Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why did Times writer compare BMW's hybrid sports car to the roomy Tesla?

The roomy Tesla Model S, above, would seem to have little in common with the low-slung BMW i8, below, except that both have four wheels. The Tesla is an all-electric luxury car with ample room for four, and the i8 is a plug-in hybrid sports car for two that is difficult to get into and out of.


Although hybrid and all-electric cars have been sold in the United States for 15 years, many automobile writers still don't feel all warm and fuzzy about them.

Can you blame them?

For years, writers for car magazines and newspapers have been obsessing over tire-burning acceleration, 0-60 times and how fast the model they are evaluating can lap a racetrack.

Impact on the environment? Who knew and who cared?

Many in the automotive media have been skeptical of green cars -- from the Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid of a decade ago to the revolutionary all-electric Tesla Model S of today.

Times praises BMW i8

In October, The New York Times ran two stories evaluating the BMW i8, a new plug-in gas-electric hybrid that sounds and drives like a sports car.

With an MSRP of $137,500 -- nearly twice that of the Tesla Model S 60 four-door hatchback -- the i8 is high on excitement, low on practicality and is basically a green car that will keep you chained to the gasoline pump.

The low two-seater has scissor doors and a high sill, making it difficult to get into and a nightmare to exit, especially because it doesn't have a passenger-assist handle.

Not designed for women

No woman in a skirt could get out of the car and keep her dignity. In many ways, the i8 is a car designed by men exclusively for men.

Lawrence Ulrich, who reviewed the i8 for The Times' Automobiles section, mentioned the nightmarish ergonomics in passing, but didn't dwell on the car's many contradictions.

He noted the i8 is as "fast as a Corvette Stingray," and "opening the ... 'swan wing' doors brought gawkers running."

Ulrich can't help comparing the i8 -- favorably -- to Tesla's Model S in terms of acceleration, agility and range, noting the all-electric car can't "keep pace on a track or on twisty roads" with Porsches, Corvettes or BMW's own M3 and M4.

Of course, few cars of any kind can.

In an age of climate change, this speed-freak approach to automotive journalism, where every car is judged largely by its performance, seems juvenile.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

BMW i3: Silent, one-pedal operation with a security blanket hidden in the trunk

The 2014 BMW i3 is available as an all-electric vehicle or as a plug-in hybrid. The grille and hood badge are familiar, above, but the carbon-fiber passenger compartment over an all-aluminum platform and battery set it apart from the German automaker's other cars.

The production car, new this year, looks much like the concept that was shown in 2011. The rear doors on the four-door hatchback can be opened and closed only when the front doors are open, below.

The silver latch for the rear passenger-side door. This was the same system used in the Honda Element, a boxy SUV that went out of production in 2011. In fact, when you see an Element on the road, the styling will remind you of the sleeker BMW i3.


You don't have to drive the new BMW i3 very far before you discover several remarkable features in this all-electric car, which is also available as a plug-in hybrid.

The one I like best is the possibility of one-pedal operation: 

When you lift off of the gas pedal completely, the car slows to a stop, generating energy that recharges the battery.

And, yes, the brake lights do come on, even though you might never touch the brake pedal. 

Another great feature is the silence -- a complete absence of mechanical noise and transmission shifts.

On a smooth road, the car, rated at 170 horsepower, accelerates quickly and quietly, and you might find yourself inadvertently driving over the speed limit. 

The BMW i3 in my garage, next to my wife's 2007 Toyota Prius. The i3 is shorter than my 2010 Prius, a gas-electric hybrid, but a few inches higher with a higher seating position, and I kept on hitting my shoes on the sill as I got in.

Two days with the i3

I've been trying without success to borrow an i3 from BMW's U.S. headquarters in Woodcliff Lake.

But Park Avenue BMW in Maywood offered me an extended test drive of the i3 with the optional "Range Extender" -- a 2-cylinder engine that uses premium fuel and recharges the battery, if you exceed the all-electric range of 81 miles.

With that option, you go from all-electric operation to an electric-gas hybrid.

BMW says the Range Extender adds up to 69 miles on 1.9 gallons of gasoline, and boosts the MSRP of the base model to $45,200 from $41,350.

I was told this security blanket is hidden below the floor of the rear hatch area, but it never kicked in while I had the car.

I put on only 55.4 purely electric miles in two days, doing the usual errands of a retiree, including food shopping in Paterson; meeting a friend for lunch at a Route 17 diner and taking him for a spin, and driving my wife and son to and from the dentist in Fair Lawn.

The bottom line

After 14 years of driving Toyota Prius hybrids, I plan to make the natural transition to an affordable zero-emissions, all-electric car.

The i3 can certainly be considered "affordable," but its limited range takes it out of the running, and the Range Extender defeats the whole purpose of wanting to kick the gasoline habit. 

We usually drive up to Montreal in late June for the International Jazz Festival, a round-trip of more than 700 miles.

In a BMW i3 without the Range Extender, that trip would take a lot of planning.

A full charge takes 3.5 hours at a special charging station or at one installed in your home.

I got another 33 miles of range by plugging the i3 into my 110-volt garage socket overnight.

You could joke the 2014 BMW i3 was born electric, but proved anemic and got an operation to graft on the optional Range Extender. The charging port is on the rear passenger side fender, above, and the gas cap in on the front passenger-side fender, below.

BMW i3 v. Toyota Prius

On Thursday, I drove my 2010 Prius to Park Avenue BMW's service department in South Hackensack, parked my Toyota and got the key to an i3 that turned out to be covered with lettering -- a rolling advertisement for the car and dealer.

Client Advisor Craig Cayetano gave me a quick tutorial and I was off. 

I had read about the strong regenerative-energy system and feared it would take a lot of getting used to, but it was a snap to operate and I loved how the car slowed and came to a stop when I lifted my foot off of the gas pedal.

The regenerative system is progressive -- release pressure on the gas pedal a little and the car slows a little, such as when you enter a curve.

The i3 is stiffly sprung and corners on proverbial rails, despite narrow tires.

The narrow 19-inch tires have low rolling resistance.

In front of you is the screen displaying your range in miles. The screen said 50 miles on electric, 44 miles on gasoline.

A second screen is devoted to navigation, media, radio and so forth. The base model I borrowed does not come with a touch-screen navigation system or a back-up camera, two optional features I have in my 2010 Prius.

The shift lever for the one-speed transmission is visible through the adjustable steering wheel, but you have to reach around the wheel to use the start-stop button, shift the car into gear and put the transmission into park. The parking brake is located on the console below.

This infernal dial is nowhere near as intuitive as the controls in a Toyota Prius or any other Japanese car. There are other controls on the steering wheel, such as cruise control and a button for answering a Bluetooth-connected mobile phone.

Three driving modes

There are three driving modes -- Comfort, Eco Pro and Eco Pro+, but you have to select one each time you start the car, in contrast to the Prius.

The most economical in the i3 is Eco Pro+, but that shuts off the climate system and limits the top speed to 56 mph -- not an option with outside temperatures in the 30s and 40s.

The interior of the base model (Mega World) is spartan, and employs recycled material. 

The seats aren't electrically adjustable, but they can be heated.

A nice touch is that when you unlock the car, the exterior door handles are illuminated.

The BMW i3 is fast and quiet.

The roomy rear seats.

Rubber straps under the hatch and security cover helped secure 3-liter glass bottles of extra-virgin olive oil -- for my kitchen, not the car. The Range Extender, a 2-cylinder gasoline engine that is the electric car's security blanket, is hidden out of view.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A complete absence of 'range anxiety' during four days with the Tesla Model S

On the Tesla Model S, the charging port is cleverly hidden behind the lens of the driver-side tail light.


The Huffington Post carries one of the most positive reports I've seen on the range of the all-electric Tesla Model S.

Click on the link below:

Forget the worry about recharging

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Did Tesla's Elon Musk pull strings to get The Times to fold Automobiles section?

The all-electric Tesla Model S is a large, heavy and luxurious four-door hatchback, as seen in this image from a company gallery in Westfield Garden State Plaza, a shopping center in Paramus.


When automobile writers get together for lunch once a month in Manhattan, you never know what you might hear.

I arrived on the ninth floor of the 3 West Club just before 12:30 on Tuesday to find the room full of members and guests of the International Motor Press Association.

I saw Norman Mayersohn, deputy Automobiles editor at The New York Times, speaking to an older man I didn't know, and the latter wished Mayersohn all the best.

When I asked what happened, I was told The Times is folding its 20-year-old Automobiles section, ostensibly for economic reasons.

The older man claimed Elon Musk, CEO of California-based Tesla, reacted angrily when the Automobiles section published favorable articles in October about BMW's new iBrand, a plug-in hybrid sports car and an all-electric sedan.

Musk went to the higher ups and had something to do with The Times decision to fold the Sunday section, the man said.

The Times' evaluation of the i8 compared the cramped sports car favorably to the Tesla Model S, a luxurious four-door hatchback, and completely ignored the BMW's shockingly impractical ergonomics.

Musk blasted Times

In 2013, Musk claimed Times reporter John Broder falsified information about the performance and range of the all-electric Model S.

On Feb. 13, 2013, in a follow-up entry in the Tesla Blog, Musk wrote:

"Yesterday, The New York Times reversed its opinion on the review of our Model S and no longer believes that it was an accurate account of what happened. After investigating the facts surrounding the test drive, the Public Editor agreed that John Broder had 'problems with precision and judgment,' 'took casual and imprecise notes' and made 'few conclusions that are unassailable.'”

Mayersohn, who didn't hear the other man's comments about Musk, said later the section is expected to fold at the end of the year.

During lunch, he noted The Times is the only newspaper that pays for the so-called press cars it evaluates and forbids staffers from going on junkets that are paid for by the manufacturers of cars, tires and other products.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

BMW executive wears pants to discuss ergonomically challenging i8 sports car

Trudy Hardy, BMW's marketing vice president, admits getting out of the low-slung i8 hybrid sports car "takes some grace and finesse." I describe it as an ergonomic nightmare that poses a challenge to the dignity of any woman who wears a skirt.


BMW isn't the biggest automaker in the world, but this year, the company debuted its iBrand -- a plug-in hybrid sports car and a more practical sedan that is available in purely electric form.

It's hard to believe the two cars came from the same engineering department.

And the German automaker seems to have conceded the all-electric luxury market to the Tesla Model S, a big four-door hatchback with a range of 200 miles or more.

The BMW i8 wows you with its performance and super-car sounds, but it's so difficult to get out of you have to conclude it was designed by men exclusively for men.

Trudy Hardy on the iBrand

This afternoon, BMW sent a woman, Marketing Vice President Trudy Hardy, to discuss the company's iBrand at the monthly meeting of the International Motor Press Association.

Hardy wore pants.

She recalled the time on a cross-country trip when she had to change clothes in the back seat of a Mini, another BMW brand.

That experience has helped her deal with the challenging ergonomics of the i8, she said.

At the moment, she said, BMW has no plans to add more models to the iBrand, but is keeping its eye on Tesla as a competitor.

"I thank them every day because they bring awareness to electric vehicles," she said of Tesla.

Tesla's 3 Series fighter

The California-based company says that in 2017, it will introduce a smaller all-electric car, called the Model E, with a range of 200 miles and a starting price of $35,000.

One publication, Auto Express, calls the Model E a BMW 3 Series fighter.

BMW i3 and i8

The BMW i3 has seating for four, an MSRP of $41,350 and an EPA-estimated range of 81 miles.

A second version comes with a security blanket or what the automaker calls a "Range Extender" -- a 2-cylinder gasoline engine with a 2-gallon tank that recharges the battery -- increasing the car's range to 150 miles.

Both versions take 3.5 hours to charge fully. 

The all-wheel-drive BMW i8 has an MSRP of $137,500.

BMW is selling more than 1,000 of its more practical, all-electric i3 sedans each month, Marketing Vice President Trudy Hardy told a monthly gathering of automobile writers in Manhattan today. 

I got a chance to drive the i8 in September. To get into the low-slung car with scissor doors, you plant your tush in the driver's seat, then swing your legs over the high sill. In trying to get out, I couldn't find an assist handle to grab onto and had to ask another writer for a hand. The company has sold about 300 i8s, Hardy said.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Auto Express: Tesla readies a smaller, more affordable all-electric car for 2017

The Tesla Model S.


A London-based automobile publication says Tesla Motors will start selling a smaller, all-electric sedan called the Model 3 at a starting price of $35,000.

The car is set to debut in 2017.

The larger Tesla Model S with a 60 kWh battery has an MSRP of $69,900.

Tesla boss Elon Musk is quoted as saying the Model 3 will have a "realistic range of over 200 miles."

Here is a link to the full article in Auto Express:

Tesla Model 3 to challenge BMW 3 Series

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Everyone now: What would an 'affordable' all-electric car look like and cost?

Despite the strides made by hybrids and all-electric cars or EVs in the past 14 years, the American road is still dominated by SUVs, which waste gasoline and pollute the air. How many times have you seen only a driver in one of these monstrosities?


Call it the "game changer" or the "sweet spot."

An affordable all-electric car could finally pose a challenge to the dominance of the infernal combustion engine, one of the chief causes of climate change.

But two things would have to happen:

The car would have to start at $40,000 and offer a minimum range of 200 miles.

I'm flexible, though, after looking at the BMW i3, which the German automaker says has a real-world range of 80-100 miles or 160-180 miles with a "Range Extender," a 2-cylinder gasoline engine that recharges the battery.

The base model of the BMW i3, called Mega World, has an MSRP of $42,500.

Even without the Range Extender, the BMWi3 equals or exceeds the range of two cheaper all-electric cars, the Nissan Leaf (84 miles) and Ford Focus Electric (76 miles).

The B Class Electric Drive from Mercedes-Benz has a range of up to 85 miles and an MSRP of $33,950, according to the company's Web site.

The B Class was developed in partnership with California-based Tesla Motors, which makes the car's electric drive system.

Tesla also helped develop Toyota's RAV4 EV, which has a range of 100 miles, but that vehicle is available only in California.

Park Avenue BMW in Maywood has offered me an extended test drive of the i3.

A smaller Tesla

A friend who visited the Tesla showroom in Paramus says she was told a smaller model of the revolutionary all-electric car will be coming out in a year or two.

Would a smaller car have a smaller battery and less range than the Model S with a 60 kWh battery, an advertised range of 208 miles and an MSRP of $69,900?

Tesla is building its own battery factory in Nevada, and that is expected to lower retail costs.

Could Tesla actually produce a smaller all-electric vehicle starting at $40,000?

The Tesla badge on a Model S.