It’s Way Too Hard to Buy an Electric Car in Canada

Buying an EV in Canada is five times harder than in the US, a new report finds.
An electric car charging station in Korea. Image: Shutterstock

Canada has relatively few electric vehicles on the road, not because it’s too cold to drive them here, but because Canadians have a hard time finding one to buy. In fact, it’s five times harder for a Canadian to buy an EV than an American, according to a new report from Clean Energy Canada, a think tank at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

EVs generally have to be ordered and it can take months—eight months in the case of the Chevy Bolt—before the car is delivered, according to the report, called “Stuck in Neutral.” Salespeople at dealerships often know little about EVs and redirect potential buyers to gasoline or hybrid vehicles, said Dan Woynillowicz, policy director at Clean Energy Canada.


“I don’t think I’ve ever seen any advertising on TV for an electric vehicle,” Woynillowicz told me.

In 2016, a mere 11,000 EVs were sold in Canada, compared to 159,000 in US. (If sold at same rate as in the US, Canada’s EV sales should be closer to 17,500 based on its population size.) It’s also not that easy for Americans to get an EV: There only two battery-electric vehicles (the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt) and one plug-in hybrid (the Chevy Volt) under $50,000 available throughout the US as of October.

Canadians simply don’t know you can 'fill the tank’ of an EV for almost nothing and there’s zero engine maintenance to worry about, said Chantal Guimont, president and CEO of Electric Mobility Canada, a lobby group. And yet one-third of Canadians want to buy an electric vehicle, according to a 2015 survey_ExecutiveSummary.pdf).

Read More: Meet the DIY Mechanics Retrofitting Classic Cars With Electric Motors

While two-thirds of Canada’s electricity is renewable, the transportation sector is the second-largest source of carbon pollution, after the oil and gas sector. The federal government has set an aspirational goal of 30 percent of car sales in 2030 being EVs and launched a consultation process to develop a Zero-Emissions Vehicle Strategy to increase EV sales. (It’s expected to be released some time in 2018.)

That strategy needs to address the lack of EV charging stations across the country, the new study said. So far the government has invested $62.5 million, but there are just 1200 dedicated EV charging stations in Canada that can charge two cars at same time, on average, compared to 12,000 gasoline service stations that can refuel 8 to 12 vehicles.


Three provinces—Quebec, Ontario, and BC—offer cash rebates for buying electric cars, according to The Canadian Press, and 97 percent of all EV sales in the country happen in those provinces.

Woynillowicz said Canada still hasn’t done enough.

“The government could require auto makers to make sure there are actually EVs on dealership lots so that people don't have to go on waiting lists,” he said.

That’s what Norway did in setting a hard target of 100,000 EV sales by 2020. With a population of just 5.2 million, Norway made it easy for the public to purchase EVs by using tax incentives and green car perks: free public parking, exemption from toll charges and ferry fees, and free charging at public stations, among others.

Norway, which has a population of 5.2 million compared to Canada’s 35 million, reached the 100,000 mark in 2016. This year, one in three cars sold there were EVs. They’re now looking to get to 400,000 by 2020.

Elsewhere, the EV revolution is happening fast as these cars’ costs are expected to be the same as internal combustion vehicles in less than a decade, the new report said. Norway will ban sales of internal combustion cars in 2025. The Netherlands, Scotland, UK, and France have announced similar bans from 2030 to 2040, the report said. By 2040, more than 90 per cent of all passenger vehicles in the US, Canada, Europe, and other rich countries could be electric by 2040, according to a working paper from the International Monetary Fund.

If that sounds implausible, the paper notes that the US went from horses on unpaved roads as the main form of transport to cars and electric street cars in less than 15 years.

“The electric car revolution will create huge opportunities in mining, in auto-parts and auto manufacturing, in cleantech—areas Canada excels in,” said Woynillowicz. “An ambitious and strong strategy could make Canada a global EV player, while also reducing pollution.”

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