Limitations and Costs of the MINI E
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
- 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.