I had finished my lunch and my notebook was full of scrawls, scratches and bullet point lists. Across the table, my lunch companion, Harvey Soicher, had hardly taken a bite of his sandwich.
Harvey was so full of passion and fervour for his project, an epic cross-continent journey dubbed Mary Ann’s Electric Drive, that he wanted to get the whole story out before our brief time together ended. The sandwich could wait.
Vancouver-native Harvey Soicher, 65, and his wife of 27 years, Mary Ann, had planned to buy an electric vehicle and drive across Canada to visit the East Coast once they retired.
“Neither of us had ever been to Newfoundland, so far away on the other side of Canada. We wanted to experience the unique scenery, rugged coastlines, the icebergs and the people.”
Harvey, a seasoned road warrior who sold ski and sporting goods for more than 40 years, was used to long-distance trips behind the wheel of his diesel-powered Volkswagen Touareg. Mary Ann loved her Audi Q5.
In 2015, after watching the 2011 documentary Revenge of the Electric Car, Harvey became a fan of electric vehicles and of Elon Musk, entrepreneur and co-founder of electric-vehicle maker, Tesla Inc.
Harvey dreamed of buying a Tesla Model 3, a all-electric sedan, and immediately put himself on the waiting list. He soon realized that the Model 3 wouldn’t be large enough to carry his sales samples and the Tesla SUV, the Model X, besides its high cost, couldn’t accommodate a roof rack because of the falcon-wing doors.
Then, tragically, Mary Ann lost her battle with cancer in June 2018. Harvey pledged to continue their dream of buying an electric vehicle and driving across Canada, to show that it could be done but also to commemorate his wife.
But which EV?
Harvey recalled an email Mary Ann had received from Audi about the brand’s new all-electric SUV, the Audi e-tron. He ordered one, one of the first Canadians to do so, and Mary Ann’s Electric Drive was born.
His excitement for his electric journey can only be matched by his enthusiasm for his 2019 Audi e-tron. “It’s a dream to drive,” Harvey grins. “The performance is amazing and it’s incredibly comfortable.”
The 2019 Audi e-tron 55 quattro is Audi’s foray into the electric vehicle world. The five-passenger crossover is practically indiscernible from Audi’s other SUVs and that, according to Audi, is on purpose. The German marque was determined to build an electric vehicle that looked normal.
The Audi e-tron’s 95 kW/h battery sends power to two electric motors as part of an all-new all-wheel drive system. Maximum output is 355 horsepower but, by engaging Sport mode and pressing the accelerator fully to the floor, you’ll get an eight-second 402-horsepower boost that propels the vehicle from zero to 100 km/h in 5.5 seconds.
A complete charge with a Level 2 charger (what’s in most people’s homes) would take about nine hours. A Level 3, or DC (direct current) fast charger, would charge the e-tron’s battery from zero to 80 per cent in about 30 minutes.
When I had lunch with Harvey near Halifax in mid-August, he had completed the cross-Canada drive. I could tell by the gleam in his eye that he was smitten — by the vehicle, the adventure, the sights he’d seen and the people he’d met. So smitten in fact that, rather than ship the vehicle to Vancouver and go back to work, Harvey decided to drive home... through the U.S.
I’m happy to report that, after an epic two-month all-electric drive of 22,383 kilometres through Canada and the U.S., Harvey and his Audi e-tron are back in Vancouver.
The vehicle performed beyond his expectations. The range of the electric Audi SUV, that all-important number of kilometres driven on a single charge, is 329 kilometres but, as Harvey became more familiar with ways to maximize battery power, he was often getting more than 400 kilometres of range.
Not only was the vehicle fun to drive but the easy-to-use MMI, Audi’s infotainment system, kept tabs on the e-tron’s battery performance, helped Harvey navigate and kept him entertained on the long stretches.
Not that long ago, driving an EV across the continent would have been impossible due to a non-existent charging infrastructure. Today, the network of charging stations in North America is growing.
I asked Harvey how he dealt with range anxiety and if there were any close calls. Only once, in Newfoundland, he tells me, he arrived at a charging destination with a range of 0 km showing on the instrument panel. Whew.
All-in-all, Harvey’s charging costs were about $350. Not bad for 22,383 kilometres of driving!
Top highlights of the trip? Harvey says it’s difficult to rate because there were so many but he names Gros Morne National Park on the west coast of Newfoundland and the 1,440-kilometre drive from St. Louis to Dillon, Colorado as well as his time spent in Dillon.
He loved meeting new people, creating new relationships and strengthening old ones. He was heartened by the fact that so many people acknowledged the trip as a fitting tribute to his wife, Mary Ann.
“I know Mary Ann would want me to be happy and it feels great to smile again. She was with me on the trip, I know she was.”
I think back on that hot August day when Harvey and I had our speedy chat just outside of Halifax. As I bid farewell and safe motoring to him, I noticed his barely-eaten sandwich wrapped and tucked into the centre console. I pictured him stopping along the road somewhere, taking a moment to reflect on his journey so far and to re-charge himself.