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My partner and I have been thinking about getting an electric vehicle for a couple of years and now, with gas prices so high, we’re seriously looking. Originally, we were just looking for a used EV to keep the price down, but we haven’t seen many advertised other than Teslas (we don’t want a Tesla, but otherwise, we’re pretty open). We’d also consider new, but there are waiting lists for the new EVs we like. I know new and used cars have been in pretty high demand all year, but with gas prices so high, are more people looking for used EVs right now? – Kate, Calgary.

If soaring gas prices are fuelling your interest in a greener used car, you’re not alone.

Since the start of March, more Canadians are hunting for EVs and hybrids – at least according to searches on used car sites. In the first two weeks of March – when prices started to rise after the Russian invasion of Ukraine – one Vancouver-based site, Canada Drives, saw an 87-per-cent increase in searches for battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and a 59-per-cent increase for searches for hybrids compared to the previous two weeks.

“This was a pretty quick jump,” said Cody Green, the site’s co-founder and CEO chief executive officer.

At Clutch, another used car site, search volumes for BEVs and hybrids more than doubled between mid-February and mid-March.

“Certainly, with gas prices going up, interest is accelerating,” said Dan Park, Clutch’s CEO.

Neither site would give exact numbers for how many searches they’d had.

But it’s not just searches – at Canada Drives, EV and hybrid sales were up by 55 per cent in the first three weeks of March compared to all of February. Canada Drives would not provide numbers for searches or vehicles sold.

“We have been largely able to keep up with demand, but as we see demand continuing to increase, we put more and more focus on sourcing quality EVs and hybrids to stay in front of it,” Green said.

In a quick search of the site last week, there were 12 EVs available in British Columbia, one in Alberta and 23 in Ontario.

They were mostly Teslas and mostly asking more than $55,000.

On AutoTrader, a site that lists thousands of new and used vehicles across the country from dealers, private sellers and online-only sellers like Clutch, there were 38 used EVs for sale in Calgary, for instance.

Stress Test podcast: Gas prices are soaring. Are electric vehicles an affordable solution?

Small becoming beautiful again?

There’s also growing interest in trading in gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs for smaller vehicles, Green said.

At Canada Drives, there was a 35-per-cent increase in searches for sedans, coupes and hatchbacks, as well as some indication people are trading in gas guzzlers for greener used cars on the site, Green said.

“Typically, it’s a pretty even spread between people upgrading in size or downgrading – but right now, a lot are trading in big SUVs for cars,” Green said. “Or for smaller SUVs – there’s a big difference between a Chevy Suburban and a Ford Escape – if you don’t need those extra seats, you can double your fuel economy.”

James Hancock, director of OEM (original equipment manufacturer) strategy and analytics with Canadian Black Book, which estimates and tracks used car prices, said a decline in sales of gas guzzlers tends to follow any significant rise in gas prices.

“As gas prices rise, we typically see prices of pickups and big SUVs soften as consumers look for more fuel-efficient vehicles,” he said.

But have used EV sales also gone up? It’s tough to tell because there are still relatively few EV sales – likely in the hundreds – every month, Hancock said. Right now, roughly 2.5 per cent of the 1.5 million used vehicles sold every year in Canada are EVs, Hancock said. In a March survey by BNN Bloomberg and Ratesdotca, nearly 38 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they’re considering an EV or a hybrid for their next car. Only 27 per cent said that gas prices wouldn’t have an impact on their next purchase.

And more than half – 54 per cent – said they’re driving less right now.

In a separate Ipsos survey conducted for CBB, released last week, 39 per cent of respondents said they’re likely to buy an EV in the next five years – that’s up nine per cent from last year. That means 60 per cent aren’t ready, Hancock said.

Typically, when gas prices fall, interest in more fuel-efficient vehicles declines too, Green said.

“What would be more interesting is if it’s sustained,” Green said.

Long-term changes?

Could gas prices also fuel an increase in sales of new EVs and hybrids? While March numbers aren’t available yet, there likely won’t be a big blip simply because a global computer chip shortage means “there aren’t any [new EV or gas] cars available,” said Andrew King, managing partner of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants in Richmond Hill, Ont.

“In the short term, it won’t make any difference – you couldn’t get cars before oil prices went up,” King said. For instance, Volkswagen said there’s likely a nine to 12-month wait for its all-electric ID.4 SUV right now,

although it expects the situation will improve when a factory in Tennessee opens this fall.

“As of right now, we are no longer taking orders for model year 2022 ID.4s as we have so many in the bank, that we know we won’t be able to fill them all,” said Thomas Tetzlaff, Volkswagen Canada spokesman. “The vehicles coming out of Chattanooga will be model year 2023.”

And in the longer term?

“It’s too early to say,” King said. “The terrible crisis in Ukraine has also pushed up the price of nickel, and that will push up the price of EVs.”

In March, for instance, Tesla increased the price of some vehicles. In Canada, the starting price on the Model 3 Long Range jumped by $2,000, to $68,990 from $66,990.

While EV sales have been growing steadily over the past few years – to about five per cent of new sales last year, King said – that could accelerate if gas prices stay high for months or longer.

“If you look back at the oil crisis in the seventies, that brought about substantial change – in the U.S., Honda Civic sales went up from 38,000 in 1973 to over 100,000 in 1975,” King said.

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