Grading Canada's Progress In Plug-In Electric Cars So Far

2012 Nissan Leaf in the autumn outside Ottawa, Ontario, Canada [photo: Ricardo Borba]

2012 Nissan Leaf in the autumn outside Ottawa, Ontario, Canada [photo: Ricardo Borba]

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Modern electric cars went on sale three years ago, and now we're starting to see assessments of their progress from a variety of perspectives.

Last year, WWF Canada (the panda people, not the professional wrestlers) set a goal of having 600,000 electric vehicles on Canadian roads by 2020 – or about 3 percent of the country's vehicle fleet of 20 million.

One year later, the group has issued a status update, grading the country's progress on these fronts.

WWF proposes that to achieve their 2020 goal, Canada must create conditions where plug-in electric cars enjoy:

  • comparative pricing (removing the "plug-in price penalty" for early adopters)
  • extensive charging infrastructure (30,000 public and workplace charging stations by 2020)
  • broad public awareness (i.e. literacy about plug-in cars among the car-buying public)
  • available electric models of different car types and at different price levels ("a plug-in for every purse and purpose", as Alfred Sloan might say)
  • increased environmental benefits (further cleaning the grid, to heighten electric vehicles' environmental advantages)

Sun Country Highway electric-car charging station, Burnaby, BC, Canada [photo: Matthew Klippenstein]

Sun Country Highway electric-car charging station, Burnaby, BC, Canada [photo: Matthew Klippenstein]

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Calculating market share

The group pegs plug-in electric vehicles at about 0.32 percent of the Canadian new car market today, or about double the 0.15 percent calculated in our monthly Canadian plug-in electric sales reports.

The difference comes because the WWF excludes light-duty trucks and sport-utility vehicles from its analysis--because electric options aren't yet available in those market segments.

This is also how it calculates plug-ins to have fully a 2.9 percent market share of of new-car sales in California. The WWF simply ignores trucks.

Recommendations & commentary

1. B.C., Ontario, and Quebec should continue to offer their incentive programs.

2. Other provinces should introduce similar incentives for buying EVs.

3. Federal and provincial governments should introduce other programs to reduce the price barrier to EVs.

The first three recommendations deal with incentive programs, to address the "comparative pricing" bullet above.

WWF Canada will certainly applaud Quebec's recent decision to double down on its incentive program, as well as automakers' recent price-cutting efforts.

Incentives in British Columbia are set to expire in spring 2014, however, so electric-vehicle and allied groups are preparing to advocate for their continuation.

Ottawa resident Ricardo Borba takes delivery of the first consumer Nissan LEAF in Canada

Ottawa resident Ricardo Borba takes delivery of the first consumer Nissan LEAF in Canada

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A Federal rebate on plug-in electric vehicles seems unlikely, given the current Canadian government's stronghold in oil-rich Alberta.

While WWF suggests that a carbon tax could help steer more drivers to electric vehicles, that seems even less likely: During the 2008 election, the ruling Conservatives pilloried a proposed carbon tax as a "Permanent Tax on Everything".

This, despite a credible report that Alberta's oil giants are actually in favor of carbon taxes, which they view as inevitable in the long term, to reduce their regulatory uncertainty.

If they knew how much it will cost to emit carbon dioxide in the future, they could prepare accordingly. Right now, those oil companies pay nothing for carbon emissions--though they expect to pay something eventually. But they can't budget for those costs, because they don't know what they'll be.

4. Provincial governments and utilities should develop new infrastructure programs that encourage the installation of charging stations in workplaces and certain public areas.

5. Provinces and municipalities should change building codes and by-laws respectively to require the installation of charging stations in new buildings.

Canada's electric-vehicle infrastructure has benefited from private-sector evangelism by Sun Country Highway, as well as support from select provinces, Quebec's Electrified Transportation Strategy being the new gold standard.

Some of Canada's smaller provinces (e.g. Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island) are also starting to consider building out infrastructure as well.

As for charging opportunities in new buildings, the City of Vancouver is currently debating among two alternative targets: 20 percent Level 2 charging stations in new apartments / condominiums, or 100 percent conventional 110-Volt availability.

While the advantages of Level 2 chargers are clear, one big benefit of universal Level 1 charging is that contractors wouldn't need to be called in to lay more wire, once electric vehicles take up all of the 20-percent level in a given building. And overnight Level 1 charging is enough for all but the longest morning commutes.

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