Manitoba

Fans of electric vehicles to show Winnipeg drivers how to plug in, save up and drive away

Lester Dean commutes to Winnipeg from the rural municipality of Cartier every day — 40 kilometres each way. He doesn't mind though because he says the more he drives, the more he saves.

Electric car enthusiasts figure drivers can save $1,500 a year in fuel costs

Ross Redman will be sporting his 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV for the Manitoba Electric Vehicle Association, MEVA fest. 1:59

Lester Dean commutes to Winnipeg from the rural municipality of Cartier every day — 40 kilometres each way. He doesn't mind though because he says the more he drives, the more he saves.

Dean and his 2013 Tesla Model S will both be at a showcase of electric vehicles on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislative Building Saturday. 

The Manitoba Electric Vehicle Association wants drivers to come and experience some of the array of electric vehicles the group will have on display, take a test drive in an electric car and learn about the perks of switching from a gas tank to a battery bank.

"You're saving 75 per cent of the fuel cost. There are no oil changes. They are virtually maintenance-free," said Dean.

Ross Redman will be showing off his 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV on Saturday. Redman says he bought the first i-MiEV in Canada and it cost about $8,000 more than a comparable gas car would have, but he says he wanted to be part of a growing trend.
Ross Redman will be sporting his 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEVat the Manitoba Electric Vehicle Association showcase of electric vehicles in front of the Manitoba Legislature on Saturday. (CBC)

"I think people are much more conscious of the environment. I think they don't like the scenes that come out of Alberta, about how ugly the tarsands are. Our gasoline comes from the tarsands. To avoid the tarsands, the pipelines, those kinds of things, running on clean, renewable electricity from Manitoba Hydro makes a lot of sense," said Redman.

Redman, who tracks the mileage and the amount of electricity he puts into his car, said he drove his car almost 11,000 kilometres last year for a shocking $77 worth of electricity. He estimates that a traditional car in a similar class size would have cost $1,500 to drive that far. 

"You're saving $1,500 a year. The additional cost in the car is offset by the savings in the gasoline," said Redman.

Winter warrior

Redman says the electric motor works just fine in the winter because it doesn't have any oil. The ignition needs just a little bit of electricity and away it goes. As well, electric vehicles have battery heaters to keep the battery above minus 30 C if the temperature outside goes below that.

"It's an ideal winter car. You never have to worry about whether it's going to start or not, it just goes," said Redman. 

He said that his wife loves the warmth of the car when it's cold outside, since the heaters are similar to space heaters and are pumping hot air right away.

Range anxiety 

Electric vehicles do have limitations since the battery will only last so long and only so far down the road.

Dean's high-end Tesla has an 85 kilowatt battery that when fully charged gives him a range of 400 kilometres.

Mitsubishi lists the i-MiEV as having a range of 100 km but Redman said he's driven his car farther in one outing. 

According to plugshare.com, a website that tracks where electric vehicles can be charged, there are 34 charging stations in and around Winnipeg. Robert Elms, president of MEVA, said that is a great indication of the growing interest in driving gas-free.
Ross Redman shows what is under the hood of his 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV. (CBC)

"Last year the number of electric vehicles registered in the province grew by almost 50 per cent," said Elms, adding the spike happened last year when the price of gasoline was going down.

Even with the growth in the province, the ongoing problem for going electric is the lack of faster charging stations. Among the over 30 stations in the Winnipeg area, there is only one level-three charging station in the whole province. These stations allow electric vehicles to be fully charged more quickly, essentially allowing them to fill up like a gas car would at a gas station. The other stations charge the vehicles much more slowly, which could take hours. 

The lack of fast charging stations makes it difficult for electric cars to drive long distances for prolonged periods of time.

Elms said those stations can cost upwards of $70,000 to install, but he is hopeful that large corporations and the government will get more involved and help increase the number of level three stations available.

Electric bikes, skateboards 

Many electric vehicles will be on display Saturday including a Tesla X, BMWi3, Nissan LEAF, Mitsubishi iMiEV, Chevrolet Volt, Ford C-Max, electric bikes and skateboards, a converted pontoon boat and Manitoba Hydro will be out with their Altec AM55 bucket truck. 

The large utility truck has been converted to a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle and even the boom is operated by an electric motor.

Elms says the Hydro truck is an important first for companies that use heavy equipment, and could eventually lead to improvements in the charge-station network.

Dean meanwhile, isn't waiting for improvements to the charge-station network. He likes his Tesla so much that he has already pre-ordered the Tesla Model 3, expected to become available in late 2017.