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Thursday, October 28, 2021

UCD study of Mini E yields positive response

BMW Mini’s groundbreaking entry into the sports car market has received electric reviews from a UC Davis customer satisfaction study.

Four hundred and fifty leasers were selected to take place in the United States portion of the field testing, requiring them to keep a driving diary of their Mini E use for six months. Fifty-four of the leasers have done interviews with UC Davis researchers detailing their experiences.

The key to the study’s validity is that the participants pay a price to drive the new technology. The lease price is over $800 a month – which is why BMW chose to survey consumers rather than hand them out to testers, said Dahlia Garas, interim program manager for the UC Davis Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Research Center.

“If people are paying to use this vehicle instead of having it given to them, they’ll be much more honest,” Garas said. “We’ve seen some really honest, constructive criticism of the vehicle from the people who are leasing it.”

Dr. Thomas Turrentine, the study’s leader and director of the UC Davis PHEV Center, explained how the study began last June.

“BMW has participated in our sustainable transportation energy program, so they knew about the work we’ve done with consumers, and they were working with a German university and found an opportunity to have us collaborate,” he said.

The vehicle in the American co-test is exactly the same as the German one, according to Turrentine, though the studies have their differences.

“We asked people to do a more intensive study than BMW does, with our focus group of 54 volunteers in Los Angeles and the New York area,” Turrentine said, referring to the interview process UC Davis added to the driving diary.

Issues noted by the surveyed leasers include lack of trunk space, that the vehicle is only available as a two-seater and the range of the electric battery. The Mini E gets between 80 and 130 miles on a fully charged battery, depending on how the car is driven, according to Turrentine.

“Some people think that it’s not practical to charge at home, but in this case, these people are of high socioeconomic status and have other cars at home,” Turrentine said.

Despite these reported limitations, most of the participants have been able to fulfill much of their regular driving activity in the Mini E.

“They just take a look and decide if they have enough to go and come back, or take another vehicle,” Garas said. “It’s rare that someone has to get close to 100 miles in a day.”

A full recharge of the battery takes between four to five hours. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ National Household Travel Survey, the average driver spends 55 minutes behind the wheel and drives 29 miles in a day.

The Mini E pairs more horsepower than its gas predecessor with better handling, because of the increased weight on the wheels. Turrentine said the opportunity to test this innovation – BMW Group is the first to use the latest generation of lithium-ion technology in an all-electric vehicle – has led to the positive feedback.

“These are not your average buyers, many of them own brand new Porshes or Lexus’,” Turrentine said. “But it’s something they decided they want to spend money on, so they’re going in to it with intentions, and they’re very happy.”

The next step in the study is to see what the 54 volunteers have said about their Mini E when not asked to respond, Garas said.

“Many people have blogged about the vehicle or written on Facebook about it, so we’ll analyze those things and they should be a good source of info too.”

MIKE DORSEY can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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