Why are electric vehicles so popular in BC?

In BC, the rate of electric vehicle sales once again leads to all other Canadian provinces and all US states, according to a new government report.

British Columbians are opting to ditch their gasoline-powered cars for electric vehicles at a higher rate than anywhere in North America, according to a new report from the province.

Electric and other zero-emission vehicles — such as plug-in hybrids and fuel-cell electric vehicles — made up 13 per cent of all new light-duty vehicle sales in BC last year, according to the 2021 Zero-Emission Vehicle Update released Friday .

Mark Zacharias, a special adviser for the Simon Fraser University-based research group Clean Energy Canada, says that’s nearly double the sales seen in California and Quebec, North America’s second and third hottest jurisdictions for electric vehicle sales.

In sheer volume of sales, California accounted for nearly half of all electric vehicle sales in the United States, whereas together, Quebec and BC made up 80 per cent of sales in Canada.

In BC, the number of registered electric vehicles climbed to 80,000 from just under 56,000 a year earlier, a nearly 44 per cent increase in one year.

Zacharias says the numbers aren’t surprising.

“In all instances and in all categories, electric vehicles are cheaper over a lifetime,” he said.

The average EV owner in BC saves between $1,800 and $2,500 per year by ditching their gas-powered car, and even more over the long-term due to lower maintenance costs, according to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation.

HOW MUCH WILL I SAVE IF I BUY AN ELECTRIC VEHICLE?

Consider an analysis released earlier this week from Clean Energy Canada, which found a 2022 gas-powered Toyota Corolla is 54 per cent more expensive over its lifetime compared to an electric Chevy Volt.

At just over $21,000 new, the Corolla is a little less than half the price of a new Volt. But with half the cost of maintenance and only $8 to fully charge the Volt in BC, owners of the electric vehicle would save nearly $30,000 over the lifetime of the car, found the study.

“You don’t need all changes, you’re going to have fewer brake changes — all of that adds up over time,” said Zacharias. “So if you’re planning to keep your car for eight or 10 years, definitely, you should be looking at an electric car.”

Choose the electric Chevy over the gas-powered Toyota, and an owner driving 20,000 kilometers per year would also cut their annual carbon footprint by 3.3 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

In another example, Clean Energy Canada found the electric Hyundai Kona, Canada’s second best-selling EV in 2021, is $15,000 cheaper to own over the lifetime of the vehicle than the gas-powered Kona.

“If gas prices were to average $2, as we’ve seen in parts of Canada this past month, the electric Kona is $24,000 cheaper to own than the gas-powered Kona,” the report concluded.

And while sticker prices can still turn potential EV buyers away, Zacharias says federal and provincial subsidies have done a good job of encouraging early adopters to make the switch.

Currently, Ottawa provides a $5,000 rebate for anyone wanting to buy an electric vehicle with a base price under $45,000. But several provinces offer additional incentives, leading Clean Energy Canada to describe the country’s rebate scheme as “a tale of two Canadas.”

At the top, Quebec provides a combined $13,000 in electric vehicle rebates, whereas in the Prairie provinces, that drops to $5,000.

In BC, where the province has provided over $173 million in electric vehicle rebates for light-duty vehicles since 2015, someone looking to buy an electric car can get up to $8,000 in rebates.

And while some are waiting anxiously to see if the federal government will include rebates for second-hand electric vehicles in this budget — something the Liberals promised in last year’s election campaign — the BC government already waives provincial sales tax (PST) for second-hand EVs.

THE RISING COST OF FOSSIL FUELS

The numbers come at a volatile time for fossil fuel prices. With the invasion of Ukraine in late February, Russia — the world’s third-largest oil producer — was put under a raft of sanctions.

Gasoline prices soared in Metro Vancouver to prices not seen anywhere else in North America. Several Canadian provinces responded with one-time payments to ease the price at the pump.

At the same time, the national price on greenhouse gas emissions climbed to $10 per tonne April 1 — a scheduled increase that raises the total price to $50 per tonne, or an extra 11 cents per liter of gasoline.

The federal levy applies directly in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario but British Columbia also raised its provincial carbon levy Friday to stay in line with the federal benchmark.

All those sticks pushing drivers away from gas-powered cars come as the automotive industry approaches a crossroads.

WHEN WILL ELECTRIC VEHICLES COST THE SAME AS A GAS-POWERED CAR?

Under BC’s climate action plan, the province has set hard dates to phase out the sale of fossil fuel-powered cars.

By 2026, 26 per cent of new, light-duty vehicles sold in BC must use zero-emission technology. By 2030, that climbs to 90 per cent, and by 2035, all vehicles in the light-duty class must be electric, hydrogen or some other zero-emission technology.

While it might be hard to imagine millions of gas-powered vehicles so quickly replaced by their electric equivalent, consider this: the business calculation of major car manufacturers is rapidly changing.

In a sign of the coming electric tide, in January 2021, General Motors committed to going fully electric by 2035. Since then, several other manufacturers have followed suit.

Expensive subsidies won’t last forever, nor will they need to. In purely market terms, the tipping point will come when electric vehicles reach cost parity with gas-powered cars, say experts.

Zacharias says manufacturing costs are coming down so fast that the sticker price of a new EV and gas-powered vehicle are expected to hit parity sometime between 2025 and 2030.

Batteries are by far the most expensive part of an electric vehicle, and to bring their cost down means making them more efficient. Once batteries can put out a kilowatt-hour of energy for $100, electric vehicles will almost certainly hit parity, according to Bloomberg.

As University of British Columbia energy economics professor Werner Antweiler puts it: “The moment electric cars are cheaper than gasoline cars, it’s a no-brainer. We’re getting to that point.”

But Zacharias says there have been some delays in those predictions.

Last year, average battery prices fell to $132/kWh, down from $140/kWh in 2020, according to BloombergNEF’s annual battery price survey. That represents a six per cent drop, and though substantial, is less than the nine per cent decline from the year before.

The Bloomberg report says that is largely a result of supply chain shocks on raw materials like lithium, cobalt and nickel, key components used in electric vehicle batteries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that establishing reliable supply chains is not a given. Zacharias says the solution is to build up Canada’s own domestic supply chains, from mining key metals and minerals to manufacturing batteries and the electric vehicles they power.

“And at the end of life have these vehicles recycled in Canada and all the metals can be reused and recovered,” he added.

The industry is already going that way, said Zacharias. He points to an announcement last week that South Korean battery manufacturer LG Energy Solutions would team up with US-European automaker Stellantis to pour $5 billion into a battery manufacturing facility in Windsor, Ont.

A GROWING CHARGING NETWORK

Another hurdle in electrifying the way we drive is part psychological and part practical: will our electric vehicle die halfway through our roadtrip? Will I run out of juice on the side of the highway?

Overcoming that electric vehicle ‘range anxiety,’ as it’s become known, will likely improve as governments and industry build out their electric vehicle charging network.

The average range of an electric vehicle on sale in Canada right now is already around 400 kilometers.

On the charging front, BC has more than 3,000 public electric vehicle charging stations. That includes 2,399 public Level 2 charging stations, a 12.8 per cent increase from 2020.

The number of public fast-charging stations in the province, meanwhile, has climbed a third to 720 by the end of 2021 compared to 480 the year before.

At home, British Columbians installed another 2,520 electric vehicle charging stations, while just under 300 charging stations were installed in both workplaces and multi-unit residential buildings.

All told, BC has built out about 60 per cent of the province’s core network of fast-charging sites.

“We’re getting better,” Zacharias says.

Despite the continued gaps, the number of Canadians considering an electric vehicle has reached a strong majority.

As part of the Clean Energy Canada report this week, Abacus conducted a poll of Canadians asking how they felt about owning an electric car: 19 per cent said they loved the idea, 31 per cent said they were interested and 29 per cent said they are open roof.

Together, nearly 80 per cent said they would consider buying an electric vehicle as their next car.

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