DESPITE staring at a record deficit of $1.12 billion, the Selinger government should reintroduce a rebate program to help new-car buyers take home the latest plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, former premier Ed Schreyer said Tuesday.
"For a province that professes to be environmentally aware and conscious and trying to do whatever it can to promote renewable energy, then they better get off their duffs," Schreyer said.
"If you take the big picture, and more important than the big picture but the whole picture, you'll see not doing this is merely causing an ever-increasing problem down the road."
Manitoba ended its $2,000 rebate for the lease or purchase of new hybrid vehicles more than two years ago after running it for nearly four years. It instead adopted a program to top up a federally funded program run by the Manitoba Lung Association to pay owners $440 to turn their 1995-and-older rust buckets into scrap metal.
But since then, newer plug-in electric vehicles have hit the market, including the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi's i-MiEV and the Chevy Volt hybrid. The cars cost between $30,000 to $45,000, depending on make and model, because of the pricey technology that goes into manufacturing them.
Schreyer said the government has to bring in rebates again, such as those offered by other provinces, as a way to get car buyers over the psychological barrier of the upfront cost.
"If you are capable of thinking in terms of 10 years at a time, then it's not an additional cost, but who thinks that way?" said Schreyer, who drives a Volt. "A very small percentage of the population, I suppose."
British Columbia offers $5,000 off the sticker price for qualifying new battery-electric, fuel-cell electric, plug-in hybrid electric and compressed natural gas vehicles. Ontario consumers are eligible for a rebate ranging from $5,000 to $8,500 toward the purchase or lease of a new plug-in hybrid electric or battery-electric vehicle.
Schreyer said the province's old rebate program was generous enough in getting hybrids like the non plug-in Toyota Prius on the road, and now has to be reinstated to get public buy-in for the newer plug-ins.
"Now that we have a genuine hybrid, a plug-in hybrid, there doesn't seem to be any grant," he said.
The Selinger government unveiled its Electric Vehicle Road Map a year ago with the goal of putting 4,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2015. The goal is reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and replace imported fossil fuel with cheaper renewable energy generated by Manitoba Hydro. Currently, there are 3,140 hybrids and five electric vehicles registered in Manitoba.
The province also created the Electric Vehicle Advisory Committee to speed up adoption of electric plug-in vehicles in Manitoba. The committee will be submitting its final report to government soon, a government spokeswoman said.
Ariel Epstein, spokesman for the Manitoba Electric Vehicle Association, said despite the budget deficit, the province has to deliver on its promise of putting more electric vehicles on the road.
"We should be doing everything we can to promote electric vehicles among Manitobans," said Epstein, who drives a Leaf, the only one in the province.
Larry Vickar, president of Vickar Community Chevrolet and head of Vickar Automotive Group, said for any new rebate program to be successful, it has to be made retroactive.
What people think
CAA Manitoba is conducting an online survey of its members on their intentions to buy a new car. Of the 256 responses so far:
71.9 per cent said they would consider purchasing a more environmentally friendly vehicle such as a hybrid, an all-electric or a highly fuel-efficient car.
53.9 per cent said they would consider buying an electric vehicle if the province offered an incentive similar to other provinces.
65.2 per cent said they believe electric vehicles are equally as safe as other types of vehicles of similar size and style on the road vehicle.
41.4 per cent said the lack of public charging stations is a drawback to buying an electric vehicle.
36.3 per cent said the fuel savings from an electric vehicle compensates for the potentially higher sticker price.