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Getting behind the wheel of Retro Electro

How do you maintain a cool retro vibe with your vehicle fleet when you’re also trying to maintain a green vibe?

How do you maintain a cool retro vibe with your vehicle fleet when you’re also trying to maintain a green vibe? Well, if you’re the Steam Whistle Brewery, you create the Retro Electro — an all-electric 1958 Chevrolet Apache 1/2 ton pickup.


Retro Electro and the man behind it, Mike Kiraly, are usually tooling around the streets of Vancouver, checking in on Steam Whistle clients, but was in Toronto recently to participate in last weekend’s Green Living Show.


Kiraly let yours truly have a brief fling behind the wheel, which provoked a conflicted response. I didn’t know whether to put my elbows out the window and light up a ‘cig, or keep the windows up to conserve some electrical energy and compost the smoke.


Thankfully I don’t smoke, so I got over it quickly, and just enjoyed the experience.


That's not hard when you have 465 lb-ft of torque at your disposal. This is not an effete electric car in the golf cart mode. It is a hot rod first, and an electric vehicle second. The Retro Electro launches like you would expect of something with that much grunt — aided by the absolutely linear torque curve of electric motors. And it does its thing in low volume — you only hear road noise and some gear whine.


And this is the “milder” version of Retro Electro. An earlier version with lower gearing was capable of smoking its tires in dragster-like fashion. Said motor is an Azure Dynamics AC90 electric motor, which is often retrofitted in larger panel trucks. It gets its juice from a very sophisticated lithium ion battery pack. It can be fully charged in eight hours on a 220V service, good for a range of about 150 kilometres.


To complete the green loop, Steam Whistle makes sure Retro Electro is always charged on renewable electricity from Bullfrog Power. In fact, the entire brewery only uses electricity from Bullfrog. Steam Whistle’s other green initiatives include thicker beer bottles, which can be re-used more often, and running its delivery trucks with B20 bio fuel.


The electric drivetrain makes the vehicle about 500 pounds heavier than stock, and the batteries take up some cargo capacity, so it has lost some of its trucky usefulness, but is more than capable of fulfilling its mandate as a Steam Whistle work truck. Just to make sure, I turn to Kiraly, who is riding shotgun, and ask him again, “You drive this every day, as part of your job?”


“Yeah,” says Kiraly. “Pretty lucky guy, eh?”


Kiraly is also a guy with several facets to his personality. He spends half his workday as Steam Whistle’s manager in B.C., and the other half as university professor teaching anatomy and physiology. He has several degrees, including a PhD in Endocrinology.


Now he’s learned quite a lot putting this vehicle together for Steam Whistle. His teachers were an A-list of Vancouver-based experts, including Greg Murray of Electric Autosports and Trevor Stoker of Azure Dynamics. He’s ready to build another electric hot-rod. Judging by Retro Electro, he may be on to something.

For more on Retro Electro, check out http://www.steamwhistle.ca/retroelectro.

 
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