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What is it like to own an electric vehicle in B.C.?

Image of Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Josef Swart
Josef Swart of New Westminster has a bike rack on the back of his 2012 Mitsubishi iMiEV, a vehicle he says is the best thing he has ever bought.

Drivers weigh in... and it's a bona fide love affair with plug-ins

Surprisingly fast. Fun. Comfortable. Economical.

Drivers of three electrical vehicles – a Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and a Kia Soul EV – are all clearly blown away by their experience driving electric. All three can't imagine ever buying a gas-powered vehicle again, and all three list a Tesla as their dream car.

But then again, all three have found that their vehicles – even with their limited range – represent no compromise in their daily lives. That may not be the picture for those with longer commutes, who live in an apartment complex with no place to plug in, or who want an affordable, larger vehicle they can load up with camping gear. But for these three drivers, the choice is clear.

"I may come over as super excited about this," says Josef Swart, who has owned an i-MiEV since 2012, "but it's almost four years later and this is the best thing I've ever bought for myself, bar none. Not just the best car, but the best thing I've ever bought."

Before he bought the i-MiEV, Swart owned a Volvo station wagon and a Mazda RX-7. He thought he'd keep the Volvo around for long trips, but after three months, changed his mind and sold it.

"Once you get into an EV, you realize you don't need gasoline to drive," says Swart, who first used the i-MiEV to commute from Port Moody to work in North Vancouver. "It's simple as that."

Whistler's Paul Shore has kept his Volvo, but he's only three months into his ownership of a Nissan Leaf. And, amazed by the car's acceleration and low maintenance costs, he's already convinced that electric is the way of the future.

"My kids are little – they're 4 and 8," says Shore. "And I think it's a great opportunity while they're little to show them a cleaner way, a better way for the planet, especially for their benefit and their kids' benefit. I'm pretty sure my kids will never drive a gas car."

See also: Most B.C. drivers would consider an electric vehicle, but many lack basic knowledge

Image of Kia Soul EV and Hazel Rempel
Hazel Rempel relies on a combination of charging at home, and at her workplace in Richmond, to power her weekday commute from Abbotsford to Richmond in her KIA Soul EV.

But is it really practical to drive an electric vehicle?

Hazel Rempel bought a KIA Soul EV last year, based on the car's EPA-tested range of 149 kilometres between charges – more than enough to get her from her home in Abbotsford to her work in Richmond each day.

She admits to about two weeks of "range anxiety", but says she now knows her car well enough that she's never worried about running out of electricity on the road.

"It's a super comfortable car, and I absolutely love that I don't have to go to a gas station anymore," says Rempel. " And it's fun to drive, because it's got cool technology – for example, you're watching how much energy you're consuming with your [heater] on or how much you are regenerating when you're going down a hill. It makes the drive more fun because you sort of challenge yourself to drive more efficiently, because all the information is there on the screen. "

Rempel says electric vehicle drivers often refer to the range info screen as the "guessometer", as it constantly recalculates how far the battery will take the car, based on factors including the way the car's been driven and the outside temperature. Colder temperatures can affect batteries and significantly reduce an electric car's range between plug-ins.

"I've found on 20 to 24-degree days, my guessometer will be between 178 to 185 kilometres in range," she says. "And in the winter, when the days are short, I'm driving home in the dark and it's minus 6, I've got [the heater] on and everything going, that range might be 120."

In her job with Nedco, Rempel is in the business of selling electrical equipment to fellow EV owners. She also owns, with her husband, a hybrid Prius V, which isn't a plug-in hybrid, but relies on regenerative braking to charge a battery that kicks in to give the gas-powered vehicle much better mileage than a traditional vehicle. The couple uses the Prius for longer trips, as she says it can go up to 700 km between fill-ups and uses about five litres of gas to go 100 km.

Incentives, and lower maintenance costs, improve affordability

Rempel trimmed more than $8,000 off the purchase price of her KIA Soul EV by taking advantage of the $5,000 B.C. government incentive for plug-in electrics and an additional $3,250 she got through B.C.'s Scrap-it program, which pays you to scrap an older gas-powered vehicle to help toward the purchase price of an EV.

"We had an older model Caravan, and we figured we'd never get $3,250 for that vehicle, so we scrapped it," she said. "My husband was probably spending $75 to $80 every two weeks filling it up. Now our fuel costs have gone down signicantly because he's driving the Prius and I don't go to the gas station at all. The cost of our KIA – after incentives and before taxes – was about $30,000."

Rempel charges her KIA both at home, and at the Nedco office in Richmond, which has Level 2 chargers for employee and public use as the result of the Plug-in BC program that in 2013 offered incentives to companies installing chargers. Rempel says that, despite use of the chargers by the public, the electricity bill for the chargers at Nedco over two years was only about $800.

So how much does it cost her to charge her car at home? Rempel estimates that, with a 27-kilowatt-hour battery pack in the Soul, and BC Hydro's residential rate of around 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, you're looking at less than $3 to charge the battery pack, if it's fully depleted. "And that's peanuts," she says.

What most impresses Rempel, however, are the reduced maintenance costs of electric cars. There's no oil to change, there are fewer and less expensive maintenance visits to the dealership, and the ridiculously long life of brakes, as hybrids and plug-ins use "regenerative braking" for most of their braking needs.

When you brake in an electric vehicle, energy flows from the wheels to the batteries via the motor, and this regenerates the battery while slowing the car down. The car's traditional friction brakes are only used when the regenerative braking doesn't provide enough braking power.

"Even on my Prius V, which has 120,000 kilometres on it, I have 80% of my brakes left, because of the regenerative aspect," she says. " And it's going to be the same with my KIA Soul.

"A friend of mine drove a Toyota Camry Hybrid and got his brakes replaced at 280,000 kilometres, and this guy drives like a bat out of hell. My joke with him is that I bet I can make my brakes go to 300,000."

Image of the Swart family with their electric car
Nicky and Liané Swart head out for a drive in the snow in the family's Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

'We just jump off the line at a traffic light'

Asked whether there was anything they disliked about their electric vehicles, all three drivers we talked to came up with nothing – then quickly started rattling off all the great things their cars have to offer.

Josef Swart, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV driver, said his favourite day with the car happened after an overnight snowfall that had his neighbours digging out their cars and then sliding down the road. He was able to remotely turn on the defroster in his i-MiEV, then after a few minutes, jumped into a car and motored away.

"All my neighbours were scraping the windows, but my windows were clear," he recalls. "I got in the car and because the tires are so narrow – I have winter tires on it – it's just the best thing ever in snow."

Swart also finds it amazing that his four-year-old i-MiEV has such great acceleration, especially when he considers that "all other EVs are faster than mine."

That acceleration is the thing that takes almost all drivers by surprise.

"There are times here at Whistler where we just jump off the line at a traffic light," says Paul Shore, the Whistler guy with the Nissan Leaf. "And I can see pedestrians, or people driving beside us, looking at us as if 'What just happened? Little cars don't behave like that. But they don't realize, it's an electric little car."