Speedier charging of electric vehicles touted at Toronto auto show

TORONTO – High-powered charging stations may be popping up in a mall parking lot near you as Canadian companies look to expand the number of places hybrid and electric cars can stop and juice up.

The Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto features not only sparkling new cars and bold concept vehicles from the world’s biggest automakers, but also a handful of firms looking to plant a charging station in homes, along highways and other spots.

And while splashy TV ads and rave reviews from car critics may help get more drivers behind the wheel of a hybrid or all-electric vehicle, the upstart car-powering companies at the show say getting the charging infrastructure in place is crucial to fuelling sales of the eco-friendly vehicles.

Sun Country Highway founder and president Kent Rathwell is pointing to his company’s success installing several hundred of its dedicated charging stations from coast-to-coast along the Trans-Canada Highway as proof electric vehicles can go the literal distance alongside their gas-guzzling brethren.

Completed last year, the project to place free stations at businesses such as hotels and restaurants have made the Trans-Canada the “world’s longest, greenest highway,” he said.

To prove the concept, Rathwell drove the Trans-Canada Highway from St. John’s to Victoria in one chilly month late last year — the roadway’s 50th anniversary — in the 2012 Tesla Roadster. He stopped along the way to speak to media and also let the $125,000 electric car with a large battery tap into some juice at power stations sitting at intervals from five to 200 kilometres apart.

“We’ve eliminated all the preconceived notions about electric vehicles — range anxiety, can you drive them in the winter,” he said Thursday during a media preview of the auto show.

“We did that trip in the winter. It was minus 32 degrees in a lot of areas, the Trans-Canada was closed five times and we zipped through just before it was closed every single time.”

“The whole electric vehicle movement, which has been so up-and-down in the last 100 years, can now move forward. The common denominator as to why it hasn’t moved forward, in my eyes, is that the infrastructure simply hasn’t been in,” he said.

The company aims have dedicated stations across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia — Prince Edward Island is already wired — and on highways in all provinces from Quebec to British Columbia.

Other companies at the auto show were pushing the benefits of dedicated charging stations for the growing number of electric and hybrid cars with plugs for regular wall outlets.

Schneider Electric marketing manager Lorne Hedges said the higher voltage of the company’s $800 garage charger can cut recharge times dramatically — to 4 hours from 15 for the Ford Focus electric — letting someone whose come home from work with a drained battery sneak in a late-night movie.

He said the company expects to sell 1,500 residential and commercial chargers this year and is courting clients in government and business. Hedges estimates the total market in selling and installing the devices — an electrician is strongly recommended — at around $10 million.

Hedges said one of Purolator Inc.’s offices in Mississauga, Ont., has the stations, while Montreal is making the chargers more of a staple in the city.

And getting the iPod-white charger into designated spots at public parking lots is also a target, “so when the public goes around in their day-to-day business — when they’re shopping or visiting restaurants — they can recharge their vehicles and continue on with their day.”

“The more charging infrastructure that is (in) place then the more people are apt to move to an electric vehicle,” Hedges said.

The auto show opens Friday and will mark its 40th anniversary with the Canadian debut of more than 40 cars, SUVs, trucks and concept vehicles.

Among the concept cars ready to turn heads at the show is the Toyota Fun-Vii, which features an interactive outer surface drivers can dynamically adjust to show images or digitally paint through a slick tablet-style interface.