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Electric vehicles rev up their presence in B.C. as Tesla opens up shop in Vancouver

Tesla Motors, the American electric-car manufacturer, is coming to the Lower Mainland. Growing consumer interest in going electric, pro electric vehicle municipal and provincial policies and the fall retail launch of the all-electric Model S sedan all mark Tesla’s move into the B.C. auto market.

Nappa leather interiors, a 17-inch touchscreen monitor and pricing from $85,900 will put the Model S in competition with high-end European and Japanese manufacturers. But with squabbles over how it handles long distances and cold weather, can Tesla pick up speed in the Lower Mainland?

The challenge: convincing drivers that going electric is an easy switch. “All I’ve got is a 220-volt, 50-amp breaker with a dryer outlet,” explains Dennis Mitchell, owner of a new 2013 Model S that he picked up on Family Day. “Tesla gives a bunch of adapters so that you can plug into different sorts of power supply from the 110 and 220 to the J1772.”

Add public charging stations, from community centres to the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, and a startup network of high-speed chargers on B.C.’s highway network, and driving an EV is becoming more convenient.

“People need to be able to charge at home,” says John Stonier, spokesperson for the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association. “You wouldn’t buy a home if it didn’t have a dryer plug, and an electric car plug is effectively the same.”

In a city where 40 per cent of residents live in condos or apartments, that presents a challenge. In 2011, the City of Vancouver began requiring electrical supply for EVs in all new developments, with 20 per cent of stalls wired for move in. In conjunction, provincial initiatives, like the Clean Energy Vehicle program, which provides up to $5,000 off the pre-tax sticker price of new vehicles, Tesla has public policy on its side.

In December Tesla delivered 37 vehicles, giving buyers the choice of pick-up at the Powell St. service centre or flatbed home delivery. With no dealership in Western Canada, Tesla intends on shaking up the car-buying experience. The delivery model, new service centre and shopping-centre showrooms are part of the automaker’s attempt to model car buying on the Apple store experience.

Tesla would not confirm the launch of a Pacific Centre showroom, expected to open later this year. If it goes ahead, it would join the $185 million, 145,000-square-foot Toronto location that opened in November 2012. A customer service representative recommended that interested buyers in Western Canada travel to Seattle or Toronto for a test-drive and closer look.

“Tesla’s going for the BMW luxury car market, and that’s exactly where they should’ve been,” says Stonier.Glowing reviews and the high cost of gas have more consumers thinking electric, despite the challenges of charging and concerns over reliability in the cold and over long distances. Investments in public infrastructure, a growing local hybrid and EV industry and public enthusiasm are laying the groundwork for electric cars in B.C.

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