Leaving Gas Behind

So what would it take to go totally electric? We have our EV, our Leaf, but we still have our gas Camry for those longer road trips. Going “totally electric” means no longing owning, leasing or needing to rent a gas car.

Most of our driving is around town for which the Leaf is great.  For us to sell the Camry we’d need to be able to drive to Halifax, PEI, and Kitchener-Waterloo with the same or better convenience, cost and speed that the Camry provides.  Yes, we’d want to go other places too but chances are if those are doable then so is any other place we’d want to drive.

The Car

To do the job an electric car must have a range of at 300-400 km.  That would allow us to drive for 3-4 hours at the speed limit on any major highway.  For us that’s plenty since we tend to want to stop for stretch/coffee/washroom breaks that often.  The car also needs to able to recharge quickly, 15-30 minutes tops.  Our current stops take about 10-20 minutes so I’m allowing a little leeway here.

What electric car could do this?  Nothing in my price range today but it’s coming.

Recently, GM took the wraps off the production ready version of their new electric car, the GM Bolt. This fully electric car has a 320 km range, is expected to ship in early 2017 and is slated to sell for US$37,000 before incentives.  The Bolt uses a fast charge connector called CCS which has a top charge rate of 40-60 kilowatts (kW).  That’s pretty fast but you’d probably still need to charge for an hour to do another 3 hours of highway driving.

The next generation Nissan Leaf is expected to be ready in late 2017. It will have at least the range of the Bolt and use the CHAdeMO fast charge connector which has a top charge rate of 60 kW.  Assuming the Leaf still sells for it’s current price of about Cdn$35,000 it will compete well with the Bolt but, just like the Bolt, is unlikely to have a fast enough charge rate to get us back on the highway after 1/2 hour.

Tesla Motors is a new (12 year old) car manufacturer which only makes electric cars. Their current flagship is the US$85,000+ Model S which has proven very popular with the luxury car crowd.  It has a range of over 400 km and using a Tesla supercharger (120 kW) can be recharged enough in 30 minutes to go another 270 km.  Not bad but but way too expensive for us.

The car in which I’m most interested is the one coming next from Tesla: the Model 3. Tesla’s “affordable car” is expected to have a price tag of US$35,000, a range of 300-400 km and access to Tesla’s supercharger network.  The Tesla supercharger network is a big advantage since it can charge at twice the top speed of the other chargers. Tesla is planning a big unveiling of the Model 3 this March so I’m expecting to learn more details then.  The Model 3 is expected to start shipping in early 2018.

The Chargers

Most public chargers in North America are Level 2 chargers (see explanation of charger levels in an earlier post).  They are “destination” chargers because at just 6-20 kW they are intended to be used only at the end of your trip.  They are almost everywhere but just way too slow when you’re in the middle of a highway trip.

There are about 70 Level 3 chargers in Canada.  These chargers have the CHAdeMO connector used by our Leaf and a few also provide the CCS connector to be used by the GM Bolt.  About 35 are in Quebec, a couple in Nova Scotia and four more near Toronto. At 40-60 kW these are much faster than the Level 2 chargers.  Unfortunately there are some large stretches of highway between Montreal – Toronto and Fredericton – Quebec City with none installed and none announced.

The Tesla supercharger, at 120 kW, is the only charger currently able to meet our need for speed.  Not only are they super fast but because of Tesla’s planning they are also strategically located.  Tesla has already installed over 500 supercharger stations each of which has at least six superchargers.  Those already installed in eastern Canada are placed such that you supercharge from Quebec City to Toronto to Detroit.  Tesla also announced plans to install stations at Quebec City, Rivière-du-Loup and Woodstock by the end of 2016.  That means by the time the Model 3 comes along we’ll be able to supercharge all the way from Fredericton to Kitchener-Waterloo.

So the supercharger network will soon take care of the longest drive we’re likely to take. What about the Maritimes?  Most trips we’re likely to make in the Maritimes are not going to take six hours of driving.  We tend to visit Halifax (4.5 hour drive) and PEI (3.5 hours).  A 15-30 minute stop at one of the existing Level 2 or Level 3 chargers, both of which a Model 3 can also use, would be sufficient to get all of the way. That said, supercharger stations at some of the more central locations such as Moncton and Truro would be nice. Hey, while we’re wishing let’s put one at Port Hastings too so we can more easily visit Cape Breton too.

The Cost

As I mentioned in a previous post (“Are we Saving Money Yet?”) there are many aspects to the cost and cost savings of an electric car other than the fuel.  That said, I find it difficult to picture spending more than Cdn$40,000 on a car, any car, which is just for personal transport.  The one factor that could change that limit would be government incentives.  Many countries and some Canadian provinces already offer incentives to encourage the grow of a technology which can fight climate change.  Given that the federal government now recognizes climate change there is some hope they may follow suit soon.

Level 3 charging is commonly priced at $10 per hour and prorated for a partial hour. Use of Tesla superchargers is free to owners of one of Tesla’s luxury cars such as the Model S.  It is widely expected that supercharging will come at a price for the Model 3 owners but Tesla has yet to announce it.  I’m expecting that Tesla will price supercharging similarly to Level 3 charging.   That means at highway stops we’ll pay for power at double the household electricity rate.  A premium to household electricity rate for sure but still way cheaper than gas.

The When

Crystal ball time.  I’m predicting by June 2018 the car, the charging infrastructure, and the costs will all align such that we can move completely off gas.  Any wagers?


Next post:  In the driver’s seat


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