Monday, February 05, 2007

Electric Cars - Ontario, Canada vs. Ontario, California

Contrary to recent reports, the electric car is not dead. Never mind concept cars like GM's Chevy Volt, with their undefined production times. Smaller car makers are almost done road-testing actual prototypes. They are poised to start shipping breakthrough electric vehicles in 2007-2008. Even more revolutionary electric car technology is on the horizon. Some governments around the world are waking up to the economic opportunities. But are Ontario's car industry and its government backers doing anything to get on board?

"Ontario is North America's 2nd largest motor vehicle assembler, after Michigan" (Source: Government of Ontario, Canada). Many thousands of jobs and billions of dollars are at stake in this industry in Ontario, Canada -- but it also happens to produce one of the most visible sources of greenhouse gas emissions, smog and other hazards. Sadly, it seems that many of the players in the industry remain mired in the past, instead of taking a bold, imaginative approach to help ensure a technology lead. Usually, it is the car companies that object to any mandatory emissions rules. More recently, it was the turn of the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW):
"Canada's largest private sector union said on Thursday that thousands of jobs in the auto industry could be at risk if a left-leaning opposition party [the NDP] succeeds in persuading the government to quickly introduce binding emissions standards on vehicles. " (Story: Reuters via ENN. Original CAW Press Release, January 11, 2007 [corrected link].)
It seems to me that we have a choice between fighting the future or embracing it. We can be dragged into the new era of green vehicles kicking and screaming, or we can take the lead while we still have time. For example, is there a single hybrid car being built in Ontario, Canada? As far as I know, the Ford Edge small SUV (Crossover), assembled in Oakville, Ontario, would be the first one. It is scheduled to have a hybrid version sometime in the "2008 to 2010 time period" (Source: Ford Motor Co.).

Meanwhile, in Ontario, California, Phoenix Motorcars is already taking orders for a new all-electric (not hybrid!) Sports Utility Truck, with an all electric SUV to follow in "late 2007" (Source: Phoenix Motorcars). The vehicles reach "95 mph [153 km/h] carrying five passengers and full payload". They go from "0 to 60 mph [97 km/h] in 10 seconds" (Source). And unlike previous generations of electric vehicles, this one will go the distance:
"The range is approximately 130 miles [209 km] ... currently working on an expansion pack extending the range to 250 miles [402 km], available in 2007" (Source).
By the time the industry in Ontario, Canada turns around to make vehicles like this, would California upstarts like Phoenix Motorcars own the market?

Another California-based contender is also ramping up: Tesla Motors has developed a super-premium all-electric sports car (the Tesla Roadster), with funding and support from an all-star cast of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. They claim to have pre-sold their very first production run of 200+ cars for delivery in 2007 -- priced at US $92,000 each!

Tesla Motors has recently announced plans for a 4-door all-electric coupe car to go into production in 2009. After musing on locating facilities in various places (the reported list did not include Ontario, Canada), they opened a Technical Center in Rochester Hills, Michigan (Source).

Curiously, there is already an electric car company with headquarters in Ontario, Canada: Feel Good Cars (also known as ZENN Motor Co. or ZMC) They make the ZENN, a small, two-seater Neighbourhood Electric Vehicle or NEV, with a speed limit of 40 Km/h (Specifications). It won the 2006 Michelin Challenge Bibendum gold medal in the Urban Vehicle category (Press Release in PDF). Actual assembly takes place in Quebec, but this seems to be the closest we have come to having our own electric car industry.

The ZENN may be small, but its makers dream big:
"It is Feel Good Cars' vision to become the worldwide leader in the electric vehicle industry."
Part of their big strategy has been revealed recently: they are betting on what would be a stunning breakthrough in electricity storage. (Also known as "the battery issue", or "travel range before recharging", this had been the biggest problems facing electric cars for almost a century.) The claimed breakthrough is an electric super-capacitor from Texas-based start-up EESTOR, Inc., which reportedly
"...contains no hazardous materials whatsoever. Yet it acts like a battery in that it stores electricity. If it works as it's supposed to, it will charge up in five minutes and provide enough energy to drive 500 miles [805 km] on about $9 worth of electricity."
And unlike today's batteries, this device would be "recharged in a matter of minutes" -- according to Feel Good Cars. Moreover, Ian Clifford, the CEO of Feel Good Cars, predicts that using this technology,
"A four-passenger sedan will drive like a Ferrari."
Four-passenger car? Drive like a Ferrari? Ambitious words for somebody who now makes only slow two-seaters! But according to a Press Release (PDF),
"Under its Technology Agreement with EEStor, Inc., ZMC holds the worldwide exclusive license for EEStors batteries for small and medium-sized vehicles (up to 1,400 kgs curb weight). The Technology Agreement is in good standing.

"ZENN Motor Company continues to enhance and market its current Low Speed Electric Vehicle product using existing lead-acid battery technology. We have the expertise and capability to integrate EEStor technology into our existing and future vehicles should the EEStor batteries become available says Mike Bergeron, VP of Engineering for ZENN Motor Company."
So apparently, an Ontario, Canada company holds a world-exclusive license to use a "...power source... that could blow away the combustion engine" (source) -- "for small and medium-sized vehicles".

Still, there is no indication yet of when they hope to produce a regular-sized electric car that would be "street legal" regardless of speed limit -- never mind "drive like a Ferrari". And there is no word on what they would do if the EESTOR technology does not live up to its promise.

Meanwhile, the California electric car industry is ramping up production based on conventional or modified Lithium-Ion batteries.

Governments and leaders in other countries are starting to court future electric car producers. A Chinese government fund has recently signed a deal to make the French Cleanova II electric vehicle in Inner Mongolia, Northern China (Source in French, English translation by Google). This car's engine is made by a Canadian company, TM4, a subsidiary of Hydro Quebec (Source in PDF). More recently, Israeli Vice-Premier and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Shimon Peres went to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to talk to Renault (supplier of the Kangoo base vehicle for the Cleanova II testing program) and Toyota about making future electric cars or batteries in Israel (Source).

But is any of this even on the radar screens of the mainstream car industry in Ontario, Canada? Do the Provincial and Federal Governments who had long supported (read, subsidized) this mainstream industry have any clue about the coming electric car revolution?

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dion and the Liberals are promising to bankrupt Canadians with the Kyoto scheme, who is going to be able to purchase these fancy new cars?

Canadians will be keeping their old cars on the road for quite a bit longer if the Liberals get their way.

ydzabelishensky said...

Anonymous Internet trolls -- gotta love 'em, eh?

In reality, North American automakers are the ones risking bankruptcy, due in part to their own gas-guzzler products. (The other part is having to provide private health insurance and pensions to U.S. workers -- which explains, for example, why GM loves Canada's universal public medicare and would like to expand it.)

In any event, to borrow Dion's words, whoever comes up with the first commercially successful electric car, "...will export their solutions to the world, and they will earn megatonnes of money with it."

janfromthebruce said...

Does this mean that buzz will be campaigning for Harper? Or does this mean that Buzz would campaign for the Liberals betting on the fact that they campaign left (think about NAFTA here) knowing they will morphe right once elected? Anyway, Buzz wants to built good environmentally friendly cars, he just doesn't want his members to loss jobs in the process, and what these car companies to get on board. I think in Ontario, we would be dreaming if we think that the demise of the big 3 would not sink our economy in the short-run.

janfromthebruce said...

I went to your links and could not find Buzz's press release. Could you please update the link. Of course, the article was from Jan. 2007.
Buzz actually said in the article firstly, left-leaning parties.
Jack responded with this:
"But Layton said the plan being pushed by the NDP is the same "Green Car" strategy that the CAW supported when it was introduced in a joint appearance by Layton, Hargrove and representatives of Greenpeace in July 2003.

That strategy called for federal legislation that would require new vehicles sold in Canada to be 25 percent more fuel efficient by 2010.

Layton told reporters in Vancouver on Thursday that the Canadian auto sector, which employs about 168,000 people, risks job loss if it does not begin producing more environmentally friendly vehicles because consumers will buy them from elsewhere."
I want to buy an electric car manufactured on Ontario. Come on, Buzz, push your companies that CAW work in. The CAW workers in our auto plants are great workers, I want to buy products from them because I know they produce high quality, but I want it to be electric.
Of course, electric doesn't mean that they are completely carbon neutral as it depends where that electricity is coming from - coal?
But I get to feel all 'greeny' because I could ignore that. That is the irony here.

ydzabelishensky said...

To janfromthebruce: Thanks so much for your thoughtful and detailed comments. I've fixed the link to the CAW Press Release.

I agree that I'd rather buy (or rent / auto-share) a union-made electric car manufactured in Ontario, Canada. (Among other things, this would help employ our neighbours, support the unions' work to promote and defend social programs -- and involve less shipping, i.e. fewer carbon emissions.)

I will try to respond in to some of your other points when I have a moment.

By the way, do you have a link to Jack Layton's reply to Buzz Hargrove? Thanks in advance for helping to track it down.

janfromthebruce said...

Sorry, I didn't see this sooner. I tried looking for where I cut and paste the quote from. So far, no tomato. However, there is a similar one in Now Magazine (http://www.nowtoronto.com/issues/2007-01-18/news_story6.php).
Next time, I will remember to site where I got the post.
However, if you just google green car strategy, CAW, Green Peace, it pops up in all sorts of places.

Becky Gavigan said...

NEV allowed on roads in Vancouver,

I am with VancouverIAM, a social media network in Vancouver and just completed a video about the NEV being allowed on the roads now. I interviewed a couple of members with VEVA.

Have a look at the video.

Link
http://www.vancouveriam.com/videos/2b2eafca2458


Sincerely,

Becky Gavigan