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Sunday, October 4, 2015

The EV Loaner

What's the best way to get someone to buy an EV? You can talk (or blog) to them about energy independence, torque, polar bears... but the best way is to simply let them drive one. The EV driving experience is wonderful. The cars are smooth and peppy. The first time that you step on the pedal and car moves without the explosive internal combustion rattle we've all become so accustomed to, it feels like magic and the 'EV grin' is the natural response.

So how do we get people behind the wheel of an EV? Here is the story of how one dealership is doing it.

We have charging stations at my work. Normally, overnight charging is more than enough for my needs and I don't charge at work. However, on a recent Friday, I had appointments in the morning and an offsite team-building activity in the afternoon. This meant that I'd be driving many more miles than I do on a typical workday.

I plugged in at 9:30 when I arrived at work. By noon the car was fully charged and it was time to head out for the afternoon activity. As I was unplugging I noticed one of my coworking plugging in a BMW i3 next to me. After our greetings, he asked me if I knew how the charging stations worked. I explained the membership card that you need (charging is not free at my work, but it is a fair, nearly the same as home, price).

He was surprised that they were not free and asked if the front desk had a card he could use for the day. I said they did not and I offered to let him use my card today and next week if he needed it. He said that he'd only need it for the day since this was just a loaner while his car was in the shop until tomorrow (Saturday) at the latest.

I looked at the car again and saw this message on the rear windshield.

BMW of Portland is using i3 REx vehicles as loaners
BMW of Portland is using range extended i3 vehicles for loaner cars. This is a great idea. The fact that it's a range extended vehicle means that there is no worry about finding a place to plug in. When you are expecting to buy an EV, you've likely prepared for it. You might have a charging station already installed in your garage and you likely have apps like PlugShare to help you find places to plug-in. However, if you are just dropping off your gas car for maintenance and the dealership were to hand you the keys to an EV, you'd likely be unprepared. If the EV had more range than you needed, then there is no problem, but if you need to drive more miles than the range of a full charge, this can be difficult for the uninitiated without charging-provider membership cards and all the tools that EV owners have at their disposal.

Given this, I think a plug-in hybrid (call it what you like: PHEV, EREV, REEV, or REx) is the right vehicle for most people to try for their first plug-in vehicle experience. Just make sure it is fully charged when they get it, so they can experience the pure EV mode.

One more thing BMW of Portland (or anyplace using plug-in loaners) could do is include membership cards to all the nearby charging networks. Because as it is, they owe me 32¢ for that charging session.

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