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A Tesla Model S being charged at a Sun Country Highway station. (Michael Bettencourt for the Globe and Mail)
A Tesla Model S being charged at a Sun Country Highway station. (Michael Bettencourt for the Globe and Mail)

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Charging centres electrify Highway 401 corridor Add to ...

Saskatchewan-based Sun Country Highway will mark the opening this week of 17 high-speed Level Two (220V) charging stations along Highway 401 from Detroit to Montreal. The stations will offer free electric fuel for plug-in drivers, at intervals of between 50 to 98 kilometres, making it easier to drive long distances using little or no fossil fuels.

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The move – funded privately, with no government incentives – also makes it possible for pure battery electric vehicle drivers to drive over long distances, a dicey proposition up until now in this part of the country that has kept many Ontario and Quebec BEV drivers city-locked.

With realistic highway ranges between 100 and 400 kilometres, travelling this 900-kilometre stretch will still take BEV drivers much longer than if driving an IC-only vehicle, even for Tesla owners with their high-capacity batteries, since full recharge times are still measured in hours instead of minutes. But the motivation of free fuel as well as long-distance emissions-free driving for the entire length of the journey is now a possibility.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of such stations will be to bring down the overall fuel consumption of plug-in hybrid vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt and Ford’s C-Max and Fusion Energi models on longer trips, by allowing these drivers to plug-in while they stop for an hour or two for lunch or nearby shopping. Most of the locations are at hotels just off Highway 401, a stretch that has been calculated to be the busiest highway in North America, with about half of the EVSEs located at Best Westerns hotels.

“This is a remarkable achievement,” Sun Country Highway president Kent Rathwell said in announcing a media tour of all 17 newly opened stations and communities this week. “The 401 highway is the busiest highway in North America and now business travellers and eco-tourists have the option to travel emissions-free – a huge step toward a more sustainable future.”

Some BEV drivers online questioned the value of using only Level 2 chargers when higher-power (440V) Level 3 chargers can charge up most BEVs faster than even these higher-amperage L2 units. The L3s can add up to 80 per cent of a full charge in as little as 30 minutes, depending on the vehicle – a pool which now includes the Tesla Model S, after the company recently announced a new L3 adapter for its S will be available this winter. Such L3 chargers would allow inter-city travel times comparable to those of internal combustion cars.

But Rathwell sees SCH’s network of powerful L2s as a way to hasten the availability – and visibility – of the most chargers useful to the greatest number of plug-in car buyers. With differing L3 standards still emerging, he sees such different chargers as one of the issues that famously killed the electric car and vehicles like GM’s EV1 in their most recent incarnation in the United States in the late 1990s.

“Level 3 chargers have cost too much in the past, take too long to permit and install and most cannot justify or afford to give the power away for free,” Rathwell said in an e-mail this week. “In the future, I see level 3 becoming more viable but there is no way that we could have implemented what we have done in such a short time with level 3 – speed of proving the impossible is absolutely vital: the majority of people will not buy an EV if they cannot drive long distance, even if they never do.”

The tour will travel with a Chevrolet Volt, a Tesla Model S and Roadster, as well as the full-size V-Trux plug-in van. It started in Montreal on Monday at the Hotel Mortagne, with stops in Scarborough on Tuesday, downtown Toronto and Milton on Wednesday, finishing up at the Comfort Inn in Windsor on Thursday afternoon. A map of these and all SCH chargers across Canada can be found online at suncountryhighway.ca/ev-trip-planner.

Ford chops Focus EV price; Kia plans Soul EV in 2014

Speaking of EVs, Ford of Canada confirmed this week that the 2014 Focus EV that just went on sale will start $5,999 lower than the equivalent 2013 model. Days earlier, Kia Canada confirmed that it would offer an all-electric rival to the Focus EV as well as the Nissan Leaf when it comes out with a battery-electric version of its subcompact Soul crossover in the second half of 2014.

The ’14 Focus EV will start at $35,200, compared to a list price of $41,199 for the ’13 model. Should you be able to find a dealer with a 2013 still in stock, Ford of Canada is offering an $8,000 rebate on it, according to the company’s consumer site, putting it at a starting price of $33,199.

The Focus EV is Ford of Canada’s second-best-selling plug-in this year, well behind the C-Max Energi (with 137 sold), but just a whisker ahead of Fusion Energi sales so far this year (78 versus 74).

Kia is not releasing many details on its Soul EV, besides confirming that it’s on its way, and that the firm will unveil specs, range and fuel efficiency measurements at a major U.S. auto show.

Crosstrek Hybrid timing pushed back

Subaru Canada confirmed recently that its XV Crosstrek Hybrid, which was slated to go on sale this fall, will be later than planned, though it still may sneak into the market before the end of the year.

“We know it’s a bit of a good-news, bad-news situation: It’s been selling really well in Japan, which has affected our Canadian timelines,” Subaru Canada’s assistant PR manager Julie Lychak wrote in an e-mail recently. Information on pricing and fuel economy are now slated to be released in late November or early December, she wrote.

For most companies, such figures usually come out about a month before the vehicle starts arriving in dealers, so the more fuel-efficient gas-electric XV Crosstrek may yet arrive in this calendar year, though early 2014 seems more likely.

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