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Charging their way across the continent

The race is a promotional stunt for Sun Country, which has about 500 charging stations set up across Canada

  • Electric vehicles

Electric vehicles are only good for urban and suburban driving, not for long jaunts. Right?

It is standard wisdom that, until batteries offer far more than their current 80- to 120-kilometre range, with much faster and easily accessible recharging, EVs won?t be fit for cross-province, let alone cross-country, trips.

Except, of course, for Tesla, whose $115,000 Model S is on its own high level.

CEO Elon Musk recently joined those who have driven a Tesla across the continent. In his case, it was a six-day family trip covering 5,100 km, with a total of nine hours hooked up to one of his company?s network of superchargers.

The other EV manufacturers have no such ambitions. BMW makes that explicit by calling its new battery-powered i3 the ?megacity vehicle.?

But then along comes Sun Country Highway.

As we speak, several dozen people are driving plug-in cars (and one truck) from Seattle, Wash., to Summerside, P.E.I., in what the company calls the inaugural ?E-Mazing Race.?

As of earlier this week, 35 had registered for the race ? many from B.C., the Prairies and the U.S. west coast.

But Sun Country vice-president Chris Misch expects to have about 100 on hand when the event concludes on Sept. 20 ? with most of the later entrants from eastern Canada.

Half a dozen entrants are at the wheel of plug-in hybrids, so there?s nothing unusual in them covering as much as 6,000 km: If their battery runs down, internal-combustion takes over.

I?m more interested in those doing the trip in a pure EV ? several Teslas, Nissan Leafs and a Toyota RAV4 EV ? and relying entirely on charging stations.

In part, the race is a promotional stunt for Sun Country, which has about 500 charging stations set up across Canada, mainly at hotels, restaurants, malls or other hosts, who buy them for about $2,200 to attract business.Pete

Participants score points for every charging station they visit, so some have designed wonky routes that bring them to as many as possible.

In any case, they need all the plugs they can find.

The chargers are high-powered versions of the 240-volt Level Two type, which can recharge the 24-kWh battery pack in a 2013 Leaf in just over three hours, or an older model in about six.

A Model S requires about nine hours for its 85-kWh pack ? no Superchargers here.

EV experts suggest drivers plan to travel no more than two-thirds of their car?s official maximum range between recharges. For the Leaf, that makes it about 100 km.

According to Google maps, it?s nearly 1,700 km from Toronto to Summerside, using the shortest possible route. At the speed limit, that?s 17 hours of driving and 17 recharging stops.

For a new Leaf, that means 51 hours of charging time. An old model would need to be plugged in for 102 hours.

So, travelling at all hours, and resting and eating only during recharging sessions, the trip would take three to five days.

In a top-line Model S, with 485 km of range, or an older Tesla Roadster, with 390, and the faster charging times, it?s much more manageable.

Misch has put 32,000 km on his Roadster during the past two years, including an epic drive from St. John?s to Victoria.

He wants to change Canadians? mindset about battery power.

?We need to dispel the myth that many EVs are urban cars, but rather show them that longer travel is possible,? he says. ?We?re trying to paint the picture that this is for everyone.?

There are, he admits, ?some very difficult places in Canada,? where his company?s charging stations are more than 200 km apart and a Leaf couldn?t make it.

He also notes that a few people who wanted to do the race coast-to-coast had to bow out, because they couldn?t afford to take three or four weeks off work.

So, clearly, long-distance has severe limits.

But there?s nothing wrong with dreaming.

wheels@thestar.ca

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