It’s not as though electric cars are a brand new thing. They’ve been around - in one form or another – almost since the car was first invented. The Detroit Electric Car, for example, was humming around city streets a hundred years ago, and who can forget the General Motors EV1, which was a common sight in California in the late 1990s?
But, until recently, electric cars have been on the fringes, favoured by hardcore tree-huggers and backyard engineers; interesting and environmentally responsible, but kind of nutty and off the beaten track.
Those days seem to be behind us. In Canada, there are about half-dozen pure electric cars on the market….and that’s not including plug-in hybrids. Here are three you can buy right now.
Nissan Leaf. This one kind of got the ball rolling in Canada, debuting three years ago. Powered by an 80 kilowatt (107 horsepower) motor, it has a lithium-ion battery pack, and comes with things like heated front and rear seats, rear-view camera, Bluetooth, cruise control, and a heated steering wheel as standard equipment. Simple controls and easy to understand instrumentation let you keep track of things like range, the state of the batteries, and ongoing consumption. Range is set at around 120 kilometres….depending upon how the vehicle is driven and how many accessories are being used. Charging time with 240-volt household current is about four hours, but the “Quick Charge” accessory will give you 80 per cent full charge in about half an hour. This latter feature comes with the SV model and adds some $3250 to the base price. The Leaf will seat five adults – snugly – and starts at $31,798.
Mitsubishi i-Miev. The City of Vancouver has 30 of these in its fleet, and of the EVs discussed here, it’s the roomiest. It boasts 1430 litres of cargo space with the rear seats folded down and will seat five. Battery pack for the i-Miev is also lithium-ion, its ac motor develops some 69 horsepower. There are three charging modes for this one; with regular plug-in 120-volt household current, it’ll take anywhere from 14 hours to a full day to get up to full charge; with 240-volts it requires seven hours to go from zero to a full charge, and with the quick charge option, you can get up to 80 per cent capacity in half an hour. Standard equipment includes heated front seats, air conditioning, remote pre-heat/cool feature, and a tire repair kit. Range: around 150 kilometres…again, depending upon accessory load and driving habits. There is only one version of the i-Miev, and it starts at $27,998.
Smart EV. Available as a hardtop of convertible, the Smart EV may qualify as the quintessential city car. It’s as nimble as a Jack Russell terrier, and, with a purported 74 horsepower on tap, surprisingly quick. Like the i-Miev/Leaf, it too has a lithium-ion battery pack, located under the floor, and driven conservatively, will take you for around 135 kilometres before it needs a re-charge. If you plug into a 120-volt household socket, it takes about 16 hours to get the Smart EV back up to a full charge, while 240 volts will do it in half that time. The Smart EV is intended to be a city vehicle, and, says the manufacturer, if you drive it 50 kilometres, it’ll take just three hours for a full re-charge. The average commuting distance is apparently 45-50 kilometres in Canada, so this would work as a commuter-mobile, as long as you don’t stray. With seating for just two, the Smart EV doesn’t have in the way of cargo space, but you can park it just about anywhere. Prices start at $26,990 for the hardtop and $3000 more for the cabriolet.
These aren’t the only three games in town. Ford has the Focus BEV, BMW has its i3 and, of course, there’s Tesla. But these last two are kind of inaccessible, price-wise for the average working stiff. The BMW, for example, starts in the mid-$40,000 range, while the Tesla is in the mid-$60,000 to $80,000 neighbourhood. There are also apparently supply problems with these two; some models of Tesla won’t be available until 2017. And now that the $5000 government subsidy has been phased out in B.C., you’re pretty much on your own when it comes to signing on the dotted line.
On the other hand, there are now at least 550 charging stations throughout British Columbia, so range anxiety may be a thing of the past.