So you want to buy an electric car?

Larry Newman

Which kind of electric car (EV) do you want? There are some variations. How about a:

Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) – a vehicle with both an electric motor and a gasoline engine. The electric motor can be charged while driving using the gasoline engine.

Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) – runs exclusively on battery power. Must be charged by plugging into an electrical outlet.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) – a hybrid electric vehicle that can also be plugged in.

Plug in Electric Vehicle (PEV) – includes BEV and PHEV.

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) – these vehicles use hydrogen-based fuel cells to power the electric motor, sometimes in combination with a battery. Not too many available yet.

The first modern EV may have been the CitiCar, first built in 1974, a 2.5 hp grocery getter that was produced until 1979. We’ve come a long way since then.

The most popular HEV has been the Toyota Prius, but market acceptance has improved, and there are many more choices in 2018, 18 at last count. There is a good site called that lets you compare 24 specifications of these cars with each other. Nine of the cars are actually PHEVs.

There are about ten BEVs on the market now and more coming in 2019 or 2020. Aside from cost, the critical feature of BEVs is the range, that is, the distance traveled before charging is required. The table below shows what range can be expected for these cars.


BEV Make & Model        Range in km

Nissan Leaf                                   240

Tesla 3                                           500

Jaguar I-Pace                                350

Audi E-Tron Quattro                  440

BMW i3s                                       180

Kia Niro EV                                  320-480

Hyundai Kona EV                       390

Chevrolet Bolt                             380

Volkswagen e-Golf                     200

Tesla Model S 75D                     415


PHEVs are a little different. These are hybrids that can also be plugged in for charging. Their electric motor or motors have a much reduced range in the order of 30 to 50 km. The exception is the Chevrolet Volt which can travel 80 km on the electric motor alone. The big advantage for city travellers, of course, is that one need hardly ever use the gas engine. And, because it’s a hybrid, there is no range limitation. As you will surely find out, however, there is a $$$ limitation. All EVs are still very pricey.

OK, you’re committed. You’re going to buy a new plug-in something—plenty of choices as can be seen on Once you decide, you’ll have to buy and install a charging station. Amazon offers charging stations varying from a $250 electrical cord and connector to much more sophisticated devices for $1000 or more. Some higher-price charging stations are waterproof for outdoor use and equipped with a meter for measuring electricity usage. Some can be read remotely.

Charging can be done at three levels. Level 1 is with normal house voltage (120V). Level 2 is with electric stove-type voltage (240V); charging with 240V takes roughly half the time as charging with 120V. Level 3 requires a multiple of 240V, so people living in ordinary buildings needn’t apply; these charging stations are part of a public network. Location maps are available on line. There are more than 25 public charging stations in Ottawa. Even with 120V, one can charge a small EV overnight. Level 2 seems to be the most common.

For those who own their own homes, the purchase of a simple power cable that plugs into a 120V outlet may be all that’s needed. There are a couple of “howevers” to this statement. The first is the case where no outlet is near enough to the car to be used. In this case, an outlet must be installed with a wire connecting it to the electrical panel. This requires an electrician and an inspection. The second is that, in talking with an electrician with experience in this field, I found that the inspector is quite likely to require the installation of another electrical panel if there is insufficient capacity in the existing panel.

Charging an EV in an apartment building or a condo that does not already have charging stations —and most do not—presents other problems. It’s only recently (Ontario Building Code, August 2018) that some new residential buildings (such as town house complexes) are required to have parking spaces equipped with charging stations. This does not apply to multi-unit apartment or condo buildings however. You’ve got to wonder why.

Condo corporations are very interested in making sure that charging an electric car won’t cost them money or affect other owners. Accordingly, they require signing a contract that specifies liability and responsibilities. Level 2 stations require 240V which means that a separate power cable must be installed. There is also the issue of electrical capacity. It requires an engineer to fully understand the electrical requirements and current capacity of a large building. That could be an expensive assessment. Condo corporations also may require metering the electricity so that the car owner pays the electricity bill, not the condo corporation.

It appears to me that EVs and Sandy Hill are a very good fit. Since 2014, Ontario has been generating electricity without its former coal-fired generators. So our EV will be using relatively clean electricity. Because we live near the centre of Ottawa, we won’t have to drive far to work or shop. That plays to the advantage of EVs as we will be operating within the driving range of most EVs.

Time to go electric?

Likely the first Electric Vehicle, the CitiCar was a 2.5 hp grocery getter produced in the  mid-1970s.