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Ford of Canada is planning to make it easier for buyers of its upcoming plug-in vehicles by making special 240-volt chargers available at Best Buy electronics stores, with the installation overseen by the store's Geek Squad tech support department. (Michael Bettencourt)
Ford of Canada is planning to make it easier for buyers of its upcoming plug-in vehicles by making special 240-volt chargers available at Best Buy electronics stores, with the installation overseen by the store's Geek Squad tech support department. (Michael Bettencourt)

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Ford of Canada is planning to make it easier for buyers of its upcoming plug-in vehicles by making special 240-volt chargers available at Best Buy electronics stores, with the installation overseen by the store's Geek Squad tech support department.

Ford promises the association will also make it less expensive for buyers of its upcoming Focus EV hatchback to install a Level 2 charger, saying the Ford-branded unit, built by Leviton, will retail for approximately $1,599 for a standard install, even after the Geek Squad folks arrange for a licensed electrician to perform the actual installation.

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Of course, the definition of a “standard” install can vary widely, and it may still be less expensive to buy the unit directly and then find your own electrician to install it.

A Best Buy spokesperson said the units are not yet available in store or online, but will be soon.

The main advantage to this wall-mounted, backpack-sized charger over many other EVSEs (electric vehicle supply equipment) is that it can be plugged into a regular 240V stove or dryer outlet, instead of needing to be hard-wired into the garage wall. This could in theory mean that you could take your Level 2 charger with you to a friend's cottage or even on a road trip, if you plan your stops carefully.

Having this EVSE with you would shorten your full charge time from empty to three to four hours, instead of the 15-18 hours you'd be looking at when charging a Focus EV at a regular 110V outlet. And realistically, one never charges from a fully empty battery, though it is tough to find unused and driveway-accessible 240V outlets.

But this mobile EVSE can't take all the credit for its fast recharge times. Every EV has an internal charger that converts AC to DC power, and the Focus does this faster than its main competitor, the Nissan Leaf. The Focus EV has a large 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger, compared to the Leaf's 3.3 kW unit.

Suzuki's rough time

Sales and customer satisfaction efforts for Suzuki in the United States have been scaled back dramatically in the past year, after former Suzuki Canada president Seiichi Maruyama became president of American Suzuki last April, according to a recent report.

Among the signs of Suzuki's serious financial squeeze, trade journal Automotive News reported this week: U.S. sales are down 2 per cent this year, in a market up 13 per cent; it hasn't displayed vehicles at the big Los Angeles or Detroit auto shows, and didn't show updated models at the Chicago and recent New York show it did attend; it hasn't updated its Facebook or Twitter accounts since February; its dealer numbers were down 12 per cent last year, and have gone down continually since 2005.

Automotive News also reported that its U.S. arm has cancelled its receipt of customer satisfaction information from industry standard J.D. Power and Associates, and hasn't fulfilled its promise to replace the information from elsewhere.

Suzuki Canada is also showing signs of serious financial hurt, with sales that have declined 7.6 per cent so far this year (in a market up 2.8 per cent to the end of March), products that have not been updated significantly in two years, a tiny but still declining market share of 0.3 per cent, and no Facebook presence or Twitter efforts at all.

And if you'd like to call the Richmond Hill, Ont., head office about a disagreement with your dealer, according to its consumer website, you could be on the hook for long-distance charges, as it doesn't provide a toll-free number.

“They have been having sales challenges,” said David Adams diplomatically in an e-mail this week; he is the president of the Association Of International Automobile Manufacturers of Canada, a group to which Suzuki Canada still belongs.

Mall parking spots unveiled for plug-ins and car sharers

The first designated mall parking lot spaces in Canada for car sharers and plug-in vehicles were unveiled this week just north of Toronto. But while it provides closer priority spots, it doesn't yet provide actual plugs for those planet-friendly plug-ins.

The Vaughan Mills shopping centre will offer 16 spots spread over various entrances that are reserved for members of Zipcar's car-sharing service, local car-sharing program Carpool Zone, or drivers of hybrid or electric vehicles.

“This initiative is just one part of Vaughan Mills' overall environmental commitment to finding business solutions that have a positive impact on our community,” says Jamie MacLean, marketing director for Vaughan Mills.

MacLean said the mall was exploring adding plug-in capability to these spots, without specifying what kind, or a timetable for them. And if you're car sharing with AutoShare vehicles, which actually offers zero local emissions electric vehicles in its current car sharing fleet – unlike Zipcar – well, then, you're parking among the SUV and minivan masses.

Best new interiors for 2012

Automotive trade journal WardsAuto World has picked its 10 Best New Interiors for 2012, and it's a diverse lot.

Unlike in past years, and what one might expect of any interior judging contest, this year's group of award winners were not dominated by high-end luxury machines, but included many reasonably priced vehicles, with the as-tested prices of five out of the 10 starting at less than $31,000 (U.S.).

Wards didn't pick a single overall interior winner, but its top 10 list consisted of the following:

  • Chevrolet Sonic
  • Chrysler 300 Luxury
  • Dodge Dart
  • Hyundai Accent
  • Hyundai Azera (not sold in Canada)
  • Infiniti JX35
  • Mazda CX-5
  • Range Rover Evoque
  • Volkswagen Beetle
  • Audi A7

Click here to check out our photo gallery: In pictures: 10 best car interiors

Unlike the trade journal's 10 best engine awards, these honours went to the best new or heavily revised interiors, not necessarily the best in the business. Wards said it evaluated 40 vehicles with such new insides, with no price cap on vehicle MSRPs.

Some of these vehicles, such as the Dart and Infiniti JX35, are just arriving on the market now as 2013 models, while the Hyundai Azera hasn't been sold in Canada on the new-car side of dealer lots since 2009.

The Brampton, Ont.-built Chrysler 300 Luxury was noted for its international collaboration with Fiat's Lancia division. Lancia upgraded the 300's cockpit for European consumption as the Lancia Thema, but Chrysler executives liked the result so much they are now offering that package as a Chrysler 300 Luxury Series in North America, said the magazine's review of the award winners. “If Bentley sold an affordable family sedan, it would look like the 300 Luxury.”

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