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Monday, October 20, 2008

Mini E- An Electric for the Avant Garde

Mini has recently touted its ‘carfun’ footprint in its ads. In an effort to reduce its carbon footprint, Mini is building a fleet of approximately 500 plug-in electric vehicles that will be made available to select companies and individuals in California, New York, and New Jersey by early 2009.

The heart of the vehicle is its lithium-ion battery, a three-element power source made up of 5088 cells that are linked together with a combination of series and parallel connections. With a maximum capacity of 38 kilowatt-hours—28 of which are usable—the Mini E can go 150 miles on a full charge, which works out to 0.19 kWh per mile. At today’s energy prices, that’s less than three cents per mile, or just pennies on the dollar compared to fossil-fuel costs.

How to Make a Mini Even Less Practical

The battery is situated where the rear passengers normally go, making this a two-seat affair. The power-storage unit weighs 573 pounds, which accounts for the bulk of the vehicle’s added poundage. (The Mini E weighs 3230 lbs compared to an automatic-equipped Mini Cooper’s 2634.) Mini says the vehicle’s batteries can be recharged from any wall plug, with the quickest full charge coming from the included wallbox. This will be installed in the customer’s (lockable) garage and can step up normal amperage to charge the vehicle in two and a half hours.

Power is fed to a transversely mounted electric motor that turns the front wheels. Output is rated at 204 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque, the latter of which is completely available from a standstill. The Mini E uses a modified single-stage version of the Cooper S’s helical transmission. Top speed is 95 mph, and 60 mph comes from a stop in 8.5 seconds, which happens to match Mini’s claimed time for a manual-equipped Cooper. All of this with zero tailpipe emissions (since there’s no tailpipe)—but it’s important to remember that the electricity still has to come from somewhere, and in the U.S. there’s a good chance that it’s a coal-fired plant.

Because of the added weight and unique nature of the vehicle, the driving experience will likely be different from that of the rest of Mini’s lineup. Weight distribution is now even front and rear, compared to a 60/40 front/rear split on the Cooper hatchback. The suspension has been reworked to accommodate the additional rear weight. Since there’s no engine to drive accessories, the Mini E uses an electric air-conditioning compressor, as well as the electric power steering system from standard Minis. Power can also be regenerated on deceleration, so drivers will have less use for the brakes – Mini claims that you can stay off of the brakes 75 percent of the time in city driving.