Driving has become Electric!

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I recently bought a new car.  Not just to be environmentally conscientious, but also to lower my expenses, I decided to be an early adopter of new technology – I bought a plug-in hybrid vehicle.  Because of the size of my family, as well as my budget, there were only two options available to me, although there are many other options from the tiny and fully electric Nissan Leaf to the massive Toyota Highlander hybrid, just to name a few.  After weighing all of my options and looking at my budget, I settled on a Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid.  It had a decent electric range (~43kms) and a reasonable price.  The best thing about it was the $8460 rebate I received from the Ontario government for buying the car! Prior to buying this car, I was spending between $40 and $60 per week on gas, even though I had a small hatchback which was reasonably good on gas.  That worked out to be about $2600 per year on gas.  With the rebate from the government and less gas, I was hoping to save money (it costs about 80% less to run a car on electricity than gas, although the electric or plug-ins are a lot more expensive up front).

Let’s talk briefly about how the car works.  My Hyundai has so many drive options compared to my simple hatchback.  I can drive in regular mode, during which my car can crank out over 200 hp, or in eco mode, during which it cranks out so little power that it’s hard to get up a decent hill without slowing considerably, but gives me great gas mileage (about 900 km per tank).  I can drive it in fully electric, which also results in very low power.  That is the mode that I prefer the most because it saves the most on gas, but I have definitely had to change my driving habits as a result: I’m always in the slow lane now!

Another thing to consider is the way the car divides up the tasks of powering the wheels and powering all of the other features of the car (e.g. heat/cooling, radio, lights, etc.).  The car has two batteries for this purpose: a lithium-ion battery to power the wheels and a traditional, lead-acid battery to power all of the car’s features.  When the lead-acid battery is drained by heating or cooling the car (those are the tasks that use the most power for this battery), the gas engine turns on to charge up the battery, even when you are trying to drive in all electric mode.  Running the engine at all, even if it is to power the lead-acid battery, uses up a fair bit of gas, although nowhere near as much as driving the car on gas.

I bought my plug-in in the beginning of winter, when it was very cold, so the heat was on, as was the steering wheel heater and the seat heater.  This used up a lot of the lead-acid battery’s charge, so the gas engine would be on for the whole trip typically.  Driving like this, I got about twice as much mileage as my previous, smaller car (about 1200 km on a tank of gas vs. 600 km on my old car).  Once the temperatures began to rise in the late winter, however, I no longer needed as much heat in the car and the gas engine rarely kicked in at all.  This resulted in a huge increase in efficiency and I was then going about 3000 km before I needed to fuel up – more than 5 times as efficient as my old car!  I can also charge up at a parking lot with charging stations about a block from my work, as well as at the Go Transit station when I have to get into Toronto by train.  I have now become obsessed with fuel efficiency and pushing the electric motor to its limits (I drive slowly, everywhere, I coast down hills, which charges up my battery, I drive slowly up hills to limit the battery discharge, I accelerate very slowly, etc.).

Bottom line is that I love my new car and am proud to be testing out an emerging technology.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that Hyundai will continue to offer this car, as it did not sell well.  There are many other options, however, and I would encourage everyone to try out a plug-in hybrid! It is better for the environment (94.2 % of Ontario-generated electricity was carbon-free, according to one website), it’s better for your bank account and it is incredibly fun!

By Jonathan Paynter

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