It was a rainy day in Toronto when I left my office, where I work with my dad, to go home to get ready for a night out of events for Addicted. A totally normal evening, except my car was behaving strangely. To be on the safe side, I turned around to take the car to the shop before heading home. Eight minutes later, my car decided to chug to a permanent stop, on the side of the highway off-ramp.
RIP little BMW X3
*header image by Aniseh Sharifi. Photos by me unless otherwise noted
Being a silver lining seeking person, I’ve decided to make the most of my impromptu car search. I’ve always been curious about hybrid and electric vehicles, but my past life working in the oil and gas industry precluded me from indulging my alternative fuel car curiosity. Since that is no longer my reality, I’m going to take this automotive vacuum I find myself in, and fill it by learning about, and experiencing as many different hybrid and electric cars that I can, and sharing those experiences right here.
It’s no secret that our dependency on fossil fuels has had an impact on the environment. I’ve been seeking out ways to reduce waste and become more environmentally conscious. It’s the little things, like bringing my own mug to my neighborhood coffee shops, and choosing instead to shop local, and from vintage and consignment stores instead of fast fashion. Since having a car does make my life easier, I’d like to find one that uses less, or maybe even no, gasoline as just another way to reduce my personal environmental impact.
Ask an expert
It’s best to venture into new territory with a knowledgeable guide, so I’ve enlisted Electric Vehicle (EV) enthusiast and automotive marketing maven Aniseh Sharifi as my expert through this mission. With nearly a decade of experience in the auto industry, Aniseh has turned her focus to the EV market. As a Tesla owner herself, Aniseh is a vocal EV advocate. She is also the sole female executive in the Tesla Owner’s Club of Ontario. Through her work and her writing (on her personal blog and the other outlets she writes, including Autostrada and Dress to Kill Magazines) Aniseh’s goal is to show the world that owning an EV can be easy, cost-effective, practical and fun. I asked (and am still asking) Aniseh a ton of questions, and with her help, I’ve got a few answers to help with our EV education.
What are the options?
If you feel like there aren’t as many green vehicle options compared to traditional cars, you’re not wrong. “The auto industry has been very slow in the production of EVs, with the exception of the Nissan Leaf” says Aniseh. “With a company like Tesla leading in EV sales, it has forced other manufacturers to step up their game if they want to have a piece of the growing EV market.” With competition comes innovation, so we’ll definitely be seeing more EVs out there in the future. “By 2020, most manufacturers will be dedicating more of their vehicle lineups to EV drivers. Volkswagon recently stated that ‘By mid-2020s, we will be converting the entire current plant in Zwickau, from 100 percent [gas] today to 100 percent electric cars’. Volvo will only be making electric cars going forward. Hyundai, Kia, Porsche, GM, will all be very serious in their EV productions in the coming years.”
When it comes to “green” consumer vehicles in North America, they generally fall under these categories:
Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV)
Hybrid cars use a combination of a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE), an electric motor and a small battery. The battery charges using a process called ‘regenerative braking’: when the car slows down, either when you brake or simply stop accelerating, the electric motor reverses its polarity to recharge the battery. The gas engine will engage and disengage while you drive, as the car chooses the optimal mode for the current driving conditions. These vehicles will require gasoline to power their engines, and will perform more like a traditional car but with lower emissions and greater fuel efficiency. Examples of an HEV include the Honda Insight Hybrid, The Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid, the Lexus NX300h, and the OG hybrid, the Toyota Prius, launched back in the 90s.
Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)
Plug-in Hybrid Electric vehicles, or PHEVs, are similar to HEVs, but the batteries are much larger, they can be recharged by plugging them into an electrical outlet, and depending on driving patterns, can be driven without gasoline. A PHEV can give up to 80km full electric range, and will automatically switch over to regular hybrid mode when the battery is depleted. PHEVs come in two varieties: Parallel and Extended Range. Parallel PHEVs have a gasoline engine and an electric motor that can operate independently, but also work side by side. Extended Range PHEVs rely on a gasoline generator that makes electricity to power the electric motor. Examples of PHEVs include the Chevrolet Volt and the BMW i8 (aka my new dream car). You’ll notice that these types of cars feature a second access point for “fueling”, which is where you plug your car into a charging station or an electrical outlet.
Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV)
Also known as the fully electric car, BEVs never use gasoline, relying only on batteries to operate. The driving range on BEVs vary depending on the make and model, with the lower end being below the 200km mark, and the higher end upwards of 500km. With no dependency on fossil fuels and therefore zero emissions, this vehicle choice is the most environmentally friendly one you can make. And, aside from upfront vehicle costs, they are the most cost-effective, with very little maintenance required, and much lower “fueling” costs, as it’s cheaper to charge than fuel up. Examples of EVs are the Volkswagon E-Golf, the Chevrolet Bolt and, of course, the Tesla in its Model S, Model 3 and Model X versions.
As well, Toyota is debuting a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle in Quebec later this year. The Toyota Mirai is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell electric powertrain that is fueled by hydrogen and produces water as its only emission.
Switching to one of the above types of cars from your standard fuel cars is a decision that will require varying degrees of consideration and adaptation. “We’ve been programmed to think about cars in a certain way” Aniseh explained.”You fill up your tank with gas, when you’re running low, you go to gas station and fill up. Buying an electric car is asking people to think differently about their transportation altogether. You can have a charger at your home or work. You can charge your car anytime, you don’t need to wait until you are “empty”; you can visit charging locations to charge your car. Ideally, you can leave your house every morning with a fully charged battery. Most electric cars cam manage their range usage with an app on a mobile device. Settings such as pre-heating or cooling the vehicle, unlocking/locking the doors, and such are all accessible through the app, making your battery usage more efficient. Once you can accept this way of driving, it’s very easy and the benefits are bountiful.”
Things to Consider
Where will you charge?
According to Aniseh, this is the most important factor you need to consider. “If you can get a charger at home or at your place of work, that’s 90% of all your concerns taken care of right there. The other 10% is which make and model works best for you. Having a charger at home or at work are the preferred options because that’s usually where people spend the longest amount of time during the day or night.”
Charging your car wherever you spend long periods of time is key if you’re getting an EV. Level 1 charging (through a standard 110 volt outlet), will take hours, and even days if you’re charging an EV and not a PHEV. To speed up charging time, you can have a Level 2 charger installed in your home, that runs off a 240 volt outlet. If you live in a house, getting your own charging station installed is really just about finding a good electrician and ensuring you have the voltage necessary in a place where you can plug your car in, and selecting the charger type you need for your car. The cost varies with installers and the type of charger you choose. If you live in an apartment building or condo charger installation may be costly and complicated, as I’ve discovered after making inquiries in my own building, so for now I definitely won’t be charging at home.
If charging at your work or home is an absolute no-go, do not despair! There are more than 4500 public charging stations all across Canada. Some are free and some require payment, but they are a viable alternative to having a home or work charging station, you just have to look around and plan ahead. Many companies, shopping malls, parking structures and other establishments offer Level 2 charging in their parking lots, so if you can plan your charging times around what you can access and when, then you’re good to go. Download the Plugshare app to see what charging stations are near you, and read reviews by other EV drivers to help you find charging access wherever and whenever you need it.
How much do you drive/how long is your commute/How far do you plan on driving
If you’re someone who loves to jump in the car and take long road trips, then focus on a vehicle with a long driving range to get you to where you need to go, and learn where you can access Level 3 charging stations, or Tesla superchargers, to charge efficiently on your journey. If you’re planning on driving mostly short distances, or have easy access to level 2 charging stations, then you’ve got your pick of eco-vehicles. If you’ve got a regular daily commute and are interested in a PHEV, pay close attention to the electric range – it will be easy to reduce your emissions and fuel dependency if you can get to work and back on a single charge, or, depending on your charging station access, a charge at home and a charge at work if your commute requires your full battery capacity.
Going the EV route can be the more expensive option, at least up front. Here in Ontario, our new government removed green vehicle incentives that helped buyers save thousands of dollars on the cost of their vehicles (incentives are still available in Quebec and British Columbia). Despite that challenge, if it is accessible to lease or purchase an EV, you’ll see the savings over your time with the car. “Although some EVs may cost slightly more up front when compared to a similar size ICE vehicle, the monthly expenses are much less, in fuel and maintenance savings,” said Aniseh. So less or no gas, fewer or no oil changes, less maintenance and more reliability; these factors definitely outweigh the upfront higher costs, if you can manage it.
If you’re living in a warmer climate, chances are you’re already seeing lots of EVs on the road, but perhaps not if you’re somewhere cooler. Cold weather has a definite impact on the range of your EV. If where you live suffers from harsh winters, the colder temperatures will affect the efficacy of your car battery, as they would any battery. Your EV range will be lower, and your PHEV may not be able to make your full commute in winter, so take those factors into account when doing your research.
Battery Recycling and Disposal
Since one of my motivating factors for switching to a hybrid or EV is to help the environment, I wanted to know what will happen to those batteries when they’re no longer viable to power cars. That is the case currently for millions of car batteries, and manufacturers are brainstorming ways to recycle them, and governments around the world are holding them to that. Companies like BMW, Toyota and General Motors are working to create an aftermarket for these batteries, for sustainability, and to increase profits and lower costs for EVs. Giving these batteries a second life with the chance to deliver power where it’s needed, be it in homes, stores or offices, is going to be a priority, and the wheels are already in motion to make that possible in a variety of ways.
It’s clear that electric vehicles are the future, and I’m ready to see what that world is all about. From futuristic fully electric cars, to hybrids that have been making waves for years, it’s time to test drive. Keep up with my car testing adventures through my and Addicted’s social media accounts (on the right of this article) and let me know what cars I should be driving! And, for more information on EVs, check out the awesome Plug and Drive Website here and check out Aniseh’s blog here.