Archive for April, 2011

When I first downloaded the BMW EVolve app last week, I thought it was just a cute exercise in alleviating electric vehicle range anxiety.  The app uses the phone’s built-in GPS sensors to track your driving habits and routes — how far you drive, how fast you go, etc.  Think of it as pre-conditioning for the eventual electrification of the automobile and as a cheerleader for BMW’s i-Series (i3) electric MegaCity Vehicle (MCV) that won’t be here until 2013.

BMW's EVolve app for the iPhone

BMW i3 prototype caught in winter tests. Photos courtesy of

However, in reality, the app was the drum roll before BMW’s Earth Day 2011 introduction its first EV to bear its own corporate logo: The ActiveE.  The EVolve app has a countdown battery gauge that starts with 100 miles, the claimed full-charge range of the upcoming ActiveE, an electrified 1-Series Coupé, that will be available for lease sometime later this year.

The MINI E was BMW’s warm up act.  Think of it as a rolling EV lab that uses humans as test drivers to better understand how batteries and electric drivetrains behave in “real world” driving conditions.  It was an expensive little car ($50,700 – but I think that’s a fantasy low-ball number picked out of thin air by BMW Financial Services) that gave early adopters a chance at driving a real EV.

2009 MINI E

Unfortunately, the MINI E was compromised with a large, heavy battery pack that took the place of the back seat. Worse, that battery tended to under-perform in the cold and overheat in the hot So Cal summers.

MINI E drivers were asked to pay a whopping $850+ tax per month ($932.87 in 9.75% LA County) plus the cost of installing a charger.  The lease included comprehensive and collision coverage; but not liability insurance.  There was grumbling in the MINI universe from “average Joe” drivers asked to pay that stiff $850+ tax/month while BMW offered the same car to various municipalities and non-profits for $10 (yes, ten dollars) a month.  Ouch.

The MINI E was originally leased for one year starting in 2009; however, BMW has “generously” allowed MINI E lessees a chance to extend their lease another year (2010 to 2011) and now, to keep their car until the ActiveE comes to market later this year.  MINI E lease holders will get first dibs on an new ActiveE later this year.  Of course, they still have to keep making those egregious lease payments.

I’m not sure who benefited most from the past two years of the MINI E experiment.  MINI E lessees drank the Kool Aid and can’t say a bad thing about the car;  however, I was specifically warned not to enter the trial because there were so many annoying problems with the car.  I’m inclined to believe my BMW insiders on this point.

That leaves the BMW engineers as the major benefactors. The past two years must have produced mountains of valuable information and feedback that will make the new ActiveE a much more competent and useful EV.

Not since the M1 of more than 30 years ago has a BMW had a rear-mid-ship mounted power plant.  The ActiveE’s, power electronics, electric motor and rear axle all form a complete unit.   This is the same configuration BMW will use in the upcoming i3 MCV.  The all-new liquid cooled lithium-ion battery back runs through the spine of the chassis and includes modules under the hood helping the ActiveE hit the magic 50/50 front/rear weight distribution ratio – a hallmark of the BMW brand.

The BMW ActiveE electric guts revealed

BMW’s ActiveE drivers will be offered a much more affordable and realistic 24 month lease for $499/month with $2,250 down.  With tax and amortizing the up-front payment, the monthly cost pencils out to $650.54.  The insurance arrangement should be the same as the MINI E, but no one has seen the actual lease yet.

At one third less than the MINI E lease payment,  you get a car  fully capable of living up to BMW’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” tag-line.  As a bonus, you even get a two rear seats and a small trunk!

2012 BMW ActiveE - an electrified 1-Series Coupe

The BMW ActiveE

BMW Group engineers developed everything that constitutes the ActiveE:  the energy storage module, its wiring, the permanent magnet synchronous electric motor, the power electronics and the transmission.  If you want to control the quality of the product, keep it in-house.

The only the batteries were co-developed with SB LiMotive exclusively for automotive use (a knock at Telsa which uses stacks of lithium-ion batteries originally designed for laptop computers).  [SB LiMotive Ltd. is a 50/50 joint venture between Bosch and Samsung.]

BMW says the ActiveE has maximum power output from the electric drive system of 170 hp with 184 lb-ft torque, available from a standstill, as is the case with all electric vehicles.  BMW pegs the ActiveE’s 0-60 mph time at under 9 seconds with an electronically-limited top speed of 90 mph.

BMW ActiveE electronic umbilical cord

I’ve been testing the new BMW EVolve app on my iPhone. In general, there is almost no time that I could exhaust the 100 mile range in my normal daily struggle through our gridlocked, pot-holed streets.

However, I failed the EV test when I drove to Palm Springs over Easter weekend.  Yup, to get out of LA – any destination outside a 45 mile radius from my home – I’d need a “weekend car” or an extended Range EV like the Chevy Volt (MSRP $41,000 before federal/state tax credits) or Fisker Karma ($95,900 before federal/state tax credits).

2011 Chevrolet Volt extended range EV

2012 Fisker Karma extended range EV

BMW is looking for customers interested in the ActiveE.  To lease the ActiveE, you have to live in one of the following metro areas: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, New York City, Boston and all of Connecticut.  You can explore more about the ActiveE and sign up to be notified when they start the field trials at

BMW has also developed a slick Apple iPhone app for the ActiveE called ConnectedDrive, similar to those already developed for the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt.  ConnectedDrive can romotely lock and unlcok the doors, activate the horn or headlights helping you find your car, CarFinder to locate your car within a 3,300 ft radius and Google’s Local Search function.

BMW ActiveE iPhone App

The ActiveE's information and navigation screen will mirror much of what is on the Smartphone app and is internet connected.

BMW will test a fleet of 1,000 ActiveE vehicles throughout the US, Europe and China.  For the MINI E trials, 450 of the 600 cars landed in the US, so it’s reasonable to expect at least 50% of the ActiveE allocation will come to the US.

I’d love to try it, but I’m waiting for my weekend car first.

Click here for a PDF of the press release: BMW_ActiveE_Electric_Vehicle_Press_Release


Chevrolet has taken the wraps off the 2013 Malibu and from its initial looks, it appears to be an evolution of the current model.  Chevy is pushing up the on-sale date to early 2012 in hopes of getting fresh product into dealers’ showrooms as soon as possible. GM wants to keep up the sales momentum at Chevrolet after the success of the Chevy Cruze.

The 2013 Malibu finally has a navigation/infotainment screen. It cleverly rotates to reveal storage space for anything from a garage door opener to your iPhone.  It can also be tilted to get rid of that nasty glare that sometimes make the screen hard to read.  For a “fresh” design, the screen looks too small; however, the user interface bears more than a passing similarity to an iPad (a good thing), with various infotainment control “apps” as well as the first use of internet-connected apps in a GM product.

For the example, the screen shows the Pandora app – the hot start-up internet radio company that allows you to create your own “radio station” based on your musical tastes. Chevy has a new service called MyLink that will allow internet-based apps to run in the car. They don’t say how much the monthly MyLink subscription service will be or whether you have the option to use the internet connection on your smart phone. I’m guessing you have to pay GM or GM’s subsidiary, OnStar, for the service.

The “dual-cockpit” dash format carries over from the current Malibu in a nod to cars like the 1963 Corvette. The new center stack looks clean and easy to use. I like the large round knobs that should be easy to find, even in the dark.   The exterior, with the exception of the taillights, looks pretty generic Chevrolet.  You could easily mistake the nose for the Chevy Cruze.

The Press Release (below) details the upgraded chassis, aerodynamics and drivetrain.  On select models in the US, the same electronically controlled and integrated active aero shutters used on the 2011 Cruze Eco, will be available.  The only problem is that the Eco package is only available with lesser trim levels. So if you want the nice stuff shown in the pictures with the high trim LTZ, you won’t be able to option it with the Eco package. Ugh.

Overall, I see improvement, if not a quantum leap over the outgoing Malibu. My pulse remains at a resting rate.

Here’s the official press release from GM:


All-New 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Gives Customers More

Chevrolet’s First Global Midsize for Customers in Nearly 100 Markets on Six Continents

All-new exterior designed to stand out around the world

All-new, dual-cockpit interior with more room, more quietness, more premium materials and content, and greater craftsmanship

All-new, fuel-efficient, 2.5L four-cylinder Ecotec engine with next-generation six-speed automatic powertrain

All-new ride and handling package engineered for best-in-class performance

All-new, aerodynamically efficient shape and active shutter system save fuel and reduce wind noise

All-new Chevrolet MyLink in-car infotainment system integrates online services like Pandora® Internet radio and Stitcher SmartRadio®

New radio face that articulates up and down revealing a six-inch-deep hidden storage compartment, a first for a U.S. midsize sedan

New safety features including 10 air bags, lane departure/forward collision warning system and a rearview camera system

On sale in the U.S. in 2012

DETROIT and SHANGHAI – The all-new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu made its global debut today, with simultaneous introductions in the United States and China – two of the nearly 100 countries on six continents where it will be sold. Chevrolet’s first global midsize sedan will provide customers from Shanghai to New York and Sydney to Sao Paulo with expressive design, advanced technologies, ride performance and fuel-efficient powertrains.

“The current Malibu has left an award-winning impression and changed the way people think about Chevrolet. It redefined what an American midsize car could be,” said Rick Scheidt, vice president, Chevrolet Marketing. “This all-new Malibu delivers on the intangibles of today’s Malibu but gives customers even more: more style, fuel efficiency, content and features, craftsmanship, and dynamic capabilities rivaling high-end sedans.”

Product highlights for North American models include:

All-new, fuel-efficient and powerful 2.5L four-cylinder engine and next-generation six-speed automatic that lead Malibu’s powertrain lineup

Expressive exterior design with a wide, athletic stance

Segment-best aerodynamics – close to those of the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car – that enhance fuel efficiency and reduce wind noise, including active electronic shutters on select models

All-new, Chevrolet-signature dual-cockpit interior that is more spacious, features premium materials and is engineered to be the quietest in the midsize segment

New Chevrolet MyLink connectivity seamlessly integrates online services like Pandora® internet radio and Stitcher SmartRadio®

European-influenced ride and handling traits

New safety features and technologies including 10 air bags, ultra-high-strength steel, lane departure warning/forward collision warning and rearview camera system

Expressive and efficient exterior

“The exterior design of the all-new Malibu carries DNA from its sister vehicles, the Camaro and Corvette, to bring a sporty sensibility to the family sedan segment,” said Bryan Nesbitt, executive director for GM exterior design and Chevrolet Brand Champion.

A wider stance, broad shoulders and an integrated rear spoiler bring a new athleticism to Malibu and give it a more aggressive appearance. The new Malibu has a 4.5-inch (114 mm) shorter wheelbase and 62-inch (1,574 mm) front and rear tracks that are more than 2 inches (51 mm) wider than the model it replaces.

Other exterior design cues include Chevrolet’s dual-port grille, projector HID headlamps, larger Chevrolet bow-tie badges front and rear, and new Camaro-inspired LED dual-element taillamps. The look is complemented by a range of large 17-, 18- and 19-inch wheels.

The new Malibu exterior is anticipated to be SAE-certified as one of the most aerodynamically efficient cars in the segment, with a coefficient of drag (Cd) rating near Chevrolet Volt’s Cd of .280. Because of Malibu’s new shape and design, engineers were able to remove 60 counts of wind drag compared to the model it replaces.

Malibu also has electronically controlled and integrated active aero shutters (select models in North American markets) to improve aerodynamics and enhance fuel economy without sacrificing the exterior design.

Malibu’s active shutter system automatically closes airflow through the lower intake opening when air intake is least needed. When closed, the shutter system enhances aerodynamic performance by redirecting airflow around the front of the vehicle and down the sides, rather than through it. Whether the shutter is open or closed depends on engine coolant temperature and speed – for example, the shutters open when the car is traveling up a hill, pulling a trailer, or in hot city driving; the shutters close at highway speeds when less engine cooling is required.

Roomier, more refined interior

The new Malibu interior was designed to bring an element of sophistication to everyday driving, featuring an all-new dual cockpit design that creates an inviting, roomy and comfortable environment.

The increased width of the new Malibu means a more spacious cabin. Compared to the previous model, it has nearly 4 cubic feet (113 L) of additional interior volume, along with more shoulder and hip room.

The Malibu interior features metallic, chrome or wood accents located around the shifter, surrounding the center stack, around the instrument cluster and on doors and the steering wheel. Soft, ice blue ambient lighting reflects off of and complements chrome accents and ensures even, consistent illumination along the instrument panel and in storage pockets. Ice blue lighting on the center stack dials, exposed ice blue French contrast stitching, soft-touch and textured surfaces, and strategic applications of noise-deadening materials add to Malibu’s interior refinement.

The Malibu also has a number of storage areas, including a radio face that articulates up and down to reveal a six-inch deep storage area behind its seven-inch touch-screen radio display – a U.S. first in a midsize car. Malibu will also offer a full range of the latest infotainment options, including new color radio systems and an available navigation system.

Malibu will include Chevrolet’s newMyLink infotainment package at launch. It builds on the safety and security of OnStar and seamlessly integrates online services like Pandora® internet radio and Stitcher SmartRadio®. MyLink integrates wireless connectivity through Bluetooth to enable hands-free use of selected smart phone apps while the device remains safely stowed.

MyLink features a high-resolution, full-color touch screen display designed to manage the number of steps required to complete a task. MyLink also adds stereo audio streaming and wireless control of smart phones, building on the Bluetooth hands-free calling capability already offered in most Chevrolet vehicles.

All-new 2.5L powertrain

The 2013 Malibu features a global lineup of fuel-efficient and powerful four-cylinder engines that complements its European-inspired driving characteristics.

An all-new Ecotec 2.5L dual overhead cam, four-cylinder engine with direct injection leads Malibu’s engine lineup in North America. It is expected to be one of the most efficient of its size in the market. New features include enhanced authority continuously variable valve timing, variable-displacement oil pump and electronic thermostat that save fuel, while delivering V-6-like performance. It is estimated the engine will be SAE-certified at more than 190 horsepower (141 kW) and 180 lb.-ft. of torque (245 Nm). The new engine has noise-reducing features such as a cast exhaust manifold, steel crank, low-noise timing chain and direct mount accessories that contribute to a quiet-cabin experience.

The 2.5L is mated to a Hydra-Matic 6T40 six-speed automatic with features designed to enhance powertrain efficiency. They include changes to clutch controls and hardware that improves shift response and time. These changes enabled engineers to specify higher gearing to improve cruising efficiency while maintaining acceleration performance and driveability.

Driving experience

The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu delivers precise ride and handling. It has been engineered to be best-in-class and on par with more expensive sports sedans.

Benefiting from continuous refinement of an award-winning global architecture, engineers have tested, tuned and calibrated the Malibu on rural roads, highways, freeways and GM validation facilities around the world.

Contributing to the Malibu’s ride and handling characteristics are:
A solid body structure as stiff as any in the global midsize sedan market, allowing for precise tuning and dynamic vehicle control

A premium steering gear for smooth, precise responsiveness and on-center feel
Proven and continuously refined MacPherson strut front and mutli-link rear suspensions
Large, ventilated front disc and solid rear disc brakes, clamped on by dual-piston front and single-piston rear aluminum calipers, which are expected to deliver segment-best stopping distance

An isolated engine cradle for tuned, refined feedback, without noise or vibration

Fuel-saving electric power rack-and-pinion variable-effort power steering, resulting in effortless low-speed maneuvers and a higher degree of steering feel at higher speeds

Chassis control technologies include four-channel anti-lock brakes, full-function traction control, four-corner electronic stability control, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist system, corner brake control, hydraulic brake fade assist and drag torque control.

Safety features
When it comes to safety features, the new Malibu will be one of the best-equipped in the segment. The Malibu will also be pedestrian protection-compliant in all markets where it is sold, and for the first time in North America. Pedestrian protection design in the front of the vehicle reduces the chance of secondary collision between the pedestrian and engine block in car-pedestrian accidents.

The Malibu will also offer these standard and available safety features:

Dual-stage driver and front passenger air bags

Driver and front passenger pelvic/thorax side-impact air bags

Driver and passenger knee air bags

Roof rail air bags with rollover protection

Available second-row head/thorax side-impact air bags

Available lane departure warning system with forward collision alert

Available rearview camera system

OnStar is also included in Malibu’s safety features and includes Automatic Crash Response, as well as improved voice recognition technology, remote diagnostics, remote door unlock, Stolen Vehicle Slowdown and six months of uplevel Directions and Connections service that includes Turn-By-Turn Navigation.

The new Malibu comes in LS, LT and LTZ trim levels, with 10 exterior colors and four interior color combination choices in North America, depending on the model. Malibu production in the United States begins in early 2012. It will be built in multiple locations around the globe, including the Fairfax, Kan. and Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plants in the United States. Pricing will be announced later this year.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ (top trim level)

A GM press photo from the Malibus Shanghai Auto Show debut

Rear view of the 2013 Malibu LTZ. When the brake lights arent on, it looks pretty generic.

A detailed image of the Malibus taillights. Its kind of Camaro, kind of Corvette, but its a good Chevy family styling cue.

As with the exterior, the interior is an evolution from the current Malibu. It does look nice in the picture, particularly in this top-level trim. Im afraid to closely inspect the fake wood inserts.

The 2013 Malibus instrument panel looks good.

The trick flip infotainment and navigation screen. The iPod/iPhone connection points are behind the screen, so you can store (and hopefully charge) your devices behind the screen without lots of cords hanging out.

The interior lights up nicely at night with mostly ice-blue backlights. That makes it easier to use when you pick up your rental Malibu at night in a strange city.

Below is the Malibu’s first promotional video from Chevrolet.  The music sure is dramatic and grandiose.

The new Malibu now looks more handsome, more modern and fresher than its aging, generic Toyota Camry and Honda Accord rivals. However, new versions of both the Camry and Accord will probably be here by the end of 2012, which should give the Malibu some heavy competition.

Does it look more modern or  fresher than the recently redesigned Hyundai Sonata? I don’t know, that’s in the eye of the beholder; but right now, Hyundai has a big sail and the winds are blowing in its direction.

2011 Hyundai Sonata

2011 Hyundai Sonata Interior - Its an appealing place to spend time, so is the 2013 Malibu better?

In my brain, I have that  intractable image of boring Chevrolet appliances from the last three decades, so it’s hard for me to put one in my garage – unless it’s for the two days my car is in the shop.  Would you consider buying one or just be content to rent one on your next business trip?