Steve Lafleur: Seeing the future with a trunkful of gourds
I hadn't given any thought to making this multi-stop road trip in an EV. But when the opportunity arose, I figured, hey, sure
By: Steve Lafleur
A friend of mine got married in Niagara recently. I live in East Toronto and don't own a car. Getting out to a winery in the middle of nowhere seemed impractical by mass transportation. So, off to Hertz I went!
I was on a tight schedule. Car reservation was at 9 a.m. Lunch reservations at 1:30. Check-in at 3 p.m. Ceremony at 4. About 2 and a half hours of driving in total. The next day we had a few wineries to stop by, and more lunch plans. We also needed to find gourds. Many, many gourds. Oh, and we had a show in Toronto the next day at 7:30 p.m. (Shakespeare – Macbeth, maybe?). There was not much wiggle room in this itinerary.
I got to Hertz a few minutes after 9, texting my significant other to let her know we were more or less on schedule. While I was texting the Hertz representative asked if I'd like to upgrade to a Tesla. I didn't realize they'd already started rolling out Teslas. I assumed they'd be caught up in supply chain delays. I hadn't thought about whether I'd like to do a five-hour road trip with an electric vehicle with no planning to figure out where charging stations were, how much time I'd need to charge, and so forth.
This wasn’t my first electric car rodeo. A few years ago a friend (and Tesla evangelist) whipped me around Los Angeles to prove to me how powerful they are. When you hit the gas — rather, electricity — acceleration is instant. When the driver really steps on the pedal, it can take the wind out of you. They're impressive machines, so I wasn't concerned about performance. And I know perfectly well that people who own them and have home charging stations can live their lives like any driver. But with no room in my schedule and no planning, would I regret this?
I decided to find out.
In some respects, these were ideal conditions to test an EV. The weather was forecast to be warm, so running battery-draining heaters wasn’t going to be necessary. We weren't going too far. But in other respects, conditions were not ideal. I didn't have much time to waste and I don't know the Niagara region all that well (it’s more of a stop on the way to Buffalo for me, a non-wine drinker). And I really didn't want to be the guy who bumps into the bride as she’s walking down the aisle. (Not again.) But my curiosity won out.
Figuring out the gas situation is normally the worst part of the car rental experience. Would you like to prepay for a tank of gas with a discount (will I use that much?). Where is the nearest gas station? Can I get this thing back on fumes? Should I just say to hell with it and return it lower than the three quarters of a tank I got it with and pay like three bucks a litre for the difference?
The EV calculation might be annoying for a cross-country trip where you need to charge multiple times. But for a shorter trip like this, it was a non-event. I didn't actually need more juice (a Toronto to Niagara round trip with some stops was within range of a single charge). But I did notice there was a hotel charger, so I tried it out while getting coffee. It wouldn't have been practical for a fill-up. The estimated time to fill was two hours and fifteen minutes (from 58 per cent). But I got a few drips and drabs of battery life while having my morning coffee — much like how you pop your phone on the charger here and there rather than emptying and filling it all at once. I also stumbled upon an open charging space at a vineyard. Good wine is lost on me. So while my partner sampled the wares, I set up the charge and checked on it now and then. An hour on the charger did it good. It kind of felt like stealing.
This got me thinking about how when (not if) chargers are more widespread, designated fuel trips might become a thing of the past, outside of emergencies. Even during a long road trip, you probably need lunch. So have a bit of dessert and let it charge a while longer. Beats having to find a gas station after lunch or on the way to return a rental car.
Electric vehicles, like many things nowadays, annoy some people across the spectrum. Some conservatives worry about green jobs displacing conventional energy jobs. Some urbanists worry that curing one problem (tailpipe emissions) will leave others unsolved. Cars, after all, have good sides and bad. They can deliver you a pizza as easily as they can mow down your family.
So yes, while they won’t make everyone happy, I have no doubt that EVs are here to stay. We’re going to just have to figure out how to live with them. Because we’re not ready. We don’t have the charging infrastructure in place, we don’t have the energy mix we need to make sure they’re actually slashing emissions, and we’re still working on the whole pedestrian safety thing. We don’t need to solve all of these things right now. But these aren’t future problems. We need to work on these things now.
I dropped off the car without having to prove to anyone that I'd returned it with precisely the right amount of gasoline, then I grabbed an Uber. It was powered by an internal combustion engine — how quaint! I arrived at the show with 30 seconds to spare (turns out it was Merchant of Venice). A good time was had by all, and I ruined neither the wedding, nor the show. And we came back with a trunk full of edible gourds. Thanks, Hertz!
Next time, I’ll probably give slightly less thought to whether I want the Tesla. And eventually, I probably won’t think about it at all. The future is coming, whether anyone wants it or not. We should start grappling with the challenges now, instead of waiting for them to run into us.
Steve Lafleur is a public policy analyst and columnist with a over a decade of experience working at Canadian think tanks.
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