Monday, June 14, 2010

Electric Cars come to China and my automotive secrets.



When I was at EXPO, I was impressed with the array of electric and hydrogen vehicles throughout the site. The only gas powered autos were the small number of black Mercedes and Buick Lasalles sitting by the side of the road in front of the EXPO Centre awaiting dignitaries.
In many of the pavilions, electric cars were on display...two that come to mind are Portugal, which has some of the most aggressive drivers in Europe, and the GM pavilion which features very attractive little personal electric vehicles. As I was leaving Shanghai, a story in the China Daily News (an English language paper) described China's interest in becoming the world's largest producer of electric vehicles.

I was reminded of this today when the Vancouver Sun had a story about the introduction of electric taxis in Shenzhen, a city near Hong Kong. While Vancouver is proud of its increasing fleet of hybrid taxis, I wonder how long it will be before we introduce electric taxis.

I look forward to this. I also look forward to the creation of a 'taxi culture' in Vancouver, similar to that in Shanghai, where you can travel for 30 minutes by cab and the fare rarely exceeds $5!
But that's another story.

Here's another story.... like most Canadian men, I have always been interested in cars. Below is a story which appeared in the Vancouver Sun while I was in China. While I very much enjoyed chatting with Andrew McCredie, who really knows cars, I'm sure I'll always regret sharing my automotive secrets in such a public way (Indeed, someone quite rightly pointed out that while Frank Lloyd Wright did say the Lincoln Continental was the most beautifully designed American car , he died before the 1961 model came out!)

Odd by design

Vancouver community architect Michael Geller has a long history of successful developments in and around the Lower Mainland, but an even longer history of owning all manner of cars in all manner of conditions


Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/health/design/3081663/story.html#ixzz0qq8l5JZQ

Andrew McCredie continues with a new occasional feature called 'My Life, My Cars' in which we get a taste of a person's life story through their cars. Today, the subject is Michael Geller

Michael Geller blames one of the 20th Century's greatest architects for his biggest automobile blunder.

"Frank Lloyd Wright once said that the '61 Lincoln Continental was the most beautiful American car that was ever designed," Vancouver architect Geller is saying over a cup of coffee at an outdoor cafe in Coal Harbour on a sunny afternoon. "And the idea of a four-door convertible appealed to me."

So began, back in 1990, Geller's flirtation with just such a Continental.

It started, as so many ill-advised flings do, innocently enough: "I spotted it one day in a London Drug's parking lot, and put a note on the window that read simply "if you ever want to sell this car, I'll buy it."

It would end ingloriously two years later with Geller, now the owner, standing in a pool of gasoline after failing to sell the beast at auction.

"It had a hole in the gas tank line, something I forgot when filling it up at a gas station in Surrey after the auction," the affable architect says with a chuckle and shake of his head. "It was on a lark, and I had more money than sense back then, that's for sure."

As pleasing to the discerning eye as the Continental might be, it's complicated convertible roof operation, which includes eight motors, and its outdated mechanics proved too much for Geller, who would part with it for half of what he paid for it.

He would not make the same mistake with his next car, a new Saab 9-3 convertible he took delivery of on Dec. 23, 1995.

"I had just read a book called When All You Ever Wanted Isn't Enough, about what is it that people look for in life," he says, eyes-twinkling like a wry raconteur. "It asked if you were to die tomorrow, is there anything you would regret."

One beat. Two beat.

"And the only thing I ever regretted was that I'd never had a convertible with a top that worked properly."

Not only did the Saab's push-button top work like a charm, its late arrival in late-December proved the making of an annual event.

"We bought it in the early summer expecting to take delivery in July, and we eventually took delivery on Dec. 23. So I bundled up my wife and young girls, got some hot chocolate, put down the top and we toured the Christmas lights. It became a family tradition."

Michael Geller was born in England, grew up in Toronto and for the past three decades has made a home and a career in Vancouver. A noted architect and property developer, he has had a direct hand in numerous landmark redevelopments throughout the region, beginning with the Steveston waterfront through to False Creek, Coal Harbour and most recently atop Burnaby Mountain at SFU.

"I always wanted to study architecture, but a few years after working with Toronto architect Daniel Libeskind, I went on to get more into property development and consulting," he says of his early working life. " I then worked for CMHC in Ottawa, and came out here on business in 1974 and fell in love with it.

" It was white in Ontario and green here," he continues, casting his eye to the water and mountains. "I vividly recall being at the Bayshore for a drink and it was warm and the boats were in the water."

The West Coast climate also suited his taste in cars, which leans toward the convertibles of the world. (Consider he owns the only convertible that comes with a sunroof, the VW Eos).

And if anyone has had a taste of the global automotive buffet, it's Michael Geller. A quick count of the countries of origin the vehicles he's owned hail from is six.

And it began with the French.

"My first car was a Simca Mille," he recalls, adding, "Simca sounds like the Yiddish word 'simcha,' which means happiness. And it wasn't."

"It was a good day in the Toronto winter if I could drive all the way to university without smelling brake fluid."

Next up was a U.S. brand, though in a non-conformist pattern that would continue for years, Geller owned his Ford Poplar while studying in England.

"I lived with a bunch of guys in London and one of them happened to sell used cars," he explains.

"So for £35 I got a dull grey Ford Poplar. The next day I went to the hardware store and bought a bunch of different colour paint and painted it in the brightest colours. You have to remember this was London in late Sixties."

Problem with that car was that it wasn't big enough to sleep in -- evidently a bothersome oversight -- so for the princely sum of £15, he bought the first of a trio of Jaguars he has owned over the years. Unlike the next two, this one, a 1959 Mark I, had some structural issues.

"It looked quite good, from one side anyway, but every time I hit a bump on the road a piece of rust would fall off."

His last car before heading back to the New World was a 1960 NSU Prinz 30, a West German-built oddity that he and his friends called "Mr. Puffin." (That Sixties thing again.)

"I toured Europe in 1969 in it and when I arrived in Ostende, Belgium, the brakes failed," he remembers.

"We found the address of the Prinz dealer in a book in the glove compartment, but when we arrived at the address, the dealership had been replaced by a large office block."

Back in Toronto to finish his studies, he owned a couple of Peugeots -- a 404 and a 504 -- the latter of which was damaged in a train accident while be transported from Ottawa to Vancouver in 1974.

"The car was never the same, and when a friend tried to sell it for me in The Vancouver Sun, the ad focused on its excellent windshield wipers," he says with a laugh.

By 1981 Geller finally bought his first new car, a Mazda 626 coupe, and still considers it one of the best cars he's ever owned.

"But I always wanted another Jag," he says of the times, and by the mid-Eighties he figured out how to do it.

"I was just starting the first big development of my own, and I borrowed $45,000 -- $25,000 as a deposit on the property, and $20,000 to buy a used Vanden Plas at MCL," Geller related, adding that he figured the luxury car would also help his fundraising cause.

"I thought I'd look important enough to get the other $13 million for the project."

"Joe Segal lent me the money, and the fact that his wife drove a six-cylinder Jaguar encouraged me to ask for a slightly larger percentage to do the deal," Geller notes with a giggle.

"It was a beautiful car, but I had to be careful where I parked it because it leaked so much oil."

His project went well, and a few years later Geller bought a brand new 1989 Jaguar Sovereign.

"It was a longtime dream of mine to buy a new Jag, but I was never happy with it," he says, recalling that aforementioned self-help book title.

A year later he would fall in and out of love with that Lincoln Continental, and after that debacle has been somewhat sensible with his vehicle choices.

Though he himself admits, the hulking Lexus GX450 he drove during work on the sustainable community at Simon Fraser University did fly in the face of what he was promoting.

"I traded in my Jag for it because the Jag couldn't get up the hill very well at SFU, but I always felt a touch uncomfortable driving it as it used about 20 litres of fuel every 100 kilometres."

By 2007 the guilt became too much for him -- to say nothing of the fuel costs -- and he traded it in for a brand new Toyota Prius, which he still drives with pride. And only one complaint.

"The Prius is a terrific car, but the biggest drawback for me is that it didn't come with a sunroof, but the new one does." He's not sure what's next in his garage, but if it could be anything, it would be a Bentley convertible.

"They are so elegant," he says, but admits, "also a bit ostentatious."

Still, "I think the truth is, even those people who shun materialism, they secretly dream of driving a Bentley or Porsche."

Geller, like so many who have owned a number of vehicles over the years, relishes not just the driving aspect of an automobile, but understands that a car cannot only get you where you're going, but transport you back to where you've been.

And funnily enough, one of his most poignant trips down memory lane involved that otherwise forgettable Continental.

"I drove my father to the synagogue in it for the High Holy Days one year, and it brought back the memories of driving down Bathurst Street looking at the new cars. It was really something."

If you know of somebody who might be a worthy focus of 'My Life, My Cars' please drop a line to Andrew McCredie at mccredie@telus.net

- - -

THE CARS OF MICHAEL GELLER (CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER)

1961 Pontiac Laurentian (purchased with my father)

Simca Mille

Ford Poplar

1959 Jaguar Mark I

1960 NSU Prinz 30 Peugeot 404

1969 Peugeot 504

1981 Mazda 626

Volvo Station Wagon

Jaguar Vanden Plas

1989 Jaguar Sovereign

1961 Lincoln Continental

1995 Saab Convertible Lexus

1997 LX450

2008 VW Eos

2008 Toyota Prius

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