Plug-in vehicles at Vancouver Auto Show hint at EV future in B.C.

Image of BMW i3
BMW claims that when it's zero-emission hatchback, the i3, is plugged into a Level 2 charger, it's fully charged in about three hours. And it only takes 20 minutes when connected to a DC fast charge station.

Auto show recognizes B.C.'s big appetite for electric vehicles

British Columbians are among the early adopters of alternative-energy vehicles, including electrics. So it was no surprise there was an electric component to the Vancouver International Auto Show held at the Vancouver Convention Centre in March.

But who expected that more than 20 vehicles at the show — roughly five per cent of all vehicles there — had electric capabilities?

The latest models of some popular plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) were on the floor, including the Chevrolet Volt hybrid, the For Focus Electric, the Nissan Leaf, and Toyota's plug-in Prius.

The current state of EVs in B.C.

There aren't too many EVs on B.C. roads yet, but the demand is increasing. And BC Hydro plays an important role, developing guidelines for charging infrastructure and providing information for those who may be thinking about getting an EV, including:

Image of Kia Soul EV
At the Vancouver International Auto Show in March, Kia announced the Soul EV, a zero-emission edition of its popular urban crossover.

Brand new EVs from BMW and Kia

BMW and Kia announced new EVs, with the latter revealing the Soul EV, a zero-emission edition of its sporty urban crossover.

The German auto manufacturer shone the spotlight on two EVs. The BMW i8 is a sleek machine with scissor doors that is a plug-in hybrid. It's a high priced, high powered sports car that can go from zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds.

While equipped with an electric drive on the front wheels and a turbo gasoline engine powering the rear wheels, the i8 can be operated using only the electric motor.

The BMW i3 is a zero-emission club car hatchback designed for everyday city use. The four-seater has two full doors and two coach doors that are hinged at the back and make it easier for rear-seat passengers to get in. It's more roomy than you'd expect, in part because the electric engine doesn't require as much space as a traditional combustion engine.

When plugged in to a Level 2 charger, the i3 can charge to full in about three hours, BMW claims. It only takes 20 minutes when connected to a DC fast charge station.

BMW also had its charging station, available for residential installation, at the show.

Taking alternative-energy vehicles for a test drive

Paul McGeachie, executive director of the show, said that some 850 people took the opportunity to test drive a variety of eco-friendly vehicles at the Green Ride and Drive showcase.

Vehicle manufacturers, he said in an interview, like to give people a chance to get into the cars, especially the models that have been developed in response to the growing call — by the general public and governments — for alternative energy vehicles.

Not all electric vehicles that are being manufactured were at the show, however. Among the missing models were the Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid and the Volkswagen E-Golf. And California electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla wasn't at the 2014 Vancouver Auto Show.

Third Eco-Run event taking place in B.C.

For the last two years, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) has staged the Eco-Run, a "demonstration drive" involving energy-efficient vehicles.

The route for the third event, being held from May 6 to May 9, 2014, will be from Vancouver to Whistler and back.

Journalist Clare Dear explained to media at the opening of the 2014 Vancouver Auto Show that the Eco-Run is "not a race or a competition" but is designed to show consumers what vehicular options are available to them, as well as how "a few simple changes in driving habits will help reduce fuel costs".

Dear, who leads the organization of the Eco-Run for AJAC, said that the B.C. exhibition will feature 20 vehicles from 12 manufacturers, and will include "pure electrics and hybrids, as well as fuel-efficient, gasoline-powered vehicles".

Along the route to Whistler, the vehicles will be put on display and the Eco-Run ends with a consumer show at the Vancouver Convention Centre, where there will be a driving simulator to help consumers learn how to drive with fuel efficiency in mind.

First Canadian Green Car Award to be presented in 2015

At next year's Vancouver auto show, the first Green Car Award will be presented as part of AJAC's Canadian Car of the Year program.

Kevin Corrigan is an automotive journalist and chairs the committee that will make the selection. In announcing the award to media, he said that the award stems from changing fuel efficiency requirements for new vehicles, as well as the fact that most automobile manufacturers have eco-friendly vehicles that can be considered for the award.

The Green Car won't necessarily be an electric vehicle, though. Corrigan noted that in Canada, a driver's location and principal use mean that efficiency is a subjective determination. While a typical city dweller is a good candidate for a fully electric vehicle, for example, those living in rural communities may not be. And businesses operating a fleet of limousines in urban environments have different vehicle needs than someone employed in construction.

Corrigan defined a green car as being, "a vehicle which, for its size and purpose, provides the consumer with environmentally-friendly returns favourable for its class". The key, he said, was that vehicles to be considered for the Green Car Award offered fuel efficiency and addressed environmental concerns.

The existence of the award, though, indicates that electric vehicles are becoming more noticeable, and more interesting. And British Columbia is leading the way.