Story and photos by Jim Kerr
New technologies and new vehicles hit the road every day. We see only a few of the vehicles that are sold elsewhere in the world on our roads. Some of these vehicles don’t suit our needs. Others use low sulphur diesel fuel that we will only have available next year. Canadian drivers may desire some of these vehicles but the manufacturers won’t import them unless the United States market also wants them. The cost of providing warranty, technical training, tools and support to just the Canadian market is often too high: they need to sell to the North American market. And finally, some vehicles are just not safe.
There are a few drivers who do get to drive these vehicles on Canadian roads. They are members of Transport Canada’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Program and they have the job of testing, evaluating and showcasing more than 118 very unique vehicles. Since the program inception in 2001, they have tested every type of vehicle, from pure electric to alternate fuels, to hybrids.
There are several goals of the Advanced Technology Vehicles Program. They include evaluating fuel efficiency, emissions and safety performance of these vehicles, identifying the market potential of advanced technologies, identifying barriers to using advanced technologies and proposing solutions, and raising public awareness of the advanced technologies available on current vehicles and vehicles of the future. To demonstrate the potential of some of these vehicles, Transport Canada brought a small fleet of vehicles to Belleville, Ontario last fall for automotive journalists to drive. Here are some highlights of what we saw.
Many of the vehicles being evaluated are currently on the road in Europe. You may be familiar with the quirky little Smart car that looks like an egg on the road. This is only a two-seater, but Smart also makes a 4-door, 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel sedan and a small 2-seater roadster. The sedan has ample room for four and the six-speed automatic
transmission shifts much better than the two-door Smart now sold in Canada. The Smart roadster is really an economy car, perfect for top down motoring back and forth to work.
The Ford Focus TDCi use a 1.8-litre four cylinder turbocharged intercooled engine that performs extremely well. I know there is a market for this car in Canada, but the U.S. isn’t quite ready for it yet. Perhaps rising fuel costs south of the border will entice some to seek the 4.6 litre/100 km fuel economy this car provides.
Both the PT Cruiser and Chrysler Voyager use diesel power. The Voyager is a little noisier at idle than a gas engine but as quiet on the highway. The Voyager diesel engine is quicker than a V6 gas engine yet provides 52% better fuel economy.
Honda also builds a diesel. An Accord Tourer I-CTDI (station wagon) has an all aluminium 4-cylinder diesel that reduces fuel consumption by 30% and CO2 emissions by 22% yet still accelerates from 0-100 in just 10.4 seconds.
In Japan, they have K-class cars. It must have an engine smaller than 600 cc. The Daihatsu Copen is a wonderful looking 2-seat sports car with a retractable hard top in this class, proving that small economy cars can be good looking and fun too. No problem parking this one!
Other test vehicles in the past have included hybrids such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight as well as others. Electric vehicles such as the Ford Ranger EV have been evaluated, and even pedal powered vehicles have been tested. Some vehicles have four wheels, some have three, and some even have two. One of the Transport Canada test drivers told me of a 3-wheel vehicle that was so unstable to drive they determined it would never be allowed into Canada. Protecting the public and our environment is part of their mandate.
Driving the vehicles is only a small part of evaluating them. The vehicles undergo emissions testing, fuel economy testing and finally, crash testing. What is left of the vehicles after all testing is exported back to where it came from, or recycled.
You won’t find these vehicles in any showroom close to you. Most will never come to Canada in their current form but the technology in them will soon be on our roads is newer designs. The Advanced Technology Vehicles Program participates in special events across Canada to demonstrate the viability of alternative vehicles for the future. Be sure to check out the vehicles if one comes to your area.