Ed Mizzi isn’t holding back from buying a new electric vehicle because he’s intimidated by all the fancy technology. 

The 70-year-old Hamilton resident says he’s more concerned there wouldn’t be enough charging stations along his 6,000-kilometre route to Alaska — a road trip he’s done three times before and may do again. 

“Right now my wife and I couldn’t afford a fully electric car, but we’re also concerned about the range,” said Mizzi, who’s driven to nearly all U.S. states and Canadian provinces and territories. 

“The whole infrastructure of charging stations is not nearly where it should be.” 

A former driving instructor, he shared his thoughts about electric cars with CBC Hamilton at the McMaster Automotive Resource Centre on Sunday. 

He was among close to 70 seniors who attended a sold-out Mobility Matters event organized by university engineering researchers and students. Participants were invited to ask questions about electric and autonomous vehicles and give researchers feedback on how to make them more accessible.

room of people at tables
The sold-out event run by McMaster connected nearly 70 seniors with engineering students and professors to discuss the future of cars. (Samantha Beattie/CBC)

Prof. Brenda Vrkljan, who specializes in making auto design safer for older drivers, said ageism often means seniors are left out of the conversation about adopting new technologies like hybrid or electric cars.

The Mobility Matters event, for example, is the first Vrkljan said she’s heard of that has connected engineers with older drivers — even though they are among the most experienced on the road and often eager to reduce their fossil fuel footprint. 

“I think older people are open and excited about making sure the future is better for their grandchildren,” she said. “I think we can do a better job of incorporating that.”

McMaster competing in North American EV challenge

McMaster engineers are also competing against 14 other universities in a North America-wide EcoCAR EV Challenge run by the U.S. Department of Energy. 

They have four years to modify a Cadillac LYRIQ, an electric car, to make it more energy efficient and accessible for drivers, while incorporating autonomous features, said McMaster project manager Arthur Faron, 25.

People who are older, who’ve lost some mobility, are often “overlooked” when developing new vehicles, Faron said. 

But the team wants what they develop to be for everyone, “not just the next generation,” he added. They will be incorporating the seniors’ feedback from the Sunday event into their design, and get them to test out new features once they’re developed. 

“A lot of older adults don’t feel heard when it comes to the electric vehicle conversations,” Faron said. “And they have many valid concerns. They’re very informed.” 

Three people talk at a table.
Joy Verma, left, chats with Prof. Brenda Vrkljan and EcoCAR project manager Arthur Faron at the McMaster Automotive Resource Centre. (Samantha Beattie/CBC)

Participants asked researchers about the environmental impacts of lithium batteries, recently raised as a concern by 90-year-old climate activist Jane Goodall

Lithium mining can ruin the surrounding natural landscape and “scar the natural world,” she told CBC News last week. Lithium mining also requires large amounts of water. 

Prof. Ali Emadi, an expert in EV engine development who is also leading the EcoCAR team, told the audience that as batteries are developed, less lithium may be needed. Sodium is also being considered as an alternative. 

Joy Verma, 75, attended the event because she’s considering trading her 16-year-old gas car in for a hybrid and had questions. By the end of the day, she said she felt more confident in her decision. 

“You have to move along with changes that come,” Verma said.

“As you get older your reflexes are not quite as good. You’re a little slower looking at what’s around you so it’s good having the technology there to help.”

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