resources Board (CARB) Zero Emission Vehicle mandate. BMW gets full credit for vehicles even though they are leased for one year. Plug In America also blames CARB for its confusing patchwork of regulations, which essentially created a loophole for BMW to exploit.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Mini spokeswoman Nathalie Bauters said the company made no secret of trying to take advantage of the Zero Emission Vehicle credits ahead of the June 30 deadline. Rich Steinberg, manager of product strategy for the Mini brand, added, “BMW is clearly committed to this technology. We have learned a bloody ton, and we intend to use that learning in the future.”

In fact, BMW will officially launch its first electric car—under its “Project I” program—in 2011, according to Car and Driver magazine. The BMW “City”—the name will probably change before it hits the market—is a three-door hatchback four-seater a little smaller than a Honda Fit. The styling will be “BMW-like” and the range will be approximately 100 miles.

As Car and Driver reports: “According to BMW chairman and CEO Norbert Reithofer, the City is designed specifically for the US market to meet California’s Zero-Emission-Vehicle (ZEV) requirements.” BMW is also developing gas and diesel version of the City for Asian markets, particularly China.

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  • Samie

    Did I read this correctly “Mini Es were delivered as EV conversions—with the back seat taken up by the battery pack—rather than finished production cars????”

    Not what you would expect from a company like this, or would you? As I said before BMW has had a horrible track record w/ fuel efficiency, though most just point to folks like GM… I have not been impressed by this company at all & would think they would lead in new technology not come out w/ junk or half had attempts to appease regulators or say to try to gain environmental public relations points. And why can’t they offer a luxury car that can rival Tesla’s new EV?, or just offer a real TDI that is simple yet full of torque & costs less to maintain.

  • Joe America

    The list of complaints includes the fact that the Mini is a test of a drivetrain in an existing chassis, delivery delays [ahem] not technical, delays in installation, geez you waited 100 years for an electric now you can’t wait a few months to have it properly installed.

    I wish all the major manufacturers took advantage of the CARB’s Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate in such a way, the world would be a much cleaner place. And once again it would be proof that electric cars are possible. “Botched”, hardly!

  • Jeff

    I am actually in the program and have been driving the vehicle almost every day. I don’t really understand all the traction this story seems to be getting. Definitely a case of people trying to look for the bad in things. The LA Times article was a joke. They listened to a few very vocal people (who seem to me to have some agendas of their own) and didn’t really talk to most of the people actually driving the car.

    I admire Chelsea and her husband for the work they have done. But they are definitely not impartial players here.

    I would love to be able to buy a production electric car. But there are no options out there for me. I can’t afford a Tesla and it doesn’t suit my needs even if I could. I have ridden in an Elise and didn’t like how it feels at all anyway.

    Mini to their credit is exploring the possibility of making a production EV. Instead of doing private field tests where none of us would see it outside a tiny few and some trade shows, they have allowed some 500 people to get in on this prototype vehicle and get some real data.

    For me, I get to see if (as I believe) a city commuter EV fits my lifestyle. And after 1000 miles in I, I can now say it does.

    At every step, Mini has been responsive with me. The electric box install in my apartment building went totally smooth and they guys doing it were great. Everything has basically gone as good as I could possibly expect.

    I have issues with the car that I am publicly documenting on my website. But they are really minor.

    Sure some have alternate experiences, but there are a lot of us out there who got exactly what we hoped and wish other car makers would have the same courage to try something new instead of the same old line. Just read the blogs of all the real world drivers of the cars yourself and then make up your own mind (links to some on my website).

    (just Mini-E’s in the nation list for now but hopefully more soon)

  • Albin

    They do offer a Diesel you twit!!! In fact BMW Diesels are one of the better units!! The Mini EV is a conversion job because they are for research purposes, call them a prototype. they weren’t sold to the public as a production vehicle, rather they were leased out to people who wanted them, and were willing to provide the company with feedback.

    The Tesla and any Electric vehicle are only Band Aid solutions too, much of the worlds Electricity is generated by fossil Fuels such as coal and oil… so their environmental credentials fall too short. BMW has in fact pioneered the hydrogen combustion Engine and alternative that won’t have any ill effects on the environment.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    “The company made no secret of trying to take advantage of the Zero Emission Vehicle credits” I think that says it all. They had to get in under the deadline and did it in a very unconventional (unacceptable?) fashion much to the detriment of the leaser. I bet they are not kidding when they say, “We have learned a bloody ton …”.

  • Samie


    If your comment was directed towards me well you can’t read or maybe English is your second language, read it again! I didn’t say they did not make a diesel, honestly I thought anyone would get that but here if this does not spell it out I can’t help you… I was referring to their BluePerformance system & in my opinion the silly urea injection system w/c requires maintenance to keep up but hey that’s just my opinion. And to another comment I was referring to the Tesla Model S the EV that maybe around 45k-55k (after rebate).

    As for the rest of your comments Albin I wonder where that great hydrogen you are referring to is produced oh rack up a big zero on “won’t have any ill effects on the environment.” Think about where your fuel comes from… & why the big oil companies love it & why staying dependent on a “fuel” (until actually stored & produced in a renewable way) that is independent of a fuel distributor/futures market is not good for energy independence.

  • Jeff

    Don’t forget there are people like me with a Solar system on my roof and over 12,000 kwh in surplus over less than 5 years. I have been looking for something like the Mini-E to use all that surplus the electric company won’t let me sell on. Electricity is not a band aid. I am proof that I can have local production and distribution at little cost for fuel and less environmental impact.

    The other thing that bothers me about the article is that the original Twitter source of complaint was about the “rollout” being slow and the cables not being ready. And through the internet telephone game it is now that the whole program is “Botched.” Great reporting there people. None of the articles mention Mini has completely waived the lease payments while those installs were delayed. I enjoyed that extra time and discount on the amount I agreed to pay over the year.

    Also the problems like the electric installs and UL listing for power cables would hit any company that tried to roll out this infrastructure. This is stuff we need to get started on so we can have the plugin hybrids and EVs. Let’s get started improving our local delivery systems for electricity.

    Also the argument that they should have offered these for sale is bogus. This is a prototype. It is a conversion to some extent though way more impressive than any aftermarket one. I don’t want to buy this car. I want the one Mini builds based on this knowledge. Batteries integrated, better software…

    I will be ready next year for whoever has the best package ready. And will have burned no gas waiting.

  • Alex Ferda

    BMW actually has an excellent track record with building highly fuel efficient cars – diesels! Unfortunately, they have not been importing the high-efficiency vehicles to the states. Even with the current diesel models available in the US, they chose the most powerful engines rather then the most fuel efficient ones. I just read a report about the 730d which got 6.6 l/100 km over a real life1150 km test trip by a German magazine without refueling from Lombardy, Italy to northern Germany. That equates to 35 mpg in a 7 series! The 318d gets 4.7 l/100km – that is an incredible 49 mpg – the same as a Prius.

  • Samie

    Way to go Jeff on the solar install!

    But I share RKRB’s comments… In fact BMW helped develop the two-mode system so far, not good. If anyone wonders about the junky record they have w/ offering efficient diesels or hybrids in the U.S. just look back at concept & production car stories from this website. If looking at diesel efficiency a Jetta TDI seems to be a better buy right now & shows me some responsibility from Volkswagen. My question remains unanswered why can’t say BMW produce a EV similar in price & style to a Tesla Model S, shouldn’t be hard to compete against a small company like that? Here is the thing that gets me, BMW’s & other luxury brands are more expensive to produce but they typically create higher profits for auto makers so why w/ the extra padding do we not see more luxury companies take the lead in producing EV’s? Also the only way BMW will bring Euro diesels to the U.S. is if they were treated like a normal car company & had to comply w/ full CAFE regulations, instead they love still putting out inefficient V8 vehicles that GM & others are getting shunned for.

  • Jeffu

    We are way past prototypes and field tests of conversions like the MINI-E in the evolution of the plugin battery electric car.

    Electric cars have already proven them selves.

    There are thousands consumers driving cars like the MINI-E that were made in the 90s. The Toyota RAV4 EV from the past gets 120 miles per charge on 7+ year old batteries.

    BMW/MINIUSA has yet to ask any of the MINI-E pioneers for any feedback at all.

    It’s all just a nutty corporate game played at the expense of not having made a real zero emission production car way back when.

    People are leasing the MINI-E for purely selfish reasons.
    Driving electric is crazy fun and not buying gas is cool.

    MINI-E Pioneer.

  • Jeff


    What irks me is the broad generalizations about all the people in the program. I know that you are one of the ones that did has some big legit complaints about the program. In fact you and one other in the program are the only two of the over 100 that I have personally talked to that have stated they are not happy with the car. The other is unhappy about the price which I understand but have no problem with myself since that is what I signed up for. There are a lot of other people involved in the whole “botched” message that have some other agenda I don’t understand. I am just a consumer so clearly there are politics here at work.

    And I totally disagree that there are thousands of consumers driving cars like the Mini-E. I have tried to buy them and know. Just looks at the ones available on Ebay today. Right now. I see a Rav4, and a couple of Trucks that are nowhere near the range and pretty pricey at that. I want one and there isn’t one even close. Maybe they could be if you sunk many thousands into batts and had the knowhow to convert them to Lith but I can’t.

    I agree that we should have cars like this already but don’t. And there is no other EV that a consumer can drive right now that is at all as nice as the Mini outside of the Tesla. Maybe the iMiev will do it but it is only available to governments now.

    And as far as feedback, I have had quite a few discussions direct with Mini about features of the car and believe that I am being listened to. Maybe it won’t have any impact on the corporation. But doubting the people I am directly involved with are sincere I would need something more.

    Maybe you are right and this will come to nothing in a year. And that would be Mini’s loss. They have shown there is a market and the car works. Someone will step in and fill that. I have no doubt.

    Last rant on this forum. I will stick to blogging.

  • Jonathan

    I find it great that a European can manufacturer is trying to compete with the hybrids of Asia. Simply brilliant. Going green is indeed the way of the future, and we must not neglect our responsibilities as a society, to prevent environmental hardships for our future generations.

  • RKRB

    Alex: Yes, BMW may profess 49 mpg for the 3-series in Europe, but the car does substantially worse in US EPA tests — nearly 40% worse. The Euro/US testing parameters are quite different, and comparing them is an apples-and-oranges thing. BMW’s total of 29 mpg is really not that fuel-efficient, sad to say, although it would be nice if BMW (or someone else) would help make fuel-efficiency more enjoyable.

    Regarding the e-mini, if an American manufacturer had tried to sleaze that one by, the government probably would have been all over them unless, of course, BMW gave enough money to our politicians. Perhaps it would be more honorable for BMW to forego the CARB loophole.

  • TJ

    I also drive a Mini E and agree with Jeff that the media and others are looking for a story where there is none. BMW readily admits they underestimated some of the hurdles they would face (the chief one being dealing with all the local municipalities quagmire of rules and sloth-like inspectors relating to installing the chargers). In return, they made our second lease payment for us.

    In reality, the car is very well finished and we knew there wouldn’t be a back seat at the time we were offered the cars. Mine actually broke down and had to have some electronics swapped out, but this is an experimental vehicle and Mini turned the car around in just over 24 hours. They are trying. Communication with owners is at least a weekly affair.

    Overall, I am very positive on electric vehicles after having driven one for 6 weeks. If the range can increase to 200 miles, I think they can even graduate beyond the role of second vehicle or “city car.” Not going to gas stations is a treat. I will miss mine when its lease is up.

  • EVO

    For those folks who like motorcycles, want a short distance fun commuter or recreational machine, and want the experience of the mini e, but at much less cost (and credits apply) and able to own your vehicle forever:

    What a shame that BMW doesn’t have a motorcycle program. Oh, they do? Then why are the behind the curve on their motorcycles, as well? They are starting to turn from 20th century great performance if you have the coin machines to 21st century missed the bandwagon epic fail.

    Their bow out of Formula One on weak performance after being stomped by the best of the hybrid cars (Ferarri and McLaren/Mercedes), that came in #1 and #2 at the Hungarian Grand Prix, is just frosting on the cake.

    Step it up, BMW. Get performance electric drive mainstream or continue to wither. Maybe a luxury turbodiesel EREV?

  • Anonymous

    A simple solar panel on a home solves the environmental impact of the electric car.

  • marlene

    i hope that the testing program for mini electric car will work soon. i won’t want to buy one and to find out that it breaks in a short period of time. i have at home a classic BMW. i can choose to fix it, to buy some BMW Parts Online, but this new brand is more appealing to me.