2012 Canberra International Electric Vehicle Festival – My impressions

Two Detriot Electric vehicles from the 1910's.  This EV thing is a fad.
Two Detriot Electric vehicles from the 1910’s. This EV thing is a fad.

This was the third CIEVF I’ve attended and it was interesting to compare to those of earlier years.


The move from the lawns near old Parliament House in previous year to the Civic Walk was a change that probably paid off.  The relaxed, open, green fields and the blocked roads for full-throttle Tesla rides were replaced by a slightly cramped mall (which was constrained by some construction works) and slightly cramped parking area.  There have been car shows there before and the multicultural festival takes up ever available cobblestone, but I wonder if the electric boats and hybrid trucks of earlier years were kept away by the lack of space.

Fortunately, it worked out quite well; there was sufficient parking reserved and power to run loops of London Circuit and level access to the mall was nearby – though the Detroit Electric with its big, wire wheels was able to drive straight over the kerb!

Where the previous site was known to those in the know, Civic brought a lot of passing traffic who would not have otherwise been exposed to EV let alone driven one, which some lucky visitors (me included) were able to do.

Change of Date (and with it, change of weather)

I understand that various reasons delayed the festival from its usual September to December.  The prospect of pleasant weather brought with it more favourable temperature conditions for charging and discharging batteries.

As it happened, the weather was very hot and windy to start but became more pleasant when a threatened thunderstorm brought only spots of rain an a cool breeze.


The standard of exhibits was good.  The Better Place stand was the largest, staffed with well-dressed, well-versed, well-enthused people.  They showcased the Holden Volt and Commodore EV while promoting their public charging deal (see below).

The Detroit Electric cars (see above) took many for a ride of the future from almost 100 years ago.  No noise, no steering wheel, driver in the back facing the passengers… must have been quite a sight driving around London Circuit.

CIT had a display for their mechanics course, teaching the service requirements of hybrid vehicles to apprentice and experienced mechanics.  (I’m more interested in a short course were an old Prius will be refurbished and an EV built.)

Lots of electric bicycles and motorcycles on show.  Everything from ones with baskets to Dutch/Danish style delivery bikes to scooters to motorbikes to racing bikes.  Bamboo-framed bike was startling enough without its bright green highlights.

Canberra EV had a display of some of the principles of EV, in particular how electric motors work.

Corrie from NilCO2 was back again with 2 cars, including a Gen II with a K140 pack by Jen, the Canberra installer for NilCO2.  (Jon, you would have loved what she has done with her car.)  Now I’m tossing up between the K40 supplementary battery or the K100 HV replacement in my Gen III.  Corrie showed me some of the new cells rated at 5000 cycles; up from 2-3000 in the previous generation.

There was a very good display from Beyond Zero Emissions explaining the fantastic notion that Australia could convert to a completely carbon-free energy future that would only take 10 years to implement at a cost of $37 billion per year, or 3% of GDP.  Download the plan from the website above.  And read it.  And write a letter to your MP asking what they intend to do about it.

loop, “the world’s first truly sustainable residential, commercial and retail experience” had a display of its development surrounding the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets.  If the brochure is anything to go by the future is driving Mitsubishi i-MiEVs.

Cars and Bikes

The Holden Volt overshadowed the single Tesla Roadster for rarity value alone.  (Though the carbon fibre interior of the Tesla beats the bright, white dashboard of the Volt hands down.)  As for specs, the Holden Volt appears to be a slightly localised version of the Chevy Volt (appearance, engine and ancillaries) with suspension tune closer to the Opel Ampera.  Only one trim level (the top one) is available at $59,990 or about $64,000 on road.  In ACT the stamp duty when purchasing new is $0, but it isn’t clear if you will get discount registration.  (Come on ACT!)

A very exciting car was one of the 7 Commodore EV developed by EV Engineering.  The battery (estimated range 150km) is more or less the shape of the  transmission of the rear-wheel-drive donor vehicle with the section in the engine bay extended upwards to the top of the firewall.  It only extends about 20cm from the firewall so that the battery can drop without fouling the steering gear and cross-members.  Yes, the car has battery swap ability and therefore could be a game-changer.  In July 2012 one broke the world distance record for an EV – 1886 kilometres of driving over a 24-hour period, in large part because batteries could be swapped for fully-charged ones in a few minutes.

There were plenty of DIY conversions from Canberra EV members, as usual.  Everyone was more than willing to discuss their cars.

DIY bikes were also in force and in some cases in competition up and down the mall.  They ranged from the elegant (Tony Castley’s Suzuki conversion) to the engineered and ended up with the Scrappy, a vision of a petrol free future on the post-apocalyptic side.

General observations

  • The Canberra EV members wore polo shirts to identify themselves and where approachable and informative.
  • However, I think that overall the festival was too passive.  For instance, there was an introduction, but no further PA announcements explaining what was happening.  (Maybe there was a restriction on PA in the mall?)
  • The Canberra EV stand could learn from Questacon.  People are fascinated by science and simple displays can explain so much.
  • Why not have a FAQ?  There are a lot of myths about EV and a simple Q&A and a few posters could have cleared things up.
  • One word: Merchandise?

My tip for next year

Invite Robert Llewellyn of Red Dwarf, Scrapheap Challenge, Carpool and Fully Charged fame.  Is there anyone else doing more across more platforms to promote EV, hybrids and alternative energy while defending all right-thinking people from the worst effects of Jeremy Clarkson?

Big thanks to Heather for her stories, Karl for letting me drive his i-MiEV and everyone else.  See you next year.


aus.betterplace.com/rs/betterplace2/images/Canberra public network access December 2012.pdf?mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRonv6zJZKXonjHpfsX56OUpXLHr08Yy0EZ5VunJEUWy2YAGSdQhcOuuEwcWGog8wglMDuWHbIxB+fAP.

AFAIK, this is a first big push by Better Place to promote its public charging network in Canberra.  Put down a deposit on a cable, get 24 months free charging.

UPDATE 17:20 01/12/2012

It really is that simple.  As confirmed by Better Place at the Canberra International EV Festival, put down $400 deposit on the cable and you can use their public charging network around Canberra.

Well… there is one catch.  AFAIK none of the spaces is for the exclusive use of EV (or PHV or ERHV).  For months I’ve seen anything but electric cars parked in the spaces at Belconnen Fresh Food Markets, even as the number of spaces has grown from 2 to 5.  In fact there was a skip parked in one of those spaces until recently.

Now I’m not going to name and shame the drivers of ICE cars who park in those spots; they’re not contravening any restrictions.  In an recent email reply,  Better Place pointed out that the spaces belong to the property owners and they could do with them what they liked.  Better Place also hoped that they would change their mind.

Canberra is not teeming with EV and most drivers I spoke to today said that they don’t expect or rely on charging facilities anywhere but at home.  However, put $400 into the equation and suddenly you’ve paid for the privilege and your expectations change.  Those spaces are going to be used.

What can you do?  Write to Belconnen Fresh Food Markets and ask if they are reviewing the use of the 5 spaces.  Perhaps they could make the spaces:

  • exclusively for EV with no time restriction
  • exclusively for EV with no time restriction, however the charging cable must be plugged in at all times
  • 15 minute spaces for ICE cars and unrestricted for EV
  • valet service only.  With car washing facility.

If not, Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets might put in some EV spaces of its own.

Remember to keep yourself nice when you ask nicely for something that would be nice.