The car of the future, today
Local businessman drives one of first Tesla electric cars in province
By: Kevin Ma
| Posted: Saturday, Feb 16, 2013 06:00 am
The future is electric, and a St. Albert businessman is driving it.
Ron Simonsmeier, the president of St. Albert’s Alberco Construction, recently took the Gazette on a test drive in his Tesla Model S electric car – a scarlet speedster that glides with eerie silence over the winter snow. It’s one of the first to arrive in Alberta, and easily one of the fastest electric cars on the world market.
The Model S is a luxury car that made waves in the auto world recently for winning the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year award. It’s the first car in the award’s 64-year history to not have an internal combustion engine.
The car was built by the U.S.-based Tesla Motors, which also built the world’s first all-electric sports car (the Roadster) about seven years ago.
Simonsmeier says he’d been interested in electric cars and Tesla Motors for many years, but found the Roadster too small for his tastes. He got the Model S late last year, and has already logged about a thousand kilometres on it this winter. As far as he knows, it’s the only Model S now on the road in Alberta.
The car has the seating capacity of a sedan (five to seven, compared to two for most Porsches) with the handling of a Corvette, Simonsmeier says.
It’s also wicked fast. It has 416 horsepower, reports Car and Driver, and can go from zero to 100 in about 4.6 seconds.
As he demonstrates, it can add 70 kilometres an hour to its speed in about six seconds – and that’s without nailing the accelerator to the floor. “No delay. It’s instant power.” No ugly, growling engine sounds either – you just hit the accelerator and whoosh!
Best of all, it has zero tailpipe emissions – and zero tailpipes. “I’m not polluting the environment I’m living in,” he says. If he were to buy green power through a group such as Bullfrog Power, his car wouldn’t be polluting the air at all.
“Electric cars are the future for our environment,” he says.
Simonsmeier’s car will be one of about 50 non-gasoline-powered vehicles on display this April at the Solar Energy Society of Alberta’s Future of Transportation conference.
About 32 per cent of St. Albert’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, the city’s Office of the Environment reports. If the city is to meet its 2020 emission reduction targets and stave off climate change, it will have to green the way its people drive.
Electric cars like those made by Tesla offer several advantages, says Rob Harlan, executive director of the Solar Energy Society of Alberta.
They have zero tailpipe emissions, which reduces smog-causing pollutants, and very low fuel and maintenance costs, as they are super-efficient and lack the complex filters, valves and other parts of gas-powered cars. They’re also very quiet, as they don’t have any roaring pistons or pipes.
Even with Alberta’s coal-heavy power grid, Harlan says electric cars are so efficient that they produce about the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as a hybrid car (i.e. half those of a regular car) when used here. When powered by wind, water or other clean sources, an electric car produces zero emissions while in operation.
We have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels if we are to address climate change, Harlan says. “Electric vehicle technology has the potential to provide the transition to a carbon-free future.”
The Model S looks a lot like other luxury cars at first glance: low, sleek and aerodynamic, with leather seats. First timers might be taken aback by the door-handles, which retract while the car is in motion to reduce drag.
The first thing you notice once you step inside is the lack of buttons and levers – there’s only a handful on the wheel and two on the dash.
“Everything in the car is controlled from this screen,” Simonsmeier explains, pointing to a touch-screen the size of two iPads on the centre console. The screen has built in navigation, Internet, music and video, and lets you open the trunk and hood.
You won’t find anything under that hood, though – the car’s engine is so small that it fits in the undercarriage, Simonsmeier explains, so the front of the car acts as a “frunk” for storage.
You start the car by tapping the brake, Simonsmeier says – there’s no key to turn or motor to grind. (The car won’t run unless it detects a car-shaped key fob carried by the driver.)
The car makes no noise while in motion beyond the crunch of snow under the tires – not even at highway speeds. “Weird, huh?” he quips.
He doesn’t miss the roar of conventional engines, he adds. Punch the accelerator in his regular car, he notes, and “the engine revs up, makes a whole bunch of noise, and nothing happens.”
Do that in the Model S, and you’re instantly flung back into your seat by the g-forces and hitting three-digit speeds in seconds.
The Model S is definitely not for the average buyer, Simonsmeier says, as it costs $60,000 to $100,000. That’s about the same price as a Porsche or BMW, he adds, for about the same level of performance. “The cost is in the batteries,” he says, which are coming down in price every day.
While cost is an issue for electric cars, Simonsmeier says the biggest problem is range anxiety – the fear that the cars will run out of power before they get to their destinations.
The Model S can go about 400 kilometres on a charge, Simonsmeier says – equivalent to 100 miles per gallon and far more than what most people drive in a day. “For commuting around the city, which is 90 per cent of my activity, it’s perfect.”
As for running out of juice, this particular model can recharge from any wall socket. “I leave home with a whole charge every day,” Simonsmeier says.
Simonsmeier has also installed a rapid charging station at his company headquarters in Riel Park, and says anyone who owns an electric car can use it free of charge. He hopes to donate a second station to the City of St. Albert soon.
The cash and commercial appeal generated by cars like the Model S and the Chevy Volt will give electric cars a boost, Harlan says, but we’ll need to see more infrastructure in the form of charging stations before they really get moving. Germany and California already have a substantial number of such stations, he notes.
We’re going to run out of gasoline eventually, Simonsmeier says, and electric cars eliminate much of the pollution associated with transportation. “I believe in electric cars,” he says, and driving one is his way of bettering the environment.
“Seventy-eight per cent of people drive less than 40 miles (64 kilometres) a day,” he says, citing research by the U.S. Department of Transportation. “This would make total sense for them.”
The Future of Transportation conference is this April 27 at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s downtown campus. Visit solaralberta.ca for details.