• Nick Martin: Telling Tales out of School

    Stories need proof, all voices with a chance to be heard

  • Kelly Taylor: Road Noise

    Plug-ins the future of green driving?

    You don't want to be stuck in an electric car when your battery dies. I mean, who would?

    While carmakers have made strides in improving the range of electric vehicles, the fear, and in some cases the reality, of running out of juice with no way to recharge remains a hurdle in selling electric cars.

    The Tesla S, for instance, has a range approaching 370 kilometres, which remains the high-water mark for electrics. Even that is a hurdle, however. Do you want to plan trips around 370-km intervals? Even the fastest recharge takes longer than filling a gas tank.

    So, first we saw the hybrid: That was a gas engine supplemented by electricity to cut fuel use. Good first step, but hardly a long way down the road to electrification. You got better fuel economy, but those first hybrids ran both gas and electric. Then, someone came out with the idea of a parallel hybrid, which created the EV button you see on the dash of certain hybrids now. Parallel hybrids move the yardsticks a fair way, since they can operate on gas, gas-electric or just electric.

    The first cars with EV mode kicked back into hybrid operation at anything above golf-cart speed. Today, the best operate at full electric at almost any speed for a short duration.

    Then came an idea that combines the best of both worlds, one that turned the hybrid concept around: Pure electric but with a way to keep the car moving by supplementing the electric drive with gas. The Chevy Volt, Cadillac ELR, Ford Fusion Energi, the Ford C-Max Energi and Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid are all available in Canada. Honda created the Accord Plug-in Hybrid, but it's not for sale here.

    Jumping on the plug-in bandwagon lately is Hyundai, which last week unveiled the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid.

    All have electric-only range such that many drivers may never burn a molecule of gasoline again. The Volt, for instance, can go as much as 50 kilometres on full electric. When the Volt battery gets low, a gas engine fires up, but only as a generator to keep the electric motors moving.

    The new Sonata, when it's released later this year, will travel up to 35 kilometres on electric before reverting to standard hybrid operation.

    Since many commuters' drives are less than that, the plug-in hybrid - like the Volt and Fusion Energi - may get you to and from work entirely on electric.

    While it will drive much like the regular hybrid, the plug-in will have a 9.8 kilowatt-hour battery, about five times as much capacity as the regular hybrid.

    The gas engine is a 2.0-litre, direct-injection four-cylinder. The electric is a 50 kW motor mounted to the six-speed automatic transmissions bell housing and taking the place of the traditional torque convertor. It is 30 per cent more powerful than the electric motor in the Sonata Hybrid.

    Pricing has not been announced, but expect the plug-in to be more expensive than the hybrid. The Sonata Hybrid is currently $29,562 and the Chevy Volt is $38,895 while the Ford Fusion Energi is $38,399. Expect Hyundai to use both the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement and currency differences to undercut both by a little. I'd guess the price to be around the $35,805 price of the Prius Plug-in, perhaps a bit less.

    Hyundai says the car reverts to normal hybrid operation once the battery gets low enough, which means on gas-electric, it should come close to the current hybrid's 6.3 litres per 100 km combined fuel consumption. If you charged it and then drove it for more than the 35-km electric range, your first 100 km should see average fuel consumption between four and five litres per 100 km. After that, expect to see the hybrid's 6.3.

    Compared to the current gas Sonata, the electric-only range displaces about $3 of gas at today's low prices. At the prices of a few months ago, it displaces about $4 of gas.

    The economic case for any hybrid remains difficult. Payback for most drivers is beyond the length of time most people own new cars. Carmakers recognize this, but count on other factors to drive the buying decision.

    "The case for hybrids and plug-in hybrids is the same as the reasons Hyundai is leasing fuel cell vehicles in the Vancouver market," said Chad Heard, Hyundai Canada's public relations manager. "It's a step toward reducing our environmental footprint. Some customers share that view, which is what interests them. Others are intrigued by the technology and want a vehicle that's different.

    "In this segment, buying decisions are often motivated with emotional reasoning."

    The Sonata PHEV is built in South Korea and will go on sale later this year. Pricing will be announced closer to launch.

  • Bob Cox

    Maple Leaf making tracks in Sweden

    If you are alarmed by the yellow and blue symbols that seem everywhere since the arrival of IKEA in Winnipeg, you can take comfort in the fact that a similar invasion is  happening on the other side of the ocean.

  • Under the Dome

    How does the NDP fix itself?

    If you believe some people out there, the short answer is that it doesn't, at least not in the immediate future.

  • Random Acts of Kindness

    Napoleon ends purse panic

    HAVE you had that moment of panic when you realize your purse is not with you when you get home?

  • Inayat Singh: Digits

    Wait times at Winnipeg's emergency rooms

    Winnipeg's emergency rooms have been seeing a rush of flu patients this holiday season, which prompted us to take a look wait times data pulled from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority website. The WRHA posts a snapshot of ERs in the system, showing the number of patients, average wait time and longest non-urgent wait time at any given point in time, updated every five minutes.

  • Mia Rabson: The Capital Chronicles

    Terror in the capital

    It was just another normal day in Ottawa.

  • Mary Agnes Welch's Gripe Juice

    Muzzling those who know

    Like any reporter should, I cringe at anonymous sources. In many cases, I worry it's lazy journalism that allows people to take swipes at rivals with no consequences or manipulate a story in secret. Anonymous sources also make it hard for readers to judge someone's credibility and motivation for speaking to the media. It's up to the reporter to ask "why is this person really talking to me? Is there a reason that undermines the information they're offering?" In the race to be first with a good story, we may not always ask that enough. I've tried, in recent years, to avoid using anonymous sources, especially in political stories. In fact, when Shelly Glover was named Manitoba's federal minister, Bruce Owen and I made a little deal with each other to only quote people on the record for a short profile we were assigned. (The result was kind of a boring story, unfortunately, which also illustrates why unnamed sources can be hard to resist.)
    But what should reporters do when people who know the most about a complex and troubled system are barred from speaking publicly? That's the case with child welfare, a system always under scrutiny, again since the death of Tina Fontaine. 
    In the years since Phoenix Sinclair's murder, I've talked to probably two dozen child welfare workers - some for hours, some for a few minutes, some over and over, all off the record. I don't think I've ever quoted one by name. When they're hired, child welfare workers sign gag orders barring them from speaking about their work. They say they would face discipline or termination if they spoke to a reporter, and their union agrees. They often give me information I can use to question the province or child welfare agencies, but sometimes I resort to the familiar "sources said."
    This blanket gag order protects the agencies, the authorities, the government and even First Nations chiefs who have some degree of control over child welfare services. I can't see how it protects children.
    I can understand barring CFS workers from revealing private, deeply personal information about kids and families in care. In my experience, CFS staff are incredibly careful not to do that. I once had a long and detailed conversation with a social worker from a northern agency who referred in passing to a death review done on a child she'd had contact with. I asked her which child, figuring I'd recognize the name. She would not tell me anything - not the gender, age, where the kid lived, whether we'd written about him or her before. She got mad that I even asked.
    Privacy, I get. What I don't get is why child welfare staff can't talk about the system - staffing levels, funding, programs, political interference, corruption, their own safety. Given the problems we've seen for a decade in child welfare, and the huge cost both in money and misery, there is a public interest in hearing from the people who know the system intimately and who might help us fix it. 
    Today, I did a story quoting two anonymous support workers who staff group homes. They raised fears about the quality of service provided by Complete Care, a for-profit firm that backfills group homes. I got two more phone calls this morning from group home staff who echoed all the same fears, which assuaged some of my anxiety about building a story around nameless people. The value in reporting their detailed experiences, especially in light of mounting evidence about Tina Fontaine's last days, outweighed my qualms about quoting them anonymously. They had credible, valuable, interesting first-hand information we couldn't get quickly any other way. 
    By the same token, social workers often feel, quite legitimately, that we pick on them, that they are blamed when things go wrong. Off-the-record conversations have been invaluable to me in mitigating some of that, in helping me understand the pressures, the case loads, the profound damage done to kids that no one worker can fix. On-the-record conversations with a face attached would help me explain that to the public.
    If real people were allowed to come forward, it might spur the kind of change we need in child welfare. It might prompt public support for the cash to invest, for example, in skilled shelter workers who are paid a decent enough wage to stay for a while, instead of contracting kids out to a temp firm.

  • Mike Deal: The Hungry Eye

    It wasn’t enough to only be a witness

    A few weeks ago I met with and photographed Colin Vandenberg, who had just finished challenging himself to eating only about $1 worth of food each day for a month. The effort arose from his trip to Malawi, a country in Africa, and his volunteer work for New Life Centre documenting life there.


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