Shifting into E Skyrocketing gas prices across Canada are fuelling increased interest in electric vehicles

When William York, an electrical engineer in Edmonton, took a 15-hour, 1,400-kilometre drive to Seattle, he planned the usual stops — bathroom breaks, meals, an overnight sleep — and arrived having taken roughly the same amount of time as most leisurely trips between the two cities.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/04/2022 (346 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When William York, an electrical engineer in Edmonton, took a 15-hour, 1,400-kilometre drive to Seattle, he planned the usual stops — bathroom breaks, meals, an overnight sleep — and arrived having taken roughly the same amount of time as most leisurely trips between the two cities.

The difference? York, 35, drives an electric vehicle.

At a time when gas prices are going crazy, it’s reasonable to expect more Canadian drivers will start to consider electric vehicles. As this story is being written, prices in Winnipeg are $1.739 per litre for regular gas. In Vancouver, $1.969. With only 13 years to go before the federal government’s target date for EVs to comprise all new vehicles sold, the pull towards electric is strong.

For York, dispelling the misconception that EVs aren’t suited for longer distances starts by retelling the story of his Seattle vacation. The limiting factor is urology, not technology.

“It’s not my car’s battery that needs a break, it’s me that needs a break.” – William York on a recent 1,400-kilometre trip

“It’s not my car’s battery that needs a break, it’s me that needs a break,” he says. “I find I stop more frequently for (biological) breaks than charging breaks.”

The trip starts by programming the route into his Tesla Model 3, which has an estimated 576 kilometres of range under ideal conditions. The computer projects his range and provides recommended charging points along the way.

Tesla is, for now, unique in providing dedicated fast-charging stations for Tesla vehicles. That is changing, however, as new players such as Electrify Canada, flo and even Petro-Canada build out new networks. Tesla is also rolling out availability at its stations for non-Tesla models.

York’s Model 3 can reclaim nearly 300 kilometres of range in 15 minutes at a Tesla Supercharger.

For Tim Burrows, a retired whisky executive in Hamilton, the stories of his trips — including a 2,000-kilometre jaunt to Florida — mirror York’s. His Tesla Model X projects all the charging stations along the route and provides real-time information as to their functionality.

Burrows produces the EV Society of Canada’s Canada Talks Electric Vehicles webinar.


EVs are bad in winter, right?

York says on average winter days, range drops by 30 per cent. On the coldest Edmonton days, that range can fall by as much as 40 per cent. Even so, he has no issues with his commutes. With 40 per cent of his Model 3’s 576 kilometres of range lost, it still leaves him with 345 kilometres of range.

His car is comfortable when he gets in, having been pre-warmed while plugged in. Even when it hasn’t been pre-warmed, heat flows almost instantly. “You don’t have to wait for the engine to warm up and then for the coolant to warm up and then for the heater core to warm up,” he says.

That same plugged-in pre-conditioning can be used to cool the car in summer. Either way, it means less of the battery’s power is lost to heating or cooling, since it takes more energy to move temperature than to maintain it.


All those batteries will be bad for the environment, right?

Once removed from a vehicle, a battery will typically be redeployed into stationary systems, which store power either from solar or wind. Such systems can also allow a homeowner to charge at night, when rates are lower in some jurisdictions, and then use that cheaper power during the day, when rates are higher.

Burrows says when batteries have exhausted their potential, the recycling industry is recapturing nearly 100 per cent of materials, and 100 per cent of all the vital minerals inside. He recounts a conversation on his webinar with the president of LiCycle, a company that specializes in recycling batteries. That executive was asked how often batteries will end up in landfills.

“After he stopped laughing, he said the materials inside those batteries are so valuable, they’ll never end up in landfills.” – Tim Burrows

“After he stopped laughing, he said the materials inside those batteries are so valuable, they’ll never end up in landfills,” Burrows recalls.

As for the negative impact of the mining industry, he says that as the number of batteries on the market reaches critical mass, the need to extract more will diminish.

“We call it urban mining, mining the batteries instead of the Earth.”


Canada’s place in the EV manufacturing continuum

With all the critical materials — lithium, cobalt, magnesium and nickel — available for mining in Canada, the potential for a new energy industry to supplement or replace oil exists. Canada has a reputation for ethical workplace practices, which helps counter the negative implications of child or exploitive labour in other countries that is sullying the EV image.

Part of that new reality fell into place in March, when multinational automotive manufacturing corporation Stellantis announced it will build a $5-billion battery manufacturing facility in Windsor, Ont. That news followed word that Ford, General Motors and Stellantis were investing a combined $6 billion to build EVs in Canada.


What about a used EV?

Burrows says EVs depreciate on a similar scale to gas-powered cars despite having fewer things go wrong.

How much is that vehicle?

Kia Niro EV: $44,995
• Ford Mach e: $51,495*
• Chevrolet Bolt EUV: $40,198
• Chevrolet Bolt: $38,198
• Hyundai IONIQ5: $46,940
• Hyundai Kona Electric: $45,840
• Volkswagen ID.4: $44,995
• Tesla Model 3: $61,380*
• Mini Cooper SE 3 door: $40,990

*does not qualify for federal rebate

“I’d get one in a heartbeat,” he says. “You can get the battery tested and do your due diligence and there are even incentive programs for second-hand EVs.

“They’re a bargain.”

Daniel Ross, senior automotive analyst for Canadian Black Book, agreed that EVs track roughly the same path as gas-powered cars, but said realistically, the starting point is the price of the car minus whatever incentive exists. The federal government offers $5,000 rebates on EVs, and B.C. and Quebec offer additional incentives. So, Ross says, a $45,000 Volkswagen ID.4, with the $5,000 federal incentive, effectively rolls off the lot worth only $40,000.

That said, Ross points out that all cars are currently at a premium, with dealership lots sitting empty and production curtailed by the pandemic-inspired semiconductor shortage and assembly plants struggling to return to pre-COVID production levels. Some used cars are selling for more than they did new.


Will my EV burn down my house?

Some spectacular fires of Teslas, Chevy Bolt EVs and others have made headlines, but statistics don’t support the notion EVs are more dangerous than gas-powered vehicles. If anything, the opposite is true.

In the U.S., for instance, the National Transportation Safety Board says EVs catch fire at a rate of 25.1 per 100,000. Gas-powered vehicles? 1,530 per 100,000.

The Chevy Bolt, in particular, was quite the black eye for the industry, but the cause was traced to batteries produced by LG, and those have since been replaced, Burrows says.


Is the lack of public infrastructure an issue?

Not necessarily.

If you live where you can install your own charger, your need for public charging is almost non-existent.

For Burrows and York, road trips are the only times they need charging stations away from their homes.

“Imagine if, every night, someone snuck into your garage and topped up your gas every night, and every morning you woke up with a full tank of gas, how long would it be before you had to visit a gas station?” says Burrows.

Where public infrastructure is an issue is with drivers who don’t have a space to install their own charger. Residents of multi-family dwellings who park on the street, in a lot outside or in a communal parking garage often can’t, or aren’t allowed by their landlords, to install their own chargers.


Is the federal government doing enough to prepare for 2035?

Brian Kingston, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association, and Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association, don’t think so.

Volpe believes the federal government must do more to flip the market’s levers than mandate a certain percentage of sales must be EV. “You can’t regulate supply without manipulating demand, or you will fail,” he says. “If you have to make electric cars, but consumers don’t have to buy them, then what you are doing?”

Kingston, meanwhile, recently told the Canadian Press that federal incentives would, at least initially, need to triple to $15,000 to move the needle on EV adoption. As prices come down, so can the incentive, he says. As an example, such an incentive would make a $45,000 Volkswagen ID.4 price competitive with a gas-powered Toyota RAV4 or Mazda CX-5.


Who shouldn’t buy one?

While most EV drivers will be satisfied with the charging they can do at home, rural Canadians will have to consider their daily driving needs and their proximity to major centres. Although there is coast-to-coast coverage for public charging stations, they are clustered along a band about 100 kilometres wide north of the U.S. border, mirroring the bulk of Canada’s population, and around larger centres. York says availability of public charging falls off a cliff when driving north of Edmonton, for instance.

When York says an EV will lose as much as 40 per cent of range in winter, then consider whether the EV you want will go where you want with 60 per cent of its range, either one-way (assuming you can recharge at your destination) or round-trip (if you can’t). If the answer is no, then you may need to consider an EV with greater range or look at a hybrid or gas-powered vehicle instead.

Consider terrain, as well. It will take more range to drive from Vancouver to Whistler, owing to a combined 1,700 metres of elevation change during the trip, than the same 122 kilometres would take on the Prairies.


Will I like it?

For York, the strong acceleration of an EV makes driving very enjoyable, and driving an EV on a long trip ends up being less tiring, and healthier, than driving a gas vehicle.

“It forces you to take a break,” he says. “Also, gas stations need to be where they are — they’re storing dangerous petrochemicals — but an EV station can be anywhere, a shopping mall, a food court. I can eat anything.

“There’s no need to eat Twinkies from a gas station.” – William York

“There’s no need to eat Twinkies from a gas station.”

He also appreciates that hydro companies don’t jack their rates on long weekends the way the gasoline industry does. “I hated that there was this long-weekend rush to fill up on Wednesday,” he says of his old life in gas-powered vehicles, “because we knew that by Thursday or Friday the gas would magically cost more.”

Kelly Taylor

Kelly Taylor
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter

Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.

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