By MICHELE YOUNG
Three vehicles sit parked in the driveway of Gisela Ruckert’s Lower Sahali home. A Honda CRV, a Honda Pilot and a Smart Electric Drive.
As they say in Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the others.
Unlike the two Hondas, the Smart Car has two seats, a vivid red interior and an electric motor.
No gas engine, no spark plugs, not even an oil pan.
“I love driving this car,” Ruckert said Wednesday.
Ruckert said she vowed last spring she would buy herself a set of electric wheels by her birthday on New Year’s Day, 2014.
For someone involved with such environmentally conscientious groups as the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association (BCSEA), it shouldn’t be hard to do the research, pony up the cash and drive off into the sunset in a vehicle that has no emissions, right?
Several models aren’t available in Canada. Others, such as the high-end Tesla, are out of her price range. Yet others are being sold in Canada but the local dealerships don’t stock them yet.
Finally, she boiled down her research and availability to a two-seater Smart ForTwo Electric Drive sold through Mercedes Benz.
She put down a deposit in August and was promised delivery by mid-December. The car’s arrival missed that date, then missed her birthday deadline. With a lot of phone calls and help from the dealership, Ruckert got the deal done by Feb. 28, in time for a $5,000 provincial incentive for buying electric, and a $3,000 Smart Car rebate. Final cost was about $20,000.
The car itself arrived in late March. In less than a month, Ruckert has become a Smart Car convert and has discovered a camaraderie among other Smart Car drivers.
“It’s certainly a conversation starter.”
The car has a good-sized seating area for the driver and passenger and room for a few bags of groceries in the back — all she needs when running around town.
There’s no telltale noise to indicate the engine is on after the ignition key is turned. There’s an alien-like sound when the car backs up that lets pedestrians know the car is moving — it’s that quiet.
The car is so small Ruckert can pull a U-turn in the middle of the road (not that she would do that, of course) and have room to spare.
There is a gauge that indicates how much charge is left on the battery, the electric equivalent to the gas gauge. She estimated she gets about 120 kilometres per charge, which is plenty for in-town driving.
While Ruckert could have gone with a plain extension cord for charging Ed up overnight, she opted instead to put in a level-two charger that boosts the battery in three hours rather than eight or 10.
There are 12 charge stations around Kamloops; eight of those are at Thompson Rivers University. All but one of those dozen stations are level twos. The other is a DC fast-charge station at the Tournament Capital Centre that will ‘fill up’ a battery in half an hour.
Ruckert estimated the cost of ‘filling up’ her battery for 120 kilometres costs her about $1.38 for hydro — about the price of one litre of gas these days.
The other pluses she has discovered in the past few weeks of driving Ed are that she has no maintenance costs such as oil changes, parking is a breeze and there are no emissions because her car doesn’t even have a tailpipe.
“They’re just so much fun to drive,” she said. “This is a perfect second car.”
Ruckert will get a chance to show off her car even more this summer. BCSEA has been given three spots at the Hot Night in the City car show. Her Ed, the City-owned Leaf and a third vehicle will be on display to demonstrate what electric cars are actually like.
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Last year, the City of Kamloops installed two electric vehicle charging stations that are open to the public and free for use. The province and B.C. Hydro funded the stations.
One is at the visitor information centre, that requires two to three hours to charge an electric car, the other is at the Tournament Capital Centre and is a Direct Current (DC) fast-charging station that does the job in 30 to 60 minutes, said Shannon Hardman, the City’s sustainability program co-ordinator.
Now there are 12 such stations around town, set up by the City, some businesses, the university and even a couple of private citizens.
Those locations can be found on http://www.plugshare.com.
For its part, the City has added a Nissan Leaf to its growing fleet of emission-reduced vehicles such as hybrids and Smart Cars.
Hardman didn’t have the number of users of the City charge stations, as there’s a separate company in charge of overseeing them.
But they are getting used and the cost to the City is small, given the amount of power electric cars need to recharge.
“There is small cost for us, some hydro, but nothing tremendous,” she said.
“We’re excited about having options and having infrastructure in place.”
The Leaf has been put on display at various City events, and even a Kamloops Blazers game, so residents can get an idea of what electric vehicles are like.
“The Leaf is not City owned. It’s on a lease through a partnership with Nissan. It’s a two-year marketing partnership. The idea is the City is able to run the vehicle and the lease is provided by Nissan Canada, so it’s not costing the City anything,” said Hardman.
“It’s used to promote sustainable transportation. We’re using it to educate people on alternative transportation.”
When 60 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions in Kamloops are produced by vehicles on the road, any chance to demonstrate ways of reducing those gasses is worthwhile, she said.