‘Truck town’ motorists not so plugged in to electric cars just yet Northern Ontario
By Emma Meldrum
Jim Mascioli, owner of Timmins Garage in Timmins, displays a charging unit for powering up electric cars such as the Chevrolet Volt. Mascioli says a lot of consumers are shying away from electric cars due largely to misconceptions about their limited range.
TIMMINS – An owner and a salesman of electric vehicles say that a lack of charging stations in Northern Ontario isn’t what’s holding people back from buying electric cars.
Jim Mascioli has seen a few Chevrolet Volts leave the lot at Timmins Garage.
“Timmins being a truck town, it’s not like we sell a hundred of them a year. We do deliver about three to four a year,” said Mascioli of the electric car, which also has a gas generator.
“The thing now, with the environment, carbon taxes, with shortages of overseas oil, the electric cars have been making a great leap forward.”
But, he said, a change of mindset is needed for the vehicles to grow in popularity.
“The problem with electric is people have range anxiety. Get in the car in the morning, I don’t know how far I can go with it. There’s a lot of technology in vehicles to tell you how far you can go, where the nearest charging station is, what your driving habits are doing to the energy consumption in them. It’s a whole different way of driving.”
Mascioli said electric cars come with home charging stations – so there’s less of a need for public chargers throughout the city.
“The biggest thing is, up here, we’re still truck country.
“The charging stations are not what is holding it back. It’s the perception of the price on it and the fact of up here, in rural communities, people are still truck people. It’s not the vehicle of choice. We’re selling a lot of diesel trucks and diesel SUVs because of the fuel mileage they get.”
Terry Laporte drives a Volt and is a big fan of the vehicle, which has an electric drive unit as well as a gas generator for when the battery runs low.
He said there’s a lack of understanding about vehicles like his.
“I think they don’t understand the technology, first of all – and I don’t either, I’m not an engineer. I don’t think they realize the potential savings to themselves.
“I don’t think they believe they’re going to save that much money.”
Laporte hasn’t been to a gas station since April.
“I’ve always been a gadget man,” he said. “As I got into more and more research, I’d ask my son a thousand questions. Finally, he says, dad, the Volt’s been out four or five years — buy the Volt.”
He drives from Kamiskotia to work and back every day on the electric battery, recharging overnight when electricity rates are off-peak.
He said for publicly-funded electric car chargers to really work, they would need to be located at hotels or at malls. He said stopping to charge a vehicle mid-trip doesn’t really make sense.
“When I get to my destination, yes, I would like to be able to charge at the hotel. Does it have to be a fast charger? Not really, because I’ll be parked there for eight hours anyway.
“If the charging station isn’t convenient for the customer, just having it there doesn’t mean anything,” Laporte said. “They’re not going to sit there and read a book.”
A lack of charging stations in Northern Ontario was brought to light recently in a letter to the editor published by The Daily Press June 19, in which the writer alleged the provincial government had cancelled investments in charging stations in Kapuskasing, Hearst, Sault Ste. Marie, and other Northern locations.
“The entire province of Ontario is to receive nearly 500 chargers and only 14 for the North,” wrote Laurent Boileau. “Why? Northern Ontario represents approximately 6% of the population. If we would receive our fair share of chargers that would be 30 units, not 14.”
Provincially-funded chargers are part of the EVCO program – Electric Vehicle Chargers Ontario. There are few north of Gravenhurst, with none between Timmins and Thunder Bay. Timmins is set to receive one of these chargers, but already has four, installed independently by businesses, around the city.
A spokeswoman with the Ministry of Transportation did not respond to questions from The Daily Press about the cancelled charging stations.
She wrote in an email that “our goal remains to create a comprehensive network” and “while program details remain under development, MTO is seeking to address additional charging needs based on the feedback we have heard, including in the Northern regions.”
The spokeswoman stressed that the 2017 provincial budget committed $22 million to building additional electric vehicle charging stations across Ontario.
“When the EVCO program is fully operational there will be over 1,000 chargers in our province.”
Laporte feels confident that “10 years from now, everybody’s going to be driving electric.”
He said he plans to drive it to Florida during his next vacation, where there are hundreds of chargers in Orlando and area, most of them free to use.
Mascioli said technology is advancing quickly. The Chevrolet Bolt, an entirely electric vehicle, is selling well in Canada.
“The technology is ahead of what’s coming out from Tesla, and it’s here now, and it’s cheaper than what the Tesla will be. There’s a lot of people that are very techie and like that type of vehicle, so that market has had a niche and it’s been satisfied with the Bolt.”