Quebec passes Canada's first zero-emission vehicle rule, to start in 2018


Province of Quebec in Canada

Province of Quebec in Canada

Quebec has become the first Canadian province to adopt a requirement for sales of a certain number of zero-emission vehicles, similar to the one in effect in California.

Quebec's Assemblée Nationale passed the regulation on October 26 by a unanimous vote of 112 to 0, and to universal praise from Canada's electric vehicle community.

The province joins not only California but nine other ZEV states (Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont) at the forefront of electrifying North American transportation.

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Starting with the 2018 model year (effectively, during the fall of 2017 for most makers), car companies will need to generate ZEV credits equivalent to 3.5 percent of their sales in Quebec—and the threshold will rise rapidly over time.

Quebec's ZEV mandate, Bill 104, received unanimous support in its provincial legislature

Quebec's ZEV mandate, Bill 104, received unanimous support in its provincial legislature

Most government documents list a target of 15.5 percent of sales by 2025—though Reuters quoted a spokesperson for the Minister of Environment saying the 15.5 percent target was for 2020.

These dates straddle the California Air Resources Board's target of 14.5 percent in 2022.

In an interesting symmetry, the passage of Bill 104 means about one-quarter each of Canadians and Americans now live in ZEV jurisdictions.

Quebec has 23 percent of Canada's population, while the 10 ZEV states comprise about 28 percent of U.S. residents.

While it has perennially jockeyed with British Columbia for electric vehicle market share leadership in Canada, Quebec's ZEV Act should position it as the market leader by a large margin.

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Manufacturers will have adjust their sales strategies to achieve a vehicle mix that meets their individual ZEV credit requirements—meaning more battery-electric vehicles.

The 3.5 percent target for model year 2018 is nominally four times the current market share for all plug-in vehicles in Quebec (0.9 percent in the first eight months of the year).

That total includes not only battery-electric vehicles but also plug-in hybrids.

Plug-in electric vehicle market share in Canadian provinces offering electric-car rebates

Plug-in electric vehicle market share in Canadian provinces offering electric-car rebates

Quebec's ZEV Act from 50,000 feet

Before diving into the details, it should be noted that while Quebec's ZEV law has been adopted, the draft regulation has yet to be tabled for public consultation.

It may yet be amended in response to automaker input, though car companies—Ford, Nissan, and Kia among them—have been positive in their public responses.

The relative lack of industry pushback could stem from a variety of reasons.

Automakers appear to have learned to live with the California Air Resources Board's ZEV regulations, which the Quebec ZEV mandate closely mirrors.

(In Quebec as in California, carmakers selling fewer than 4,500 vehicles per year are exempt.)

Quebec government framing about the ZEV Act, focusing on economic opportunity [@Heurtel on Twitter]

Quebec government framing about the ZEV Act, focusing on economic opportunity [@Heurtel on Twitter]

Steady declines in lithium-ion cell cost have made it easier for mass-market automakers to justify designing plug-in electric model variants or dedicated vehicles.

Moreover, the lack of auto-assembly plants in Quebec reduces the political clout of manufacturers.

Also , successive Quebec governments, from both traditional ruling parties, have also flexed the muscle of industrial policy in support of transport electrification. They have argued that the province will reap economic benefits by positioning itself at the forefront of this shift.

Finally, the province's public utility, Hydro-Quebec, has seized on plug-in electric vehicles as an opportunity to increase its revenues.

Province of Quebec in Canada

Province of Quebec in Canada

While its base residential rate starts at a low 5.71 cents per kilowatt-hour, plug-in electric vehicle owners would be expected to reach the second pricing tier, at 8.68 cents/kWh.

As low as these prices may seem to some U.S. readers, they're still higher than the price Hydro-Quebec receives for its electricity exports (5.68 cents/kWh in 2015).

And its revenue from such exports is itself expected to decline over time, as more renewable energy supply comes online at some of the utilities currently buying its power.

Quebec's ZEV Act by the numbers

Although plug-in electric vehicle advocates and enthusiasts are delighted at Quebec's 3.5-percent ZEV mandate for the 2018 model year, there are some nuances to the target.

As in California and the other Section 177 states, the 3.5-percent requirement is not measured based on numbers of vehicles sold (ZEV sales divided by total sales) but is based on earned credits (ZEV credits / total sales).

And some electric vehicles can earn more than one credit.

Bourgeois Chevrolet, Rawdon, Quebec, Canada [photo: RoulezElectrique.com]

Bourgeois Chevrolet, Rawdon, Quebec, Canada [photo: RoulezElectrique.com]

The government's June 2016 cost-benefit analysis (note: in French), again patterned on the California regulations, proposes offering more credits as the rated range of battery-electric or fuel-cell vehicles increases, topping out at 4 credits for vehicles with a range of 563 km (350 miles) or higher.

Plug-in electric vehicles would receive between 0.3 and 1.1 credit, depending on their electric range.

This means that automakers could achieve ZEV credits equivalent to 3.5 percent of sales despite selling fewer than 3.5 percent of their cars with plugs.

As currently written, the ZEV Act also allows automakers to collect credits for sales of applicable vehicles already made in 2014 through 2017.

Those sales can be applied against their 2018 totals, greatly easing the transition for automakers as the Act takes effect.

While this may frustrate plug-in electric vehicle advocates, it is worth bearing in mind that these take effect relatively quickly despite potentially wide-reaching effects on the vehicle mix available in the province.

Effect of electric-car purchase incentives on Tesla Model S sales in B.C. vs Ontario and Quebec

Effect of electric-car purchase incentives on Tesla Model S sales in B.C. vs Ontario and Quebec

Drawing from the proverbial wisdom of "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush", an initially modest but widely supported ZEV mandate could ultimately prove more valuable than more stringent, fractious regulations whose support is divided along partisan lines.

No party stays in power forever, after all.

Finally, recognizing that not all Quebecers have the disposable income to purchase new vehicles, automakers will also receive credit for used plug-in electric vehicles that are imported from the United States and resold in Quebec.

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