2012 Nissan Leaf
2012 Nissan Leaf; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

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By Jim Kerr

Will there be an electric car in your future? Electric Mobility Canada predicts there will be for many Canadians. After consulting with industry and Government, they estimate there will be 500,000 electric vehicles (EV’S) on our roads by the year 2018. To put that in perspective, that’s about the same number of motorcycles currently registered in Canada. Electric vehicles may not dominate the marketplace, but they will have a place on our roads.

Statistics Canada shows there were nearly 20 million light duty trucks and passenger vehicles registered in Canada in 2009. 500,000 electric vehicles represent about one in forty vehicles or 2.5 per cent. Some provinces are providing incentives and benefits both at purchase time and with operational infrastructure. For example, Ontario will allow EVs to drive in High Occupancy Lanes and provide access to charging stations at some public parking lots and facilities.

Currently EV’s have only been out there for a few weeks. The Smart Fortwo EV is on the road in partnership with Ontario Hydro. The Nissan Leaf starts sales in Japan on December 20th and we get it in Canada by 2012. The Chevy Volt is currently on the road in California and we will see it soon. Many other manufacturers, including Chrysler, Ford, Honda and Hyundai are working on EV’s and you can expect them soon.

There are different types of EVs to suite the needs of the public: Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV), Extended Range Electric Vehicles (EREV), and Plug-in Hybrid Electric vehicles. (PHEV).

The Nissan Leaf is a Battery electric vehicle. With a range of about 130 km, and a top speed of 145 km/h, this vehicle can bypass all gas stations. It needs to be plugged in to either 120 volts or a 240 volt charging station to “fill” it up. Depending on voltage and state of charge, this could take from half an hour to several hours.

2011 Chevrolet Volt
2011 Chevrolet Volt; photo by Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

The Chevy Volt is an Extended Range Electric Vehicle. EREVs use an auxiliary powerplant – a gas engine in the Volt’s system – that is used to generate electricity. The vehicle will operate from about 40 to 80 km on battery power alone. If you need to drive further, the gas engine starts up to recharge the battery. The car still operates on electric power, but the car has an extended range of about 580 km.

Plug-in hybrid EV’s use a combination of both these vehicles, with a motor to extend the range and a charging cord to recharge the battery so you can operate on battery power most of the time.

The type of EV you may drive will likely be based on your lifestyle. Urban drivers may choose a BEV. Most drivers travel less than the Leaf’s 130 km range every day, and perhaps they could also recharge it while at work. If you want to travel, you could travel at a slower pace, stopping often for coffee or rest – Tim’s charging stations anyone? You could also have a second vehicle just for highway travel, or rent one when you need it.

Those that live in rural areas may choose Extended range EVs or PHEVs. With their longer range, you could still save on gas but have the convenience of the extended range. These vehicles would still require gas stops and the associated maintenance of an internal combustion engine, but they may be more practical to some.

2012 Toyota Prius PHEV
2012 Toyota Prius PHEV. Click image to enlarge

There are going to be some big changes to accommodate EVs. The Electric Roadmap being studied by Electric Mobility Canada is a technology roadmap to point the direction for EV future. This roadmap will assess the support systems, design background and technical training needed to assist EV owners. While manufacturers will train technicians on repairing their specific vehicles, others such as tow truck drivers, emergency responders, recyclers and general repair shops will also need training. Our infrastructure will also change, with charging stations at key locations. Maybe there will be Pod charging stations where several vehicles park in a circle to connect and recharge, similar to what you now find in many airports for cell phone recharging. Retail businesses, especially restaurants and motor hotels may attract customers with charging access.

Gasoline engines will still power most of the vehicles on our roads, but it appears electric vehicles will be part of our transportation future. As we learn more, it will be easier to decide if they will be part of your future.

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