BMW's just held an event for the lessees of their MINI E at the Science Center, next to the University of Southern California, a really stellar venue when you consider the product they were showing.
I arrived at the same time as Stefano Paris, Plug In America's documentarian, and as we walked from the parking lot, we went past an SR71 Blackbird on display to get to the party. This sleek, titanium marvel can travel at mach 3.2, orders of magnitude faster than the 95 mph MINI E. A truly awesome feat of engineering. It got us in the mood to see some equally exciting engineering, this time a combination of AC Propulsion's drive system packed into the tight confines of the German engineered MINI.
There were lots of folks I knew in attendance, all of them excited that delivery was finally close. There have been delays, something we advocates of plug-ins have grown to expect. But these were happy folks. There was no mistaking it.
I got to meet Nathalie Bauters, the communications director for the MINI E program in the U.S., and she assured me the delay was only due to getting final UL approval for the plug they are using for charging. The cars have been waiting in a parking lot in Oxnard for weeks. BMW wants to make sure that all of their customers have an approved and permitted charging station installed in their garage before delivery.
This is exactly what happened when we got our Toyota RAV EV six years ago. No charger, no car.
So, it appears most, if not all of the cars will be delivered in June. These MINIs, combined with the 400-500 Tesla Roadsters that will be on the road by end of June, effectively doubles the number of production highway capable EVs in the U.S. The Teslas will continue delivering at a rate of 100 per month while the MINI E customers will be the only ones in the country with these cars until the year long test phase is over and BMW cranks up the production of more.
The difference with how Nissan is approaching the EV is interesting. While BMW is taking a careful look at how its customers will be driving the cars and how they charge them, trying to see if there are any issues to deal with before committing to large numbers of EVs, Nissan is racing to get thousands on the road as fast as possible. They seem very comfortable that their car is going to be bulletproof right out of the gate. I heard today that they expect to have 5,000 Nissan EVs for sale by the end of 2010. It is expected they will expand production quickly to the tens of thousands in 2011.
We are privileged to have front row seats to observe this quickly evolving transportation technology. When you look back 20 years from now, when virtually every vehicle sold has a plug on it, you'll remember these pioneer companies as being well ahead of the curve. Tesla will be a common brand, with several well received models in all price ranges, and there will be a few proud owners of the original Apteras zipping along the freeways among all manner of new plug-in cars, trucks and even SUVs. The gas burners of today will be mostly gone, replaced with cleaner and quieter cars.
The 200 people at tonight's party will soon take their place among the pioneers who helped bring this future about. You could really feel their excitement.
My good friend, Jeff U'ren, who came loaded with questions for the BMW folks and came away satisfied with the answers. The one question about whether the lessees can take the $7,500 tax credit is still to be determined. More on that later...