Electric car Mini E brings fun to max for its first driver

Unlike Toyota and GM, BMW wasn't among major automakers that experimented on a large scale with EVs in California a decade ago. While the tests ultimately failed because battery technology hadn't matured, they learned a lot about the practical aspects of electric fleets. Now, with the Mini E field test, BMW has a chance to catch up, says Ed Kjaer, electric transportation director for Southern California Edison, a large utility that actively tests cars and batteries.

"BMW is discovering that doing an electric car — or doing a plug-in vehicle of any kind — is not an easy undertaking," Kjaer says. "But (when) BMW comes through this, they will have a body of knowledge that they didn't have. Dipping their toe in the water is going to be good strategy for them."

A few 'nits'

As Trepp lives with his silver Mini E, he's finding his share of "little nits." He wishes it had a center armrest. The 600-pound battery takes up the rear seat space, making the car a two-seater. "I miss the space in back," he says. "My wife and I went grocery shopping. We ended up (having) a bunch of groceries in my lap."

He's also had one big glitch. The car's motor shut down on his wife, Suzanne, while she was driving on the freeway, apparently having overheated. The car restarted a few minutes later.

With two young sons, he kept the family's gas-powered vehicles: an Audi Q7 SUV and a Toyota Prius hybrid. He says if he's headed out of town or on an overnight trip, he won't take the Mini E.

But he says the overall experience of piloting Mini E No. 111 — the numbers are badged on the car's side — has been great. And as the first customer, he has sort of local enviro-rock-star status.

"Right now, it's still sexy and intriguing," Trepp says. "I don't go anywhere where somebody doesn't say, 'Hey, it's the Mini E guy.' "

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