Solar-powered vehicle hits road blocks

Marcelo Da Luz pulls solar powered car
Marcelo da Luz pulls Xof1, his solar powered vehicle, from Niagara to Toronto. PHOTO: Courtesy of Marcelo da Luz

It isn’t the high price of gas that is stopping Marcelo da Luz from driving the roads of Ontario – it’s the government. So da Luz figures if you’re not allowed to drive it, well, then pull it.

That’s just what he did last month with his ‘baby’ – a futuristic-looking car powered entirely by the sun – because a provincial regulation will not allow him to drive it on public roads.

This has left da Luz very confused because Xof1, the name he has given the vehicle, has travelled through virtually every province in Canada and across the United States, setting a long distance record in the process, and also becoming the first solar powered vehicle to operate below the freezing mark.

“This car was built in Ontario, and it’s not allowed to be driven in Ontario,” said da Luz in an interview with a tone of disappointment.

The Ontario government halted permission for solar powered vehicles to travel on Ontario roads in 2004 when a crash during a demo resulted in a fatality. Many supporters have argued that far more individuals perish in gas-powered cars, yet they are not banned from the roads.

The moratorium was eventually lifted, but it is now required that signs be posted on the routes in which these vehicles will travel in order to obtain a temporary permit. For da Luz that means putting up signs throughout 3,000-kilometres of roads. He would also be required to obtain letters from OPP and local police agencies allowing him to travel in their jurisdictions.

“They have made it impossible,” he said. “Just the logistics for putting up the signs…it’s impossible.”

da Luz argues that the restriction to allow his vehicle, which is licensed in Barbados, on the road is in contradiction of a Geneva Convention treaty signed by Canada in 1949, and then replaced in 1968 by the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.

It states that “the vehicle must meet all technical requirements to be legal for road use in the country of registration. Any conflicting technical requirements (e.g. right-hand-drive or left-hand-drive) in the signatory country where the vehicle is being driven do not apply.”

Ontario Minister of Transportation Kathleen Wynne says the rules are there for safety reasons.

“This is all very new. We need to make sure we do the education and have safety procedures in place,” she told us.

So this past April, da Luz took his car down to Niagara and pulled all 210-kilograms of it back to Toronto using his muscle power. The goal of his 160-kilometre journey was to raise awareness and interest from the community, while inspiring young people.

Along the way, da Luz was met by an increasing number of supporters and onlookers. Police officers were kind to him and he wasn’t even pulled over as he’s been in the past (once someone called 911 to report a UFO on the road).

“It was very touching, very special,” he said of the trip. “We have to be leaders in the future.”
da Luz is hoping that the issue comes up in the upcoming provincial election. He wants  the government to allow research and development of new, clean and renewable energy, particularly when it comes to road vehicles.

He said that if one of the issues is taxation on such new technology that he wouldn’t mind paying taxes on it. “I just want to drive something that doesn’t hurt the environment.”

Wynne said she’s eager to meet da Luz and talk about his car.

“I really want to see it. I have great admiration for individuals like [da Luz]. They’re pioneers. It’s wonderful.”

da Luz is currently ironing out details on a possible trip to South Africa and other African countries to showcase the car.

Xof1 will be on display at Wings and Wheels, an event that celebrates all sorts of vehicles from past and present. It takes place at Downsview Park on May 28 and 29.

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