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Proponents of electric vehicles often respond by saying drivers won't need more than 600 km of driving range, but many beg to differ, according to Matt Bubbers.Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

Electric vehicles have come a long way, but they’re going to need to go a lot farther, literally, in order to convince Canadians to ditch their gas guzzlers.

Drivers in Canada say they won’t consider buying an electric vehicle unless it has a driving range of at least 599 kilometres, according to a new survey by consulting firm Deloitte. Today, 300 to 500 kilometres is the norm for most EVs.

If you think 599 kilometres of range is overkill, wait til you hear how much it’s going to take to convince Americans to bite: They want EVs that can cover 834 kilometres before recharging.

As part of its 2022 Global Automotive Consumer survey, Deloitte asked 26,000 people from 25 countries – including roughly 1,000 people from Canada – for their opinions on electric vehicles. The ideal driving-range numbers are an average of responses from people who are not already considering buying an electric vehicle. As it turns out, that’s most of us.

More than half of Canadians said they wanted their next vehicle to have a conventional gas or diesel engine, said Ryan Robinson, automotive research leader at Deloitte. Only 10 per cent of people said they would prefer a fully electric vehicle as their next car; in the United States, it was just 5 per cent.

That leaves a large swath of the population for auto makers and governments to win over if Canada is to hit its ambitious zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) sales targets.

The Deloitte survey found driving range still ranks as the No. 1 issue keeping people in Canada from considering an EV, followed closely by the higher upfront costs, Robinson said. Concerns about a lack of public charging infrastructure ranked third. In the United States, range was the No. 1 issue by a larger margin.

EV evangelists and superfans will say that people don’t need 600 kilometres of driving range, and that range anxiety fades as you become accustomed to EV ownership. If you can plug in at home, or if you have great public fast-charging infrastructure, they argue, long-range EVs are unnecessary. These are all fine points that have been repeated many times – including in The Globe and Mail – but simply stating them over and over hasn’t been enough to convince more people to make the leap to an EV.

Drivers want cars that meet all of their needs, whether those needs are real or imagined. Take pickup trucks, for example. Do you think all, or even most, of the 380,000 people who bought a new pickup in Canada last year frequently use their trucks to tow heavy loads or haul lumber? Surely not. Drivers choose pickups because they could do those things, should the need ever arise. Pickups cover all the bases.

Why should EVs be any different?

Canada is a big country, sparsely populated, and road trips are part of our culture. If you feel you might occasionally take a 600-kilometre trip – to visit family or go on vacation – then you’ll be shopping for a car that goes the distance. If an electric one doesn’t fit the bill, there are plenty of gas guzzlers to choose from.

“One of the immutable truths that we’ve come to understand about consumers – not necessarily just in Canada, but in the vast majority of geographies around the world – is that people are 100 per cent unwilling to compromise, particularly when you’re asking them to pay the kind of money that is required for new vehicles,” Robinson said.

Walk into a new-car showroom today, and you’ll find a handful of EVs that offer a very respectable 400 kilometres of range for about $45,000, before government incentives.

The Tesla Model S and Lucid Air can cover more than 600 kilometres, but they both carry six-figure price tags. Earlier this year, Mercedes-Benz unveiled an EV prototype that the company claims will cover 1,000 kilometres on a charge, but a company executive said that much range is probably unnecessary.

The trouble with adding driving range is that it increases the price of a vehicle. But each model-year brings vehicles that offer more range per dollar. Battery-leasing programs like the one planned by Vietnamese upstart VinFast could also reduce the upfront costs for buyers.

Making vehicles more aerodynamic is another cheap way to boost range, although that path leads away from SUVs and pickups, which cut through the wind about as well as a highway billboard. At the very least, as economies of scale ramp up, prices for longer-range EVs should come down.

If there’s a silver lining here for EV fans, it’s that Canadians are, at least, more willing to adopt electric cars than Americans. “There’s a bit of a gap opening up, on a year-to-year-to-year basis, where Canadian consumers are looking a little bit more like European consumers,” Robinson added. “U.S. consumers are definitely starting to lag behind the more global trend towards vehicle electrification.”

As for the question of how much driving range is enough to make EVs mainstream, the simple answer is “more.”

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