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Toronto Hydro, auto maker to test electric car

Bill Thorpe, the first electric drive customer tests out Toronto's first smart fortwo electric drive car on November 29, 2010. The initiative by Toronto Hydro-Electrical System Limited and smart Canada, a division of Mercedes-Benz Canada, is Canada's first electric vehicle program designed for automotive retail customers.

Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail/jennifer roberts The Globe and Mail

With several manufacturers set to unleash a pack of new plug-in cars over the next two years, the age of the fully electric auto is looming in North America.

But in Toronto, one big question remains to be answered before the hum of Chevy Volts and Nissan Leafs becomes the new soundtrack on the city streets: Can Toronto Hydro's rickety electrical grid withstand the drain should the current-hungry cars become Hogtown's new must-have appliance? A novel partnership between Mercedes-Benz Canada and Toronto Hydro endeavours to solve just that.

The car: a 2011 Smart ForTwo electric drive

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The specs: Its 30 kw/40 hp electric motor can range up to 135 kilometres on a single eight-hour charge of the floor-mounted lithium-ion batteries. The two-seater spouts no emissions, but that doesn't mean it's a slouch: it'll reach 60 km/h in 6.5 seconds and hit a top speed of 100 km/h

The deal: Fifteen Torontonians will be chosen as ambassadors to test the car on a four-year lease. Toronto Hydro will pay for a charging station, power meter and every volt of electricity the car uses. In return, Hydro will closely monitor driving habits, charging patterns and impacts on the grid.

How to qualify: It's open to Toronto homeowners only. Preference is given to applicants with a garage. Apply online at smartexperience.ca

The catch: The lucky 15 ambassadors still have to fork out $545/month in lease payments.

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