Electric adventures

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It’s one thing to have someone describe swimming to me, but it’s another thing entirely to jump in. And I figured it was time to make that jump and assess the electric vehicle experience.

To do this, the gang at BMW’s Canadian head office provided me with a 2017 i3 car for seven days. So I set about using it as my only vehicle through what ended up being a pretty typical week of driving.

To give that a little context, it’s worth noting that I drive a lot. According to CAA, the average Canadian drives about 20,000 kilometres a year. I drive about 45,000 km a year. As such, I’m either a lousy candidate for an EV because range really matters to me, or I’m a fantastic candidate because I burn a lot of fuel, so the savings from an EV might really add up. I went into my little experiment with an open mind, and the very pragmatic expectation that the answer probably fell between those two extremes.

I was particularly interested in my own reaction to range anxiety — the worry that an EV’s battery will run out of power and leave you stranded. I’m wound tightly enough to know that range anxiety could be a real issue for me. So I was pleasantly surprised that it really wasn’t.

I’m not looking to do a full vehicle review, but it’s worth noting that the BMW i3 impressed me. It was ideally suited to a week spent in and around Canada’s biggest city. It was also surprisingly accommodating to my 6’7” frame. And the vehicle does a very good job of integrating the tremendous amount of technology it holds and producing a really enjoyable driving experience.

We are all watching to find out how quickly EVs, fuel cell vehicles, autonomous vehicles and car sharing will disrupt and reshape the industry we know and love.

So what are my impressions of the EV experience?

It was great fun to drive. Anyone who loves torque (is there anyone in the automotive industry that doesn’t?) will find much to like about EVs. Acceleration is instant and strong. The silence of the drivetrain was odd at first, but I quickly got used to it. Probably the biggest difference from driving my regular ride was how rarely I touched the brake pedal. The regenerative braking that charges the battery also slows the car aggressively enough that it’s possible to drive almost entirely with one pedal.

The battery management considerations are actually pretty straightforward for me, and I imagine equally so for most urban dwellers. As long as I had access to a level 2 charger at home to fully charge it overnight, the range was a non-issue on almost all of my “normal days.”

The financial considerations are significant, and attractive. Based on the expected cost of electricity/fuel for that vehicle, and the fuel consumption of my current ride (in fairness, a full size SUV) I would likely save $4,500-$5,000 a year in fuel. In after tax dollars, no less. That particular vehicle also comes with a very aggressive $13,000 government rebate.

So what’s the bottom line? We are all watching to find out how quickly EVs, fuel cell vehicles, autonomous vehicles and car sharing will disrupt and reshape the industry we know and love.

I am one who believes that change will come faster than some are predicting, and will be more profound when it arrives. My past week driving the i3 only served to strengthen that view.

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