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Kent Rathwell (left) and Christopher Misch (right) are crossing Canada in a Tesla Roadster. Bert Hickman, president of Hickman Chevrolet Cadillac in St. John's, joins them at the launch. (Sun Country Highway)
Kent Rathwell (left) and Christopher Misch (right) are crossing Canada in a Tesla Roadster. Bert Hickman, president of Hickman Chevrolet Cadillac in St. John's, joins them at the launch. (Sun Country Highway)

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Free EV chargers installed along the Trans-Canada highway Add to ...

Executives of a Canadian company that distributes electric vehicle chargers are crossing the country in a Tesla Roadster to show off the network of free 240V chargers the company has installed along the Trans-Canada highway.

Kent Rathwell, founder and president of Sun Country Highway, set off last weekend from St. John’s, carrying a jar of Atlantic sea water to be deposited in the Pacific when he and SCH vice-president Christopher Misch complete their journey in Victoria around Dec. 20. The jar of water substituted for the original plan of dipping of the car’s wheels into the Atlantic after the two men checked out the slick ramp to the Atlantic. “We didn’t want the drive to end before it started,” Rathwell said in a phone interview this week.

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The wet weather and slick ramp were not the only potential hazard the two encountered in Newfoundland in Rathwell’s low-slung electric Tesla Roadster, which has an EPA rated range of about 356 km, or more than double most “mainstream” EVs like the Leaf or Ford’s electric Focus. “We managed to make it through before a rock slide came down that hit the road with rocks the size of pickup trucks.”

A map for the entire network is under wraps until its official unveiling when the month-long journey is completed in Victoria just before Christmas, though a company release about the drive launch noted that SCH partnered with “over 80 leading Canadian businesses and tourism destinations.”

But since the Level Two stations donated by SCH are now up and running, many have been identified, mapped and discussed among EV owners already, including one at the Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa and another at the Hilton Garden Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., which is about a 10-minute drive from Niagara Falls.

“We haven’t focused on the urban cores,” said Rathwell, which is where most electric vehicle infrastructure is currently located or planned. “Our model is to do the tough stuff first, and with no [direct] provincial and federal government funding.”

He credits the host locations for picking up the costs of installing the chargers SCH donated, which surprised him, as his plan was originally to fund it all. “Many of the people we spoke to had never seen an electric car, and some didn’t know they were already available at dealers.”

Rathwell says the 60- to 90-amp chargers help charge vehicles like the Tesla quicker than most L2 chargers, while it also future-proofs the stations to be able to charge faster in the years to come. He’s hoping the growing network will encourage more manufacturers to come out with more advanced EVs that can take advantage of these higher capability chargers, and more plug-in vehicles in general, and consumers to consider taking their own cross-country drive with their own plug-in vehicles as well.

“I can’t think of a better Christmas present I could give to Canada,” said Rathwell. “With this highway, we’re trying to help folks discover their country in an economically and environmentally responsible way.”

Car pricing site reveals discounts

Canadian auto pricing site Unhaggle.com released its findings of the best factory discounts on sub-$60,000 vehicles recently; the largest was a $9,000 cash discount on 2012 Acura MDX models.

All five top discounts were for cash purchases, or for consumers who arranged financing elsewhere. Close behind was the perennially discounted Dodge Caravan, with eye-popping discounts of up to $8,100.

Deals such as these have whipped the new-car market into a buying frenzy lately, with last month being the best October on record, and 2012 being on track to beat the overall new-vehicle sales record of 1.7 million set in 2002, when a low Canadian dollar prompted dealers and consumers by the thousands to purchase vehicles here that went directly to the United States, according to a recent sales report by auto consultant Dennis DesRosiers.

Other deals were on 2012 vehicles that have been or will soon be replaced by all-new vehicles, such as the Mazda6 with a $7,000 rebate, the 2012 BMW 3-Series with up to $5,000 in factory discounts, the Nissan Sentra with a discount of up to $4,750, and the Toyota RAV4, with up to $4,000 in factory rebates.

“Dealers are also offering aggressive discounts on top of the incentives, too,” Radek Garbowski, co-founder of Unhaggle.com, which offers free Canadian invoice pricing, said in a statement.

“Though as consumers scoop up these great deals before the year-end, they need to move quickly and remain flexible on their options and colour choices as inventory dries up.”

Two e-hatches to debut in L.A.

The Chevrolet Spark EV and the Fiat 500e will both be shown at the Los Angeles auto show next week, but only the Spark EV will make it to Canada in 2013, with Fiat saying only that its electric hatchback will come to California in 2013.

The Spark EV will launch in the summer in the United States as the affordable performance EV, with 130 hp, a huge 400 lb-ft of torque, and weighing about 400 lb more than the regular 2,337-lb (1,060-kg) Spark.

Though GM is keeping some stats general until its official debut, it will offer a 20-kWh-plus battery pack that will provide the car with about 117 to 130 km of real-world range, according to its onboard displays after a brief sampling at a recent GM event. The displays provide a high and low range for current conditions, plus where you’re on track to end up.

GM predicts a 0-60 mph time of under eight seconds. No fuel economy predictions, production estimates or battery specifics yet, and certainly not prices.

A request for confirmation from Chrysler Canada on whether the electric Fiat 500 would come to Canada next year was not answered before my deadline, but if it was coming soon, we would have heard more about it by now.

Audi Canada did confirm, however, that the four diesel models it will unveil at the L.A. show will also come to Canada, all of them with a similar 3.0-litre TDI V-6. The A8 TDI will arrive first in the spring, with the A6, A7 and Q5 crossovers coming in the fall.

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