Electric pickup truck developed by U of T grad on display in Markham

It was a natural disaster that sparked the creation of the world's first electricity-powered pickup truck, according to the young Canadian engineer who invented it.

Living through an international disaster motivated Tony Han to invent an electric pickup truck

Tony Han, 28, and has developed a prototype electric pickup truck. (Lorenda Reddekopp, CBC News)

It was a natural disaster that sparked the creation of what Tony Han calls the world's first electric-powered pickup truck.

Han witnessed the tragedy and destruction of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami while living in Japan and the University of Toronto engineering graduate, now 28, credits seeing the disaster first-hand with determining his career path. 

"[It] changed my perspective, my initial thoughts of what I wanted to do in my life," he explained during a recent interview with CBC Toronto. "What's better than working in improving our environment?"

He's now president of Havelaar Canada, which has launched a prototype model.

The shiny blue truck — fittingly the colour is "electric blue — is on display this week in the parking lot of the Hilton Toronto/Markham Suites Conference Centre and Spa in Markham, the site of a conference and trade show on the electric vehicle industry.

Han says the vehicle, called the Bison, can travel 300 kilometres on one charge.

Han believes trucks are an important niche market, serving everyone from urbanites with active lifestyles to companies hauling big loads.

He plans to begin a pilot program with 100 fleet vehicles to be used by municipalities and utility companies in 2018. He's hoping to use the program to make sure his trucks are suited for Canadian weather and road conditions. Han expects the public will be able to buy the trucks in 2019.

Han is looking at charging $58,000 per vehicle for a work model to be used by companies as part of their fleet services, but the price the public will pay when the truck goes on the market is still to be determined.

'The sky is really the limit'

He sees a bright future in electric vehicle technology.

"The sky is really the limit," Han said. "Imagine all the vehicles on the road: all of them will become electric and we want to be early adopters."

But so far, electric vehicles account for only a small portion of overall vehicle sales in Ontario, though the number continues to grow.

According to figures from FleetCarma, a high-tech firm that helps companies track their vehicle fleets, 3,412 electric vehicles were sold in Ontario in 2016 — only 0.5 per cent of overall vehicle sales in the province but almost double the amount from two years earlier.

FleetCarma CEO Matthew Stevens says electric vehicles accounted for just 0.5 per cent of all vehicle sales in Ontario last year.

FleetCarma CEO Matthew Stevens says anxiety about the availability of charging stations is what's keeping more drivers from charging ahead with electric.

"They need to be able to get in that car in Waterloo and drive to Montreal without a second consideration," he said. "We're right on the verge of them being able to do that fairly easily."

Stevens says the Ontario government adding close to 200 high-speed charging stations in the past year has helped, as have financial incentives for buying electric.