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A short-circuited Mini

Posted by Bill Griffith  June 18, 2009 09:17 AM

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MINI-E.jpg
(Bill Griffith/Boston.com)

One of the most-anticipated rides I’ve taken was in Mini’s electric model, one of 500 prototypes being leased to select customers.

However, when it comes to driving an all-electric vehicle, Boston’s 1950s-era trolley cars were smoother.

Hit the gas and there was a lag before acceleration began. That’s disconcerting to anyone used to the always-perky Mini performance.

Hit the (regenerative) brakes and brace yourself. The computerized system is way off. The car stops so powerfully that you’re thrown against your seatbelt. Even just taking one’s foot off the accelerator winds up initiating a major braking event.

The suspicion here is that Mini tossed out some trial balloons and the revised versions will be fine.

And we’ll still be ready to line up for a test ride.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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29 comments so far...
  1. Why the acceleration lag? You didn't explain what causes it, and it shouldn't happen in an electric car. Unlike gasoline engines, electric motors have instant high torque.

    Posted by Concerned June 18, 09 03:48 PM
  1. You have to believe the prototype doesn't have the bugs worked out as opposed to major engineering flaws- both problems listed are usually software controlled and adjustible in electric powertrains..

    Posted by gernn June 18, 09 04:20 PM
  1. I picked up my E-Mini last Sunday: There is no "lag before acceleration begins" whatsoever. In fact the usable power is so instant and violent that even the best souped up S-Works Mini would have no chance against the E. Freeway accelerating from 40-60 mph is even more impressive. The torque is at Porsche Carrera level. Breaking: when you lift the foot off the accelerator the braking induced by the engine turning in "generator" mode is severe. It feels like you downshift to 2nd gear while driving 60 mph. So that's something to get used to. The good thing is, that you almost never have to use the brake pedal. All the necessary deceleration is done by accelerator modulation. All this takes 5 miles to get used to.

    Posted by Ulrich Lange June 18, 09 07:59 PM
  1. Could it be that the traditional model of motor vehicles is in trouble, and the author is one of the holdouts? Knowing where his bread is buttered is enough to help trash the electric car industry. Hey world, the word is getting out, and if we don't roll with them, we will see Gas prices climb again, to record levels again, and someday they will stay there. All the wars in Iraq and all the animals we can kill will not be enough to get us the oil we would need. Electricity. Henry Ford was going to go Electric, J. Paul Getty needed a market for petroleum products. Many people made a lot of money, but the time for electric cars is now, before we become the last country to change, and regress to a 3rd world nation.

    Posted by Al June 18, 09 09:33 PM
  1. Well "concerned" even though you think you may know whats going on using terms like instant "high torque". The electric car uses, guess what, electrical signals to control the engine through which i believe we professionals call a rheostat which controls the voltage to the electric motor, well unlike the gas engine where you are controling a metal cable that gives you instant response the electrical signal must travel through the miles of wires to ultimately reach the motor. The instant decceleration or braking is caused by the friction in the electric motor which is occuring because the voltage is cut off to the engine there for no more turning. What happens if one of those little wires grounds out or even worst that little green electric motor burns out after the warranty? Electric cars sound nice but i think they are not worth the hassle. So to solve this problem simply turning the key to a big V-8 that gets 10 miles to the gallon, let her rip and enjoy. Thats what driving is all about Fun

    Posted by Sailor228 June 18, 09 10:37 PM
  1. "you can't service it at a regular dealer, and it's only available on a one-year lease" This is like the Chevy EV-1, especially the 'Lease Only' part. There are plenty of buyers for all-electric vehicles (including me), and it is no mistake that they cannot be purchased - lest we all discover they are responsive, clean, maintenance free, and cheap to drive. Just think, 90% of Americans could commute to and from work, and throw in ALL their errands, and the car is re-charged before they're halfway through 8 hours of sleep - but would you need to purchase gasoline? No. The electrical cost for charging the batteries to drive 300 total miles (to compare with gasoline vehicles) is estimated to be under $6.
    Popular Mechanics, July issue: 6 full pages on more defense spending, but just one half of a single column to the all-electric Tesla Model S. Get used to the media ignoring this revolution, but the public must make their demands heard.

    Posted by Al June 19, 09 04:34 AM
  1. who do you believe? someone that ownes a mini or someone that sits at a computer all day looking for any negatives he can find and blow out of proportion in order to get acco.lades from his peers. Don't believe anything you read and only one half of what you see.mkh

    Posted by MKH June 19, 09 06:03 AM
  1. How much electricity does this thing consume? Odd that was left out of the article.

    Posted by Jon Fraud Carry June 19, 09 06:11 AM
  1. Ulrich Lange: Whether or not you need to use the brake pedal, you always should. Somebody behind you might rear-end you if they're following too closely (or you decellerate too suddenly) and they don't see your brake lights come on.

    Posted by Anonymous June 19, 09 07:44 AM
  1. Does it come with a cute little dog and matching handbag?

    Posted by Bruno June 19, 09 08:35 AM
  1. "the electrical signal must travel through the miles of wires to ultimately reach the motor. The instant decceleration or braking is caused by the friction in the electric motor which is occuring because the voltage is cut off to the engine there for no more turning....."

    This explains why Japan, India, China and pretty soon Mozambique will outrun the US in global competition. An average 11 year old in the Ukraine knows more than this.

    Posted by Idiots United! June 19, 09 09:48 AM
  1. So moving from a gas-powered Mini to a coal-powered one is a step down? Didn't need a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

    Posted by A scientist June 19, 09 09:52 AM
  1. "One of the most-anticipated rides I’ve taken was in Mini’s electric model, one of 500 prototypes being leased to select customers."
    "The suspicion here is that Mini tossed out some trial balloons and the revised versions will be fine."
    "And we’ll still be ready to line up for a test ride."

    Yeah, this author is absolutely biased against the electric car. The venom he directs with words like 'most-anticipated', 'revised versions will be fine', 'line up for a test ride' are so completely biased against having an open mind with electric cars it is ridiculous.

    Perhaps folks accepting the fact that electric cars with their miles of electric cables should not have instant torque should check pretty much every review of the Tesla where test drivers noted the explosive acceleration off of the line.

    The Globe and its writers cannot win as any attempt at a review of anything is immediately dismissed as biased by both sides. I thought the article was fine as I was curious about this car myself as I am looking forward to recharging at home rather than the gas station.

    Posted by whit June 19, 09 10:16 AM
  1. Miles of cable causing the delay? Sailor228, you amuse me. Even if it was miles of cable the pedal signal traveled through, is there a noticeable lag when you are talking to someone on the phone across town? (just across town, maybe a town over) And I am not talking about digital phone service, nice, normal analog signals.

    In truth, if it was actually a rheostat without a central controller, it would be about as responsive as a good electric drill. It probably isn't though, and they have some controller board doing the work of taking the pedal signal and sending something to the motor (this allows for cruise control, among other things)

    Posted by Alexis June 19, 09 10:58 AM
  1. "unlike the gas engine where you are controling a metal cable that gives you instant response the electrical signal must travel through the miles of wires to ultimately reach the motor."

    Electricity moves at ~96% the speed of light, approx 643,791,963 miles/hour. This is essentially instantaneous, especially when it goes through merely "miles" of cable. Thank you for playing, try again soon.

    Posted by Mark D. June 19, 09 11:30 AM
  1. The writer's experience sounds like what is typical for a complex system where the software is in beta form. How does one become one of the next group of select customers?

    Posted by Kevin June 19, 09 11:31 AM
  1. Sailor228, even if the mini were able to put "miles" of wire in the few feet between the "gas" pedal and the electric motor controller, the good news is that electricity travels at the speed of light. About 200,000 miles per sec. For the sake of argument, lets say Chrysler assisted in the design of this car and they wound the wire several thousand times around the outside of the chassis to get 2 miles of wire. The foot pedal signal would be delayed about 10 microseconds. Undetectable by humans. Throw in a few hundred more microseconds of delay due to IGBT deadBand in PWM switching used in the motor phase windings to spin the motor, and you might get up to a millisecond or so of delay, but it would be much less than the delay in a gas engine which has very poor low speed torque, unlike an electric motor. Concerned is exactly right. Any perceived lag in an electric powered car is due to poor design of electronics or software.
    Also the amount of regeneration is under design control as well. I think is a bad design to have too much regen tied to gas pedal position. Significant regen braking should only kick in when the brake pedal is applied.

    Posted by Westford Pete June 19, 09 12:08 PM
  1. Respectfully, "through the miles of wires" , "caused by the friction in the electric motor", betray less than 'professional' experience with electricity - though you may very well be a terrific hard worker, you are not a Master Electrician nor Engineer, perhaps you run wiring.
    Do not be angry with me, instead Google "ExxonMobil Quarterly profit", then do the same for Chevron, British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell... every 3 months, these companies make serious PROFIT (not mere revenue) even after they have kicked around a few bucks to make you and others believe that Electric cars are "not ready yet".
    Real cars, not lite-commuter-pods, but cars like the Tesla Roadster, the EV-1, this Mini... they will shame a V8.

    Posted by Al June 19, 09 01:33 PM
  1. Anonymous: The brake lights actually do come on when you only lift off the accelerator and the described braking effect starts. You don't have to be on the brake! That was one of the first things I asked Mini when I realized how much the gen-mode slows down the car. Not shure how the car knows when to switch on the brake lights....maybe a dyno.
    So no worries about being rear ended.

    Posted by U.L. June 19, 09 02:07 PM
  1. It sounds to me (perhaps) as though the computer in the car was malfunctioning.
    In any event the electric car is the way to the future and this coming to you from yours truly, a fellow who raced formula cars for 10 years. I must say I do enjoy the sound of a Formula One engine and the sound of a well tuned V-8, however I will tell you I would trade that 'thunder/shriek' for blinding acceleration and torque any day of the week: not to mention the silence as I violated a speed limit somewhere drawing less attention to myself. But , I digress.
    A company called PML has built a Mini I believe (PML 640hp Electric MINI) which goes 150 mph and 0-60 in a space of time not for the timid.
    It has a 160Hp electric motor on each wheel, 4 in total. No drive train, no eternal combustion engine....and- torque, torque and more torque. Thats what I'm takin' about !!
    The car has a small gas engine which only task is to charge the batteries giving it something like a 950 mile range at 80 mpg. On batteries alone the range is alleged at around 200-250 miles. Small concept as a Locomotive. Old is new.
    Brilliant. If Obama motors builds something like this, I'll buy it !!!


    Posted by Douglas Fisher June 19, 09 02:09 PM
  1. I've read that the E-Mini's brake lights DO come on when you remove your foot from the accelerator, which causes the generative braking to initiate...I for one can't wait until they work out the kinks to the point where they're offering these cars for sale...never paying another penny for gas/oil...priceless

    Posted by backlineguy June 19, 09 02:17 PM
  1. I've seen the acceleration lag before in cars with electronic gas pedals before, I believe it was one of the lower end Mercedes C classes I drove. It's pretty bad. Not as annoying as the steering on the Pontiac G6 I rented that was electronic and completely devoid of feedback. They got rid of that system after a few years I believe. It is correct that electric motors have constant torque (or the style used in electric cars are pretty close to that, nothings perfect), so they are relatively powerful at low rpm's. This does help a lot from a dead stop up to 30-40 mph, but the lack of horsepower in the mid-range rpm of most of them can hurt 40-70mph acceleration which you use quite often to pass or merge on highways.

    Posted by Shaggydog June 19, 09 02:49 PM
  1. Pardon me, Sailor228, but what kind of "professional" are you? A rheostat is a pretty archaic and inefficient method of regulating motor speed for this type of application. A miniature slot-car set might use one, but nowadays most DC motor control is done using pulse-width modulation, which keeps the voltage at the maximum level but switches it on and off at very high frequency. This allows better response to changing loads, making thousands of adjustments each second, and in general it's more efficient and more intelligent. Being computer-controlled, everything can be adjusted and tweaked, which as noted above is probably what the car needed. Some may even be able to adjust themselves automatically.
    You may think a throttle cable gives "instant" response because it's a direct link, but the only thing that responds instantly is the throttle valve plate itself. There's still a delay while the airflow increases, and there's a further delay until the correct amount of fuel is added to the mixture. This could easily take longer than the few milliseconds needed for a computer to react.
    By the way, combustion engines also have plenty of internal friction that slows you when you lift off the throttle. But that's what bearings are for, and you bet electric motors have 'em too. The deceleration mentioned by the author might just require adjustment to the regenerative braking system.
    You may love your V8, but you can't stop the advancement of technology. Someone probably felt the same way about their horse once.

    Posted by Just Some Engineer June 19, 09 02:52 PM
  1. Sailor 228:

    Even if there are miles of wire, don't electrons travel at the speed of light, or do I have that wrong? I would have thought that the electric response time would be as good or better, based on the sheer speed of what is happening, than the chemical and physical process of internal combustion.

    As for the danger of "braking" when deaccelerating, that is a good point. They should have the brake light come on when you remove your foot from the accelerator pedal, especially at higwhay speed. I am sure they could engineer that solution.

    I woud like to try one of these cars.


    Posted by landnsdad June 19, 09 03:02 PM
  1. As a Mini owner I am appalled at this so-called "review." This is not a friggin review, just some hacks rant at trying to sound like he knows something about cars. Which he obviously does not. And knows nothing of Mini's. NOTHING! Can you backup anything you stated pal? I mean, what the hell? How long did it take you to write this piece of garbage? 2 minutes? Were you bored on the toilet and decided to kill some time? This is probably the worst written piece of work since the dawn of time.

    You and your editor (who approved this nonsense) should be proud of your ineptitude.

    GD

    Posted by Gary June 19, 09 03:49 PM
  1. Sailor 228 - you are awesome!!
    That was the PERFECT troll!!
    I'm only sorry I didn't think of it. :-)


    Posted by dave VoNa June 19, 09 04:00 PM
  1. Sailor228 is either 10 years old, or the funniest dude (or dudette) I've read in a long time!

    Posted by Joseph Forlizzi June 19, 09 05:04 PM
  1. As with any "new" technology, flaws in mechanics will arise. They also will be corrected, and the product will be made available for consumption. It it at that time that yours personally, will purchase a Mini E.,

    Posted by Michael W. June 21, 09 01:46 AM
  1. Electricty is generated from fields of green and flowers. With blue skies and fluffy clouds.

    Right?

    Posted by Volts not Colts June 23, 09 12:28 PM
 

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