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the road ahead

A Chevrolet Spark electric car charges at the Bourgeois Chevrolet car dealership in Rawdon, Que., on Feb. 8, 2018.Dario Ayala

More Canadians are buying EVs. In the first nine months of last year, we bought nearly 17,000 battery electric vehicles (BEVs). But there’s still resistance to plugging in.

“I don’t think I’d get one yet,” says Dan Yang, 32, who was checking out a $56,000 Model 3 with 386 kilometres of range at a Tesla store in Vancouver. “They’re still too expensive – and the range on the cheaper ones still doesn’t seem all that great.”

In a U.S. survey this month by Autolist, a new and used car-listing site, the top reason people gave for not buying a BEV was a lack of range.

And, while people expected the cheaper BEVs to deliver about 400 km of range – about what you’d get from a $45,000 Hyundai Kona electric – they expected pricier BEVs to deliver at least 800 km of range.

That doesn’t match reality. Tesla’s long-range Model S, which starts at $109,000 has a 595-km range – it’s the longest range of any BEV available now.

“We were pleasantly surprised to see that consumers have a fairly realistic expectation of the quote-unquote affordable cars, like the Nissan Leaf Plus and the Kona,” says David Undercoffler, Autolist’s editor in chief. “But for cars in the US$75,000 range, people really jumped the shark.”

The next biggest reasons to balk at BEVs were the price compared with a similar gas car and the lack of charging infrastructure.

While it was a U.S. survey, consumers here have similar worries about BEVs, EV experts say. And those worries tend to be mostly unfounded for most people, they say.

The price isn’t right?

“We conducted a study of 1,000 gas car owners, and 31 per cent said that price was the No. 1 barrier,” says Dav Cvitkovic, chief operating officer of Plug’n Drive, a non-profit organization supporting adoption of electric vehicles in Canada. “But the majority of those people were not aware of the incentives.”

Since May, there’s been up to a $5,000 federal incentive on certain BEVs and plug-in hybrids. On top of that, there are additional incentives in British Columbia and Quebec.

So, with both the provincial and federal cash, a BEV would cost up to $8,000 less than the sticker price in B.C. – or up to $14,000 less if you turn in your gas car – and up to $13,000 less than the sticker price in Quebec.

An electric car is plugged into a charging station at Lansdowne Mall in Peterborough, Ont., on June 17, 2018.Doug Ives/The Canadian Press

EVs do cost more than comparable gas cars before the incentives. For instance, a Volkswagen e-Golf starts at $36,720 before incentives, at least $10,000 more than a similarly equipped gas-powered Golf. But, once you buy one, they cost less to own.

Not only is electricity cheaper than gas, but BEVs don’t need oil changes or pricey maintenance, Cvitkovic says.

“The annual cost to drive an e-Golf is about $475, including maintenance and fuel,” she says. “A comparable gas car will cost about $2,245.”

So, over five years, you could spend about $9,000 less to fuel and maintain a BEV than you would on a gas-powered car.

Charged conversations?

People also worry that there aren’t enough public chargers yet.

“People are used to going to gas stations, so if they don’t see a big bright station every few kilometres, it can be a little off-putting,” says Neil MacEachern, program manager of sustainable transportation for the Fraser Basin Council’s Climate Change and Air Quality program. “But most people will be charging at home and will just be plugging in their car at night the same way they charge their cellphone.”

If you can’t charge at home, you wouldn’t necessarily have to be using a public charger every day. Since the average person drives 30 km or 40 km a day, a BEV with a 400-km range could last 10 days on one charge.

A car plugs in at a charge station on Parliament Hill on May 1, 2019.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

And even if you wanted to keep it fully charged after every trip – which would be like going to the gas station every day after you get home from work – it would only take about 45 minutes to put back that 30 km on a Level 2 charger, or a few hours if you can plug it into a 110-volt outlet at home.

For most of us, 95 per cent of our trips will be less than 100 km, so it’s rare to go further than your car’s range unless you’re on a road trip, he says. And for longer trips in an EV, it just takes a little planning.

“There are quite a few cars now with around 400 km of range, so you’ll have to stop every three or four hours, which is usually when you’re ready to take a break anyway,” MacEachern says. “So you charge for an hour at a fast charger while you grab lunch.”

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