Who holds back the electric car? Not the Stonecutters

Homer Simpson — yes, that Homer Simpson — was once a member of the Stonecutters, a secret society made up of Springfield residents.

Though it happened way back in season six of the show, I can’t help but remember the Stonecutters’ “We do” chant. As a matter of fact, I sometimes catch myself singing the tune: “Who holds back the electric car? Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star?”

I watched a rerun of that episode not too long ago and that lyric stuck with me during my numerous visits to this year’s Canadian International Autoshow.

Why? It struck me that it’s not who holds back the electric car but what holds back the electric car.

Although it’s come a long way from General Motors’ 1996 Saturn EV1, the technology is still in its infancy.

Before I go on, I grant that cars like the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan LEAF are impressive. For occasional use in strictly urban environments such as Toronto’s downtown core, they are perfect. They are small, nimble and shockingly efficient. (Pun intended.)

Unfortunately, that is where most advantages end.

“Range anxiety”, a term coined to address the concern that electric cars aren’t able to make it back to Point A from Point B, plagues the likes of the i-MiEV and LEAF.

At the Autoshow, I had the opportunity of speaking to a Mitsubishi representative, who admitted that the i-MiEV is unsuitable for longer trips. Why?

Because its range is limited to 160 kilometres, identical to the LEAF. Of course, those numbers can be drastically improved or limited depending on weather and how heavy the driver’s right foot is. Still, 160 kilometres or thereabouts is a far cry from most conventional cars on the road today, including hybrids.

Another drawback is that although they are zero-emission vehicles — meaning they don’t spew exhaust from tailpipes that pollute the air we breathe — the electricity that powers them isn’t necessarily green.

Here at home, Ontario Power Generation still uses coal to produce electricity.

Finally, there is price. The Nissan LEAF costs $31,913.36 before HST and including the $8,500 rebate the Ontario government gives you for buying an electric car.

To put it into perspective, there are other internal-combustion, gasoline-powered vehicles which net excellent fuel economy figures — the Ford Focus and Hyundai Sonata come to mind — that are larger and cost thousands of dollars less.

I won’t deny that the Mitsubishi i-MiEV or the Nissan LEAF are impressive feats of engineering. I do, however, hold a few reservations as to whether or not they’re in the lead on the road to the future. Maybe they will. In a few years once the technology has improved.

Or perhaps those few years bring us new technologies, such as hydrogen-powered vehicles or improved internal-combustion engines, leaving electric cars in the dust.

One comment:

  1. While true that Ontario has a little bit of coal energy, the grid here is 85% green (hydro, nuclear, wind, solar) and only 15% carbon of which a small portion is coal. Also most electric car charging is done at night when the carbon sources – used for peak power – are not operating. Also electric cars are 4X more energy efficient than gas cars, so they use comparatively little energy.

    So your statement that it “isn’t necessarily green” is very misleading. Running an electric car in Ontario produces a negligible carbon footprint.

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