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the road ahead

An electric car charges on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 1, 2019. This year, EV sales were up in every province except Ontario.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Compared with more than a century of gas-powered cars, we’re still in our electric youth. Electric-vehicle (EV) sales won’t likely surge ahead of their gas counterparts any time soon, but in the 2020s, expect to see a lot more EVs in your neighbourhood.

As of the third quarter of 2019, which ended Oct. 31, EVs – including battery electric vehicles (BEVs), plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and a handful of hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles – counted for 3.5 per cent of total passenger vehicle sales in Canada.

That’s up from 2.2 per cent in 2018, and it’s higher in the two provinces with provincial incentives. In British Columbia, EVs make up 10 per cent of total sales. In Quebec, 7 per cent.

That might not sound like a lot, but it’s been growing every year.

In the first three quarters of 2019, Canadians bought 43,703 EVs, up about 28 per cent from 34,074 in the same three quarters in 2018, according to Electric Mobility Canada, a pro-EV non-profit. By 2025, Ottawa hopes EVs will count for 10 per cent of all vehicle sales.

This year, sales were up in every province except Ontario, where they fell after the provincial government axed the EV rebate, which offered up to $14,000 to buy new, environmentally friendly vehicles.

If they build it?

How many electric vehicles are there on Canadian roads? As of October, there were roughly 136,000 BEVs and PHEVs in Canada. In 2014, there were just 10,000.

EVs count for about 0.5 per cent of the 23 million passenger vehicles on Canadian roads.

Worldwide, more than four million BEVs and PHEVs have been sold so far – and that’s been predicted to increase to 125 million by 2030.

What’s behind the increase in Canada? In May, Ottawa introduced incentives of $2,500 for PHEVs and $5,000 for BEVs this year.

Since EVs are still generally pricier than their gas-powered equivalents, the incentives help.

Attendees check out a Tesla Model 3 on display at the Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto on Feb. 15, 2019.Chris Helgren/Reuters

Incentives can’t last forever, and there’s hope that prices will drop as batteries get cheaper and companies ramp up their scale to build more and more EVs.

Even with the higher prices, buyers might be attracted by the idea of paying less for fuel. A BC Hydro survey found that charging a BEV in B.C. costs the equivalent of about 25 cents a litre.

BEVs are also changing from odd-looking science projects with limited range – you might remember Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV and its 155-km range – to cars that compete with gas-powered rivals in looks, power and, increasingly, even range. Now, most BEVs offer 300 to 400 km of range, some even more. The $44,999 standard-range Tesla Model 3, for instance, delivers 354 km of range. The $65,990 long-range version delivers 518 km.

Although the standard version qualifies for a $5,000 federal rebate, the Model 3 is still nearly twice as much as a $20,121 Honda Civic.

In the first 11 months of 2019, Honda sold more than 58,000 Civics in Canada.

In the same period, Tesla sold 9,500 Model 3s.

The rise of e-SUVs and e-trucks

By 2040, Ottawa wants every new vehicle sold to be able to drive without producing CO2 emissions.

Even if we don’t see an EV in every driveway by the end of the twenties, we’ll probably see a few on every street.

Until now, most BEVs have been hatchbacks or sedans. That’s not what most Canadians actually drive. A lot of us drive SUVs and trucks.

Tesla's Cybertruck is expected to reach dealerships in 2021.Tesla/Reuters

So in the 2020s, we’ll see more SUVs powered, at least partially, by electrons, including PHEVs like the Toyota RAV4 Prime. Set to be in dealerships this summer, it can drive up to 60 km on a single charge, about 25 km more than the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.

We should also be seeing electric trucks relatively soon. For instance, Tesla’s fully-electric Cybertruck, which looks like a cross between a Delorean and a Honda Ridgeline, is supposed to be available in 2021. Ford and GM are also expected to have electric trucks on the road by 2021.

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