Norris McDonald participated in this year’s AJAC EcoRun, but he still has questions about EVs.
I spend a lot of time these days reading, listening and discussing the use of electricity to propel automobiles compared to conventional gasoline and other alternatives, such as hydrogen.
It comes with the job. The ground is shifting, and it’s better to be on top of what’s happening than running to catch up.
So, I’ve been reading about how Big Oil will react when everybody starts running out to buy electric cars. And how the end of internal-combustion will be just like the end of film for cameras — it will (seemingly) come out of nowhere and be so sudden that everybody will wake up one day and wonder what happened. And that some European countries will ban the sale of gasoline and Diesel-powered cars as of such-and-such a date. And the province of Quebec will soon start fining automakers that don’t sell enough EVs.
And then there are the questions I’ve been asking in discussions, for which I don’t hear too many answers.
- We, apparently, produce scads of excess power. This is produced overnight when people aren’t using it. We — or so the story goes — have to “dump” it (sell it for much less than it’s worth). If this is so, why do we have an electricity crisis in Ontario, where people can’t afford to pay their electrical bills and it’s sufficiently serious that the provincial government is paying for advertising saying not to worry, it has a plan.
- Every summer, people are asked to either turn down or turn off their air conditioners so that we don’t risk brownouts or, worse, blackouts. What will happen on those days when a million electric cars are plugged into the system?
- If everybody runs out and purchases an electric car, how long will the provincial subsidies last?
- If more people buy EVs instead of internal-combustion vehicles, how will governments make up the tax shortfall? Right now, about 40 per cent of what you pay per litre for fuel at the pump goes to governments. How long, then, before there is a two-tier price for electricity (those who own EVs will pay more for electricity delivered to their houses than those who don’t. Presumably.)
- Finally, if governments are promoting the shift to electricity, what are those same governments doing to prepare the population for the social change that’s coming? Thousands of people are employed in the automotive service industry, and those jobs, for the most part, will disappear if EVs take over. What then?
As we know, governments of all political stripes are often driven more by ideology than by common sense. Yes, unless you’ve been living under a rock, climate change is a reality. We all must accept that. But how best to fight it? Or to adapt to it?
OK, fossil fuels have been a problem, although they are far from the problem they once were. But in the rush to eliminate them in favour of electrification, governments are ignoring — or appear to be ignoring — evidence of contamination in the manufacturing of batteries or the production of power to charge those batteries that is every bit as damaging. The Star, for instance, published stories in recent months about the pollution created by the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries and the health problems suffered by people employed in that industry.
Then there was a recent Swedish study, which suggested that pollution created by the manufacturing of one Tesla car battery was the equivalent of eight years of driving around in an internal-combustion vehicle. (There have been howls from the anti-car crowd about that one, but since Sweden is everybody’s ideal society and they do everything perfectly there, you’d have to take that almost-Pavlovian opposition with a grain of salt.)
Regardless, if governments these days decide electric cars are the way to go, then electric cars we shall have. It’s much like a snowball on the top of a mountain that gets bigger and bigger as it rolls down. At a certain point, it becomes unstoppable.
I don’t think this is a good thing.
Included in my research on this subject this summer was my participation in the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s annual EcoRun, in which a number of different types of cars were driven (electric, hybrid, fuel cell, internal-combustion) and the results compared as to fuel economies.
The cars included the Chevrolet Bolt, Ford Focus EV, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Versa Note 5MT, Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid, Subaru Forester, Toyota Prius Prime, and the Volkswagen e-Golf, among others.
Now, it took two days to go from Ottawa to Quebec City (via St-Jovite, Sainte-Adele, Montreal, Joliette, Trois-Rivieres, Deschambault) and the frequent stops for lunch, snacks, presentations and so on were primarily because the EVs needed recharging.
Which got me wondering: the positives of EVs aside, how come there isn’t more attention being given to the amazing advances being made to create clean — or cleaner — fossil fuels? For instance — and the meandering along side roads aside, which were needed to conduct the tests in order to determine the fuel mileage for each vehicle — the journey between Ottawa and Quebec City in a regular car would have taken a little more than four hours.
One of the people who sat in the passenger seat during one of my stints was Erin Brophy, who’s the communications manager for the Canadian Fuels Association. I wanted to know how come gasoline and Diesel are seldom included in any conversation about the future of transportation.
“It’s because of a reluctance to include something from the past in something that’s going to happen in the future,” she said. “There’s a reluctance to include the potential of the current technology.”
Brophy said fuels are cleaner across the board in 2017, and the development of renewable resource fuels like ethanol and biodiesel bodes well for the future.
“So, these things are making fuels cleaner to burn but also the engines in the cars themselves are making the cars more fuel-efficient than they ever used to be. So, it’s the technology of the engines and the fuels working together that’s the future for the internal-combustion engine.”
Brophy also noted that it took 125 years to build a network of gasoline and Diesel outlets that enable Canadians to drive from coast-to-coast and from the U.S. border north to the Arctic Circle. She wondered how long, if we started today, it would take to create and service an alternative fuel source infrastructure to rival gas and oil.
“It took generations to build the network that we have today,” she said. “For something else, it would maybe take 25 or 30 years, starting now from the urban cores outward. It’s really in the large urban centres where you can quite happily go from A to B, plugging in along the way, but all of Canada doesn’t live in large, urban centres.”
She said that, for the foreseeable future, gasoline and Diesel will continue to be part of a mix.
“We’re not giving up,” she said. “Gasoline and Diesel are still dominant and will continue to be so for some time. While there’s a reluctance to suggest that there might be a future for fossil-based fuels, all you have to do is look at aviation and freight.
“Big planes and trucks are both going to be around for a long time to come.”
The AJAC EcoRun is a rush for a driver’s driver
The EcoRun, an annual comparison exercise in fuel economy between passenger automobiles ranging from all-electric to internal-combustion, went this year from Ottawa to Quebec City with some side trips in between.
Nineteen automotive writers, all members of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, plus a smattering of communications people from the participating manufacturers, were involved. There were 19 cars, which were traded around so that each reporter had a different one for every stint.
There was no outright winner among the cars. The point of the exercise is not to declare one car better than another but to have journalists drive them efficiently and economically so that their “scores” can be compared to the fuel numbers assigned by Transport Canada to every new car sold in Canada.
To see how the cars did, I invite you to go to AJAC.ca/Eco-Run . All the info is right there.
Now, the cars I drove in the eight stints — four each day — were the Mazda CX5, the Chevrolet Bolt, the Chevrolet Cruz Diesel, the Nissan Versa Note Xtronic, the Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid; the Nissan Pathfinder, the Subaru Forester, and the Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e.
They were all great, and I mean all, but the one I had the most fun in was the Bolt. I drove it from Hawkesbury, Ont., to St-Jovite in the Quebec Laurentians, and the roads were mostly up and down and twisty, which meant my inner Stirling Moss was at work much of the time.
I had no range anxiety in the all-electric car because I had enough juice stored for 300-plus kilometres, and I only had to go about 75, so I was zipping right along. In fact, I was following a Miata and decided, for research purposes, to pull right up behind it and see if the driver was interested in doing a little dicing. He throttled up to escape me but I stayed right with him until discretion got to be the better part of valour and I eased off, remembering that I was a responsible journalist conducting a scientific experiment and that I also didn’t own the car.
But I could have beaten him if we’d gotten right into it. Just sayin’.
Now, what started out as a side bet between participants on the first EcoRun has become legitimized, and a “coveted” Green Jersey is awarded to the journalist who records the best fuel economy numbers over the two days. The winner this year was Wade Ozeroff from Edmonton. Last year, it was the Star’s very own Jim Kenzie.
Now, I finished sixth and I have no idea how. I didn’t deliberately set out to finish last (of 19), but that was really kind of my idea. I was a car racer, and I’m proud of my lead foot. I told you in previous paragraphs about nearly getting into a race with the driver of a Miata. And while cruising along Quebec Hwy. 40 between Trois-Rivieres and Deschambault, I was going just a teeny bit above the speed limit when I went flying past four or five of my fellow writers who all had the cruise control on at 96 km/h, and I thought to myself that none of them — none — had ever driven as slowly in their entire lives.
You can see how all the journalists did, too, if you’re interested. The stats are at the same address — AJAC.ca/Eco-Run .
One last thing. I have to tip my hat to the sponsors. You can’t do something like this without support.
Meo Electric is a Canadian company focused on the commercialization of the latest and best electric vehicle (EV) charging technologies.
AddÉnergie is the Canadian leader in smart charging solutions for electric vehicles. The company develops, manufactures and operates charging solutions for all market segments such as the public sector, private employers, fleets, residential and multi-residential.
The FLO network (part of AddÉnergie) is one of the most — if not the most — important charging station networks in Canada, having more than 2,500 stations connected and managed remotely. (In other words, if you’re running out of juice, FLO directs you to the nearest station.)
Michelin Canada, Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Fuels Association need no real introduction.
Oh, and special thanks to the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres for the presentation about their work with hydrogen fuel cells.
The automotive world is changing. You’d better hold on, because it’s going to be quite a ride.