We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

The electric wave is coming –fast

By Steve Wallace, Victoria Times Colonist January 14, 2011

An electric vehicle is plugged in during press day at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Tuesday.

We are about to see the most dramatic change in the automotive industry since the advent of the internal combustion engine and Henry Ford’s vehicle assembly line.
Necessity is the mother of invention.

Throughout the last few decades, every vehicle manufacturer has been hard-pressed to meet the tough environmental and emission standards set by federal governments around the world. Getting better gas mileage was the highest priority for all vehicle producers. They had to meet mileage targets averaged over their whole production lines.

Manufacturers produced lighter vehicles. They had technological advances such as electronic fuel injection and overdrive gears. Low-resistance tires were also part of the package. Aerodynamically designed vehicles with very low coefficients of friction and resistance were introduced and improved upon regularly year after year. There were all sorts of other incremental advances, which helped increase mileage, including gasoline additives and synthetic oil.

All of the above mentioned advances have been dwarfed by what has been offered to consumers in the last decade. It started with the introduction of hybrid cars. Some carmakers boasted the reduction of harmful emissions by up to 90 per cent coupled with a claim of more than 100 kilometres per imperial gallon. Consumers were at first suspicious, but came to appreciate the relatively new types of vehicles for sale. The Smart car has been a hit as an urban alternative form of transportation since its introduction.

How many Prius and Civic hybrid models do you see with for-sale signs in the window, while being driven around town? Not many, if any at all. In fact, drivers are avidly anticipating the arrival of the Chevy Volt, while supporting the sale offerings by Ford, with the Escape and Fusion.

There are now too many hybrid vehicle choices to mention, with all major sellers now following the pioneers with products of their own. When premium high-priced trucks, SUVs and luxury cars are now coming equipped with a hybrid option, you can trust that the technology has been universally accepted by consumers. Taxi companies have been using hybrid vehicles for more than a decade. The gas savings is valued at about $1,000 a month. The maintenance costs are significantly reduced as well. Battery failure has not been an issue and some cabbies are elated with the general performance of hybrid taxis. Hybrids are here to stay.

Soon there will be a chance for consumers to purchase all-electric vehicles. The race is on to be first to the marketplace. Nissan, with its all-electric Leaf, seems poised to be the first universally recognized manufacturer to offer a total electric ride for the average driver. The range is said to be between 100 and 160 kilometres per charge, with a quick charge option, which will deliver an additional 30 kilometres.

All manufacturers are now accepting the fact that they must come up with an all-electric vehicle option in order to stay in the game of car sales. Many will release their electric models in rapid fashion in the next calendar year. These cars will likely be used for urban travel and short-haul work by business purchasers.

The most exciting development in the competition among vehicle makers is the number of newcomers to the marketplace. The consumer will be the winner.

There will be a rush to wire parking areas for easy charging of electric cars. Most of Canada is already wired, given our winter climate.

Places like the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island will be forced to play catch-up. Electrical capacity and supply will become an issue.

Stay tuned, it will be a very interesting decade for vehicular travel.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Interior of B.C.
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