Analysis & Opinion
When my kids learned I was going to test drive an electric vehicle for a month, they fell about the floor laughing. “Mom you can’t even keep your phone charged – and you’re going to drive an electric vehicle?!?”
Guilty as charged. Kids do keep one humble.
“I’m not getting in that car with you,” they vowed. “You’re going to run out of energy.”
In the electric vehicle (EV) world, that’s called “range anxiety” – the fear that the car won’t have enough power to get you where you need to go. Within days of getting the EV in April, I learned two things: I don’t suffer from range anxiety. And my kids were right.
Day Three, on my way to pick up my daughter, I thought I had enough juice to get to her, and then get to the charging station half a kilometre away.
An EV records your range in kilometres left. I didn’t know (yet) that in cold weather (and remember how cold April was?!) the kilometres drop off faster than your actual distance. Also, when the reading goes to “zero” there’s nothing left, the car shuts down. This is unlike a gas powered vehicle that always gives you a bit of wiggle room to get to a station after your gauge hits “empty.” Now you know how I drive my regular vehicles.
So, there I was stranded. But I learned, and that was one of the goals of test driving the EV. Burlington Hydro purchased two vehicles to lend out to city/hydro staff and city council members to help drivers learn about EVs, and to help hydro learn more about customer preferences and power draws. The average EV draws about as much power as a typical home. The power grid isn’t ready yet for overnight conversion of Burlington vehicles into EVs, but this exercise will help Burlington Hydro prepare.
Burlington and Oakville hydro are also working together on a pilot program to reduce costs for residents with EVs to install a high powered charger at their home. More details are available at EVFutureGrid
The province also offers a range of financial incentives up to $14,000 for qualifying EVs.
These programs are timely given EVs are becoming immensely popular. By early April, more than 325,000 pre-orders with $1000 down were placed on the Tesla Model 3 Electric Vehicle, Tweeted chief executive Elon Musk.
The vehicle is touted as an “affordable” EV, with base price starting at about $35,000, and an expected range of about 350km.
That’s about triple the range of the model I was driving, a BMW i3. On a warm day, I could get 120km fully charged; on a cold day, that dropped to about 85km or less. Great for an around town car, but not so great for commuting long distances unless you can hook up to a charging station at your place of work.
You can charge an EV in a regular household socket. We just used the extension cord from the Christmas lights. It takes about 12 hours from empty to full charge; that’s fine, once you get into the habit of plugging in the vehicle each night. You can purchase a high speed charger for about $1000 that does the job in about 4 hours; Tesla has produced a “supercharger” that will take you from empty to full in about 20 minutes, with several stations in the GTA.
During the month I had the EV, I mostly used the home socket. The city of Burlington has an EV charging station in the downtown parking garage at 414 Locust St. Charging is free but you have to pay for the parking space during paid parking periods (9-6, Mon-Fri).
Some EV models provide a “range extender” – a small gas powered motor that allows you to top up with fuel in an emergency. Some people call that “cheating.” I call it sensible, at least until the range can be significantly extended, especially in cold weather.
So, would I make an EV my next vehicle? Absolutely, but we’ll need a five-seater model to accommodate the family. In addition to producing zero emissions, the vehicle is quiet and peppy. It’s like driving a big golf cart which you can take on the highway. Acceleration is surprisingly fast but you have to get used to deceleration; the car slows immediately once you remove your foot from the accelerator. We lurched along a bit in the beginning, but once you adjust you rarely need to use your brakes. I didn’t miss the cost or the time spent refueling at gas stations. My daughter who is learning to drive swears by the EV; found the handling and ride much better than our big SUV.
Despite their early misgivings, the kids are now lobbying for us to put a deposit on a Tesla 3. My thanks to Burlington Hydro for giving us and others the chance to try this out. Below, check out what my co-op student Claire thought about the EV.
Claire’s Take: When Marianne was going to check out the new electric car, she said I could come along as well. I’ve only ever seen an electric car plugged in and charging at Mapleview Mall, so being in the car as it’s driving sounded cool. My first impression as we approached was how normal it looked. Obviously it had subtle differences compared to other cars, but it was intriguing. Yes it was small, but as soon as we started to drive in it, I felt how smooth the ride was. It did well on the highway, and it was a quiet. I didn’t even know that BMW made electric cars in the first place, so this caught me by surprise. The representatives also showed Marianne how to plug in the car and operate all the modern features, which was new for me too. Overall, I learned some more about these electric cars, and now I’ll be watching for them on the street.