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Monday, October 27, 2008

500 All-Electric Minis Available Next Year, for Lease Only

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500 to be leased next year, but only in 3 states and at $850 a month

Image: Electric Mini
Each Mini E will have a large electric plug logo on the roof and its serial number showing on the side front panel.
The BMW Group

BMW is jumping into — OK it's actually more like testing — the market for all-electric vehicles with its Mini brand, announcing a pilot project to lease 500 completely electric Minis in California, New Jersey and New York.

"By introducing the Mini E, the BMW Group is underscoring the resolve with which it works towards reducing energy consumption and emissions in road traffic," the company said in a statement ahead of the car's debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Nov. 19-20.

The specs aren't bad: a lithium-ion battery range of 150 miles, a top speed of 95 mph and 0-60 mph in 8.5 seconds.

But there are some downsides. The car will initially be available only as a two-seater because the battery takes up the space that had been a back seat.

And then there's the lease itself: $850 a month. That does include all technical maintenance and the cars themselves will be quite the fashion statement — each decked out with a huge yellow electric plug logo on the roof and a serial number on their front fenders.

Of course, the cost of charging the Mini E will be minimal — pennies per gallon.

The vehicles can be recharged overnight at any standard power outlet. BMW will also install a high-speed "wallbox" charger at a customer's garage that can recharge the battery pack in just 2.5 hours.

BMW also touted the Mini E's ability to decelerate with less braking and while charging the battery.

"As soon as the driver releases the gas pedal, the electric motor acts as a generator," it stated. "This results in braking force, and the power recovered from the kinetic energy is fed back to the battery ... In city traffic, some 75 percent of all deceleration can be done without the brakes. Making substantial use of this energy recuperation feature extends the car's range by up to 20 percent."

BMW didn't promise to mass produce the Mini E specifically but did state that it "aims to start series production of all-electric vehicles over the medium term."

Other major carmakers are also moving towards all-electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids, and several startups, especially California-based Tesla, are trying to carve niches.

BMW, for its part, urged potential Mini E customers to be part of its "pioneering mission."

"Customers will join forces with BMW Group experts to assist in the project's scientific evaluation," the company stated. Aiming to monitor driver behavior and car performance, "Mini E engineers accord high importance to staying in touch with the drivers on a regular basis."