My Year with an All-Electric MINI


Possible electrical upgrade cost issue

Posted in Uncategorized by Timothy Gill on March 25, 2009

My detached garage is 100+ feet from my house, and my electrician had quoted me $5,000 to bury a wire from my basement 240V panel to the garage.   As much as I’d like to drive a MINI E, that cost was too much on top of the lease payments.  So I suggested that we have the utility drop an above ground wire (like all connections to houses in my older neighborhood) directly to my garage—about 30 feet—and have them put in a 2nd meter.  My electrician said “Good idea!” and thought there would be no problems and no cost, in her experience, since the utility would always be happy to sell more power.  She  applied for the permit and submitted the required form to our utility.

A couple of days ago I got a call from the utility to confirm the details of the property and the work order, and to tell me that an engineer will be coming out within 2 weeks to inspect the site and “determine if a 2nd meter can be installed and what the cost will be.” When I asked for clarification, the guy on the phone was abrupt, but conveyed that it was not a given that it would be approved.

This is a disappointment.  It’s not over, but now I have doubts.

If I knew the tax credit was going to apply, I’d be in better shape.  But without knowing that, I can’t see paying the lease + $1800 + utility installation costs…

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No sales tax on the lease in NJ?

Posted in Uncategorized by Timothy Gill on March 17, 2009

It looks like there will be no sales tax on the lease here in NJ (thanks, Robert, for the info).   This Sales Tax Exemption Notice on the NJ state web site, issued by the Division of Taxation, spells it out.  It then links to a document ( updated March 3, 2009 when I looked at it), that shows the MINI E as a qualifying vehicle on p. 2.

$850 x 12 months = $10,200, at 7% sales tax, is $714.  This will help.

Ah, no 1-foot MINI letters on the doors!

Posted in Uncategorized by Timothy Gill on March 16, 2009

Today I got some information, posted on a NAM site, that seems to resolve this issue in the way that I wanted—there will be no big MINI letters on the doors.  Good news—I won’t be a billboard.    I think the design of the car, with its yellow accents and plug-symbols (what MINI USA calls the visual cues), is already really nice, and the letters would have been a bad idea.

Taking a risk on electrical upgrade before I know 2 things

Posted in Uncategorized by Timothy Gill on March 15, 2009

I have not heard from Clean Fuel Connection about my garage/electric inspection, but I have learned from my electrician that the sequence of events for upgrading my garage to 240V is:

  • The electrician installs the sub-panel, the riser to receive the drop from the utility pole, grounding, etc.  This quote is now down to $1800.
  • The town inspects it and issues a permit that the electric utility needs.
  • The electric utility receives the permit and comes out to inspect the electrician’s work and informs them if all is OK to do a drop from a power line on the closest utility pole.
  • The utility installs 240V power to my new sub-panel.

This presents me with 2 risks of sorts:

  • I have to pay the $1800 before I even know the utility will drop a line to my new sub-panel (though the electrician doubts the utility would not approve her sub-panel install or power to my garage, though because it would be a second meter on my house, I wonder).
  • I have to pay the $1800 before I know if the MINI E will be coming with large letters on the side.  There are photos both ways on the web—with and without—and I have been thinking I don’t want to proceed with the lease if they are going to make me drive a big advertisement around.   Not sure yet, but it is rather unappealing.

I have not decided to get the panel installed yet, but need to this week!

Posted in Uncategorized by Timothy Gill on March 8, 2009

A couple of things happened this week as I wait to see if this MINI E is going to happen for me:

  • I received my first official mail from MINI-USA about the trial
  • I got another, different estimate for upgrading my electric to 240A
  • I learned about the possibility of a federal tax credit

MINI USA let us know that we would be hearing from a company they contracted with to install the wall charging boxes. They will be contacting us to make an appointment to verify that our garage and our electric is OK for the trial.

My detached garage is almost 100 feet from my house and currently does not have 240A. The initial estimate was almost $5,000, for extending the 240A line in our house, underground, to the garage, and the bulk of the cost was for the underground work; there was no way I would pay that much, as I have no other use for the 240A line. So I asked the electrician if we could get the electric utility (PSE&G in this part of New Jersey) to extend an overhead line from the utility pole near our garage (we live on a corner) to the garage, and then just get a 2nd electric meter and sub-panel for the garage. They said Of course, but the estimate has come in at about $2100 just for that, which is a real disappointment. This cost on top of the lease really makes me doubt whether this adventure is worth it.

But then in doing a web search, I came across a discussion forum, on a web site for MINI owners, where the discussion was about the possibility of a Federal tax credit because of the recent stimulus bill that Congress passed [access the PDF here, with all references to plug-in already highlighted]. Though no forum participant feels confident at this point, some reading of the bill itself suggests that people leasing the MINI E may qualify for up to a $7500 credit. That would be amazing, and would make taking part in this trial much easier, given the high lease cost. The forum contains links to the full bills as well as to a couple of green car sites that talk about it as well [1,2].

Limitations and Costs of the MINI E

Posted in Uncategorized by Timothy Gill on March 2, 2009

Two of the issues that I have been thinking about the past few weeks are the limitations and cost of the MINI E.    The main limitations:

  • 150-mile (max) range
  • 2-seats
  • reduced cargo capacity
  • risk of car failure (prototype issues)

The main cost issue:  they want to charge $850/month for the 1-year lease.

When I applied for the field trial back in the fall, I was about to start a new consulting job that would have me commuting about 90 miles each day.  Since this fell within the range of the car, and I knew a car that would be fun would help alleviate the tedium of the commute, the 150-mile limitation did not seem to be a problem.  My wife has a larger car, a VW Passat wagon, that we use for family trips anyhow.  The 2-seat aspect was not great, as we could never use it as weekend car for the 3 of us—but for a year, I decided it did not matter.  Similar reasoning lets me think I can live with the reduced storage space (which MINI amusingly advertises as 60L of space!  (Who ever before measured car storage space in liters?).  But I was already considering getting a MINI for the fun aspect, and had adjusted to the idea of having little storage space, so in the end, this does not really matter.  I am assuming, of course, that I will be able to do reasonable shopping with it (a few bags of groceries,  a stop at Target, etc).

As for the last primary limitation, the risk of breakdown: the field trial provides roadside assistance specific to the field trial participants, so I sense they want to make sure that things go well and that their prototype cars are taken care of as well.  And I assume (hope?) that, if I get a lemon for the MINI E assigned to me, they will somehow make things right for me.

My first reaction to the $850 lease cost was cynicism and disgust.  I also thought that they were unwisely limiting their pool of potential participants.  Even if you factor in reduced costs (about $0.04/mile for electricity [more on this later], collision/comprehensive insurance covered by MINI, and roadside assistance), the cost is still high—probably what leasing a $60,000 car would be like for a year, which is not the kind of car I am interested in.  But then the MINI E is probably a $60,000 car at this point.  And if someone pays that much to take part, they are likely more inclined to take care of it and  be serious about giving useful feedback to MINI on their experiences with the car, which MINI wants.  So though high, the price has come to seem reasonable to me from MINI’s point of view.

From my perspective, $850 is still pretty expensive.  I can find other ways to justify it, such as knowing that with this current commute, I will be putting about 25,000 miles on the car in a year, and any other lease would add excess mileage charges, and any purchased car would take a big hit on resale value when driven 25,000 miles the first year.  In the end, rough calculations make me think I will be spending about $5,000 more to drive this for a year than I would if I bought or leased a new car, as I had planned to do.   Do the attractions of taking part in the field trial make that worth it?  For me, at this point in my life and with a savings account targeted for 15 years to a new car, they do.  I see this as paying a premium for some premium fun.

Admittedly, in the current economic climate, all the above seems woefully inadequate as justification.  More on this later.