WOODCLIFF LAKE, NJ --- Now more than two months into its field trials of electric-powered automobiles, MINI USA said it is gathering valuable, real-world data from 450 drivers of MINI E electric-powered vehicles.

These vehicles are now in daily use in metropolitan New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles, where they are being driven by private customers, municipalities, universities, public utilities, and non-profit and commercial organizations. 

The MINI E experiment has presented several challenges. As part of the installation process for MINI E residential charging systems, the project was complicated by the flexibility needed to meet a range of local community code compliance issues. There were some initial delays in supplying the 220-volt cables for the fast-charging wall boxes and in obtaining Underwriters Laboratory (UL) approval for the charging boxes from local building inspectors in some cities. These challenges are now resolved, the automaker said.

Since the field trials began in June, MINI USA has compiled plenty of data from users describing what it's like to rely on a vehicle with a purely electric drivetrain. 

Initial responses address such issues as optimization of the energy consumption through brake regeneration, managing the trip to the amount of range available, and feedback to assist continued development regarding on-board efficiencies.

A research partnership between the BMW Group and the University of California at Davis (UC Davis) has been established to further focus on real-world experiences with the MINI E, and is expected to provide insights into real-life usage and perceptions about electric vehicles during the trial period. The study is gathering information from 50 voluntary participants, a subset of the 450 MINI E customers in the U.S., through online travel diaries, written questionnaires and a series of interviews conducted throughout the one-year study.

Several MINI E users have started blogging about their experiences on the Web, reporting on detailed aspects of their day-to-day experiences of their plug-in MINI.

"The feedback and data provided by these early users is valuable because it comes from real-world, everyday use and not some laboratory experiment," said Jim McDowell, vice president of MINI USA. "Whether it's coming from the UC Davis research, consumer blog sites or from direct feedback to our company, this trial is giving us an important insight into the practicalities of using an electric powered vehicle in this country."

Residential charging stations have been installed in the garages of MINI E drivers. There are two high-voltage charging systems -- the 220-volt 32-amp system allows a full charge in three to five hours, while a 48-amp system allows a full charge in two to three hours. Every MINI E comes with a 110-volt cable that allows MINI E drivers to also charge the car at locations away from home charging points.

One group of customers has created a Web site to share charging stations with other MINI E pioneers for "charging on the go": www.waterway4.com/mini-e/.

MINI USA said the trials' reported 100-mile range on a single charge is an accurate reflection of the typical range of the MINI E on a full charge driven in the variable conditions of the real world. However, one contributor to a dedicated MINI E Facebook group has reported that he has achieved 141.2 miles on a single charge. The driving range of an electric vehicle depends on the driving style and environmental conditions, much more so than a conventional vehicle and is an important real-world consideration for future attention and product development.

In preparation for the field trials, the BMW Group was involved in discussions with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help determine an official range for the MINI E and obtain EPA certification as well as the appropriate Electric Vehicle Energy Consumption labels. The company also worked closely with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to obtain Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) certification.

The MINI E is the first chapter of BMW Group's Project i, the company's long-term commitment to research and develop a new type of vehicle specifically to meet the needs of the world's fastest growing mega-cities, where the majority of vehicle growth will come in the next 20 years.

Earlier this month, BMW Group announced that it has opted for SB LiMotive as the supplier of battery cells for the first megacity vehicle.