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the road ahead

A worker tests the charging port of the new electric Chevy Bolt at General Motors' Orion plant in Michigan.Jason Tchir/The Globe and Mail

One thing keeping Canadians from charging ahead and buying an electric car is, well, charging.

When General Motors asked shoppers what was holding them back from buying an electric vehicle (EV), charging was one of the top five reasons to stick to gas.

“The two clear barriers were charging and value,” said Ryan O’Neill, market segment manager for Chevrolet EVs.

To allow Level 2 charging, GM will pay for an electrician to install a 240-volt outlet in your home if you buy or lease a 2022 Chevy Bolt EV or the slightly bigger 2022 Bolt EUV.

What’s Level 2 charging? Here’s a quick Home Charging 101:

If you have a driveway, garage or parking stall with access to a plug in, there are two ways to charge Electric Vehicles (EVs) at home.

The slowest is at a regular 120-volt wall outlet. It gives you about eight kilometres of range for every hour of charging.

But a 240-volt outlet, the kind used for dryers, is quicker.

It lets you use a Level 2 charger which gives you about 40 km of range per hour. If you already have 120-volt outlets in your garage, a 240-volt outlet is typically easy for an electrician to install, according to Cara Clairman, president and CEO at Plug n’ Drive, a not-for-profit that promotes electric vehicles.

“If you live in a single-family home, it’s not that hard to do – it’s about $1,500, on average,” she said. “Whereas in a condo, it could be much more than that. If the electrical room is on a different floor than the garage, it’s not easy to do.”

GM is partnering with Qmerit, a charger installation company that will find a qualified local electrician. GM will pay for the installation anywhere in Canada, as long as it doesn’t cost more than $1,500.

“There are some requirements,” O’Neill said. “You need to have a dedicated meter, so a condo wouldn’t qualify.”

Once you’ve got a 240-volt outlet, you can install a dedicated Level 2 charger, which can cost $400 to $4,000 before installation costs. Or you can use a portable Level 2 charger, which typically costs around $300.

The 2022 Bolt EUV comes with an adapter that plugs into either a 110-volt or 240-volt outlet. That adapter, which allows Level 2 charging from a 240-volt outlet, is an add-on purchase for the 2022 Bolt EV. GM hasn’t announced how much it will cost.

If your installation is too complicated, if you park on the street or if you just don’t want to install a 240-volt outlet, GM is offering a $750 credit for paid charging on the Flo network across Canada instead.

“Our goal is to make charging easier for every customer,” O’Neill said.

Cara Clairman, President and CEO of Plug'n Drive, a non-profit organization which promotes the use of electric vehicles, gets ready to charge her car.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Overcoming resistance?

But do you actually need a Level 2 charger at home?

“It will really depend on the car and how you drive it,” Clairman said. “For cars with a larger battery, a Level 2 will let you charge to full overnight.”

Most of us don’t need to charge from empty to full every day. About 80 per cent of Canadians drive less than 50 km a day – and that number was from “before the pandemic,” Clairman said.

But if you regularly take long trips that get your car close to dead empty, fully recharging an EV with a 400-km range with a 120-volt outlet could take 50 hours.

“I’ve gone to a friend’s cottage with my [Chevy] Bolt and had to recharge from empty on a 110-volt outlet,” Clairman said. “But it charges all weekend, so that’s totally fine.”

Installing a 240-volt outlet, even though “it’s not any trickier than installing a dryer plug-in,” might seem like a hassle for someone who’s on the fence about buying an EV, Clairman said.

“Everybody wants to charge at home, so it’s a big issue,” Clairman said.

A Level 2 outlet or a $750 charging credit are nice perks. But the biggest barrier to EV adoption for many is still price, Clairman said.

At this year’s CES, GM CEO Mary Barra talked about putting everybody in an EV.

But a 2022 Bolt EV starts at over $40,000, including taxes and freight, before federal and provincial rebates. That’s nearly $5,000 cheaper than the 2021 Bolt, but still more than most comparable gas-powered vehicles.

“It’s not for everyone,” Clairman said. “A lot of these new EVs are quite expensive, but the used market is quite robust – people who can’t afford new can get a used 2017 or 2018 EV with decent range now.”

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