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the road ahead

A charging port on a Mercedes Benz EQC 400 4Matic electric vehicle at the Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto.MARK BLINCH/Reuters

It’s nearly 2022 and Teslas aren’t self-driving.

That’s despite Tesla CEO Elon Musk telling investors in January that he was “highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of a human this year.”

As automakers and tech companies work to change how we get around, there are plenty of promises – and plenty of setbacks.

Here’s a look at how far we’ve come – and how far we have to go – in 2021.

Full autonomy far away?

In May, a Waymo self-driving taxi got confused by traffic cones and blocked a road in Arizona. There have been other reports of odd behaviour during the ongoing pilot in some Phoenix neighbourhoods.

In October, Tesla started beta testing its $10,600 “full self-driving capability” with about 12,000 drivers. Despite the name, it’s not actually self-driving – the driver needs to pay attention constantly – and testers have reported issues including running a red light and nearly striking a pedestrian.

While we may eventually see robot taxis in more cities, it’ll still likely be decades before we see cars that can drive themselves anywhere while you sit in the front playing video games.

“I’ve been saying for the last five years that self-driving cars aren’t likely to be here before, I would guess, 2050,” Kelly Funkhouser, head of connected and automated vehicles for Consumer Reports, said earlier this year. “Anyone that’s telling you it’s sooner than that is trying to sell you something, whether it’s a product or a dream.”

Scooters too unsafe for Toronto

Shared e-scooters have been growing in popularity in a few Canadian cities, scooter companies say.

Bird Canada – which has scooters in eight cities including Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Windsor – said about 200,000 riders took nearly 1.3 million trips in 2021. In 2019 and 2020 combined, there were about 500,000 trips.

“There are more than a dozen Canadian cities that are committed to launching e-scooter pilots in 2022, many of which are in Ontario,” Bird Canada CEO Stewart Lyons said in an e-mail.

The rollouts haven’t always been smooth. There have been companies of drunken riders, scooters left blocking sidewalks and unsafe scooting.

But some cities still don’t want them.

In May, Toronto voted against allowing them because they pose a “safety hazard for all Toronto residents.”

From May 28 to August 24 in Calgary, for instance, at least 600 people ended up in the ER because of e-scooter crashes – that’s about one crash for every 1,000 e-scooter rides in that city.

Companies say they’re looking at solutions, including attached helmets.

More EV-friendly policies?

While four more provinces made EVs cheaper for residents, one moved to make them more expensive.

In 2021, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland started offering EV incentives.

They joined British Columbia, Yukon and Quebec, who were already giving a top up to the $5,000 federal incentive.

But in October, despite some protest, Saskatchewan started charging EV owners a $150 annual fee.

It’s a tax that will pay for road maintenance. The province hopes to collect about $60,000 a year.

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The move comes as the federal government hopes for wider EV adoption.

In June, the federal government moved forward its target for 100 per cent of new cars to be zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) from 2040 to 2035.

But Ottawa hasn’t imposed a national ZEV mandate that would require companies to sell a certain percentage of EVs.

Right now, the majority of EVs are sold in B.C. and Quebec, the only two provinces with ZEV mandates.

A national mandate “would make sure every Canadian who wants an EV can find one to buy no matter where in the country they live,” said Joanna Kyriazis, senior policy advisor with Clean Energy Canada, an environmental nonprofit.

Meanwhile, a proposed U.S. law that could potentially hurt Canada’s auto industry has been stalled. The Build Back Better infrastructure bill would give carmakers a tax credit to build EVs in the U.S. The bill has been rejected by Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is a Democrat and the deciding vote.

Home with the range?

An EV with 830 kilometres of range can soon be yours for $189.000.

Lucid Motors, which opened its first Canadian store in Vancouver this fall, just started delivering its Air Grand Touring to U.S. customers. Deliveries are expected in Canada in 2022.

Other pricey EVs boast big range. For instance, you can get 652 kilometres in the $114,000 Tesla Model S Plaid.

But more reasonably priced EVs now offer at least 400 kilometres of range. This fall, Volkswagen started delivering its ID.4 all-electric SUV, which has a 400 kilometres range on its $44,995 rear-wheel drive version.

So, for mainstream buyers, how much range will be enough?

“For mainstream vehicles, we’ll probably see things settle down into a range of about 250 to 300 miles [400 to 480 kilometres],” said Chris Harto, senior policy analyst, transportation and energy, with Consumer Reports.

While advances in battery technology – including solid-state batteries being worked on by Toyota and other companies – have the potential to deliver even greater range, we’re not there yet, Harto said.

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