It's not as easy as plug, charge, unplug and go -- a lesson Mini learned at the onset of its U.S. electric car trial.
It took Mini up to seven months to get all the local approvals and proper electrical hookups for the 450 lessees of the Mini E electric car. The pilot test project began in April 2009 and was scheduled to end this summer. But participants can choose to continue for another year and then lease a second electric car that parent company BMW will put into a trial in 2011.
The participants are in New York, California and New Jersey, where parent BMW of North America is based.
Before any lessee could drive the Mini E, a 220-volt charger had to be installed in the lessee's garage -- and that's where the problems began.
Mini thought installing the required high-voltage charge box would take about 30 days from the time a lessee took delivery of a car. In California, which has experience with electric cars, some of the municipalities approved the necessary permits in days.
But the process was considerably slower elsewhere.
"There are 30,000 municipalities responsible for permits in the U.S.," says Rich Steinberg, manager of electric vehicles operations strategy for BMW. "Some had never seen a permit for an electric car, and some had arcane rules."
What confounded some locals most, Steinberg says, was the Mini E's lack of UL stickers -- issued by Underwriters Laboratories Inc., which evaluates product safety. The UL approvals didn't come for more than three months after the pilot began because Mini shipped the cars with European plugs rather than U.S. plugs. Some inspectors didn't care, but others were adamant about the stickers, Steinberg says.