By Mitchell Beer, publisher of The Energy Mix
It’s by far the hottest new trend on our city streets, and it’s coming soon to a parking spot near you. Public demand for electric vehicles (EVs) is surging, with some models coming in close to the price of conventional cars and government incentives helping to bridge the price gap once and for all.
Some drivers buy EVs because transportation is the big part of their carbon footprint, accounting for one-third of all emissions in the GTHA, and they want to do their part to stop runaway climate change and reduce urban smog. At least as many make the leap because they’re hyper-cool cars that are fun to drive. Whatever your motivation, there are lots of good reasons to consider going electric, and just a few factors to consider before assuming that an EV is right for you.
The Buzz Builds Around Electric Cars
As recently as a couple of years ago, electric cars were seen as tomorrow’s technology, a nice idea that you could take seriously if you had deep pockets and only short distances to drive.That was then. This is now.
When you walk the city streets in Toronto, more and more of the cars at the curb are hybrid or electric. With the end of provincial subsidies, electric car sales in Ontario have dipped significantly—unlike Norway and other parts of Europe, where 2020 is expected to be the tipping point for the shift to EVs. But the $5,000 federal EV purchase incentive is re-energizing the Canadian market, not only because financial inducements are a great way to get buyers’ attention, but because this one responds to a huge explosion in demand lurking just below the surface.
Anyone who owns an EV hears constantly from people who are curious about how they like the vehicle, how well it drives, how easy or difficult it is to keep it charged (pro tip: it’s easy). Pull in at a highway rest stop, and there’s a good chance another traveller will stroll over to ask about your car. Invariably, they’re asking around because they plan to make their next new car electric. Households with more than one vehicle are planning to electrify at least one of them the next time they buy.
The Most Important Tipping Point
For now, that experience stands alongside hard, cold data that put Canadian EV sales far behind other parts of the world, from Europe to China. But the boom is here, and it’s just beginning—if only because EVs are about to cross the most important tipping point of all. In the next few years, for the first time ever, EVs will be cheaper to own and operate than gasoline or diesel. When that happens, it won’t be much longer before the unusual, exceptional thing is to buy a new car that isn’t electric.
Long wait times, poor sales technique, even a lack of demo cars for test drives can still make it an exercise in frustration to buy an EV—for now. But automakers can see where the market is headed and, increasingly, they know what to do about it.
Analysts are counting the number of new models entering the market by the dozen, with some of them boasting “specs and tech features that exceed most gas-powered cars,” Business Insider reported in mid-July. Some models on the road today—including the one we drove from Ottawa to Halifax and back last summer, with no issues finding chargers along the road—go 400 kilometres or more on a single charge. And the range of vehicle types on offer is expanding fast, with hybrid SUVs available today and some manufacturers working on relatively affordable all-electric models.
Are EVs Right for You?
But it doesn’t much matter what everyone else is doing when you’re trying to choose the right new car for you and your family. EVs might be fun to drive, and in a coal-free province like Ontario, their lower carbon footprint is tantalizing. But there are still a few questions to ask to be sure the purchase is right for you.
- What are your regular driving patterns? How many kilometres do you cover—not only on average, but on a busy day with lots of far-flung errands?
- If your job involves a lot of time on the road, are there EVs available that give you enough range? (Bear in mind that at least one or two models on the market today offer 400 kilometres or more in summer, a bit less in winter.)
- Can you find electric models that offer the head room you need for taller passengers, and enough trunk space for most or all of your needs? (We told ourselves we could buy an EV with limited trunk space, then get a rental or a car share once or twice a year if we needed to. Nineteen months later, there’s been no need.)
- If you own your home, is there a convenient spot to install an EV charger? If you rent, can you find a public charger near home or make arrangements with your landlord? If you’re in a condo, look into the new provincial regulations that make it easier to install your own charger.
- Is there charging infrastructure near your place of work? (Whether you’re looking for a Level 3 charger in downtown Toronto or along the road to Halifax, there are apps for that.)
When you think through the details, they usually point to electrics as an option that works. Once you actually bring home a new EV, you realize that most of your charging takes place at home (the ABC of electric car ownership: Always Be Charging). You notice right away that the car is so much quieter to drive. If anyone in your family is hard of hearing, they’ll be thrilled when they can suddenly follow more of the conversation along the road.
Before long, you notice how long it’s been since you’ve had to line up at a gas pump or book an oil change. Your operating costs are lower, and with fewer moving parts than a traditional car, repairs are less frequent. And the big, unsung benefit is the steady, unexpected stream of fascination and good will you encounter along the road.