A Driving Force

Long before electric vehicles (EVs) became an ordinary sight on roads across the country, Daniel Novy—whose last name, fittingly, means “new”—was an enthusiast. The Slovakian- born machinist and amateur auto mechanic read up on EV technology … then built his own e-car.

Technically, Novy’s project, completed in his garage over several months, involved replacing the internal combustion engine of a 1990 Honda CRX with a lithium-ion battery. He kept the original transmission, making his converted car different from most EVs, which have just one gear. *

 ALL CHARGED UP WITH PLACES TO GO

After driving his DIY EV for a couple of years and converting a second gas-powered car, Novy purchased a Chevy Spark. The Spark EV is a compact “city car” with a relatively small range (about 80 miles). Novy uses it for his 20-mile commute to work and even for longer road trips.

With a level-2 charging setup at his home and an ever-expanding network of public charging stations available to him, he’s entirely confident getting around on amps rather than gas.

And his enthusiasm for EV technology hasn’t fizzled. “The internal combustion engine feels obsolete,” says Novy. In contrast to its multiple components, with all their points of friction and potential failure, EV engineering is, in his view, simple, elegant, and—as a result—powerful. “You drive the car, and you feel like this is how it’s supposed to be,” he adds

GOODBYE, JIFFY LUBE

The simplicity of electric cars also accounts for their minimal maintenance requirements—and costs. Under normal circumstances, EV maintenance involves little more than topping up the washer fluid, putting air in the tires, and replacing wiper blades and tires when they wear out.

Because most of the car’s deceleration is accomplished by the electric traction motor (a process that transfers energy back to the battery), EV brake service intervals are very long. And, of course, EV drivers don’t need oil change reminders on their calendar.

ON THE HORIZON

Given Novy’s passion for innovation, it’s no surprise that he tracks ongoing developments in EV technology. He’s especially interested in ultracapacitors as power sources (think static electricity, rather than the chemical energy of batteries).

Ultracapacitors are more efficient and durable—and less toxic—than batteries. Current models are limited in terms of their energy storage potential; however, Novy anticipates that future versions will make EVs both easier to charge and more environmentally friendly. (EVs, despite their eco-benefits, come with environmental costs connected to production, operation, and disposal.) When asked about society’s transition to electric cars, Novy acknowledges that some car buffs might have a hard time giving up the grease and grit of old-school auto mechanics. But he’s convinced that most drivers, given the opportunity to try an EV, will be very happy with the experience.

THE COST COMPARISON

Many new EVs still carry a higher price tag than gas-powered vehicles, but they offer serious long-term savings. Here’s an example. Over the course of a year, a 2019 Chevy Bolt EV will cost you $450 for fuel (electricity) and $700 for maintenance while emitting 1,500 kg of greenhouse gases, on average. Those annual averages for a 2019 Honda Fit are $1,800 for fuel (gas), $900 for maintenance, and an eye-popping 16,000 kg of greenhouse gas emissions.

HOW FAR CAN YOU GO? 

V battery ranges vary, depending on the model of car and the driving conditions. Many models can travel more than 100 miles on a full charge, and some can go over 300 miles! Although cold weather reduces battery range (sorry, Alaska), coasting, braking, and parking in a patch of warm sun can all add bonus miles.

CHARGING 101

Of the four types of electric vehicles on the road today, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) require charging. Although cars can be charged using a regular household outlet, the process is slow (eight to 20 hours). Installing a level-2 charger at home or using a public charging station allows you to charge up in three to eight hours. High-voltage “fast chargers” get the job done in less than an hour.

A PRO WEIGHS IN

The main thing drivers notice the first time they sit behind the wheel of an electric vehicle is typically the silence. Without the familiar turning over and background thrum of a combustion engine, they wonder if the car is even on. But it is. And this silent powering up is part of an exciting transformation in the way we drive.We asked Paul Rivera, CEO of EV manufacturer ElectraMeccanica, what that transformation will look like in the coming months and years.

Who’s buying EVs? Is a particular demographic driving the growing trend?

“Buyers for electric vehicles aren’t as much a ‘demo’ as they are a type,” says Rivera, noting his company’s customers “span all ages and believe in their individuality.”

What’s the number-one reason people are making the transition to EVs? 

“People realize their personal impact on the environment, and they’re realizing that their contribution makes a difference,” says Rivera. “By driving an EV, they’re contributing in a small, personal way to a better future for the global community.”

What’s the next big change we can expect to see in EVs’ capabilities?

“Battery technology continues to progress at an incredible rate, and we’re looking forward to significant advancements in the rate that EVs will re-charge, along with the mileage they’ll be able to achieve. The future of battery longevity is very exciting.”

Heather Burt teaches literature and writing. She chauffeurs her dog in an electric car. Her second novel, Driving, is looking for a publisher. heatherburt.ca