Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Here are sobering numbers for those of you drunk with the potential of electric vehicles: the number of people who attended Canada's biggest EV conference is about the same as the tally of Canadians who actually bought the world's most popular EV in 2013.

Nissan sold 470 Leaf battery cars in Canada last year, while about 450 delegates, speakers, sponsors, academics, media, trade show visitors, early adopters, truly committed do-gooders, hangers-on with nothing better to do, dreamers, the utterly delusional, and actual EV owners filled out the three-day EV2014VÉ Conference & Trade Show in Vancouver recently.

Talk about disappointing – I mean Leaf sales, EV sales in general and the EV extravaganza as a whole. I have been to enough of these conferences to know we are taking baby steps to zero emission vehicles. I've test driven enough EVs to conclude we are years, perhaps decades away from seeing a mainstream EV with a 500-km range at the price of a Ford Fiesta or Honda Fit – about $14,000 or so.

I buy into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports without reservation, so thoughts of climate change and my 20-year-old's future on a warming planet were rattling around my head as I arrived at the conference, hopeful of seeing and hearing about breakthroughs in EV technology and infrastructure. There were the usual R&D roundtables, headlined by university types who would struggle selling diesel fuel to a truck driver.

The trade show exhibition had the usual suspects, too: car makers such as Ford, Nissan, General Motors, BMW Daimler and Mitsubishi, along with suppliers such as Schneider Electric, and industrial researchers such as Powertech Labs. Well-meaning, earnest types were all about, but they didn't offer any magic formulas. When it comes to EVs, there aren't any.

Story continues below advertisement

In short supply were no-nonsense types, such as Ashley Horvat, who works for the governor of Oregon as the state's chief EV officer. Horvat understands two things that so many EV cheerleaders do not:

1. Great marketing is needed to get paying customers into EVs using their own money;

2. There's no point in moaning about what you don't have, when it comes to promoting and supporting EVs. It's much better to make the most of the resources you've got. Make a plan, and err on the side of action.

Horvat stepped up with the story of making something of a success out of the Pacific Coast Collaborative and the West Coast Electric Highway.

She and her coastal colleagues aren't developing EVs, but they created a re-charging corridor for Oregon tourists who want to take day trips in their EVs without any range anxiety.

Here's how they did it:

  • Someone needs to be the “control point,” the one in charge. A dozen or two agencies, partners, and donors may be on the roster, but all decisions go through one place which is Horvat. Anyone who’s dealt with government/agency/industry/non-profit partnerships can see the sense of getting all different interests in line behind one boss.
  • Develop a brand. Horvat’s team focused on creating an appealing West Coast Electric Highway brand and it’s working.
  • Establish and adhere to clear parameters for all EV charging locations. Think Starbucks and McDonald’s in terms of branding and location. EV drivers should immediately recognize the signage, colours and design of every charging station. And the procedures for charging must not vary from location to location.
  • The charging stations themselves must stand out in places that click intuitively with EV drivers. “Don’t just give a charging location to the first person to raise a hand,” she warned delegates, pointing to something that happens all too often in this game.

She wrapped a presentation with a video about an Oregon marketing initiative: the Plug and Pinot Tour starring former Trail Blazers' star Jerome Kersey. Horvat persuaded this tall-as-a-skyscraper athlete to fold himself into a Leaf and do a wine tour – sipping pinot between quick charges. Brilliant and utterly useful: All the local news programs in Oregon ran stories.

Story continues below advertisement

Then came Dr. David Beeton of the "think tank" Urban Foresight with his EV City Casebook filled with 50 Big Ideas Shaping the Future of Electric Mobility. Very academic. However, when he said this EV business "is truly a global phenomenon," he lost me. It's not. Not yet, at least.

The technology is in its infancy. There aren't realistic answers to the big questions about EVs themselves: how to get the cost down to a point competitive with mainstream cars (without taxpayer-funded subsidies); how to get the range up to 500 km between charges; and how to build a battery system that can be recharged safely and inexpensively in three minutes (the time it takes to fill a tank with gas). Without these issues solved, EVs will forever remain a niche product.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Nissan sold 382 Leaf battery cars in Canada last year. In fact, it sold 470.

Like us on Facebook

Add us to your circles.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Story continues below advertisement

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies