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Eyeing an electric car? Here’s what to look for

Illustrations by Remie Geoffroi for The Globe and Mail

Do you have the power?

“[Electric vehicle] batteries collect energy from an electric outlet or charging station and use that electricity to power an electric motor that propels the vehicle,” says Sandy Di Felice, director of external affairs at Toyota Canada. Toyota has sold over a million of its electric-hybrid Prius, which was launched in 1997 and will be refreshed in 2015 with a new aerodynamic design that makes the vehicle lighter and more compact. Di Felice recommends checking to see if your garage and parking spot at work have electrical outlets. “All electric vehicles come with a charging cable,” she says. “But if you plan to charge frequently, it may be worth looking into installing a charging station, which provides a faster charge than simply using a standard electrical outlet.”

The right range is key

“Electric vehicles are popular because there are a variety of powertrain options to suit any customer’s lifestyle,” says Dean Geddes, Ford’s brand and EV marketing manager. Last spring, the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid won the inaugural Canadian Green Car award at Toronto’s Green Living Show. According to Toyota’s Di Felice, most fully electric vehicles can travel about 160 kilometres on a full charge before they need to be plugged in. “If you’re looking for something more flexible for longer distances, a plug-in hybrid may be your best choice,” she suggests. “Plug-in hybrids offer drivers the best of both worlds: pure electric driving for short trips with the versatility of a conventional hybrid for longer distances.”

Your boot might be full of batteries

“There are different electric vehicle models with varying battery sizes, some of which can be fairly large,” Di Felice says. “Be sure the model you choose doesn’t sacrifice too much cargo space to make room for the battery – some companies have tried to balance electric driving range with factors such as cargo space.” Manufacturers including Porsche and BMW have increased electric-vehicle production by 25 per cent over the last three years; by 2020, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has predicted, one in 10 cars on the road will be electric. As the industry evolves, considerations for comfort and convenience should start becoming as important as eco-friendliness and driving range.

Extreme weather reduces your reach

YouTube clips of Teslas and Fiskers cruising through sunny California make EV ownership seem carefree, but driving an electric vehicle in a location prone to harsh winters and sweaty summers can be a bit trickier. According to Di Felice, the AAA Automotive Research Centre found that the average range of an electric car dropped by 57 per cent in very cold weather and by 33 per cent in extreme heat. “If you live in these areas, it is important to be prepared for a potential reduction in your electric car’s range,” she says. “That is another reason to consider a plug-in hybrid, because even if battery power is depleted, you’ll always have the gasoline engine to get you home.”

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