What started out as a test run on the local market a year ago has transitioned into slow but steady growth for Auto Solutions Limited, by way of the introduction of the Mahindra Reva e20 electric car.
Sales crossed the one year milestone in March with numbers up from three sold when they were first imported, up to a total of eight as of the end of the month.
The three-door, four seater hatchback that looks like something out of a science fiction movie retails for $22,995. And this compact vehicle, seen more frequently on Bermuda’s roads these days is surprisingly quiet. All you hear is a quiet buzz as you zip along our winding roads.
There’s no horsepower under the hood but this little car can jet up to 80 km with a lot of kick. But it’s definitely not for claustrophobic types, as the size of this miniature vehicle has proved to be a major factor when it comes to sales.
Managing director of Auto Solutions Limited, Glen Smith, eagerly anticipates the day when the e20 is upgraded to a four-door model. He’s convinced they would sell more if the e20 came in a bigger version.
“As you know we are restricted to one car per household and this limits the customer as families would prefer four doors for practicality…which creates a challenge,” said Mr Smith.
“It is my understanding that Mahindra is working on a four-door version of the car at the moment. We have not been told when they intend to release the four-door version and I don’t believe it will be in 2015.
Auto Solutions Ltd is always looking for new models of vehicles for Bermuda. We would consider a four-door electric vehicle manufactured by any of the brands we carry if all specifications met our criteria.
He noted that the car “is great if you’re a single person” and the e20 has “great attributes which will save you a tremendous amount of money versus paying for conventional gas, and there’s very little maintenance”.
But he said: “In reality, the e20 is not very good for my business because you don’t have to bring the car in every six months to have an oil job or a tune up and what have you.
“The only thing that you really have to do with the electric car is to bring it in to have your tyres rotated and maybe change some schematics. But the whole car is also driven by computers.”
And that’s where modern-day technology comes in as the cars are monitored around the clock by computer technicians based in India where the cars are manufactured.
“They’re tweeking from India…so you don’t even know that the car is being done through the computer and over the internet through the cell in your car that they’re working on,” said Mr Smith.
“So far we have eight on the road. I go back to the size that appears the be kind of the issue why we haven’t sold more.
“In an ideal world it would be a perfect car if you were able to have it as a second car versus riding a bike. My wife has her car all day, I’m subjected to ride the bike to work. But unfortunately the legislation isn’t there.”
In terms of demographics he said the appeal of the e20 runs “across the spectrum” when it comes to age and gender.
“We have young couples from the age of 28 to 30-years-old, then we have middle of the road 55-year-olds, and then we have some retirees. We wanted to be one of the first major car dealers to bring them in because it’s an education process,” said Mr Smith.
“You have to educate the public that really the electric car is just as sustainable as the gas car. The first thing is if you’ve been using gas your whole life you have to say ‘what happens if I run out of battery juice’, and it’s no different from driving a car on gas.
“If the car runs out of battery [power] that it will give you an additional five percent [of power] to go where you have to go, which is an additional seven miles.”
Ultimately he said it comes down to “your next charging station which you don’t have in a gas in a car”. “It’s a totally different concept from how a normal car runs.” But the one thing electric car owners must do is recharge their vehicles.
“You always carry a cord with you so I could stop by your home and just plug in. We can sit and have a drink while my car charges, from start to finish it takes about five hours. However, if I’m just needing a top up to get home, or wherever, I have to go for maybe an hour or two at the most.
“With a full charge on a car you will get 62 miles – essentially you could go up and down the island three times before you have to think about charging the car. And it drives just like a regular car.”
To date he said: “We haven’t had any problems with the cars sold so far whatsoever. With all the rain we had you can drive it right through Mill’s Creek and you’re not going to bottom out because there’s no water to go inside the muffler – it’s a totally sealed car compartment.
“The car is fully air conditioned, it has a wonderful audio system in it for your iPod or whatever you want to play in it – so it has all the comforts of a regular car,” he added.
While pleased with the first year of sales he said: “I wish we could sell more obviously – that’s the reality and it’s just a learning curve.
“I believe if we had a four door car similar to like the Nissan Leaf, which is real regular car that we’ll be looking in the future to bring in, then it will be a different sales thing. Right now we brought this first one in to ‘test and kick the tyres’ so to speak to see how it runs and we’re pleased.”
One of the first to buy an e20 in Bermuda was former Parliamentary Registrar Randy Scott who is now retired and promotes the vehicle who made the decision to downsize after taking early retirement.
“My previous car – a Kia Sportage was just too much to maintain in terms of the cost of gas and service,” said Mr Scott.
“The e20 is easy to service as it only requires an annual check – there’s little to no maintenance. No oil change, coolant, clutch, gearbox, radiator, starter, alternator, or change of spark plugs.
“You don’t have to concern yourself with fuel increases nor do you really have to worry about the impact on your electricity bill. Most homes have 110v outlets…that’s all that’s needed to power up.
“Fortunately for me I have solar power on my house so the impact is minimal to my monthly bill.”
Whenever he’s approached about the vehicle the “cost of the household electricity bill” is always a key concern. “Clearly Bermudians hava a real concern about Belco energy costs to consumers, which I do appreciate given that there’s only one utility supplying power to the island.”
Even without solar powered homes he said: “Powering up an e20 is like using a 110v window air conditioner in your house. Like any vehicle, if you drive a lot in a fuel car at some point you have to fill up – there’s no difference with the e20 and on a full charge.”
The vehicle is also powered by a “new generation of lithium ion batteries”. “The e20 gets the best from every watt of electricity and maximizes energy efficiency as the vehicle self generates itself by sending power back to the battery when you brake or range,” said Mr Scott.
“It really is an efficient little car that’s easy to park as well. It’s perfect for the island, and it’s dent resistant, noncorrosive, and colour impregnated – meaning no painting is necessary.
“The e20 is a wonderful drivable car because it performs like any vehicle on the roads…the only difference is it is a smaller size.”
For him the small size is convenient “because larger vehicles cost much more to licence and insure…and it comes equipped with a 110v or 220v cord to recharge”.
Said Mr Scott: “It’s a wonderful ride – come roll with us in an e20 and smile – you won’t regret it.”
By Ceola Wilson