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Electric cars on the road to domination?

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Michael Swan with Bermi micro electric cars from LocalMotion (Photograph supplied)

Electric cars are cheap to power up, they produce less pollution, and they’re virtually silent. Will they come to dominate Bermuda’s roads?

Michael Swan thinks they will.

“I most definitely see a day in the future when all the cars on the road are electric,” said the manager of LocalMotion, an electric microcar import and rental business on Happy Valley Road in Pembroke.

Since fully launching two months ago, demand is outstripping his still small supply of rental cars, and people call daily to ask about purchasing one of them.

He rents out two-seater “Bermi 400s”, and custom orders four-seaters with all the bells and whistles, bluetooth, power steering and a reverse camera.

He fell in love with the cars four years ago when he first saw them in a magazine.

“I’ve always liked cars and bikes,” he said. “I loved the styling.”

He also thought it would be a great little car for Bermuda, where excessive speeds and distances wouldn’t wear down the battery quickly.

“Mostly people drive only 20 miles a day in Bermuda,” he said.

Bermuda has already made some advances towards encouraging electric-powered vehicles. In 2018, Government made parts for electric vehicle charging stations and accessories duty free. But Mr Swan feels that Bermuda’s infrastructure and legislation still needs some adjustment.

He’d like for Government to allow people to have an electric microcar as a second car on their assessment number.

The 2018 Transportation survey noted community interest in this.

“If the Government does allow a second car on the same assessment number, we will sell a lot of cars because there is a ton of interest,” Mr Swan said.

“From an entrepreneurial perspective, you are creating a new business model. That creates employment and new business opportunities. You could get other people coming to the game as long as they can handle the service of it.”

He also felt TCD needed to look at changing the class of microcars. At the moment they fall under class A.

“But they are tiny as heck,” he said. “We need a -A class, which would be cheaper.”

They cost $20,400 to buy and put on the road, and around 2.5 cents a mile to operate.

Mr Swan said since purchasing one himself two years ago, he hasn’t seen much change at all to his electric bill.

Piers Carr, owner of Current Vehicles, was the first to get micro rental cars on the market in April 2017. Since then, his Twizys have become almost iconic on Bermuda’s roads. He’d like the Government to allow them to bring in a wider variety of microcars.

Twizys can be difficult to access for people with mobility issues, as the back can be a little cramped. Right now, Mr Carr sees his demographic as the 30-to-60 age group.

“We have had some people older than that who have used them and had a great time, but we’d like to provide options for people,” Mr Carr said.

Like Mr Swan, he thinks almost total conversion to electric-powered cars might be possible in Bermuda, one day.

“Bermuda has the potential to be a world leader in this,” he said. “Look at the size and the number of vehicles on the island, and the cost of operating a traditional gas-powered vehicle. Bermuda has all the hallmarks to transition over to electric cars.”

But not all electric cars are small.

A year and a half ago, former journalist and entrepreneur Chris Gibbons bought an electric Nissan Leaf car from Auto Solutions on St John’s Road in Pembroke. The compact five-door hatchback class H car cost around $40,600.

Mr Gibbons and his wife Tracey, bought it because they were interested in making their lives more environmentally friendly. They’d already put solar panels on their Devonshire home.

“It is a lot quieter than a regular car, but you can hear it,” Mr Gibbons said. “If it is going less than 25 miles per hour there is a bit of a hum.”

Electric cars are so silent, particularly at higher speeds, some experts think they might present a hazard to other people on the road. Car companies such as Mercedes AMG are now looking at ways to put sounds on their cars.

Mr Gibbons said there is very little maintenance involved.

“Other than tyres and water, there is really not a lot else,” he said. “If the battery or computer fails then that would require Auto Solutions to fix it. You can’t just take it to any garage.”

He had to install a special charger in his house for about $2,000. You can’t just plug it in with any old extension cord.

He gets 120 miles on a full charge and “tops it up” twice a week.

“If we were in a bigger country I would be constantly worried about the range and making sure you could plug in on the journey,” he said. “That doesn’t apply here. There is a secondary plug in the back. If you are travelling, you have a charging station at the hospital and a couple of places in town. The range of electric cars is getting better all the time. In the United States, Teslas now have a 300-mile range.”

But Mr Gibbons said he’d love to see Nissan produce a battery that he could swap out, leaving one on charge.

Mr Gibbons said he pays no more than $15 to charge it up. He thought that was pretty good considering he used to pay $60 to $70 a week to fill up his old gas-powered car.

Auto Solutions estimated that a person without solar power would probably pay $700 to $800 on electricity for their car annually, compared to the $5,000 a year the average gas-powered H class car user would spend.

But sales of the Nissan Leaf hit a snag recently when car manufacturers increased its size by 1.7 inches, making it too large for Bermuda’s car size requirements.

“We are only talking about an inch in length and width,” Glen Smith, managing director of Auto Solutions, said.

He thought something would come out in the C, D or E class, but it was a waiting game for Auto Solutions.

In the meantime, they have two old Nissan Leaf models left in the warehouse. When those are sold they will not be able to sell the car unless manufacturers produce a smaller one, or Government changes its size regulations.

They sell one other electric car, the Hyundai Kona, but are not expecting any in until mid 2020.

Mr Smith said they’d met with the Ministry of Transport to discuss the issue of size requirements.

“The Government says they are very pro going green,” Mr Smith said. “Why don’t they create a special class by allowing us to have another two inches in width and length. That way we could have more electric cars here within six months. That would give people more choice and availability.”

Fast facts

Some facts about electric vehicle from the 2019 Transport Green Paper, based on a transport survey conducted in 2018.

• In 2018 there were 250 electric vehicles licensed and on Bermuda’s roads.

• 63 per cent of respondents said they’d be willing to replace their car with an electric or hybrid car.

• 44 per cent said they would consider purchasing an electric motor cycle.

• Cost was the main reason some residents were reluctant to purchase electric vehicles. Electric vehicles tend to be 1.5 to two times more pricey than similarly sized internal combustion engine vehicles.

• In the 2018 Transport Survey, 75 per cent of Bermudians expressed interest in seeing more electric cars on the road.

Minicar rental pioneer: Piers Carr of Current Vehicles in one of his Twizys (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Chris Gibbons charging up his Nissan Leaf (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
The charge up station in Chris Gibbons’ garage (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)