New Westminster man puts the electric car to the test
Daryl Cornwell believes he hasn't received much attention over his new electric car because, in the month he's had it, he's mostly driven it in the dark – the daily bookends of a winter's commute.
While his white Mitsubishi i-MiEV may have been described by one car magazine as looking like a computer mouse, so far only two older ladies have gone so far as to point to it on the street near his home in New Westminster.
Each day, Cornwell drives the ovoid battery-powered electric vehicle (EV) exactly 42 kilometres (coincidentally, the distance of a marathon) to and from New West and his laser-cutting business in Delta's Tilbury Industrial Park.
He's the first person in B.C. to buy a Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which became available in Canada in January.
Cornwell is no eco-warrior. He's a normal, working family man and daily commuter who happens to have a minor obsession with electric vehicles and a distaste for petroleum in general.
A decade ago, he made tentative plans to convert a small gasoline car into an EV, but the cost, weight and poor performance of contemporary lead-acid batteries made him set the idea aside.
He continued to drive a 1989 Toyota Corolla and a mid-'90s company Ford Explorer, dubbed "Old Smokey."
Over the last several months, at the age of 50, Cornwell figured it was time to bite the bullet. So he test-drove a host of alternative-energy vehicles, including the fully electric Nissan Leaf and the extended-range EV hybrid Chevrolet Volt.
Gas-electric hybrids such a the Toyota Prius didn't go far enough – figuratively speaking – to bypass gasoline altogether, he concluded.
His choice of the Mitsubishi, its power source notwithstanding, was down to one final factor: He liked the way it drove.
Behind the wheel on a quick jaunt, Cornwell whispers in the obvious silence how quiet the car is.
Indeed, there's more noise in the cabin from his rustling coat than the car's one-speed gear-reduction transmission and alternating-current synchronous permanent-magnet electric motor, fed by a 16-kWh lithium-ion battery located under the rear seat.
An electrical appliance it may be, but this is no golf cart.
About the length of a new Mini, the Mitsubishi seats four comfortably, has a good-sized trunk and comes with air conditioning.
Photo: A 120V charger.
Acceleration is decent, since the full load of torque (133 pound-feet) is available at the stab of the gas pedal (an archaic colloquialism), although 66 horsepower, on paper at least, is in realm of old-school econoboxes.
Even in the EV world, torque can be defined as twisting power that provides acceleration, while each horsepower (a standard measurement of 745.7 watts) can be analyzed as a broader definition of power based on available torque and revs – the exact relationship is complicated, as both torque and horsepower affect straight-line performance.
"Since it has such seamless acceleration, I find it's easy to be above the speed limit," Cornwell admits.
But this is no car for texters or oblivious drivers, since every decision (inside or outside of the car) affects its available range, with the remaining kilometres displayed in the centre gauge.
The transmission gives three forward options, a conventional "D" for drive, "E" for a reduced-power economy mode, and "B", which regenerates heat from brake pad friction into energy, sending that juice back into the battery.
An indicator on the dash shows the driver the sweet spot during downhill brake pedal-feathering while in "B" mode.
The i-MiEV covers about 90 kilometres in Cornwell's world, which includes uphill stretches on the way home, meaning in a worst-case scenario, he can make it two days to and from work, essentially draining the battery dead.
(The ability to run it down to nothing is rare among modern electric cars, since it's not healthy for this type of battery).
In ideal conditions of topography and temperature, the i-MiEV might exceed 150 kilometres.
The battery has a warranty of eight years for defects, though Cornwell expects a gradual degradation of capacity over time.
There are some estimates that the battery's capacity might lose five to 10 percent of its capacity each year.
There are three options for charging for the i-MiEV:
• Level One: A standard lightweight 120-volt charger usable with any home socket (an 18- to 22-hour charge for a dead battery);
• Level Two: A 240-volt charger ($1,100, minus a $500 rebate) installed by an electrician at home (seven or eight hours to charge); and
• Level Three: A 400-volt DC quick charger (an 80-per-cent charge in 30 minutes) that isn't yet available until public charging stations begin to install them (only 240-volt systems are up and running; see text below).
The charging ports are on both sides of the vehicle, located where one expects to fill up at a gas station.
Cornwell doesn't have to, but he sometimes leaves the care plugged into a 120-volt socket outside his shop.
"It gives as much power as it can with a 120-volt line without tripping the breaker."
To save further power, he'll heat up the car's interior before he leaves in the morning while it's still plugged in (parked outside).
"I do that, go take my dog for a walk around the block, come back, have a little breakfast and it's all ready to go."
In the summer, he'll be able to cool the car off with the A/C the same way.
During winter, Cornwell keeps warm using the seat heater and an electric blanket plugged into the 12-volt cigarette lighter, which uses less energy than the main heater fan.
"I wouldn't say it has a great heater, but again, I haven't put it on full-blast because it sucks power out of the battery."
The initial cost for the car: $34,500, minus a $5,000 government Clean Energy Vehicle rebate. Cornwell praises Flag Mitsubishi in Surrey for taking the rebate off before applying taxes to the deal.
With the new purchase, Cornwell doesn't know yet what the EV will add to his electric bill, but estimates the car will probably pay for itself over 10 years, since he never has to visit a gas station.
Although new in Canada, more than 17,000 i-MiEVs have been sold worldwide since July 2009, including 4,000 rebadged in Europe as the Peugeot iON and Citroen C-ZERO.
Likely no more than a few hundred fully electric vehicles will be sold in B.C. over the next year (BC Hydro predicts 1,370 EV, fuel cell electric, plug-in hybrids and related vehicle sales by the end of March 2013), but Cornwell believes that battery-powered cars are the future.
He acknowledges the naysayers who dismiss electric cars as short-range fads - it's never gonna happen.
"My answer to that is it's gonna happen. One day, everything will be electric."
Get your EV rebates here:
A new Clean Energy Vehicles for British Columbia (CEV for BC) program allows consumers to access $17 million in provincial funding to help get them into clean energy vehicles.
Until March 31, 2013, or until program funding is depleted, incentives of up to $5,000 are available for qualifying new battery electric, fuel cell electric, plug-in hybrid electric and compressed natural gas vehicles.
Enough funding should be available to meet the expected demand of about 1,370 vehicle incentives.
The final price of the car, including the CEV for BC incentive, will be indicated on the sticker of the car on the dealer lot.
The maximum rebates include:
• Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs): $5,000;
• Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs): $5,000;
• Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles / Extended Range Electric Vehicles:
- Battery capacity* of 4.0-9.9 kWh: $2,500;
- Battery capacity of 10.0-14.9 kWh: $3,500;
- Battery capacity of 15.0 kWh and greater: $5,000;
• Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles (not heavy duty): $2,500.
Broken down, the rebates for a Mitsubishi i-MiEV Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) with a battery capacity of 16kWh is:
• 12-month lease incentive: $1,665;
• 24-month lease incentive: $3,335; or
• Purchase or 36-month lease incentive: $5,000.
Rebates are the same for other electric cars, such as the Nissan Leaf, Smart ForTwo EV and Chevrolet Volt (an extended-range hybrid/EV).
There are also some rebates for some home chargers and commercial charging stations.
For details, visit http://www.cevforbc.ca/eligible-vehicles-0
*The battery capacity for electric vehicles is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh).
Where to plug in when not at home
• Two Level 2 (240-volt) charging stations located at REV Vehicles, Vancouver.
• Two Level 2 charging stations located at the EasyPark, 10 Avenue lot in Vancouver.
• One Level 2 charging station located at Angel Restoration in North Vancouver.
• One Level 2 charging station located City Hall in Surrey.
• Two Level 2 charging stations located at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver.
BC Hydro's website says it's ensuring that the electrical infrastructure in B.C. is ready for electric vehicles by planning charging infrastructure with multiple partners, working with the Electric Power Research Institute on a grid impact study which will allow BC Hydro to simulate load conditions and using a marketing database to predict where clusters of EVs are likely to occur.
A short history of short range
Photo: The General Motors EV1.
• Inventors tinkered with electric vehicles during the 1820s to the 1840s. Some of them were (literally) toys.
• Due to their relative lack of noise, smell and vibration compared when to early gasoline-fuelled cars, electric vehicles gained some acceptance during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At the turn of the 20th century, 38 per cent of American vehicles were powered by electricity (33,842 electric cars were registered at the time).
• Electric vehicles lost favour as their low speed and short range issues began to be noticed as roadways expanded in the early 20th century. EVs were also more expensive than gasoline-powered cars.
• By 1930, with gasoline plentiful in North America, the electric vehicle had all but disappeared.
• With repeated energy crises in the 1970s and '80s, and the mandating of zero-emission vehicles by the powerful California Air Resources Board, vehicles such as the General Motors EV1 and Toyota RAV4 EV arrived in small numbers in the 1990s. Some of the cars were available only through lease. With competing government mandates, industry lobbying, lack of sufficient range and little interest from the buying public, most EVs were withdrawn from the market and many were destroyed by the manufacturers themselves.
• With short range continuing to be the biggest hurdle for battery electric vehicles, gas-electric hybrids such as the Toyota Prius have increased in popularity in the last decade. But some manufacturers continue to hope. The Nissan LEAF is the most recent all-electric car to be produced for the North American market from a major manufacturer.
While Mitsubishi is already introducing the i-MiEV here, Ford is following with an electric Focus, BMW is testing the Mini E and Honda will likely put an electric version of its Fit in some local markets by 2013.