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All Charged Up

Range anxiety and charging station availability among considerations for those considering electric vehicles


November 22, 2017
by Kara Kuryllowicz

From the October 2017 print edition

Electric vehicles continue to attract attention as air quality and extreme weather—both in Canada and globally—put the focus on emissions and climate change.

Yet as much as they appeal to anyone that cares about the planet, the reality is that so far, EVs remain suitable only in certain circumstances due to their capital cost, driving range, limited model range, charge time, access to charging stations and value at resale.

“Consumers are open to them and they truly believe they are coming but people are not dumb—they need them to make sense in their daily lives and right now, that’s the case for very few people,” says Ian Jack, managing director, communications and government relations, Canadian Automobile Association in Ottawa, which has over six million members and 100-plus offices nationwide. “Right now, EVs are more about signaling that you are doing the right thing.”

In Canada in 2016, there were 22.4 million passenger vehicles on the road of which just 28,000 were EVs.
A fully electric vehicle is powered exclusively by electricity, charged by plugging into the grid, has a range of about 200 to 400km and no tailpipe emissions. Alternatively, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles have small battery packs for driving 20 to 80km before the gasoline engine or generator kicks in.

The cost of an EV is about $35,000, according to Plug ‘N Drive, a non-profit organization that’s committed to accelerating the adoption of EVs to maximize their environmental and economic benefits.

To date, only Ontario, Quebec and B.C. offer funding to help ease the sticker shock. Ontario provides up to $14,000 off the purchase of an electric car and up to $1,000 off the purchase and installation of a home charging station. In Ontario, EV owners also get a green license plate that allows drivers to use high-occupancy/toll lanes when driving solo. In Quebec, there is a rebate of up to $8,000 off the purchase of an electric car and 50 percent off the cost for buying and installing a charging station up to a maximum of $600. British Columbia offers a rebate of up to $5,000 on a fully electric car and up to $2,500 off a plug-in hybrid electric car.

“This technology is still being adopted almost exclusively by organizations with very specific mandates around the environment and the use of electricity, for example, government and utilities, because the ROI and the range simply aren’t there yet,” says Peter Nogalo, marketing manager, ARI, Mississauga, Ontario, which manages 180,000 vehicles Canada-wide.

The CAA’s Jack, ARI’s Nogalo and Plug ‘N Drive all point out that in most cases, range anxiety is unfounded since most drivers regularly drive only shorter distances, but acknowledge that most vehicles that are used for work do require more range than EVs can deliver. Plug ‘N Drive, which notes most Canadians drive 60km or less daily, suggests setting one’s trip calculator to zero before starting the daily commute to track the actual distance travelled.

“The increased popularity of car- and ride-sharing services indicates Canadians’ attitudes toward their vehicles are evolving,” says Jack. “For example, you could use your EV day to day, then rent a hybrid or gasoline-powered vehicle to visit a distant client, drive to the cottage or take a two-week road trip.”

EVs’ upfront cost and range tend to limit their appeal, but consumers also want more choice than the approximately 10 fully electric cars currently available in Canada. Both Jack and Nogalo point out that the lack of fully electric SUVs and pick-ups leads buyers back to either a hybrid or traditional gasoline engine. Of the 1.95 million new passenger vehicles sold in 2016, pickups, SUVs and vans dominated the top rankings. The Ford F-Series and Ram Pickup respectively ranked #1 and #2 in 2016 and 2015 followed by the Honda Civic in third, then the Dodge Grand Caravan, GMC Sierra and Toyota RAV4 in 4th, 5th and 6th place.

“If you need the EV as a work tool or really want an SUV or pick-up, an EV isn’t currently an option,” says Nogalo. “As much as you want to do the right thing, whether you’re an entrepreneur, a small- to medium-sized enterprise or part of a multinational, you have to be practical.”

Range and charging are less of a concern as the range increases and the charging options continue to expand, but they’re still an issue for many buyers. In Canada, there are now more than 4,500 public charging stations, of which 150 are Level 3 fast chargers that fully charge an EV in 30 minutes or less.
As well, businesses and workplaces are installing charging stations for employees and customers.

For example, about 300km of north of Toronto on Georgian Bay in Pointe au Baril, Ontario, Desmasdons Boatworks’ general manager Matt French, a car and boat fanatic, learned that several customers had Teslas and EVs as second vehicles. When customers at the 200-plus slip marina said they’d drive their EVs to the cottage if Desmasdons had charging stations, French approached Tesla which supplied and installed two Tesla chargers and one generic unit at no charge.

“The chargers show we’re forward-thinking, confirm our commitment to protecting the environment and are tangible proof we pay attention to what really matters to our customers,” says French. “There is usually at least one vehicle being charged and with interest expected to increase, Tesla will soon install a fourth unit at Desmasdons.”

CAA’s Jack also notes that although vehicles represent one of consumers’ most significant life investments, many focus more on the vehicle’s appearance and the monthly payment than operating costs. That’s one reason CAA offers an Electric Vehicle Cost Calculator.

“Most people aren’t particularly rational about vehicle prices, but if they were, they would realize that EVs can offer good value,” says Jack. “Consumers will have to look beyond the monthly payments to lifecycle costs if EVs are to be adopted by the masses.”

Fortunately, certain governments are taking a different approach as nations consider the environmental and human impact of the 1.2 billion vehicles on the road with two billion expected by 2035, as reported by automotive trade journal Ward’s Auto. There are plans to end the production and sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles, which would boost EV production and sales, while positively affecting cost and acceptance. Yet it’s also recognized that government plans and promises can be rescinded and that to date, not one nation has detailed exactly how their gasoline and diesel bans will be achieved.

Globally, right now, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) notes 95 percent of electric cars are sold in only 10 countries: China, the US, Japan, Canada, Norway, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands and Sweden. China, which accounts for about 30 percent of global passenger vehicle sales, will implement its policy “in the near future.” Dutch parliament voted to end all gas and diesel car sales by 2025 (yet to go through the Dutch senate); India said sales of gas and diesel cars will stop by 2030 and Norway will follow suit by 2025. France and Britain will end sales of gas and diesel vehicles by 2040 and Germany is considering action.

BNEF expects within eight to 10 years, electric vehicles will be cost competitive with conventional vehicles. That’s just one of many reasons it forecasts 54 percent of new car sales will be EVs and a third of the global light-duty fleet will be electric by 2040.

In short, change will continue to come and while BNEF states, “We can now envision a future dominated by electric vehicles.”

The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) provides several online tools for those either considering the purchase of an electric vehicle or those who already own one. For example, CAA’s website offers a handy charging station location tool:
http://bit.ly/2xWlW7p
As well, the site provides an online cost calculator for electric vehicles:
http://bit.ly/2g6V4rV
For additional information about EVs, including the types of vehicles sold in Canada, government incentives available and so on, visit the CAA’s website at www.caa.ca.