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Along with incentives, B.C. and Quebec are the only provinces with ZEV mandates that require carmakers to sell a minimum percentage of EVs – if they don’t, they have to pay fines.George Clerk www.georgeclerk.com/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

I’m looking to trade in my 13-year-old Toyota Prius for a battery-electric vehicle. I understand that Toyota’s upcoming all-electric bZ4X should be available in Canada in mid-2022. However, according to my dealer, the car will initially only be available in British Columbia and Quebec. He says it might not make it to Ontario until later in 2023. Is it typical for new EVs? I’m aware that Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s policies don’t include rebates on electric vehicles, but this seems like a huge problem. I realize I don’t have to buy a Toyota, but I have a preference for the brand and have had an exceptional relationship with my dealer for over 25 years. – Maarten, Toronto

When carmakers launch new EVs in Canada, Quebec and British Columbia usually get dibs.

“EVs are typically launched first in B.C. and Quebec,” says Joanna Kyriazis, senior policy advisor with Clean Energy Canada, an environmental nonprofit. “And they get more EVs than other provinces.”

For instance, while Volkswagen started selling the ID.4, its new electric SUV, here just last month, there’s already a 9- to 12-month waiting list.

The first available models are going to Quebec and B.C., followed by Ontario later this year.

The company is planning a national rollout next year, once a new factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee starts production. “The situation is a bit mixed up for potential EV consumers outside of the three provinces in question,” says Thomas Tetzlaff, Volkswagen Canada spokesman.

Toyota Canada hasn’t announced exactly when – or where – it will be launching its upcoming bZ4X SUV in Canada. “Our intention is to sell this vehicle where the demand is, as it is for all our other vehicles,” says Romaric Lartilleux, Toyota Canada spokesman.

But, in 2020, it launched the RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid (PHEV), first in Quebec and then in B.C. “Demand was outstripping supply, and we were allocating supply to the markets with the greatest demand,” Lartilleux says.

While EV production is getting slowed by the current global semiconductor shortage that’s affecting the whole industry, waits for EVs aren’t new. “Supply of EVs generally was uneven before COVID-19 and wait times were the norm,” said George Iny, president of the Automobile Protection Association (APA). “New car dealers were also reluctant to order them, so sometimes the issue was a lack of inventory on-hand.”

EV sales higher in B.C. and Quebec

So, why do B.C. and Quebec usually get EVs first?

“Quebec and B.C. are where the demand is but there’s a government side, obviously,” says Andrew King, managing partner of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants. “EVs are still very dependent on incentives and very dependent on government regulations.”

The two provinces have the highest EV sales in Canada. While EVs and PHEVs count for about 5 per cent of new vehicle registrations nationally. those numbers are higher in B.C. and Quebec, according to research firm IHS Markit. In the third quarter of 2021, EVs counted for 13 per cent of new registrations in Quebec and 9.9 per cent in B.C. Ontario came fifth on the list – behind Yukon and PEI – at 3.1 per cent.

While there’s a federal incentive of up to $5,000 on new zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs), seven provinces – B.C., Yukon, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland – offer their own incentives on top of it.

So, between the two rebates, you’ll save up to $12,000 off the price of a new ZEV in Quebec, up to $10,000 in Yukon, New Brunswick, PEI and Newfoundland, and up to $8,000 in B.C. and Nova Scotia.

“You definitely have to have incentives,” King says. ”We saw that in Ontario when they cancelled incentives and sales dropped straight away.”

Although Ontario’s Ford said this month that he wouldn’t give rebates to “millionaires” buying $100,000 cars, all of the current incentive programs have limits. For instance, the federal incentive only applies to EVs with a base price under $55,000.

Incentives not enough?

But incentives alone don’t explain why carmakers send more EVs to B.C. and Quebec and launch new EVs there first, Kyriazis says.

B.C. and Quebec are the only provinces with ZEV mandates that require carmakers to sell a minimum percentage of EVs – if they don’t, they have to pay fines.

“I’d say that the sales requirements play a larger role than incentives,” Kyriazis says. “B.C. and Quebec get more EVs because they have ZEV mandates in place.”

So, if incentives are a carrot to consumers, ZEV mandates are a stick to manufacturers. To avoid penalties, they ship cars to B.C. and Quebec first.

Both provinces are currently working on toughening their ZEV requirements. B.C. is aiming for 90 per cent of all new car sales to be zero emissions by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2035, five years sooner than the previous target. While the federal government said this summer that it wants 100 per cent of new vehicles sold in Canada to be zero emissions by 2035, it hasn’t set a national ZEV mandate that would require companies to do that.

Kyriazis says Canada needs a federal ZEV mandate to “even the playing field.”

“[It] would make sure every Canadian who wants an EV can find one to buy no matter where in the country they live,” Kyriazis says.

This article previously omitted New Brunswick from the list of provinces offering their own incentives. It has since been updated to reflect this correction.

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