Bill Rossington pushes the ignition button on the dash of his Nissan Leaf and it comes to life with a nearly inaudible hum... no engine roar, no cloud of exhaust.
It offers a stark contrast to nearly every other gas- and diesel-powered vehicle on Manitoba’s streets and highways. And that’s the problem; Rossington’s Leaf is part of a tiny, exclusive club.
In the 21/2 years since the vice-president of the Manitoba Electric Vehicle Association (MEVA) turned over a new Leaf, so to speak, just 40 electric cars have been registered in Manitoba. That makes for a grand total of about 128 in a province with more than 800,000 licensed vehicles.
Compared to other provinces, Manitobans aren’t plugged in.
There are about 4,800 registered EVs in Ontario, 5,900 in Quebec and more than 3,600 in British Columbia, according to software and support company Fleet Carma’s data from last December.
But MEVA president Robert Elms is optimistic that Manitoba is about to turn the key to a widespread electric vehicle movement — the installation of charging stations.
The City of Winnipeg has taken a step forward by looking into funding sources for charging stations. A report was due two weeks ago, but has not been made public yet.
Elms met with government officials Friday to discuss moving forward with charging technology elsewhere in the province. MEVA has drawn up a comprehensive plan to locate 20 stations, to start, that would serve 90 per cent of the province geographically.
Aside from the need for an adequate number of convenient places to "refuel," other provinces offer incentives to motorists that aren’t currently available to Manitobans.
Quebec offers buyers rebates of up to $8,000, Ontario has incentives ranging from $6,000 to $10,000 and drivers in B.C. can get $5,000. B.C. also offers additional funds from programs such as Scrap-It, which provides $6,000 to people who turn in higher-polluting vehicles and buy or lease new EVs, or $3,000 in the case of used EVs.
No one from the Pallister government was available Friday to discuss EV incentives or charging technology.
"The Manitoba government has been clear in its efforts to develop a made-in-Manitoba approach to address the challenges of climate change," the province said in an email.
Elms and Rossington have saved money, even without the subsidies.
Based on the average cost of gas last year in Winnipeg and current hydro costs, a person who drives 16,000 kilometres a year in a new car would save $879.75 paying for electricity instead of gas. The calculation is based on a gas engine that averages 7.4 litres per km and a 30 kWh car that is able to travel 172 km per charge. Rossington, who commutes from his Stonewall home, has saved $2,500 a year, he says.
Electric cars typically require less maintenance than vehicles with combustion engines. Since Rossington has been driving his Leaf, he’s paid one maintenance cost — $8 for a bottle of brake fluid.
EV drivers who want a quick charge at home will have to dole out between $500-$1,000 for a Level 2 station, which is much faster than a typical household outlet (Level 1).
Although slower to charge, Manitoba’s abundance of outdoor outlets offer a convenient option.
Manitoba winters are an often-cited obstacle for motorists considering the switch, as extreme cold significantly reduces the vehicles’ range.
Rossington’s Generation 1 EV is able to make the 75-km round trip from Stonewall when it’s -30 C, but just barely. Generation 2 EVs, the current models on the market, have a range of 100-150 km in the coldest days of winter, Elms says.
Elms says he hopes to dispel rumours that EVs don’t last as long as gas-powered vehicles or don’t drive as nicely.
EV industry estimates for first-generation models are in the 500,000-km range, and newer models are expected to double that lifespan.
As for the driving experience, Rossington is a fan.
"It is so much fun... the response is instant," he says. "The drive is smooth and silent."
Both Rossington and Elms are eager to find out whether the province and the city will take the necessary steps to increase the number of EVs here.