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A growing number of electric vehicle studies in Canada are calling for the federal government to step up and offer cash incentives to early EV adopters, both fleet and personal, to help overcome considerable auto industry, utility and consumer trepidation over the high costs and potential lifestyle changes associated with an emerging EV age.

The environmental advocacy group Pollution Probe as well as the not-for-profit coalition group Electric Mobility Canada have each released EV reports in the past month recommending that the federal government establish incentives for battery electric vehicle purchasers. Both also advised tackling other measures that would help overcome barriers to EV "uptake" and increase research and development that could help develop battery and EV technologies - and eventually EV acceptance - in Canada.

An EV report funded by the Canadian government that came out in 2009, Canada's Electric Vehicle Technology Roadmap, has not yet been acted upon, said participants at a recent Plug 'N Drive Ontario conference in Toronto (plugndriveontario.ca). This report predicted at least 500,000 EVs would be on Canadian roads by 2018,

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If the Canadian government doesn't at least establish a clear harmonization of electrical charging standards between federal departments, provinces and the U.S., the EMC study concluded, it may delay the availability of EVs to the market, if it pushes back the installation of needed charging stations in homes and fleet businesses. This is the least-expensive EMC recommendation, at about $2-million, but also the most urgent, said the EV coalition group.

The EMC would like to see national incentives similar to the U.S. government's $2,500-$7,500 tax credit on early electric car purchases/leases, as well as a tax credit for half the cost of installing or upgrading electrical infrastructure to accommodate 240-volt EV recharging. But Finance Minister Jim Flaherty reiterated this week that there will be no significant new spending in the next federal budget, planned for late February or early March.

Oprah to hand out 2012 VW Beetles

Oprah Winfrey is giving away cars again - that is, she's making deals with car companies to give them away on her show.

This time, it will be 275 all-new 2012 Volkswagen Beetles. But since VW won't officially show the car until spring, the studio audience saw only a shadowy outline of the new 'New Beetle,' and will have to wait until next fall when production starts to actually receive it.

The silhouette of the side of the car didn't give away any state secrets, but it does confirm that the overall shape of the car will shift from a circular three-bubble side profile, to a flatter, less-bulbous but still-rounded, two-bubble hatchback form, and will offer a rear spoiler.

This is Oprah's last season on network television and last Monday she kicked off a series on Oprah's Ultimate Favourite Things.

A regular 2011 VW Beetle was parked onstage to give audience members at least some idea of what they have coming in about a year. Other prizes that Oprah either has by now or will give away as part of the series to each audience member include a one-week Caribbean cruise, a Sony 3D TV and a diamond watch.

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Oprah first offered such a giveaway in 2004, when she handed out keys to an all-new Pontiac G6 for studio audience members. She also gave away two VW Routan minivans last year and, as the owner of a current VW Beetle, Oprah approached VW about the cars for the Ultimate Favourite Things series.

Toyota, Honda still dominate CR rankings

Recalls or no recalls, Toyota still lies near the top of the heap when it comes to reliability, along with Honda, according to the latest widely followed Consumer Reports annual reliability survey.

But the biggest improvement in the survey was by General Motors, which now has 83 per cent of its Chevrolet models with average or better predicted reliability ratings, compared to only half of GM's largest brand last year.

However, Ford is still rated as the most reliable Detroit-based auto maker, while Chrysler lags much of the industry when it comes to overall predicted reliability.

Across all four GM divisions, 69 per cent of its models feature average or better predicted reliability, compared to 90 per cent of Ford models, including Lincolns. Helping GM's numbers since the last survey of the organization's 1.3 million members was the fact that it dropped four divisions that contained some of its least-reliable models, CR found.

European luxury auto makers fared the worst as a group in the survey, with only Volvo and Porsche models receiving across-the-board average or better ratings. There were a few bright spots for BMW (M3) and Mercedes-Benz (E-Class sedan), but nearly three-quarters of Audis were to have less than average reliability. Volkswagen did well, however, with its new Jetta and Golf.

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VW working on next Microbus

In what may be an ominous sign for workers in Windsor, Ont., building the Volkswagen Routan in a special deal with Chrysler, VW's chief designer confirms that he is working on a modern reinterpretation of the iconic Mircobus, the vehicle that paved the way for the modern minivan.

Design chief Klaus Bischoff told AutoExpress magazine in the United Kingdom that the last VW Microbus concept, revealed at Detroit in 2001, was shelved due to costs, not lack of public appeal. But he stressed that the design study at this point was a European project, though with global influences, which may give VW lots of time to consider ways of boosting the appeal of the slow-selling Grand Caravan-under-the-skin Routan.

Auto industry ‘at the bottom, looking up’ L.A. Auto Show offers a sober, practical view of the world, reports Jeremy Cato

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