Here’s what you need to know about what may be your next car
By Olev Edur
Are you among those Canadians thinking about an electric vehicle (EV) as their next set of wheels? After all, the Government of Canada announced in March 2022 a commitment to 100 per cent of new car sales being EVs by 2035. EVs are simply better for the environment. According to a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from an EV are typically less than half those of a gas-powered car.
EVs are also less expensive to operate. For starters, no more gas pumps and soaring fuel prices—all you need for go power is an electrical outlet (although, as discussed below, the reality is a bit more complicated than that). And as for maintenance, electric motors have only one moving part, so there’s no need for tune-ups, oil changes, or many of the other tasks involved in keeping a gas engine in top shape.
Most importantly, EV prices have come down to the point where, after harnessing federal and provincial incentives (see page TK), they’re getting closer to those of their gasoline counterparts. In fact, a 2021 report by the International Energy Agency found that, as a result of price declines and government incentives in many countries besides Canada, there were more than 10 million EVs (including hybrids) on the road globally as of 2020.
As an added bonus, EVs have phenomenal acceleration. A fact sheet about EVs on the UK-based Young People’s Trust for the Environment (YPTE) website notes that “electric cars produce maximum torque at zero revolutions per minute (rpm) and can continue this pretty much through their rev range. It’s what enables the large, seven-seat Tesla P90D to surge to 60 miles per hour in just 2.6 seconds when it’s set in ‘Ludicrous’ mode! And in June 2016, a team of 30 students from Switzerland created the world’s fastest-accelerating electric car, which rocketed from 0–60 in just 1.513 seconds!”
Nevertheless, there are still a few stumbling blocks when it comes to switching to an EV, and, depending on your circumstances and driving needs, it may be best to hang onto your gas guzzler for at least the time being. The following are some factors that you need to consider.
First, EVs need to be charged pretty much daily, so if, for example, you happen to live in a condo or an apartment that doesn’t have charging facilities, an EV may not be an option.
Depending on the sort of driving you do, range may remain a drawback, despite the producers of many of the newer EV models now claiming they can go 500 kilometres or more on a single charge. That’s pretty far, but if you want to drive long distances, perhaps to visit the kids, hit the cottage, or take off on the occasional road trip, then the lack of a comprehensive coast-to-coast recharging network, while improving, remains a major impediment.
Furthermore, recharging an EV can take a half-hour or more, even with a so-called “high capacity” charger, as compared to mere minutes for a gas-up; a regular 110-volt charger would take several hours. This may be okay at home, where you can plug in overnight. But on the road, do you want to be hanging around a charging station—if you can find one—for a half-hour or more every time you need power?
And, while that 500-kilometre range is an ideal, there are several real-world factors that will reduce the distance you can go on a charge. “Using the heater or air conditioning in an electric will have an impact on its range, and batteries hold less charge when it’s cold,” says the YPTE website.
Indeed, a 2019 American Automobile Association (AAA) study found that compared to an ambient temperature of 75°F (24°C), EV range was reduced by 12 per cent at 20°F (-7°C) and by four per cent at 95°F (35°C). The AAA study also found that using air conditioning could result in further “significant reductions,” resulting in as much as a combined 41 per cent mileage drop. So in hot weather with the a/c on, that 500 kilometres can quickly become 300.
While weather and air conditioners can reduce range temporarily, all batteries will wear down over time, losing some of their original capacity. In an October 2021 article on the Quebec-based website hotcars.com, Samuel Balasz noted that: “Lithium-ion batteries are rather finicky pieces of equipment…. The truth is that lithium-ion batteries require highly specialized equipment to charge, work best in a given temperature range, and wear down rather quickly. Admittedly, there are differences from company to company, with some batteries being better than others, but the truth is that all lithium-ion batteries experience these weaknesses due to their construction.” And the cars.com website states bluntly that “it’s inevitable that a battery’s capacity—meaning the car’s range—will diminish over time.” Furthermore, while high-capacity chargers may be convenient, frequent use of these can accelerate that deterioration. Testing has shown that normal deterioration is only a few per cent a year and may even level off over time, but that’s on top of any range reductions stemming from use.
How much would a replacement battery cost? Prices have been falling rapidly over the past few years and can vary enormously depending on size and make, but batteries are still worth a small fortune. A survey of several US vendor websites, for example, found prices ranging from as little as US$3,000 (about $4,000 at press-time conversion rates) to as much as US$20,000 ($26,666), and installation costs may be on top of that.
On the plus side, the YPTE website notes, “The most expensive part of an electric car—its battery—tends now to be highly reliable and is covered by a long warranty.” And cars.com notes, “Complete battery pack failure is rare. Further, electric cars have powertrain warranties amounting to at least 100,000 miles or eight years, as required by [US] law, so in the event of failure, the battery should be covered for the original owner.”
You might be able to save a lot of money by buying a used EV, particular an older model, because they tend to depreciate much more quickly than comparable gas models. But be aware that older models generally have far less range than newer models. And even with newer models, mileage will be reduced because of battery degradation. At the very least, make sure the battery warranty is transferable and read the terms carefully.
For now, EVs should generally be considered only for relatively localized transport. They may be great for shopping trips and other urban/suburban/exurban jaunts, but if you also need an all-around vehicle to drive long distances or if you live in a remote area, an EV is probably not a good idea—yet. On the other hand, prices will continue to fall, ranges will continue to increase, and more and more companies are committing to building charging infrastructure. So maybe by the time you’re ready, your car will be ready, too.
Federal and Provincial Incentives for EV Buyers
The following is a list of the incentives offered by federal and provincial governments for buying or leasing an electric vehicle. In addition, many jurisdictions offer incentives for the purchase of EV charging stations for home or business as well as further incentives when you scrap your existing gas guzzler. Provincial incentives are on top of federal ones.
Program details may change from time to time, as may the lists of qualifying vehicles, so always double-check how much is available for what in your jurisdiction.
– Canada’s iZEV program provides up to $5,000 towards the purchase of an EV or plug-in (hybrid) vehicle, with the amount depending on the type of vehicle. It applies in all provinces and territories and is added to any available provincial or territorial rebates. There is currently no provincial program in Alberta, Manitoba, or Saskatchewan, and Yukon is the only territory to offer a rebate ($5,000).
– British Columbia’s CleanBC Go Electric program provides rebates of up to $4,000 for the purchase or lease of a fully electric vehicle and up to $2,000 for the purchase/lease of a plug-in hybrid vehicle.
– New Brunswick’s Plug-in NB program provides up to $5,000 towards a new EV or long-range hybrid purchase, $2,500 towards the purchase/lease of a hybrid, $2,500 for a used EV, and $1,000 for a used hybrid.
– Newfoundland and Labrador’s EV Rebate Program provides $2,500 towards the purchase/lease of an EV and $1,500 for a hybrid.
– Nova Scotia’s EV Assist program provides up to $3,000 for a new EV or long-range hybrid purchase/lease, $2,000 for a hybrid purchase/lease, and $500 for an e-bike purchase/lease.
– Ontario’s Plug ’n Drive program provides up to $1,000 towards the purchase of a used EV plus a scrappage incentive of $1,000.
– Prince Edward Island’s Universal EV Incentive provides up to $5,000 for a new or used EV purchase/lease and up to $2,500 for a new or used hybrid.
– Quebec’s New EV Rebate provides up to $8,000 towards the purchase of a new EV or hybrid and $4,000 towards the purchase of a used EV or hybrid.