OPINION: The end of the gasoline era in Squamish?

We’ve been driving our first pure battery electric car, a 2019 GM Chevrolet Bolt, around Squamish for a couple of months now and it is liberating. I’ll never buy another fossil-fuel vehicle again, and here is why.

Remember, the four-stroke internal combustion engine in your car, motorcycle, boat or lawnmower is an antique from the Victorian era — in basic concept unchanged since its invention by German engineer Nikolaus Otto in 1876. 

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Pistons compress and explode fuel vapour to spin a crankshaft to drive a transmission to turn wheels.  Unfortunately, the fuel is expensive, whirling metal parts and the cooling, lubrication, ignition, charging and fuel systems demand constant maintenance, combustion dumps lethal gases and ear-shattering noise into the environment and the whole clunky deal is never more than about 30 per cent efficient.

Speaking as a car guy with 40 years experience building and repairing these filthy things, electric propulsion is just plain better tech.  It’s easier to live with, clean, cheaper to operate and maintain, more space efficient and even more fun to drive.  It will change your life.

For example, I no longer suffer the humiliation of pumping gas.  Instead, when needed, we plug in our car like a cellphone at night and it’s ready the next morning with 350plus kilometres of cheap electrons. If power sells for, say $.10 per kilowatt-hour, an electric vehicle will cost about $.016 per km. to run, as little as one-tenth of an equivalent gas car.

Wait, there’s more.  Electric vehicles have virtually no maintenance costs. The only items the dealer recommends for periodic replacement on the Bolt EV are wiper blades. I will never again book an appointment for an oil and filter change or a rad flush or spark plugs or a serpentine belt or a muffler.  Combustion engines have hundreds and hundreds of vital moving parts.  An electric motor has — one.

Even electric brakes last longer because of regenerative braking.  ‘Regen’ slows the car by using the motor as a generator, turning motion back into electricity and saving it to the battery pack, which in turn extends your range. When you brake a combustion car you turn momentum into waste heat; gas money lost forever.

Our short four-door hatchback is open and airy with lots of head and legroom and ample seating for five.  This is because a clean-slate design exploits the inherent advantages of electric packaging: batteries under the flat floor, no transmission hump, a deeper trunk in lieu of a fuel tank and a very compact motor drive unit.

I‘m a driving enthusiast so my car must accelerate and handle well.  If you are sceptical about electric vehicle performance, search YouTube for ‘Tesla vs. (insert supercar here)’.  Teslas beat exotics costing 10 times as much because electric motors make maximum torque, the twisting force that creates acceleration, at zero rpm.   Floor the Bolt when the light turns green and it leaps off the line, shoving you back into your seat and pulling hard without gearshifts, right up to the speed limit.

Electric vehicles are more genteel, virtually silent so conversations are living room relaxed and the audio is terrific.  I can remote-start the Bolt in our closed garage to pre-warm or cool the cabin without worrying about the exhaust. The garage never smells like ‘car.’

There are drawbacks; high initial price, limited product options and the scarcity of charging stations but these concerns will fade quickly.  What few folks realize is how this switchover will disrupt or even eliminate a lot of existing businesses and jobs.

We may not yet know the future of personal automobiles but the improbable contraption that is the internal combustion engine is overdue for retirement.  Like the mighty Royal Hudson steam locomotive in the Railway Heritage roundhouse, this impressive transportation achievement has reached the end of the line. 

Time to let it go.

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