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December 2, 2014

Buying Opportunity?

Since I last wrote here, the industrialized and industrializing world has lurched back toward global recession. As a result, the world-wide demand for oil is dropping slowly. That's a good thing for the survival of our species (we might put off catastrophic climate change effects for a couple of weeks as a result.) It's seen as bad news by those dependent on the oil economy (e.g., Alberta as a whole).

This has led to lower gasoline prices, and because Canadian consumers typically don't do financial planning beyond their next car payment, they are back to buying pick-up trucks and SUVs in record numbers. It's as if people don't think the oil price will go back up. Well, the easy oil is gone. It's harder and more expensive to get the next barrel. Right now, industry analysts say bitumen extraction is generally a money-loser (at around US$70 per barrel and lower, while the break-even price is estimated as between US$75 and US$85 a barrel.) So, oil workers in Alberta and Saskatchewan are being laid off until prices recover.

However, if you are not an oil worker, consider this. If dealers are selling a lot of trucks, they probably are not selling as many EVs and plug-in hybrids. So, if you want to save money on gasoline for years instead of for a few weeks or possibly months, this could be a really good time to negotiate with a local dealer on an EV or plug-in hybrid sitting on their lot. When oil prices start back up, they won't be so anxious to offer big discounts on cars that don't need oil for fuel.

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October 30, 2014


My wife leased our 2012 Nissan Leaf electric car in May of 2013. This month, it paid for our EVacation. We did not take the Leaf on this trip, so let me explain how our electric car helped us make this trip to California, spend 3 days in San Francisco (during the World Series excitement) and take a 7-day cruise down the Pacific coast.

When we traded in the Pontiac Vibe, the lease payments on the Leaf were roughly the same as the loan payments on the Vibe. However, we were paying a bit more than $300 a month for gasoline, oil changes and other maintenance related to the internal combustion engine (e.g., "tune-ups"). We agreed my wife would put the equivalent money as to what we had been paying for gasoline and regular maintenance into a savings account each week, to build up a vacation fund. I agreed to cover the costs of the electricity within our household electrical bill, which appears to be averaging around $20 per month for charging the Leaf. (My wife cannot plug in at work, so pretty much all our charging is done at home on electricity we pay for.)

After 16 months of not paying for gasoline or ICE 'regular' maintenance, we had accumulated enough money (with some research and careful comparison shopping) to pay for roundtrip airline tickets for 2, a stateroom on a nice cruiseliner for a week, and some cash for shopping and incidental expenses. That's how our electric car paid for our vacation on the other side of the continent, while the Leaf stayed home.

However, that was not the end of our EV connections for this trip. As time permits, I will download some photos and write a bit about what we saw related to EVs in San Francisco, Long Beach and San Diego, California.

EVs: save money, save the world.

September 6, 2014

EV Moments

36 years ago this week, I put the jumper cables to batteries, and drove my first electric car (home-built) up and down the driveway. It's a pernicious bug, the EV Grin. All these years later, and I have had an electric vehicle (or more than one) ever since; cars, motorcycles, boats, tractors ...

My children have never known a time there was not an electric car in our driveway.

This week, I needed to drive to the cottage to attend to a maintenance issue. The weather was very nice, so I was driving with the windows down and generally enjoying the experience. On the way up into the Gatineaus, I was driving through the Hull sector on a 4-lane, divided roadway, and came up to a red light. As I pulled our Nissan Leaf up behind the stopped vehicle ahead of me, I recognized it as a Chevy Volt. Two cars pulled up and stopped in the lane beside us; a Prius C and a conventional Prius 2nd generation.

It was so quiet.

This was not at an EV event, just an unexpected moment in regular, daily, city traffic. It was almost unsettling, when one is so accustomed to internal combustion engine traffic noise.

More unsettling though, was the clapped out Acura in need of a new exhaust system which shattered the moment. Unpleasant.

EV Moments. Still rare and fragile, but becoming more common.

January 5, 2014

City staff recommend e-scooters be allowed in Toronto bike lanes

So close to getting it right, but at least it is progress. Of course, it would also help if the provincial government would make a clear call on definitions to clean up the mess they made originally that spawned the 'pedelecs'.

We should be encouraging electric-assist bicycles on Ontario roads, because they are energy-efficient and can help ease traffic congestion (read lower taxes for road expansion and shorter commute times). Oh, they also happen to increase exercise, reduce air, water, ground, noise and thermal pollution, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions relative to the car they usually replace for these particular trips. The catch is, they are an additional cost for the owner, and the rules regarding their use are confusing - both inconsistent by jurisdiction and subject to change, putting private investments at risk.

The federal and provincial laws regarding the e-bikes are pretty simple. Regardless of their outward appearance, if the machine meets the definition of 'power-assisted bicycle' (PAB, or generally referred to as e-bikes), then it should be treated like a regular, human powered bicycle. It also has to be able to be moved via human power. This is the clear intent of the enabling federal rules from circa 2000. The point of the 32 km/h limit is to keep top speed in the same range as traditional human-powered bicycles. Note that recumbent bicycles can routinely exceed 32 km/h with only moderate exertion.

Then we have to get rid of (Ontario) rules that treat e-bikes differently from muscle-powered bikes, such as restricting ridership to those 16 years of age and older, and requiring use of a helmet by adults on e-bikes, which is not required on muscle-powered bikes. Stop making it confusing.

Then, we need to get municipalities and other bodies that maintain roadways, bicycle lanes, multi-use pathways, bike paths, etc. to also adopt a consistent approach on e-bikes, and which is enforceable. Stop making it confusing.

Let's deal with the perception and disinformation issues and get past them. If your issue is that some e-bikes have some fancy plastic body panels and look attractive, either get over it or get the rules changed so there is a different vehicle category based on appearance. Because some of the step-thru body e-bikes can be lighter than 'safety'-bike style e-bikes. If your issue is speed, then enforce the speed limits for the roadways and paths, and not via the vehicle's performance. (We don't ban Ferraris from municipal roads because they can travel faster than 50 km/h.) If your issue is bad behaviour by e-bike riders, then bring out some enforcement, and go after all the scofflaws, including pedestrians, pets, roller-bladers, skateboarders and muscle-bikers. If your issue is vehicle weight, then define your acceptable limit bring out the portable scales to weigh vehicles with riders and cargo - including trailers. However, you plan to do this, make the rules consistent between muscle-bikes and e-bikes, and across jurisdictions. Stop making it confusing.

As for the e-bike users, you need to understand and abide by the rules, or face the consequences. If you take the pedals off (even if you put them in the storage compartment), you no longer have an e-bike, you have a low-speed electric motorcycle. Get it licensed, get a DOT approved motorcycle helmet and wear it, and pay the insurance. If you are riding on a path with a posted speed limit, stay under it. Make sure your safety equipment and instrumentation is present and fully operational. Stay off the sidewalks and observe the traffic laws. Set the standard for good vehicle operation behaviour.

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    About the Author:
    Darryl McMahon built his first electric car in 1978, and has had at least one electric vehicle EVer since. He was a founding member of the Electric Vehicle Association of Canada. He is the author of The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy and many articles about electric vehicles, related technology and history. He is currently a member of the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa, Electric Mobility Canada, Historian for the Electric Auto Association, and President of Econogics.

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