The swank shopping strip that is Berlin's Friedrichstrasse was aglow with festive strings of lights and buzzing with bright-eyed shoppers last Thursday evening, as sparkling display windows radiated holiday spirit. Yet between the glitzed-out luxury boutiques and plush hotels, we stepped inside the sleek MINI showroom to find the atmosphere casual, a stimulating discussion taking place over the mobility of the future.
Meet the MINI E drivers from the "MINI E Berlin - powered by Vattenfall" program, who braved the rigorous application process for the opportunity to test-drive the MINI electric car for six months on the streets of Berlin, and thereby to help design a piece of the future. Because the first phase of the year-long pilot project comes to its official end in December, this intimate event for MINI E drivers, their escorts, and selected members of the BMW Group and Vattenfall Europe had the atmosphere of a farewell party.
Bistro tables and bar stools formed discussion islands, arranged in casual elegance beside an hors d'oeuvre buffet. The setting encouraged the drivers to get to know one another and exchange experiences and impressions over a glass of wine.
MINI Space was the only member of the press invited to attend this unique evening and to get to know the Berlin MINI E drivers in person. And what did the drivers ultimately have to say about the experience? Driver Manfred Szepaniak summarized the general impression well: "There's just a real feeling of being absolutely impressed, regardless of whom you speak to."
While the project participants had many different reasons for applying to be a part of the MINI E field test, they had indeed all fallen in love with their cars. For Sabine Wisotzky, the electric vehicle had been a special birthday surprise from her husband. And was it the right present? "Absolutely!...It's a fun car to drive." Britta Kraushaar, in contrast, became involved in the project out of pure curiosity: "I just like to try new things...," she said, but had a similarly positive experience: "[It is] pure driving fun...like flying!"
Most participants, of course, had been interested in electric vehicles from the very beginning. "I'm fascinated by the idea of driving through traffic with no emissions, and no noise," said Boris Schmidt. Nor was it a difficult decision at the time for Prof. Frank Behrendt: "[I am] the spokesperson for energy research here at the Berlin Technical University, so I have a high degree of professional interest in it."
And his professional opinion? "The interesting thing, what was different, was the recovery of the braking energy. When you take your foot off the gas, there is a relatively strong braking effect, which then aids the recovery of electricity for the battery. After one or two days, you realize that you can practically drive through the city without using the brake pedal at all." Anything else? "The unproblematic nature of electric driving surprised me!"
While many participants are disappointed that this thoroughly positive experience will soon be over, even more spoke of the positive impression of the future of the electric vehicle that they gained during their time driving the MINI E.
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