Since Nicholas Negroponte first came up with his landmark teething ring visualization of the coming together of communication, computing and content, the term convergence has become the uber buzzword. Now there’s convergence going on in the personal transport industry, with the car and the motorcycle morphing as car makers attempt to downsize their vehicles to make them better suited to the world’s increasingly crowded roads. This article begins with Nissan’s tandem two-seat, half width tilting car, the Landglider, and examines all the other work being done around the world as narrow track vehicles seriously begin to make their case.
You’d think a $2-million race-red Ferrari LaFerrari had just descended on Vancouver’s Olympic Village plaza.
Excited onlookers gathered quickly Thursday to take selfies standing next to the unique vehicle and to sit in the driver’s seat to embrace the cockpit-like ambience.
“Isn’t it adorable?” said one fancier.
“Where do you put the groceries?” asked another.
But the object of their affection wasn’t a hyper-expensive European luxury car.
It was the Sparrow, a $20,000, made-in-B.C., single-user electric vehicle with two front wheels, one rear wheel and a sort of covered-motorcycle appearance.
The Sparrow is just 2.7 metres long, 1.2 metres wide and weighs 578 kilograms. It has room for one person and comes with a small trunk that can carry about four bags of groceries.
There’s just one prototype vehicle on display now but ElectraMeccanica Vehicles Corp. founder Jerry Kroll said 14 more will be built at the company’s New Westminster plant this year, 120 next year and as many as 1,200 in 2017, when he plans to operate a new 200,000-square-foot assembly-line plant somewhere in Metro Vancouver.
“Eighty-three per cent of people drive by themselves in a four-person car, which is ridiculous,” he said. “Why do you think traffic and parking sucks? This will be perfect for the mission of commuting back and forth to work.”
Kroll said the vehicle is approved for highway use and has a maximum speed of 130 km/h. He said it can travel up to 140 kilometres on a single charge and it takes about four hours to fully charge the lithium ion battery when it is fully depleted.
Kroll, a 54-year-old Vancouver entrepreneur who races Formula Enterprise cars, has joined forces with Intermeccanica owner Henry Reisner to produce and market the Sparrow in a crowded electric-vehicle market.
Intermeccanica makes about 18 classic roadsters a year at its New Westminster facility.
Kroll and Reisner are raising about $2.25 million in private funding that will get ElectraMeccanica to the point where it will start building cars in a new facility.
The pair then hope to raise $40 million to $50 million through an initial public offering that could happen sometime in 2017.
Kroll said Abbotsford has shown a lot of interest in locating the car manufacturing plant within a 400-hectare high-tech industrial park in the city.
He said the Sparrow will sell for $19,888 and expects it will soon qualify for the B.C. government’s $5,000 Clean Energy Vehicle grant, which would bring the buyer’s cost down to $14,888.
Huge car manufacturers such as Tesla and BMW have invested heavily in the electric-car market and even Apple and Google are testing the waters of fossil-fuel-free vehicles.
So how can a small B.C. company compete with those giants?
Kroll said it’s all about finding a niche, claiming that if ElecraMeccanica can sell vehicles to just one-tenth of one per cent of the Canadian target market, that would work out to 14,000 car sales a year.
“That leaves 99.9 per cent of the market for anybody else,” he said.
Canadian auto industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers said the entire B.C. market buys just 300 electric vehicles a year, excluding hybrids.
“They’ll be going up against the giants of the world, so good luck to them,” he said. “Tesla hasn’t figured out how to be successful in British Columbia yet.”
DesRosiers said there’s still an “unquenching demand” in the market for more horsepower and when electric vehicles deliver that horsepower, it usually cuts down on the range that can be travelled on a single charge.
“I admire companies that are forging this territory but in my opinion, we’re probably a trillion dollars of research and development away from the (electric-car) technology being able to match the technology you get in an internal combustion engine,” he said.
False Creek Automotive founder Vern Bethel said the proposed 200,000-square-foot assembly-line facility proposed by Kroll would be the first car plant of its kind to ever operate in B.C.
Kroll was adamant that conventional vehicles are on their way out.
“If you do not see that the fossil-fuelled car is nearing its end, you’re not really paying attention,” he said. “Everybody knows that gasoline is bad. The only people who don’t want to drive an electric vehicle are the ones who haven’t tried one yet.”
Market slowly plugging into the advantages of electric vehicles
Talk to Jerry Kroll if you have any doubts about the fun and convenience of driving EVs. He’s a race-car driver and CEO of New Westminster-based ElectraMeccanica (smallev.com), which has just launched a prototype three-wheel single-person commuting EV called the Sparrow.
“E-cars make conventional internal combustion engine cars seem like a rotary dial phone or a fax machine,” said Kroll. (An electric car just set a world record for accelerating from zero to 100 km/h in 1.8 seconds.)
“Tesla is No. 1 in the world for lots of reasons: performance, safety, satisfaction, value. No other vehicle being sold today comes close, at any price.”
EVs have massive torque, no gears and few moving parts.
“An electric vehicle has the same maintenance schedule as your refrigerator. You plug it in, maintain tire pressure, washer fluid and keep it clean,” said Kroll.
“In 15 years being around electric vehicles, I’m not aware of anyone who bought an EV and then went back to gasoline.”
Kroll added that range is not an issue for owners, noting that 83% of Canadians commute less than 30 kilometres each way. OK, so they’re fun to drive, and cities are doing a lot to encourage them, but why are 47% of Canadians not even aware of how EVs perform?