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Denis Lebel, federal minister of transport, infrastructure and communities. (Handout)
Denis Lebel, federal minister of transport, infrastructure and communities. (Handout)

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Ottawa to probe performance of alternative-powered vehicles Add to ...

The federal government touted its $38-million investment into researching and aligning various green car safety standards with those of the U.S. recently, with studies under way on noise-alert standards for silent vehicles (especially electrics and plug-in hybrids), low-rolling resistance tires and cold-weather EV performance.

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Denis Lebel, minister of transport, infrastructure and communities, announced the next phase of the five-year program late last month in Ottawa, in an effort to keep up with rapidly advancing automotive technologies coming from auto makers in the next four years.

Transport Canada’s ecoTechnology for Vehicles program will also start to investigate the safety and environmental performance of electric, liquefied natural gas and hydrogen vehicles, in the next year, said Transport Canada spokesperson Patrick Charette. The program will also look at commercial vehicles for the first time, researching new hybrid technologies and aerodynamic improvements for heavy-duty trucks and trailers.

The money for the program was allocated in the 2011 budget, so it’s not a new program, but the focus on safety research does seem to be a relatively new point of emphasis. Concerns over the safety of battery technology was heightened with news in the past year of an EV battery explosion at a GM research facility while undergoing extreme testing, even after a probe by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into the fire resistance of the Volt’s special battery pack found it did not pose any undue fire risk.

The program’s findings are set to be made available to the public on the program’s website at www.tc.gc.ca/eTV in July, said Charette, with some findings already presented at industry tire and electric vehicle conferences.

Minister Lebel was not available to discuss the program, or respond to e-mailed questions about it. But a Transport Canada release said the research will help Canada achieve its economy-wide target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020, while lowering regulation costs for consumers and businesses on both sides of the border by sharing results continent-wide, and therefore aligning the safety and environmental vehicle standards that result.

This alignment is the priority for most car makers in Canada when it comes to developing new standards, said Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association. It’s also the best way to ensure that Canadians will maximize the environmental benefits of these technologies, by using these larger economies of scale, he argued, as has already happened with much tougher fuel consumption rules.

“Essentially the 2012-2016 rules takes us to basically what California originally did, on the basis that having one standard (in the U.S.) was a lot better on a national basis – and now, we’ve adopted those standards in Canada.”

The CVMA takes issue with mandated sales requirements, but says that it supports green vehicle rebates for a defined period of time, though not on an ongoing basis. Such rebates could help consumers adopt these planet and (eventually) wallet-friendlier technologies while they are relatively new, pricey and low volume, Nantais argued.

B.C. to drop emissions testing

British Columbia has decided to wind up its AirCare passenger vehicle emissions testing program in 2014, arguing that newer vehicles are no longer the prime source of pollution and “blue smoke” in the atmosphere, but there are no plans for Ontario to do the same.

B.C. environment minister Terry Lake announced late last month that the AirCare program will continue in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley areas until Dec. 31, 2014, due to lingering air quality concerns, but the consumer tests will then be scrapped, ending the mandatory bi-annual or annual tailpipe tests for all cars and consumer trucks aged six years or older.

But there are no such plans for Ontario’s DriveClean program, said Ontario environment ministry spokesperson Kate Jordan this week.

“The ministry recognizes that as technology changes, so too should Drive Clean,” she wrote in an e-mail. “That’s why we have modernized the program, phasing in new testing equipment that is expected to further reduce emissions from vehicles by 20 per cent beyond the current tailpipe test, and have focused our testing requirements on heavy polluters.”

Jordan noted that hybrid and electric vehicles are exempt from DriveClean testing, while dual-fuelled vehicles like natural gas or propane vehicles are tested on whichever fuel used when they arrive at the DriveClean test.

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