Electric backers hope to give folks a jolt

THE pride and joy of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association is its 1912 Detroit Electric - yep, you read that right, a 100-year-old electric car. Take that, Nissan Leaf.

The machine in question had a range of about 160 kilometres originally, and was once stored in the basement of the Empress Hotel in Victoria, ready to leap into action at any moment to ferry its wealthy original owner about town without any of that tricky Model T pedal work.

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Today the car lives in the Stave Lake hydroelectic dam, and the original nickel-iron batteries have been replaced with lead-acid ones, reducing the range to a still-respectable 60-80 km. If you'd like to clap eyes on the thing, why don't you mosey on down to this year's ElectraFest, held at the Concord Pacific lot, just east of BC Place.

It's free, in case you were wondering, and all sorts of other electrified transportation will be there, from the lightning-quick Tesla Model S to the aforementioned Nissan Leaf, to electric bicycles, to battery-powered skateboards and plug-in hybrid work trucks - I think someone's even bringing an electric unicycle. The atmosphere will be. .. exciting. Ha! Thought I was going to say "electric," didn't you? Not to worry - I displayed considerable. .. resistance.

Sorry.

Anyway, some of you may be saying, "Oh who cares? A clunky old relic and a bunch of niche products designed to appeal to engineers with pocket protectors." Now hang on. I did mention the Tesla was going to be there, right? Perhaps you've heard of it: seats seven, shows its taillights to a Dodge Viper down the dragstrip.

Furthermore, Vancouver is something of an electric vehicle hub.

Yes, some of the backyard conversions aren't really going to appeal to you unless you've got a bit of Mad Scientist in your blood, but our unique hemmed-in geography makes the electric vehicle a much more practical proposition than someplace like Calgary.

The VEVA first officially formed in 1988 and has been spreading the gospel of EV machinery ever since. Their membership is highly active at any car show you'd care to name, and they're often out and about with that 1912 Detroit, as well as any of the numerous conversions and/or factory-built electric vehicles that members own. Why? It's simple really. While the internal combustion engine still rules the road, the practical drawbacks of electric vehicles (availability, range, ownership know-how) are rapidly falling by the wayside. In fact, the only impedance (again, sorry) to more widespread ownership is prejudice.

As with any other subject, the best weapon against prejudice is education, and the VEVA is certainly all about that. Buttonhole any member and they'll happily explain the cost-benefit analysis of electric vehicle ownership, the clear advantages, and the minor annoyances. They'll outline the increasing ease of finding charging stations (a database is maintained on their website), and the reducing cost of actually buying a commercially available, dealersupported electric car.

And, what's more, you'll be inducted (induction! That's another pun! Sorry.) into a club with an active, supportive membership that's as close-knit-yet-welcoming as the classic car association of your choosing. It's not all nerdy do-gooding either, most of these guys and gals are basically hot-rodders - they're just using lightning rods instead.

But that's not to discount the environmental advantages of vehicle electrification. Most of British Columbia's power is cleaner than our Eastern cousins, and with Vancouver rated the second most congested city in the world, a line of internal-combustionengined cars parked idling for blocks and blocks on Georgia Street on a hot Friday afternoon is just plain wasteful. I love the sound of a V-8 roaring as much as the next guy (unless I'm standing next to David Suzuki) but the cruel realities of city traffic mean you're just burning dollars better saved up for a track day or a road trip up to Lillooet.

Not that the electric vehicle is a panacea, by any means, but we've reached a sort of tipping point, particularly with the Tesla, which has made battery-powered motoring seem cool again. The Leaf, i-MiEV and Focus EV make the electric car lifestyle accessible for the city dweller, the Prius plug-in hybrid and the Chevy Volt give you electric power without the worries of getting stranded, and as the consumers come around, so do the companies. Heck, even Porsche's latest supercar plugs into the wall for part of its power.

So head down on Saturday (things kick off around 10 a.m.) and get a good look at where our changing driving landscape might be going. You might be shocked at how far the electric car's come in the last few years and hey, it's always good to stay current.

Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast.

Contact him at mcaleeronwheels@gmail.com.

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