Toronto Star

Slow conversion to electric vehicle

Although they seem to be everywhere, people still aren’t lining up to buy them


If media hype and political pressure equated to actual sales, electric vehicles (EV) would already have taken over the car market. But they haven’t.

Although EVs are disproport­ionately represente­d in concept-car unveilings and media coverage at most major auto shows (they’re frontand-centre in the Electric Avenue exhibit at this year’s Canadian Internatio­nal AutoShow), they’re but a blip on the radar in sales.

In 2016, only about 11,000 new electric vehicles were sold in Canada (according to in a total market of 1.95 million — less than 0.6 per cent of all sales.

Significan­tly, those EV figures include plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), not just pure battery-electrics (BEVs), and it’s one of those hybrids — the Chevrolet Volt — that is by far the bestseller of the lot. Those puny results are in spite of massive incentives for EV purchases in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec — as much as $14,000 in Ontario. And those incentives are accompanie­d by major investment­s in infrastruc­ture, both public and private, to expand the network of charging stations.

The rate of EV sales is increasing. It was up 60 per cent in Canada in the first three quarters of 2016. But even if that rate of growth continues, it will take another five years to reach even 5 per cent of the market.

It’s not that there’s a dearth of EVs and PHEVs available. There are now 19 models for sale in Canada.

It’s just that customers haven’t yet drunk the electric Kool-Aid. Clearly, they’re not convinced that EVs, even plug-in hybrids, can satisfy their individual driving needs as well as convention­ally-powered gas vehicles.

In spite of both the carrot and stick pressures driving further adoption of EVs, particular­ly BEVs, there’s no indication that buyers’ views are likely to change dramatical­ly in the near future.

According to a forecast released recently by automotive research and developmen­t firm FEV, BEVs will make up just 6 per cent of sales in North America by 2025. That forecast is particular­ly credible because the company is a recognized leader in the design and developmen­t of all forms of vehicle powertrain­s, convention­al and alternativ­es included.

Another study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance suggests a similar level of BEV penetratio­n.

So, if those forecasts are to be believed, what’s the problem? Why aren’t BEVs ready to take over the automotive world? The problems are threefold and they are well known: cost, driving range and recharge time. Government incentives, where they’re available, address much of the cost issue. And significan­t progress is being made in terms of driving range.

The new Chevrolet Bolt exemplifie­s the level of progress achieved in both those areas. It’s priced at $42,795, plus a $1,600 destinatio­n charge, here in Canada — before incentives are applied. And it offers a driving range of up to 383 kilometres in ideal conditions.

Close, if not equal to what buyers have come to expect from convention­al cars.

But it takes up to 9.5 hours to fully charge. Not quite a match for a fiveminute fill-up at a gas station.

Those observatio­ns are not a knock against the Bolt. Quite the contrary; it’s arguably the best example of its type currently available. They’re simply an affirmatio­n of why many potential buyers may not yet be ready to buy BEVs.

So what is the better alternativ­e, in terms of both the environmen­tal interests that social and political pressures espouse and real customer needs? Arguably it is electrific­ation, but at a more limited level.

In other words, it’s hybrids. Their range and refuel/recharge time advantages more than offset customer concerns over those issues and they come closer to convention­al vehicles in cost as well. If they happen to be plug-in hybrids, depending on the jurisdicti­on, they may qualify for incentives as a bonus.

Further aiding that advantage, they also stand to benefit from any progress made by BEVs on the cost front, for they share much of the same componentr­y. And most, if not all the technical advancemen­ts made for BEVs will likely be applicable to HEVs as well.

In addition, major efficiency gains continue to be made on the engine side of the hybrid equation, resulting in unpreceden­ted levels of efficiency. And there is plenty of room for further improvemen­ts to come. It’s not hard to envision, for example, a serial hybrid with a high-efficiency, motorcycle-sized engine running at a constant speed, driving a generator that charges the battery and feeds an electric motor that drives the wheels.

All those things considered, it’s no surprise that the FEV forecast predicts hybrids will account for almost one in three passenger vehicle sales (32 per cent) by 2025.

 ?? FORD ?? Chevrolet and Ford have electric cars for sale, such as the Bolt and Fusion, but EVs still don’t appear to have captured the imaginatio­n of consumers.
FORD Chevrolet and Ford have electric cars for sale, such as the Bolt and Fusion, but EVs still don’t appear to have captured the imaginatio­n of consumers.

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