The Canberra branch of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association organised a very successful display of past, present and future technology associated with electric vehicles on Sunday 4 October 2009, on the lawns of Old Parliament House in Canberra. Being a car nut I would have gone anyway, but in my role as Chair of the ACT Light Rail Coalition, a public transport lobby group, I was manning a stall promoting light rail in the Capital region. This meant that I spent most of the day handing out leaflets and saying ‘yes’ a thousand times when asked if I really thought light rail would be built in Canberra.
There was an eclectic mix of people with an association with electric vehicles. This ranged from a gentleman who imported a Tesla, with plans to sell them locally, to homebuilt electric cars converted from internal combustion engined cars, brand new hybrids from Toyota and Honda, some vintage electric cars, and electric bicycles. There was even a Segway – and a homebuilt Segway replica. The full spectrum of the electric automotive world.
The crowds were quite strong all day. Although I was inside a tent talking up light rail for Canberra most of the time, when I did escape to wander it was obvious that several thousand Canberrans had come out to look at electric vehicles. I saw several local politicians and the media covered the event as well, although just film footage as the journos don’t work weekends in Canberra.
The homebuilt converted cars were fascinating. They were all ‘small’ cars and the conversions looked very neat. I was impressed with the Daihatsu that had a generator hanging on a sled at the rear of the car. This car was driven from Melbourne to Canberra, so it makes sense that a battery charging solution was required.
The engineering on these cars was outstanding. I was impressed that clear plastic was placed across the engine bays on some of them. The voltage and amps required to run the cars is significant – and dangerous.
I find it fascinating that instead of waiting for mainstream car companies to deliver electric cars, some people are creating their own solutions. Electric hot rods.
One of the other things that impresses me about electric cars is the lack of moving parts. By removing the heavy metal engine and replacing it with much lighter components, and far fewer of them, significant weight savings are made. This makes it easier for the electric engine to move a lighter load. It was interesting to compare the simplicity of the converted electric cars, to the complexity of the commercially sold hybrids.
There are very few Segways in Canberra, I believe there are regulations restricting their use on public streets. This hasn’t stopped one person making a homebuilt Segway. I wonder what it’s called.
This is a growing segment of the bike market. Most of the electric bikes on display were commercially manufactured, with a few modified from non-electric with a conversion kit. A conversion kit was on sale at around $900. When you factor in parking at around $35 a week in Canberra, this would pay for itself if you lived 10-15 km from your work place. I often see a rather tubby gent on an electric scooter zipping along William Slim Drive coming from Belconnen and heading towards Gungahlin, so I imagine the batteries are good enough for a 10-15 km round trip.
This is an impressive car. A private import, it is on a permit that does not allow driving on public roads or registration. A problem with ADR’s I believe. This car was the hit of the day, and was closely investigated by everyone who visited the EV festival.
Tesla engine bay
Interior (note left hand drive)
Tesla trunk/storage area/battery.
Tesla extension cord
With the road closed to the public, the Tesla made a few runs and it certainly had impressive acceleration. These runs were very popular as well.
Goy Motor Company
David Goy has a dream - to build an electric sports car in Australia. He has been working on this design for three years and is seeking capital to build a prototype. The car is impressively rendered, and looks great. It is a slightly cooler looking Australian version of the Tesla concept.
Although I have my doubts that the Australian market can support a dedicated electric sports car, the Goy Motor Company certainly present a compelling product. I would like to see the technology and design focus placed on a four door car and a commercial vehicle, as that is what would make his company profitable, but you cant deny how cool looking the sports car is.
As David and Anya manned the stall next the Light Rail table, I chatted to them several times during the day. He has an engineering background and boundless enthusiasm. I believe he will get his car built.
The commercially available hybrids were on show and actively marketed by sales people during the day. As the link between internal combustion engine vehicles and what comes next, hybrids work very well in solving the big problem with electric vehicles – battery power limiting vehicle range. As an engineering solution it is neat, using the advantages of both technologies to limit the disadvantages of both technologies. Hybrid technology can only get better. When I was in the states a few months back, I saw many hybrid taxis in New York.
Another engineering solution to tackle the range issue is the Better Place model. Better Place proposes building a network of recharging and battery exchange stations. These are the equivalent of today’s petrol stations. This would mean that the gent that drove his electric Daihatsu from Melbourne would not need to have a generator on board; he could drive into a Better Place station and exchange his depleted battery pack for a fully charged pack.
This seems like a good idea if the car is designed to have quick changeover battery packs. I would be concerned if the technology became proprietary requiring the use of a specific type of battery pack. The disadvantage here is that the electric vehicle industry may lock itself into a technology that is difficult to upgrade or evolve. Of course industry standards also bring advantages, knowing you can drive from Sydney to Melbourne without waiting 8 hours to recharge your batteries several times along the way could make the trade-off acceptable.
I discussed the proposed business model with Ben Keneally, from Better Place. The model would certainly work if you managed fleets of vehicles, and apparently the ACT Government has signed an agreement with Better Place and recharging points will be installed in the ACT.
Two amazing cars were on display - Detroit Electric cars from 1914 and 1917. These were registered and running, and gave some demonstration runs on the closed road. They attracted a great deal of interest from the crowds.
Imagine if the same level of technological refinement had occurred on electric cars over the last 100 years, that has been applied to internal combustion engined cars.
Light rail promotion
I attended the EV Festival representing ACT Light Rail, a public transport-lobbying group. Also manning the stall were Jon Reynolds and Ian Ruecroft. A few of the committee members did pop in during the day to say hello. We had maps of the ACT Governments proposed rapid routes, and brochures with information on light rail for the Capital region.
We also had a poster of a proposed light rail vehicle, designed by Ivo Ostyn of Strine Design . We received a very positive reaction from almost everyone who stopped to look at our material and talk to us.
Of the several thousand people that stopped by our stall, there were probably only three or four naysayers. Most people asked us if we thought we could actually achieve our aim. Overwhelmingly people were very supportive of light rail as a public transport alternative to buses in Canberra. By 3.30 we had exhausted our supply of brochures.
I enjoyed the EV Festival, and it was a very good way to promote electric vehicles and sustainable transport. I am glad that ACT Light Rail was associated with the event, and thank the organisers for inviting us to attend. We will be there next year.