Two engineers look to pave the way for affordable electric car ownership in Calgary
By Amanda Ducheminsky
As of Saturday, November 24th, Calgary’s only used electric car dealership, Go Electric, is now open for business.
Jim Steil and David Lloyd purchased the 17th Ave OK Tire building earlier this year. The pair had hoped to originally start selling units during the warmer months, but after some unexpected permit delays, Steil says that they’re excited to finally help meet the long overdue demand they’ve seen for years.
“Almost every EV (electric vehicle) here in Calgary was not bought in Calgary. Aside from one other dealership in B.C., we’re the only ones in Canada doing this.”
In 2015, Steil lost his job as an engineer. He used the lay-off as an opportunity to spark his long-standing idea of modifying gas guzzlers with electric parts. One day, while working on a car in his garage, he heard a CBC radio announcer talking about the economic state, asking engineers affected to reach out with any interesting things they were up to since.
He called up the station shortly after and soon had a reporter out to visit. After the interview, Steil says the response he got was incredible.
View Steil’s full CBC radio interview here.
“I had people coming to my door, three people a day, for probably about two months. They would ask me, ‘How do I build an electric car? What do I have to do to build an electric car? Can I help you build an electric car? I was like running off of my feet!”
One of the guys who came to visit was Lloyd.
“He and I just partnered up. He’d been researching the technology for years and was also pretty serious about it. So we stuck together. It’ll be about two years now.”
Lloyd is also an accredited engineer, who spent 30 years as a control systems specialist. His love for tinkering, and passion for better ways of doing things, is what attracted him to electric cars.
The concept of converting cars continued on, but slowly the entrepreneurs realized that the costs associated with the upgrades were not overly practical. They found that the price of putting in an electric engine was often more than used vehicles out there available for purchase.
“So we just starting selling them. We sold two sight unseen, and we thought, ‘OK let’s start a business importing electric cars, and that’ll help us make some money to continue to run an electric car converting business.’”
Now officially operational, the dealership is the first of its kind here to offer a variety of affordable and in stock lot used options.
Steil explains that for those looking to buy here, it’s almost “near impossible” to purchase anything like what they have to offer. Sales on sites like Kijiji are snapped up fast, while many other non-luxury dealers, who have EV models in their catalogues, aren’t generally too keen on the idea.
“I recently went to inquire about a Volkswagen e-Golf at a Calgary dealership. I was told, ‘We don’t carry those, and we don’t recommend you buy one.’ They went on to tell me that ‘there weren’t enough charging stations’” – a stigma that Steil often sees reinforced time and time again.
“Many people think that in order to have an electric car you have to have somewhere to charge it. I get asked, ‘Where do I charge it or what if I run out of power?’ Well you charge it at home every night, and you don’t ever have to worry.”
Even though the average electric car can only travel about 150 kms between charges, Steil says that they’re meant to be commuter cars. He explains that owning one wouldn’t be that big of a lifestyle change for many.
“I just tell my customers, so much of your driving; it’s the city driving. That’s what this car is for. Do you already have two cars in your family? Do you have a garage to park an EV in? Then you could own an electric car! If you have to go on a long highway trip, then you just use the other car you have anyway.”
Education around the cars has become an integral part of the business. Since their sign went up, Go Electric has sparked many conversations with locals about EV technology.
“For some people it’s just like, I’m curious, and I’m still getting my head around it. Other people want to know the practical. They’ll ask how do I charge it, how much range can I get, and how much does it cost?”
After visiting the shop, you might be surprised to find that most models that Go Electric sells start around $20,000. From Kia Souls to BMW hybrids, modern day affordable electric cars have come a long way from just a “car2go.”
“We’ve got these cool cars, and there’s even more of them coming. Like two years from now, the ones that are brand new, that are even better, we’re going to be able to sell them for cheap as well.”
With the owners being as far from car salesmen as you could get, Go Electric doesn’t focus on traditional selling approaches. They basically try and let the cars “sell themselves,” helping customers choose the best options for them, all while laying out the facts of each car.
“You’ve got 90 days if you don’t like it to bring it back. There’s also no haggling. The price shown is the price. It’s a fair price that includes GST, winter tires, as well as all new fluids, mats, wipers, etc. You don’t have to try and talk me down because you heard someone got a better deal. Our model is so much different. In this business, the price is the price.”
They’re there to help customers go through a wide range of EV information, like what voltage is required to fully charge a battery, how “quick charging” works, and how a battery reacts to winter conditions.
“You will lose range in the winter, about 20%. Any battery when it gets cold is going to produce less power. So, ideally you have to have it parked inside, and then when you leave the building the battery will stay nice and warm. It’ll stay warm for about six hours. For most, you can make it to work, there and back, every day. If you can plug in at work as well during winter, then you’re especially good to go.”
When it comes down to it, Steil explains that the things that ultimately convince people to buy an electric car come from those who have owned them.
“The technology is just so new here. Often times, I think many buyers need to first have the confidence of speaking to someone who’s had an EV for a while. I tell them to go to the Electric Vehicle Association of Alberta’s website and actually reach out to people and ask. That’s some of the best information out there.”
He says EV adopters can also tell you first-hand how much money they’ve saved after switching.
“People who have kept track of it say it’s basically tires, wiper blades, as well as suspension and steering. Ultimately, you still have to replace your shocks. I talked to one owner who at 120,000 kms hasn’t even had to replace his brakes yet, due to the way the engine runs.”
“If you list the 10 most common repairs on a gas vehicle, none of them apply to an electric vehicle. None of them. You’re spending about a tenth of what you’re paying on the price of electricity [verses gas], and about a tenth of what you’re paying on maintenance. It can be upwards of around $2,000 a year.”
Add that to an average 8 to 10 year battery lifespan, and the savings can really add up.
It’s also common for many EV owners to express, that in terms of environmental impact, “it’s just the right thing to do.”
A wide range of research out there states that the long-term environmental effects of electric cars are often dependant on both the model of the car and the source of power being generated.
Even though Alberta may rank as one of the lowest, in terms of provincial renewable electricity generation, options like wind energy are steadily increasing. The Government of Alberta plans to replace two-thirds of its current consumption with wind power, as consumer demand for renewables is expected to triple by 2030.
For a few extra sense per kWh per month, many of the major electricity providers now offer varied electric source options – which could help reduce immediate EV greenhouse gas emissions even further.
When it comes to EV use, ultimately those at Go Electric hope that work like theirs can help Alberta catch up.
Canada’s National Energy Board states that Alberta only houses 3% of Canada’s total 69,000 EV and hybrid units. Places like Ontario and B.C. are leading the way in EV ownership. Motivated by carbon reduction targets, they offer financial incentives for electric car buyers and plan to significantly increase charging infrastructure over the coming years.
Calgary itself also appears to be slowly catching on, with its own electric vehicle strategy in place.
Throughout the entire process, Steil only sees the community around electric car ownership growing. He and the team even have plans to transform the shop’s basement into an “Underground Maker’s Space,” where people can learn and help carry on the concept together.
“People want to do it themselves. For old car owners a lot of them are like that. They want to take the motor out and put a new motor in – except these ones will just be electric. We’ll still do cars for money, we’ll continue to do cars for fun, and we’ll keep on helping people build their own cars.”