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Canada may have reached the long-awaited turning point of the electric vehicle

Electric car advocates are waiting to see spending details in this week’s federal budget, but for the first time, pro-EV business leaders and economists are expressing new optimism that Canada’s abandonment of internal combustion vehicles might have reached a turning point.

After years of apologies, there are signs that a conjunction of forces is pushing the country towards a technological and social revolution that has been compared to the shift from horses to automobiles and that will bring affordable electric cars and trucks to roads and parking lots across Canada.

High gasoline prices, a gradual increase in the price of carbon, and a demand from European powers for the world to use less fossil fuels to break Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s grip on their economies, are pushing us in that direction. A series of technological developments that have made electric vehicles not only as good as internal combustion vehicles, but also better and cheaper to run, have helped make this possible.

Now if only drivers ready to make the switch could find one in the field to buy.

Missing piece of the puzzle

According to the founder of Canadian media startup Electric Autonomy, Nino di Cara, the only missing piece of the puzzle is that automakers and dealerships simply haven’t stocked and sold enough electric vehicles.

“There’s already tremendous consumer interest and demand,” di Cara said in a phone interview last week.

As gas prices soar, there are many reports of a surge in power orders that the industry has been unable to meet. But di Cara notes that this is not a recent problem.

As I reported to myself long before the recent supply chain headaches, despite repeated prompting that I was looking for a truly fuel efficient car, the salesman at a local lot didn’t mention hybrids or electrics sold by the company. And when asked directly, he was disheartening, saying they were very expensive and hard to get. What kind of salesperson discourages you from buying something expensive?

Remove electric vehicles from the field

The new federal plan aims to address this reluctance, insisting that to sell internal combustion vehicles, sellers must also remove a certain percentage of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) from the lot.

The program has proven itself not only in California, a leader in what is called the ZEV mandate, but also in British Columbia and Quebec where sales are more than triple the rate in Ontario and more than 10 times EV sales in Saskatchewan. (British Columbia and Quebec also offer higher discounts.)

In a lengthy interview with CBC last week, industry representative Brian Kingston, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, raised many of the usual industry concerns. Making electricity is expensive. The charging networks are not yet complete. Government tax incentives are too weak.

WATCH | More charging stations, incentives needed to accelerate EV switching:

Calls for more charging stations and incentives for electric vehicles in Canada’s climate plan

Proponents say Canada’s climate plan needs far more investment to provide enough charging stations and incentives to drive consumer demand for electric vehicles. 2:02

Clearly, most automakers have a strong business case for selling as few electric cars as possible. Although he later changed jobs, the late head of Fiat Chrysler, Canadian Sergio Marchionne, once begged customers not to buy the company’s electrical appliances because he said he had lost money on every sale of the business. As he complained in 2014, in order to sell the cars as the government demanded, he had to drop the price well below the added cost of the EV technology that incorporated them.

Fair rules of the game

As a businessman himself, Nino di Cara is sensitive to the challenges faced by an automotive industry faced with drastic changes that do not bear fruit in the short term.

“From an automaker’s perspective, it’s completely understandable you’d rather not have those mandates and requirements to sell a certain number of vehicles,” said the Toronto-based entrepreneur, who came to Canada from Great Britain 15 years ago after a successful publishing career.

But he said having standardized rules in place for each manufacturer leveled the playing field for competing Canadian dealers.


“It’s no longer a question of VE when, it’s now just a question of how,” di Cara said.

He pointed out that when the world went from motive power to oil power, there was almost no oil left, and yet, within a few years, companies learned to drill miles underground and made fortune doing so. Rather than waiting for charging station networks to be complete or having a stockpile of battery minerals on hand, these industries will grow in tandem, making profits in the process.

“Sometimes when the industry pushes back on a policy like this, it almost feels like they don’t understand the market,” said Mark Jaccard, professor of sustainable energy at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver during a briefing. phone call last week.

Dragging your feet

Jaccard, often described as the architect of BC’s groundbreaking carbon tax under the provincial right-wing Liberal government, takes a pro-market stance on what he sees as the essential shift away from fossil fuels. But he criticized the auto industry for unnecessarily dragging its feet on a transition they will find hugely profitable.

“Unfortunately, the auto industry continues to convince governments that an ambitious transition to ZEVs is impossible,” Jaccard wrote last October, predicting this week’s fiscal move toward mandatory electric vehicle sales.

Jaccard said he thinks the country has reached a turning point where consumers and industry are finally on the path to phasing out fossil fuel vehicles. And he said the proof can be seen in British Columbia, where electric vehicle sales have already exceeded the provincial mandate by 10%, with the province increasing mandatory ZEV sales to 26% by 2026 and to 90% by 2030, well ahead of federal goals.

The winning EV charging station design by Edinburgh architect James Silvester. The Parkland gas station company, sponsor of the competition organized by Electric Autonomy, has committed to build this winning design at a location in British Columbia. (James Silvester/Electric Autonomy)

But he said that with the pan-Canadian federal goal of 20% by 2026, even if a pro-fossil fuel government is elected — for example, after the end of the Liberal-neo Democrat in 2025 — this will make the process hard to stop. He compares it to the closing of coal-fired power plants in Ontario. Even after the election of the Ford government, there was no going back.

Jaccard also said that since the mandate is based on the number of cars sold — not the dollar value — auto retailers will be motivated to lower the price of cheaper models first so they can keep selling. more profitable high-end gas guzzlers.

Last week, a new Clean Energy Canada study comparing electric vehicles to their internal combustion equivalents emphasizes that buying an electric car already saves a consumer at least $15,000 over time. life of a car.

From concept to commercial reality

Di Cara of Electric Autonomy said that in addition to incentivizing automakers, the transition will bring a new flood of entrepreneurial companies to serve the industry, similar to his own start-up, a media company in line based on electric vehicles. One of the company’s recent projects was a challenge to architects to create the electric equivalent of gas stations.

Scottish architect James Silvester’s winning design, used to illustrate this story, will actually be brought to life in British Columbia by service station company Parkland, one of the competition sponsors.

So is this latest federal decision the watershed moment when Canada can move everyone away from fossil fuel vehicles? Di Cara is hesitant to call it a sure thing.

“I will only believe in the decisive moment when the vehicles will eventually be sold and they will be in the hands of the drivers,” said di Cara. “I think it’s absolutely a huge step in the right direction.”

Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis

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