Fitting right in line with the 2009 Canadian International Auto Show’s The New Era mission statement, one of the most interesting exhibits is the GTA in Motion: The Future is Electric display, which aims to educate both the media and consumers on all sorts of alternatives to traditional transportation.

“Every year, the auto show puts together an area that speaks to the future of the automobile industry,” said CIAS marketing services specialist Jaime Lea Foss. “One of the elements was to be able to showcase both pure-electric and hybrid vehicles. We have speakers able to discuss where and how electric cars are going to be a part of today’s ‘green’ focus.”

Foss assembled Canadian leaders in the battery electric vehicle market, while also challenging Humber College design students to create their own visions of transport solutions for the coming century.

The result is a fantastic mix of displays and booths all with the goal of educating the consumer about non-internal-combustion options. The top 12 student designs run the perimeter of the 1,000 sq-m exhibit, and an overall winner will be chosen after the CIAS runs its course later this month.

Foss said that having designs shown at the CIAS was wonderful because it would, “Get the consumer starting to talk about the need for these vehicles to be on the road.”

Perhaps the most promising vehicle on display comes from Mississauga-based Electrovaya, a world leader in lithium-ion batteries — the same kind used in cellphones, MP3 players and laptop computers. The company is featuring its brand-new Maya-300 low and medium-speed electric vehicle.

Gitanjali DasGupta, Electrovaya’s director of electric vehicles, said that the company is currently researching a range of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles for all applications through its Clean Transportation division, including a partnership with Purolator to replace the old, smoggy delivery vehicles with a zero-emission version.

Meanwhile, the Maya-300 has the best chance of changing public perception because it resembles a modern five-door hatchback, similar to what’s sold in any regular dealership.

“It’s designed as an urban vehicle, for city driving, commuting, fleet use,” DasGupta said.

“I’d love to see these kinds of cars driven by parking enforcement officers (because) internal combustion engines are terribly inefficient in stop-and-go driving.”

The main challenge facing Electrovaya are the current regulations in most of Canada outlawing low-speed electric vehicles on public roads.

Only Quebec is running a test program to give some hand-picked companies such as Electrovaya a shot at Canadian success by allowing them onto streets with speed limits of 60 km/h or lower. And while DasGupta feels that the Maya-300 would easily be able to qualify under Quebec’s regulations, Electrovaya sees the United States’ vehicle market as a more important nut to crack for now.

“It’s perfect if you need a car to drop the kids to school, or pick up groceries, or if you don’t want to buy your kid an old jalopy, especially since you don’t want them on the highway,” she said.

On display
ELECTROVAYA MAYA-300
• The latest in low-speed transportation courtesy of a Mississauga-based battery maker. Doesn’t look like an electric vehicle, and can be equipped with power windows, air conditioning and rear airbags.

ZENN

• Toronto-based ZENN (Zero Emissions No Noise) features its two-seat urban runabout.