2015 Electric cars - Stranger Than Fiction

Last Saturday - July 18 - was the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association’s (VEVA) annual get-together: ElectraFest. It was the 20th year for this event and took place at the Concord Pacific parking lot off just off Expo Boulevard.

With at least a dozen manufacturers exhibiting their wares and free test drives/rides available throughout the day, it was the largest turnout ever for ElectraFest, and scattered in among the offerings from manufacturers such as Nissan, Kia, Mitsubishi, BMW, Mercedes, and Tesla, there were a couple of new kids on the block.

First up, VeloMetro is a new company, based in Vancouver, that is developing a human-powered, fully enclosed urban vehicle that features electric assist and full connectivity, with a top speed in the 30 km/h neighbourhood. In the company’s own words, they are  building “a sophisticated, enclosed, electric-assist, smartphone-connected vehicle, ideal for personal transportation in urban and suburban areas.”

Known as VeloCars, these little rigs will protect their occupants from the elements, with a modicum of cargo space for small bits and pieces. Adds the company, “VeloCars replace automobiles, not bicycles, but they overcome the shortcomings of bicycles with all-weather use, lockable cargo space, and anti-theft provisions.” You can’t buy a VelocCar just yet, but it won’t be long, according to the company. Go to: www.velometro.com.

Along the same lines, but fully battery-powered is the Sparrow, a single occupant urban runabout that looks like a giant human nose with wheels. Originally designed by motorcycle seat entrepreneur, Mike Corbin, the Sparrow is being stick-handled in B.C. by Henry Reisner and Jerry Kroll, both familiar names in the local automotive community. More info, go to: www.electrameccanica.com.

Corbin, who was based in California, built a few Sparrows before he went bankrupt, in the late 1990s. Reisner and Kroll have picked up the gauntlet in Canada and describe the Sparrow as “the Beetle for the 21st Century”. It’s powered by a lithium-ion battery pack and has a range of up to 140 kilometres, according to Jerry Kroll. Apparently, all the necessary due diligence has been done, and the Sparrow is ready for the market. It will be priced in the $20,000 neighbourhood.

If you’re not ready to take the electric vehicle plunge, but still need transport, there’s a new car share kid in town. Known as Evo Car Share, this service is similar in concept to ZipCar, Modo, and Car2Go, and is operated by the BCAA, but is available to members and non-members alike……for a fee, of course. All vehicles in the Evo fleet are Toyota Prius’, and the cars can be reserved 30 minutes in advance via a phone app or through the Evo website. Evo operates in a “home zone” bounded by Camosun Street, Nanaimo Street, 41st Ave, and Burrard Inlet, as well as the Park ‘n Fly facility at YVR, but users can take the cars out of the home zone, as long as they’re returned within it. For more info, go to: www.evo.ca.

And no visit to ElectraFest would be complete without a spin along the seawall on an electric bicycle.

This time around, I hopped aboard a Motorino CTI, also known as a “Lady’s Classic”, and styled after the traditional Dutch Omafiets, specifically designed for female riders. That doesn’t apply to me, of course, but it was the only bike available at the time and is one of the company’s top sellers. With a lithium-ion battery, the retro-themed CTI will go for up to 32 to 40 kilometres on a single charge, depending upon how much pedaling is done by the rider, and can reach a top speed of just under 30 km/h on pure battery power.

Like most bikes of this ilk, the CTI features a power assist set-up that engages the electric motor when the rider pedals, with several settings, as well as a twist throttle for pure battery power. The twist grip is much like that found on a conventional motorcycle, and this is the bike’s biggest drawback, in my opinion. No problem with torque or available power…..this bike is actually designed for riders smaller than my 200 pound-plus and still propelled me along nicely…but the twist grip is awkward and imprecise. I can see it being irritating over the long haul, and, all things considered, a snowmobile-type thumb throttle is a better arrangement.


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