Sun Country Highway Ltd. Founder and President Kent Rathwell and Vice President Christopher Misch stopped in Swift Current recently as they crossed Canada in an electric vehicle that happens to be one of the world’s fastest cars to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Trans Canada Highway and the 100th anniversary of the first cross-Canada trek by automobile in 1912. In the process, they have given Canada the world’s first Electric Vehicle, or EV, high-speed charging network, thereby making the world’s longest highway the world’s greenest highway as well.
The two innovators have driven an all-electric Tesla Roadster super car during an extensive month-long tour to demonstrate Sun Country Highway’s free public access charging network that links provinces served by the TransCanada Highway. The project required the corporate buy-in of partner companies and businesses as well as key provincial sites and municipalities to provide free charging stations at hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions along the #1 Highway. The nominal cost of electricity used to charge the vehicles is more than offset by the dollars their owners spend during their stopovers.
Rathwell and Misch stopped in Swift Current at Melhoff Electric on Dec. 13 for a four-hour layover to fully charge the Tesla. Kal Tire has also installed a charging station, and Peavey Marts across Canada are also on board.
The Sun Country Highway, as the project has been dubbed, incorporates more than 80 charging stations that were strategically placed every 100 to 200 kilometres along the Trans Canada Highway, with approximately 200 charging stations in total expected to be installed throughout all provinces by the end of 2012. That number is projected to increase to 1000 stations throughout Canada by the end of 2013.
This EV charging network gives EV owners access to the world’s fastest free Level 2 electric vehicle charging stations to facilitate coast to coast Canadian travel completely emission free.
“Our objectives are not only to reduce carbon emissions, but to show the world how renewable energies combined with sustainable forms of transportation can be the stimulus for the next industrial revolution,” explained Rathwell.
He swiftly debunks the three major criticisms of electric vehicles.
“They have distance issues? Well this one gets almost 400 kilometres per charge." That compares with a maximum of 80 kilometres per charge for a Chevrolet Volt.
"They have performance issues? Well this one’s pretty peppy. It’s one of the fastest in the world (3.7 seconds to 100 kilometers per hour). They’re ugly. Ugly? You need to see my car!”
In fact, the limited edition Tesla Roadster has sold out in North America, and the Tesla Model S sedan, the first premium sedan to be built from the ground up as an electric vehicle, and which seats five adults and two children, has claimed Motor Trend's Car of the Year for 2013 in their first-ever unanimous choice. Anticipating wide-ranging acceptance, Tesla Motors opened its first Canadian store in Toronto on Nov. 17.
Sporting winter tires, the Tesla Roadster has outperformed four-wheel drive vehicles in ice-rain and snow conditions in its cross-Canada journey, due to the strategic placement of its battery pack just forward of the rear axle.
“The 900-pound battery just right in front of the rear tires gives great traction,” said Rathwell. “In northern Ontario there were miles of traffic backed up and stopped because trucks were jack-knifing, and this car passed all the vehicles … straight up the hill and gone.”
All four wheels have systems to capture and direct the friction energy created by braking back to the batteries. Instead of an engine under the hood, there are reservoirs and cooling fans for the batteries, and a single wiper blade sweeps across the entire windshield.
“Up front is washer fluid, cooling fans, brake fluid. Pretty simple. For those who have a problem remembering to change oil, there isn’t any.”
Rathwell believes that Canada is now well positioned to lead the next generation of automotive manufacturing, saying, “It’s a whole new set of rules; that’s what we’ve launched.”
He bases his optimism on Canada’s reputation for being a country of friendly, caring people.
“In the electric vehicle sector, by adding that reputation, the fact that now we have the world’s longest and most powerful infrastructure at Level 2, now we can help drive the automotive sector. So for the first time in history of the world, the infrastructure is ahead of the automobile.”
Level 1 is a regular 110 outlet, and a typical charge would take about 24 to 48 hours. Level 2 is like a stove or dryer outlet, and uses about 4 hours of electricity to fully charge the Tesla. Level 3 is commercial.
“Level 3 is sort of the next phase, but Level 2 is where we’re focusing because most people can put in the Level 2 to make it convenient to plug in your vehicle where you go, whether it’s a grocery store or hotel." Rathwell envisions people charging their cars while they shop for groceries, attend a meeting or visit a museum.
“All the electric vehicles in North America can charge on our network, but … the EVs can now charge faster on our infrastructure than what they were intended, so by doing this we allow the automotive sector to advance their vehicles quicker because now the infrastructure is there for them to do that. It will ultimately help the average family put more money in their pocket and pay off their debt.”
Sun Country Highway chose to do the Trans Canada Highway installation without involving provincial or federal levels of government, and essentially “shut that debate down that’s been going on for over a century around the world, and just get it done.”
“We didn’t approach the provincial or federal governments at all, because it’s a new sector. We didn’t want them to have the risk, because if the government goes out and tries to do something positive, and it fails, it’s a liability because the opposition parties will typically attack them on it. Then the technology is attacked as well,” Rathwell said.
As is often the case with visionary ventures, Rathwell’s good intentions have led to a synchronistic new industry for Canada.
“Out of that good deed, we’ve come across incredible people, but also [US-based] VIA Motors’ V-Trux. They weren’t coming to Canada, and now they’re coming to Canada. They’re using Canadian technology, Canadian parts in the vehicles where they weren’t before, and they’re actually a better vehicle now.”
V-Trux are ERVs, Extended Range Vehicles that use an economical 4.3 L V6 combustion engine with VIA’s electric generator to create a gas powered or electric generating system. The combustion engine is connected directly to the electric generator to automatically recharge the batteries, and does not power the vehicle itself. Currently, VIA uses Chevrolet chassis to create extended cab truck, SUV and panel van ERVs. The vehicles themselves can supply power for construction sites and even homes. Some contractors are calling it "a portable generator that comes with a truck."
"Now western Canada will have ERVs that are built in western Canada.”
In his conversations with fleet managers across the country, Rathwell discovered they really aren’t very excited about hybrids, "but plug-ins they’re very excited about. They see payback periods very quickly on them, operational costs are substantially lower, and they can see it as a way to mitigate future budget increases. You plug it in every night, and the amount of fuel you use, it averages about 100 mpg. So municipal fleets are very, very excited about what is coming.”
Like his predecessor Thomas Wilby, the man who laid claim to being the first Canadian to cross Canada by motor car 100 years ago, Rathwell plans to pour the decanter of water he collected from the Atlantic Ocean in St. Johns Newfoundland on Nov. 17 into the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 21 from Victoria BC, 10,800 kilometres, thirty-four days and zero emissions later.
For people who understand the true scope of this accomplishment, Rathwell has a few cheering words.
“For those people, Merry Christmas. We’ve given them the longest, greenest highway in the world.”
On “12-21-12” Canadians can be the first nation to truly embrace a new world of automotive innovation. “Now it’s up to them whether they want to move forward with it or not.”
For more information about Sun Country Highway Ltd. and the TransCanada Highway project, or about EV chargers, visit https://suncountryhighway.ca. For more information about VIA Motors and Extended Range Electric Vehicles, visit www.viamotors.com. To learn more about other Tesla Motors EV models, visit http://www.teslamotors.com/en_CA/.