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Electric Vehicles – The Answer To Every Urban Commuter’s Prayers…Or Are They?

At this year’s Canadian International Auto Show (CIAS) the stand-out theme would have to be Electric Vehicles (EVs) – at least that’s where most of the manufacturers seem to be spending their time, energy and design money. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with electric vehicles – don’t get me wrong – but the fact that they’re being touted as an urban commuter – I’m not so sure about that.

Over the past few years I’ve written a couple of articles about EVs and hybrids – their pros and cons, and a lot of people have wondered why they haven’t really caught on. Well, it’s starting to look like the EV has gained enough momentum that it might actually dominate the market in the not too distant future. Manufacturers are all on board, sure there’s the odd hold-out like Mazda, but overall the manufacturers are fully committed to embracing electric – some are also looking at hydrogen and hybrid in tandem – or maybe they’re just hedging their bets.

Either way it’s awesome that auto manufacturers are so forward-thinking – building EV’s for us now – and in the future. The governments at various levels are committing tax dollars to encourage people to trade in their gasoline/diesel vehicles and buy electric ones. To help, they’re even provide charging stations at city hall and encourage grocery stores, restaurants and businesses to install stations too! You’ll be able to charge your car when you’re out and about, at work, shopping or having a coffee … It’s going to be great! … OR is it?

A Big Fly In The Ointment – Where Urban Dwellers Dwell – Hi-Rise Buildings
As we drove home from the CIAS to our sanctuary in the country, passing literally hundreds and hundreds of condo buildings and multitudes more being built, it struck us that the all-mighty super hero EV that we’d been hearing about all day – the answer to urban commuting – was going to run into a few obstacles. Toronto and its suburbs are one huge concrete jungle and there’s no sign of it abating any time soon – other cities around the world are in the same boat.

Think about this:
The target market for the EV is the urban dweller – those folks living in all the high-rise apartments and condos we just drove by … but how many people live there? How many parking spots are there with EV plug-ins? How many will an apartment or condo building be willing to install? Who’s going to pay for the electricity to charge all these EVs? How will buildings keep track of that? It’s quite frankly a logistical nightmare!

Has anyone stopped to ask this question before now? Has everyone just jumped on the bandwagon without considering ALL the consequences? Maybe it’s just a case that most auto execs don’t live in high-rise buildings and they never gave it a second thought. BUT I bet the folks living in those high-rises are going to think about it before they get too excited about the EV concept.

Iain Shankland, Road-Test.org, Apartment ChargingThe Ontario government is giving people incentives to purchase the home recharge station (50% of the cost of the charge station plus 50% of the installation up to $500 each). That’s great for people like me. I live in a single-family house with the luxury of deciding if I can install a charging station – heck, I’d even connect it to a solar panel if I bought one! But what about someone living in the city – they can’t exactly attach a station to the wall of their apartment building without the raising ire of the owner and fellow tenants.

What about running an extension cord to a power outlet connected in or outside the building? That’s great for the guy with the EV if he can do that, but what if 20 people did that – or 50 people? The condo fees in Toronto are astronomical – $600-$1,000/month is not unusual. The condo or HOA fees cover the maintenance and upkeep of the building along with lights and electricity for the public areas of the building – not for your neighbor to ‘steal’ electricity for his car! If everyone else is paying for his power, he is stealing it from each and every one of his fellow apartment-dwellers. Eventually, the condo fees will have to go up to cover the cost of all this extra electricity that building management can’t account for. Everyone will pay more – how long before there’s a revolt? Why should YOU pay for someone else to fill up their EV every night/day?

In Vancouver, B.C. the city has mandated that all new buildings must have a certain percentage of parking spots dedicated to EV charging. That’s great, but who gets to claim the spots? First-come-first served? That’s not so great if you’re out late and come home to find all the spots taken – guess who’s not going to work tomorrow! Or what about the person that fully charges their vehicle, but just leaves it there indefinitely – what then? Does the first person into the building get dibs on a spot? What if hubby and wife both have EV’s?

Then there’s the case of old buildings – they won’t be mandated to provide EV charging stations, but they’ll have to be retrofitted if they want to provide a spot – who pays for that?

In all scenario’s – who pays for the electricity?

With all these questions running through my head, I decided to contact all the key EV car manufacturers (GM, BMW, FiatChrysler, Tesla, Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota), and asked them for a comment on “the big fly in the ointment” – I’m legitimately curious what they’re suggesting their urban-dwelling customers do to charge their vehicles.

Unfortunately, none of them got back to me. Hmmm. I’m a potential customer, I’m an automotive journalist, and I told them I was preparing to write this very article … and yet no response.

“Thank you for purchasing one of our Electric Vehicles, here’s the keys, now bugger off!”
That’s what their silence says to me. Once we’ve sold you the vehicle, we don’t give a toss about how you deal with the problem of refueling it.

I had the opportunity of talking face-to-face with the Kia’s Media Communication Manager when I was there picking up a car. I asked him the questions directly. He told me that Kia provide a Bosch charging station with each plugin EV, but after that it was up to the customer to arrange how to install it and where.

EV’s are not like regular vehicles. You can’t just build them and sell them, letting the customer decide if they want to fill up at Sunoco or Mobil fuel!

Purchasing and EV is an option only if:

  • You can charge it at home
  • You can charge it at work
  • You can top it up while on an extended journey

EV’s are getting a big push from various levels of government and manufacturers – all for Urban Dwellers, but these very people can’t plug in at home 90% of the time, because they live in an apartment hi-rise building of some sort!

Range anxiety is quickly going to be a thing of the past, and for that reason suburban customers will likely be early adopters of the craze, quick to embrace the EV in order to save fuel costs (and in some areas to get to use the completely useless HOV lanes).

But wait, what about the city dwellers, urban commuters – the very people the EV is being designed for? Well, the way I see it, unless they have a guaranteed spot to plug in every day at work, and a spot at the mall over the weekend, they’ll likely NEVER purchase an EV. Let’s face it – unless there’s a logical solution for the urban commuter to plug in where he lives, the EV simply isn’t the answer to the urban commuter’s prayers.Iain Shankland, Road-Test.org,Toyota Solar Charging Station for PHVs, EVs

Copyright © 2016 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Respective Owners