Canada ‘Among Worst-Equipped Countries For Electric Cars’: GoCompare Study

Canada is well behind a majority of its developed-world peers when it comes to adopting electric car technology, a new analysis has found.

It’s not that Canadian consumers don’t want electric vehicles. Rather, experts say, government policy and the local auto industry are simply not keeping pace, and buying an electric car in Canada can be difficult.

In a survey of 30 member countries of the International Energy Agency, financial services comparison site GoCompare found Canada had 23,620 electric cars on the roads at the end of 2017. That’s a lower number than in many smaller countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

GoCompare’s tally includes only fully electric vehicles such as Teslas and the Nissan Leaf, and doesn’t include plug-in hybrids like the Toyota Prius and Chevy Volt.

In terms of infrastructure, Canada was also a laggard. It had the seventh-lowest ratio of charging stations, with 0.56 stations per 100 kilometres of road. That compares to 23.25 charging stations per 100 km of road in the Netherlands, the world leader. That prompted GoCompare to rank Canada “among the worst-equipped countries for electric cars.”

But Canada may already be catching up. Since GoCompare’s snapshot was taken at the end of 2017, the country has seen something of a boom in electric car sales.

In the first nine months of 2018, electric vehicle sales including hybrids were up by 158 per cent from the same period a year earlier, according to numbers from clean-tech data company Fleetcarma. A good part of the increase came from the arrival of Tesla’s new and relatively affordable Model 3 sedan, which accounted for a third of sales of fully electric cars.

One stumbling block was the Ontario government’s decision to cancel the province’s electric vehicle rebate, a move that evidence suggests took some steam of out of electric car sales in the second half of the year.

In fact, dealerships in Ontario have been moving electric car inventory to Quebec, which like British Columbia still has EV rebates, said Dan Woynillowicz, policy director at B.C.-based Clean Energy Canada.

Woynillowicz said government policy initiatives are still crucial to early adoption of electric vehicles, and that’s what makes the difference for those countries that are leading in the race to adopt the technology.

“Neither governments writ large nor North American automakers have put a priority on making electric vehicles available in the marketplace and to educate consumers,” he told HuffPost Canada by phone. “And we’re still in an era where electric vehicles are more expensive (than gas vehicles).”

And buying an electric car in Canada can require a certain amount of consumer adventurism. Clean Energy Canada surveyed British Columbia auto dealerships last year and found only 40 per cent had an electric vehicle on the premises. At those dealerships, waiting times for an EV ran as high as 18 months.

Woynillowicz says one effective way to change this is to create a legal requirement for dealers to sell electric cars. Rather than relying on provincial governments to set their own policies (or not), he suggested the federal government set a zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) target, as Quebec and British Columbia have done.

Quebec’s ZEV policy, in force since early last year, reportedly aims to see electric vehicles make up 15.5 per cent of car sales in the coming years. It requires dealers to sell a certain percentage of electric cars, or face a financial penalty, starting in 2020.

British Columbia’s ZEV target, announced last year, will mean all cars sold in the province will have to be electric by 2040.

In other countries, concerns about air pollution prompted many jurisdictions to push for electric cars. In Canada, Woyillowicz said, that hasn’t been as much of a concern.

Here, “change is being driven by consumers. There is more interest as more models become available, and as people learn of the benefits, such as fuel cost savings.”

Electric cars are bound to become more appealing to consumers in the coming years as the technology improves rapidly and more types of vehicles become available in electric models, Woynillowicz said. You can now buy electric SUVs and pick-up trucks will be coming soon.

Putting some real effort into consumer education could help too, he suggested.

“A lot of people are not aware of the growing number of models available, how far they can go, how they perform in winter. There are a lot of myths out there.”