Written for Daily Hive by Merran Smith and Dan Woynillowicz with Clean Energy Canada, a think tank at Simon Fraser University.
No one can say where the road ahead will take Canada, but here’s a safe bet: it’s going to have a lot more electric cars on it.
That’s especially true in BC, one of Canada’s electric vehicle (EV) leaders, and yet the situation is far from perfect for would-be buyers on the West Coast.
Not only is supply struggling to meet demand, British Columbians often can’t find EVs to test drive. Others are left waiting months to get their hands on a new model, while many dealerships seem unaware of incentive programs available to EV buyers.
In June and July, Clean Energy Canada called all 322 dealerships in BC that qualify for the province’s EV rebate program and found that only 40% of them have electric cars on their lots available to purchase. Most said the wait time to get an electric car would be three months to a year—with some citing wait times of up to 18 months. Fewer than one in five of them could refer us to an alternative dealership with available EVs.
We also asked dealer representatives about BC’s electric car incentive, and the good news is most knew about the provincial rebate program (66%), but far fewer were aware of the household charger rebate (28%), which lowers the cost of installing a home charger.
In short, electric car ownership is growing despite an unequal playing field that continues to favour traditional, polluting cars. British Columbians should be able to more easily choose to go electric. They should have local dealerships where they can test drive that new EV model that’s supposed to be available—and if they like it, drive it off the lot in the colour they want. They shouldn’t have to pay a year-long penance to drive a car that cuts down on both fuel bills and pollution.
A better situation for buyers is hardly a far-flung fantasy; one need only look to California or Quebec to see an improved experience. While BC has introduced some helpful solutions — like EV purchase incentives and investments in charging infrastructure throughout the province — there remains a significant missing piece in this puzzle, and it explains why EVs represented 6.2% of new car sales in California in the first half of 2018 compared to just 3.5% in BC.
That missing piece: a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which would require automakers to sell a minimum share of EVs in BC every year. Such a policy would mean more electric cars on lots throughout the province and shorter or non-existent wait times.
In addition to California, nine other states have ZEV mandates, and Quebec introduced its own this year. A 2015 study from FleetCarma found that, based on dealership inventory, buying an EV is five times harder in Canada than in a number of US states.
Put simply, a ZEV mandate is a tried and true way to ensure BC gets the same electric car options as North America’s leading jurisdictions.
Current wait times are brutal, but they do send a clear signal that the demand is here. A recent study from BC Hydro found that one in three British Columbians expect their next car to be an EV. It’s no wonder, that same report found that fuel costs for electric car owners in BC equalled just one-quarter of what drivers spend on gasoline. And thanks to our abundant hydropower, EVs are extra clean.
So it was no surprise that the dealerships we spoke to were by and large excited about electric cars. Unfortunately, a lack of supply has also resulted in a lack of knowledge. A number of dealer representatives underestimated the range of modern EV models or overestimated the time it takes to charge them—both common concerns among potential buyers.
The situation is also particularly dire outside of the Lower Mainland, especially in Northern BC, where only 7% of applicable dealerships have an EV available to purchase.
BC does deserve credit for its efforts to date. We’ve built a strong network of charging stations while offsetting upfront costs for consumers. But that can only take us so far when there are more willing buyers than there are available electric cars.
Luckily, this problem has a clear solution and BC need only merge into the winning lane.