A decade on, Bryce Conacher, one of the drivers who came on board for that first pilot, reminisces about his experiences and shares his thoughts on why, today, he still believes “Your Next Car Should be Electric.”
It’s been 10 years since I participated in the pilot electric car project in Toronto put in motion by Mercedes-Benz and Toronto Hydro with Pollution Probe, the Toronto Hydro smart Experience. Bill Tharp, another participant, introduced me to the pilot in late 2010 and I immediately joined the group. As one of 6 participants in the city, we each signed up to lease a 100% Smart Fortwo electric drive vehicle. The program included the installation of a Level 2 charger in each of our home garages where we could take advantage of time of use rates overnight. As pilot drivers, each of our cars and chargers were equipped with a data connection for the Toronto Hydro team so they could analyze charging behaviour over time.
It was a leap to get into a two-seater smart car, the leading edge of the micro-car segment. In 2010-2015 it was the green edge of what may be possible for the emerging EV market. At the time my young family had a large Audi Q7 Diesel SUV which helped slog our three growing children and their friends to soccer and hockey games year-round. Ironically, this vehicle was found to be in model range of the VW emissions scandal years later.
At the time of the pilot I was doing business development for Ledcor Renew, a refined, small team of professionals doing performance optimization of existing buildings in the commercial sector for Ledcor’s construction team. The Ledcor Group generously agreed to sponsor the lease of the car and we added Ledcor’s logo on the doors to promote the Ledcor Renew team across the GTA. It was always a conversation starter as we rolled up to client sites. I’m very grateful for Ledcor’s support allowing me to participate in this initiative.
The car itself was extremely roomy (I’m 6’3”) and always fun to drive. The acceleration of an electric vehicle is a straight line, no gear changes required, just a smooth, silent rush of speed. Some of the funniest moments were when we would be at an intersection waiting for the red to turn green. Some kind of super car (think Ferrari, Porsche, etc.) would pull up along side. We’d look at the driver and give them the “Wanna go?” stare. Sure enough, when the light turned green we’d zoom off the line for the first 100 meters or so until the super car found its second gear. We’d giggle and give the driver a “beep beep” of our little car’s horn like the Road Runner cartoon.
In traffic, the small footprint of this vehicle was extremely useful. Think of those downtown two lane roads that have cars parked in first lane, rendering that lane only wide enough for bike traffic. This little car could sneak down that lane where bigger cars wouldn’t dare for fear of taking someone’s mirror off. We also found parallel street parking way easier and sometimes employed an unconventional parking method that was not sanctioned by the local parking authority. The smartcar’s length is less or equal to an average car’s width. This was by design for tight European cities where the car could pull into those half sized spots between two large cars with its front bumper facing the curb. I tried this a few times in downtown Toronto, but attracted a couple of parking tickets for not appropriately “parallel parking.” Clearly the parking bylaw needs an upgrade to accommodate micro cars!
The most frequent question was always about range. Range anxiety for a new EV driver was very real, especially for an inner-city vehicle that had a maximum range of 120-130 kms depending on driving behaviour. But people forget that the average commuter driver does somewhere between a 40-60 km round trip per day. So this was more than enough range to scoot around the city for meetings, errands and groceries. Of course, Tesla came off the mark with greater range and new EVs available today are easily punching through 400 kms for the weekend warriors. We lived downtown but I would frequently drive to our office out near the Pearson Airport. I would run an extension cord into the loading dock of our office building to get a trickle charge top up of 10% to give me confidence for the return trip downtown at the end of the day. Other times I would have to fly out of YYZ to do business in other cities. The airport authority had set up a new car concierge service for EV drivers to leave their cars to be parked and fully charged and ready upon their return.
Managing your EV’s battery charging is no different than managing your smartphone. When you get home at night you plug it in. I find the battery in my phone dipping below 40% or 30% by the time I reach midafternoon. So while at a meeting or restaurant or wherever I am I take the opportunity to plug it in to get a 10% top up. Likewise, when you are running around town in your EV, if a retailer or other parking area offers charging, you plug it in to get a top up while you are shopping or at a restaurant or wherever. Today’s EVs will always get you home with some good charging behaviour.
I did take this car to its maximum range outside of the GTA to visit my cousin in Conestoga. The fastest route was approximately 121 – 130km in distance – right at the outer range of the vehicle’s capacity. It was a bit of a nail-biter moment as I got closer to the destination. The vehicle flashes a battery warning on the dashboard when you are closing in on loss of power well before you actually do. The vehicle eventually will slow down and prompt you to find a charger. I actually had to pull over a couple of times in the last 10 km to allow the car to gather to its power for the final push. Ubiquity of charging infrastructure is putting this type of anxiety to rest for today’s EV driver, but it was fun pushing the car to its limit back in 2014.
Today, all car manufacturers are offering plug-in vehicles as part of their line up. Charging infrastructure is being rolled out across the county with fast paced support from governments at every level. Transitioning most of our transportation modes to electric is only a matter of time. Driving an emission free vehicle is a feel-good, clean air moment we all can enjoy.
Be brave. Your next vehicle can be electric as well.