Winnipeg Free Press

Charging across Canada

by Willy Williamson . Jul 19 2019
Harvey Soicher Harvey Soicher took a break from his cross-country venture to snap this picture of his Audi e-tron in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building.

Harvey Soicher

Harvey Soicher took a break from his cross-country venture to snap this picture of his Audi e-tron in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building.

A Vancouver man who recently passed through Winnipeg is making a cross-country journey in an electric vehicle — and it turns out it’s exactly the spark he needed.

Harvey Soicher, 65, is driving his new 2019 Audi e-tron 55 quattro Technik across Canada, and then returning home through the United States in an epic journey that, when completed, will have covered more than 20,000 kilometres.

He has named the trip Mary Ann’s Electric Drive, in memory of his wife of 27 years, Mary Ann, who lost her battle with cancer on June 14, 2018.

Along the way he will be driving with, visiting and staying with the couple’s friends and family across the country, and is especially looking forward to his first trip to the East Coast.

“Mary Ann and I had always talked about taking a trip to Newfoundland — we had never been there before and we were looking forward to the beautiful scenery and meeting the wonderful people there,” said Soicher, who paused for a moment to reflect. “She’s with me on this trip there now, I know she is.”

Soicher, who calls himself a road warrior, has been a travelling salesman in the ski and sporting goods industry for more than 40 years, and Mary Ann also enjoyed a stellar career selling several lines of sportswear — an occupation that also frequently required road trips. Sometimes, the couple travelled together on the job, but often went on their own, with Harvey enjoying his diesel-powered Volkswagen Touareg, and Mary Ann thrilled with her luxurious Audi Q5 SUV.

In 2015, after watching the 2011 documentary Revenge of the Electric Car — which follows four entrepreneurs from 2007 to 2010, including Tesla co-founder Elon Musk, as they fight to bring the electric car back to the world market in the midst of the 2008 global recession — Soicher instantly became a fan of Musk and dreamed of one day owning a Tesla.

His initial plan was to buy a Tesla Model 3 to travel for fun when Mary Ann retired. He was convinced she would love it — then they could sell her Audi and he would keep his VW for work. He was even on the waiting list for a Model 3 — but when Mary Ann became ill and eventually passed away, Harvey realized he didn’t require two vehicles. His desire, however, to own an EV didn’t waver. Because of his work requirements, the Tesla Model 3 wasn’t large enough to haul his sales samples, while a Tesla Model X SUV was too expensive and, due to its gull-wing doors, couldn’t accommodate a roof rack.

In a eureka moment, he recalled an email Mary Ann had shared with him — which she had received from Audi about the company’s e-tron SUV.

The rest is motoring history.

According to Soicher, who sounds surprised with his findings, there’s way more to driving an electric vehicle than simply the green factor. It turns out they are also an absolute riot. “I’m just thrilled with the e-tron,” he says. “It will blow the doors off any car, the performance is amazing and it is incredibly comfortable.”

Soicher’s Audi e-tron rang in at just a smidge over $100,000, and because of its luxury vehicle status, it was not eligible for government rebates, but the basically non-existent fuel costs are definitely a bonus. Since dipping his tires in the Pacific Ocean a few thousand kilometres ago, he has only had to pay to charge his vehicle twice, once in Jasper for $6 and again on Wednesday, when he dropped $17 for a charge when we checked in with him in Kenora.

It turns out the Ontario government has recently started charging at a number of the previously free charging stations, which may be an indication that as EVs become more popular, the free charge is likely nearing an end, especially at more remote locations. Soicher isn’t currently too concerned, though, as there is no shortage of hotels and campgrounds offering free EV charging, and he can also roll into most Audi or Volkswagen dealerships across the country and get a quick charge for free. At one stop, they even washed his e-tron while he waited.

Just a few short years ago, driving an electric vehicle across the country would have been nearly impossible. In addition to much lower distance ranges than current EVs such as Soicher’s Audi are now capable of travelling, the infrastructure of charging stations was basically non-existent. Nowadays, thanks to charging station locations throughout both Canada and the U.S. — all of which are meticulously listed at the website plugshare.com, which also offers an app — the range anxiety that was once a hallmark of EV ownership is all but a thing of the past.

There are three charging options. An EV can be plugged into a standard household or workplace outlet to charge, also known as Level 1 (110V, 15 amps) charging. It can take as long as 20 hours to fully charge an EV at Level 1. Level 2 charging stations use a 240-volt system (similar to a clothes dryer plug) and can fully charge a vehicle from zero per cent charge in about four to six hours. Level 3 charging stations (also known as Direct Current Fast Chargers or DCFC) use a 480-volt system and can charge a vehicle to 80 per cent in about 30 minutes. These stations allow EV drivers to charge their vehicles about eight times faster than Level 2 charging stations, making longer trips more feasible.

Although Soicher’s e-tron is rated for about 325 kilometres on a full charge, he has seen more than 400 kilometres of range already, and as he becomes more familiar with the car and the best way to maximize battery power, he has actually seen steady but moderate improvements in range. Even with the recent hot days we’ve experienced across the Prairies, he can run the air conditioning on economy mode and travel in comfort with negligible change in battery consumption.

When this journey began, Soicher was new to the world of electric vehicles and is the first to admit he wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. He has since learned that with a bit of planning and a bit of patience, driving a modern EV really isn’t much different than driving a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine — except it’s quieter and a lot less expensive to operate.

He has learned something else too — as much as he misses Mary Ann and wishes so very much she was at his side for this trip — he can still have fun.

“I’m having a ball, shooting photos and sightseeing and visiting old friends and making new ones and having the time of my life,” he says. “I know Mary Ann would want me to be happy and it feels great to smile again.”

To join Harvey on his electric adventure, and to contribute to Mary Ann’s favourite charity, visit maryannselectricdrive.com.

willy@freepress.mb.ca

Mary Ann and Harvey Soicher.

Mary Ann and Harvey Soicher.

Harvey Soicher with his Audi e-tron and a relic from the past.

Harvey Soicher with his Audi e-tron and a relic from the past.