LEAN TECH: EV on Parade

By Published On: July 10, 2009

As part of another life beyond the pages of California Energy Circuit, I had the opportunity to drive a new BMW battery electric Mini Cooper in the Fourth of July Parade in my home town of South Pasadena. (Just to clarify, that’s South Pasadena, not the city of Pasadena to the north known for its infamous DooDah parade, with the marching brief case precision drill team and other social satires.) The BMW mini is one sharp EV, with racing paint accents. The factory air blows cold. You can pump up the volume on the stereo system. Plenty of folks came by the parade staging area to look at this little deuce coupe. I proudly showed it had an electric cord input under the gas cap and no tailpipe. After the parade, I drove it a short distance on the old Pasadena Freeway, getting from 0 to 60 in what seemed like four seconds. That’s a real advantage on this old freeway known for the stop signs at the end of its on ramps. But I’m getting ahead of the story. When the parade started to make its grand entrance down our main street, a funny thing happened amid the hoopla. I turned on the car, but when I pressed on the accelerator it didn’t move. A city staff member came to the rescue explaining to me how to “reboot” the vehicle, which I did repeatedly. I had no luck. Instead, the nervous sweat began to form on my brow. He then got in and after a couple more reboots got it running. We traded places, but when I stopped the vehicle in the creeping pace of the parade’s beginning the problem occurred again. Frantically I kept rebooting with sweat now dripping. My stall caused a traffic jam as I held up those behind me. Soon, drivers of antique cars honked. Impatient, they began to pass me by. I was now lagging behind those marching on human feet carrying the banners and posters of the city Natural Resources and Environmental Commission, on which I serve. The city staff member came to the rescue again and got the car running after a few tries. Ultimately, the Mini, which is on a lease to the city for $10 a month for one year as part of a beta testing program that BMW is running, successfully completed the route. It drew plenty of admiration too. It’s a new technology coming as part of a revival, or should I say a reboot of the electric transportation gambit of the 1990s. I’m sure BMW will solve the reboot problem. I’m sure they’ll solve another one too: When you take your foot off the accelerator, the car seems to quickly stop without even touching the break. Look out from behind. Meanwhile, I can rest assured that at least those guys with the Model T’s got a good laugh and joked about it all way down the parade route.

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