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the road ahead

Would you drive a Huawei to work? Or go to the store in a Samsung?

In a new survey on attitudes toward electric vehicles, nearly half – 49 per cent – of Canadians say they’d buy an electric car built by a technology company like Google, Amazon, Apple, Huawei, Samsung or Tencent.

“I think we were very surprised,” said Peter Hatges, partner and national sector leader for automotive with KPMG Canada, which surveyed more than 2,000 Canadians in December and January. “An alternate provider is not seen as a big risk.”

Despite rumours Apple is working on a self-driving EV that could be ready as soon as 2025, none of those companies have officially announced an EV for sale – although Sony announced last month it would be starting an EV division this year.

But when KMPG surveyed auto executives last year, a majority expected the tech companies to enter the car market with their own branded vehicles. Although this latest Canadian consumer survey didn’t ask people why they’d consider buying an EV from a tech company, Hatges said it points to a potential shuffling of key players in the auto industry if EVs gain prominence over the next few years.

“I think people have come to the conclusion that an electric battery-powered vehicle is a lot different than a car with a combustion engine,” Hatges said. “They appreciate that they’re not as complicated mechanically, so why do you need one of the OEMs when the real backbone of the whole thing is the battery and software?”

But name-recognition alone won’t be enough for companies to sell EVs, the cars will have to have enough range, recharge quickly and be affordable, Hatges said.

“I think it’s going to become very price dependent,” he said. “If the price of an electric vehicle is 20 to 30 per cent more than an internal-combustion vehicle, I think this desire to experiment is going to wane.”

Tesla, Toyota and Honda?

In the survey, 71 per cent said they’d consider buying a pure EV for their next vehicle – that’s up from 68 per cent last year who said they’d consider an EV or hybrid.

Also, 49 per cent said they’d be more likely to buy an EV today than before the pandemic. That rise may be fuelled by soaring gas prices, Hatges said.

“I filled up my car with gas yesterday and I came home and I went to the Tesla website,” Hatges said. “I’ve never put this much money in my car before.”

The tech companies weren’t the only threat to traditional carmakers. More than three in five people – 62 per cent – said they’d buy an EV from a car company that exclusively builds EVs.

KPMG also asked people which companies, overall, they’d be most likely to buy an EV from. Tesla came first, Toyota second and Honda was a distant third, Hatges said.

But neither Toyota or Honda has a battery-electric vehicle (BEV) for sale in Canada yet – so why them? Both brands are popular with Canadians, have a reputation for quality and are reasonably priced, Hatges said.

“You’ve got to remember the audience: in Canada, Honda and Toyota are big sellers,” Hatges said. “And the guy who drives a Honda Civic now, is he going to buy a Tesla Model S for $140,000?”

The survey also asked how much people would be willing to pay for a new car. It didn’t specify gas or electric. The majority – 75 per cent – said less than $50,000 (34 per cent said less than $30,000 and 41 per cent said $30,000 to $49,999).

“So, if you ask those people what brand they’d prefer, is it any surprise that it’s Toyota and Honda?” Hatges said. “Toyota has been very prudent around whether it would adopt [pure] battery electric tech because they want to make cars that people buy.”

While cars like Lucid’s $189,000 Air Grand Touring make the cover of magazines, they’re not the cars most Canadians buy, Hatges said.

So, if a car company could bring down battery costs and offer an EV for a price closer to popular cars like the a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, would people buy it? “If they can develop an electric vehicle that will meet that price point with consumers, they will be very successful,” he said.

Range and charging speed still matter

Even though more people than previous years say they’re considering buying electric, there’s a difference between considering and doing. Of the people who took the survey, 90 per cent said they’d have to do “a lot more research” into which EV would have enough range and charging speed for them. Almost four in five (79 per cent) said they won’t consider an EV with less than 400 kilometres of range. Just over half (51 per cent) said they don’t want to wait more than 20 minutes at a public charger.

“What I think will spark the adoption of EVs is if they can charge faster,” Hatges said. “I think that will be more important than range – the range is pretty good now.”

It takes most of us less than five minutes to fill up with gas, Hatges said. If battery tech can get to the point where batteries can charge to 50 per cent in five minutes in a car that doesn’t cost $100,000, consumers will buy, Hatges predicts. “It will be battery technology that significantly influences the day,” he said. “I don’t want to say saves the day, but significantly influences the day.”

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