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Plug-In Electric Car Sales In Canada: A 2012 Review


2013 Chevrolet Volt - Driven, December 2012

2013 Chevrolet Volt - Driven, December 2012

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We've covered U.S. sales of plug-in electric cars--which tripled last year.

Now, as the puck drops on a new hockey season, readers' thoughts might turn to our northern neighbor--and wonder whether Canadians lead or lag their American cousins when it comes to buying plug-in cars.

Canada: One-third the U.S. rate

As in the U.S., exact numbers are hard to get, thanks to a lack of sales figures from Tesla and others. But plug-ins represented roughly 0.1 percent of Canadian new car sales, or about 1,800 out of 1.7 million vehicles.

That's lower than plug-ins' market share in the US (0.3 percent), despite Canadians paying more for gasoline and less for electricity than U.S. buyers.

Policy inaction probably isn't the cause, either.

While there's no Federal tax credit for plug-in vehicles in Canada, three provincial governments representing 75 percent of the Canadian population (Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia) stepped up this past year with purchase rebates of up to C$8,500 [roughly US$8,500] for early adopters.

Why Canada lags ... for now

Complex situations often require complex explanations (and what is the new car market if not complex?) but a few factors are notable. While they may not give probable cause, they offer plausible cause.

a)  Lagging infrastructure: while it has 10 percent of the U.S. population, Canada has a much lower proportion of faster chargers (Level 2 and up).

Consider that today, only about 1 percent of the stations in ChargePoint's network are in Canada. Even factoring in other charger networks (e.g. the home-grown AddEnergie), Canada surely trails in the chargers-per-capita category.

Happily for Canadians, this should change in 2013 as the three most populous provinces have rolled out subsidies to build out charging infrastructure. 

The Canadian company Sun Country Highway has even unveiled a charging station network spanning the Trans-Canada Highway--the Canuck equivalent to a U.S. charging network that would span I-5, I-95, I-90 and I-10.

b)  Thriftier tastes: Canadians seem to buy less-expensive vehicles than Americans.  Consider the two countries' best-selling cars and trucks, respectively.  In Canada, the base price of the most popular car, the Honda Civic, starts in the $15,000's--while the best-selling U.S. car, the Toyota Camry, starts at $22,000.

In Canada, the Ford F-series starts at $19,999--but its base price is $23,000 in the U.S.

If Canadians prefer cheaper vehicles (or, at least, autos with lower up-front costs) then plug-ins suffer a double disadvantage, as they're typically priced higher up north.

The Chevy Volt starts at $42,000 in Canada, versus $39,995 south of the border.

c)  Is that a housing bubble?  A cover story in Canada's national newsmagazine MacLean's argues that the housing market has become a popping bubble. While the U.S. housing bubble peaked in 2006, Canadian real estate peaked in spring 2012, with household debt reaching levels seen in America at the peak of the U.S. housing market. If Canadian consumers pay down their debt in coming years, the higher up-front costs of electric cars might stifle sales, even relative to 2012. 

[Full disclosure: the author was quoted in the above-linked magazine seven years ago arguing house prices were a bubble back then. He and his wife used the money saved by renting to purchase their plug-in Prius last fall.]

Two-thirds of plug-ins are Volts

Moving from the size of the Canadian electric-car market to its components, the Chevy Volt maintained an iPod-like dominance, with a market share of about two-thirds: 1,225 sales. If the statistics are accurate, the Volt ended 2012 with its 1,500th cumulative Canadian sale.

In 2012, the Nissan Leaf (240) and Mitsubishi i-MiEV (196) trailed far behind in second and third place. The Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, arriving in September, took fourth place (63) but outsold both the Leaf and i-MiEV in each of its four months on the market.

Matthew Klippenstein is a professional engineer and plug-in electric vehicle enthusiast.  A member of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association, he lives with his family in the nearby suburb of Burnaby.

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Comments (13)
  1. Don't forget the cold weather performance of electric cars. Cold weather means more KWH for heat. Most electric cars lack heat pumps as well. More KWH for heat means less for range.
     
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  2. Cold weather really isn't a factor at all in the Greater Vancouver area, for example (the weather here is basically perfect for EVs). The cost of housing probably has more to do with it.
     
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  3. Even the Greater Vancouver area is far colder than the Sunny California. Leaf would still lose about 1/3 to 1/2 its range if you turn on the Heat at full blast...

    AT 45 degree, I would need the heat to be on full flast.
     
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  4. That, and the $2,000 difference between Canadian and US pricing doesn't help much. The good news however, is that Nissan just dropped the US pricing for the entry-level S model by about $6,000. Here's hoping they make a similar adjustment here in Canada, but we won't hear about it until about April, they say.
     
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  5. Thanks for the article, Matthew.

    I expect that if you compared early (even recent) adoption rates of hybrids between Canada and the U.S. you would see a very similar picture. That to me rules out infrastructure as a significant obstacle to Canadian EV sales.
     
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  6. I agree that infrastructure has little to do with it. In fact thanks to outlets for block heaters, Canada has a better vehicle infrastructure than the US, albeit L1 charging, but for workplace charging that's all you need.
     
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  7. That depends! Most of those block heater plugs have a *really* small breaker on them (15 amp or less). Some landlords have been reducing that even further to actively discourage people from plugging in anything bigger than a block heater. On top of that, those plugs also tend to be in parts of the country that all but disqualify electric car usage for 5 months of the year.
     
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  8. That is fine if the breaker isn't shared per-plug. If businesses would allow EVs to be plugged into block-heater plugs then you have way more L1 possibility in Canada than the USA.
     
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  9. I'd like to echo Christopher's comments: Canada's cold weather has likely played a big role in this (except for the lucky folks who live in the Vancouver area). A pure EV like a LEAF, which already has a pretty short range, will have an even shorter range in a Canadian winter. Given the number of LEAF owners in U.S. cold weather spots who've complained about the big ding cold weather makes on range, I can only imagine what it's like in Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Quebec, etc.
     
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  10. In Quebec with $5/gal gasoline and very inexpensive electricity due to hydro - Volt sales were good. For some time, dealers didn't have any in stock, according to Quebec residents. A couple who post on the gm-volt.com site said they had to go and buy pre-registered used Volts from USA dealerships.
     
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  11. if my memory serves me well, there was an early 1900s hybrid electric car with a generator in the canadian auto museum in oshawa, ontario, when i visited there on my way to mosport a number of years ago...enjoyed the museum collection
     
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  12. Great article Matthew!
    Does anyone know of any reports like this one that we did in Australia that are specific to Canada? I've yet to find one:
    http://wefts.org.au/downloads/policy/CSIRO%20Electric%20Driveway%20Project%20-%20Supporting%20Electric%20Vehicle%20Adoption%20CSIRO%202011.pdf
     
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  13. The largest factor behind Canada lagging in sales compared to the US so far is that PHEVs did not arrive in Canada until a year after the US.
     
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