May 28, 2019

Our Road to an Electric Vehicle (Part 1)

By: Rob Lowe

Economical transportation is my calling card

As any that know me personally, you know that I readily engage with new technology and actively try to be near the forefront of using it. I have always preferred unique, economical vehicles which over the years have included, a GM sold, British made Envoy Epic, a 1963 Chevrolet Impala with a six cylinder engine, various turbocharged four or V6 engines in demonstrators when I was in the car business, a couple of Saabs and the first generation Camry hatchback. I inherited this interest from my father who always had unique economical vehicles.

First a 2000 Jetta Diesel

In 2000, I purchased a Volkswagen Jetta Diesel. That may seem strange now, however at the time these were rare, mainly because diesel fuel was not available for the retail driver, being limited to truck stops in most Canadian cities. The use of diesel engines in cars rose after the 1973 oil embargo, then dropped off in the early 1980’s after Oldsmobile (then a GM brand) converted a gas engine to run as a diesel. It developed numerous reliability issues and the diesel engine noise was objectional, contributing to its demise and leaving the reputation for diesel engines in North American cars greatly diminished. Other than luxury Mercedes models, very few diesels were on the roads. Locating fuel required advance planning. Notwithstanding this, my comfort with diesel grew and our experience with this diesel Jetta led us to feel comfortable buying our first diesel powered RV in 2003.

Then A 2007 Camry Hybrid

Fast forward to 2007 and I decided it was time to jump into a gas/hybrid car. While the Toyota Prius was the first popular version available, it was just a little too ‘kinky’ for my liking. However, the Camry seemed to fit the bill. I’ll never forget the thrill of taking my first test drive alone in this car and running around city streets while it was in electric mode. Passing cars thinking ‘I’m not using a drop of fuel’ was exhilarating for me. I purchased a Toyota Camry Hybrid and looking back at the cost of driving that car proved that it was one of the most economical vehicles I’ve ever owned, not only from its fuel economy but also from the overall maintenance costs. It was a wise purchase.

Followed by a 2005 Saturn Vue, a 2009 Saturn Vue Hybrid, then a 2016 Buick Envision

We’ve always had a second car and over the years we’ve had four-cylinder versions of the 1993 Ford Escort and 2000 Focus, both of which were towable with manual transmissions. When it came time to purchase a SUV to tow behind our RV, we selected a 2005 Saturn Vue with the Honda V6 Powertrain. Somewhat innovative with another manufacturer’s powertrain and a plastic body, we enjoyed it and when it needed to be replaced, we bought a four-cylinder 2009 Vue Hybrid. We kept that car until we selected a 2016 Buick Envision. The Hybrid powertrain was dropped by that time however it did have Start-Stop Technology which contributed to improved fuel economy. The only 2016 Buick Envision imported to North American during this model year was the Premium II which came fully equipped with every option except the 360 camera and adaptive cruise control. When we learned during 2017 that GM retroactively approved the 2016 Buick Envision for flat towing, we began our search for a 2016 model year vehicle. These cars are built in a GM plant in China that supplied the whole world with these cars.


Our Fun Car – A 2010 Smart Passion High Style: ‘A motorcycle with a lid’

Our second car since 2014 has been a 2010 Smart car, which is powered by a 3-cylinder motorcycle engine coupled to a computer controlled automated clutch and a 5 speed manual transmission that shifted as if it was an automatic transmission. Since our home has limited parking and a single car garage, we appreciate the diminutive size, together with the carbon fibre moonroof, and plastic body panels. The ride is busy, however as a runabout it has been fine. The tag line came about after my wife’s nephew’s wife commented, upon seeing this Smart car for the first time, that it was a ‘motorcycle with a lid’. That description has always stuck with us. After driving it for 46,000 km (28,600 miles), it has delivered 5.91 L/100 (47.8 MPG CDN / 39.8 MPG US) and it can be left for three months when we are away in the winter with no special preparations other than adding fuel stabilizer and a battery maintainer.    


Maybe a Tesla?

I’ve always admired Tesla vehicles, both for their totally electric powertrains and phenomenal upgradeable features which allowed me to dream that someday I’d own one. Among the limiting factors was the size of the vehicles (given our small garage), those same upgradeable features and unconventional dash that make an occasional driver such as my wife, somewhat intimidated when driving it. Of course, one could never become our tow car which would force us to maintain another towable vehicle.


Then, a 2016 Zero SR Motorcycle

In 2018, after my son Peter took delivery of a new Kawasaki Versys motorcycle, he encouraged me to buy one so that we could once again experience the fun of riding together, as we had when he was a teenager. During those years, we hopscotched through various motorcycles; he’d buy one and a month later, I’d buy one. This continued until he got married and we left our country property for a much smaller condo bungalow in the city. With his encouragement, I said that the only motorcycle I would consider was a Zero brand, electric motorcycle. There was only one dealer in Ontario located a couple of hours from our home.  I was able to buy his 2016 Zero SR demonstrator. That bike gave me the Tesla-like innovative motorcycle (since Zero is the Tesla of motorcycles). It has 16.9 Kilowatts of battery power, about the same as an Electric Smart car, with a range of about 210 to 240 km (130 to 150 miles). It is recharged at home overnight with its built-in charger.  This allowed me to grow to appreciate the electric technology, the instantaneous full power, and the feeling of running down on a limited amount of battery charge. Not to mention the exhilaration of accelerating 0-100 km/h (0-60 MPH) in 3.9 seconds!! Of course, a new factor entered the picture if taking a longer trip, which was how to quick charge it? While there was an option that would have reduced the day to day range; I decided that most of my driving on it would be day trips and the added range in that direction was the right way to go. I also learned how to deal with range anxiety and that is something that every EV driver needs to learn. This process reminded me of the searching for diesel fuel stops with the Jetta in the first years of its ownership.

To Be continued.. 


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