Political will, Hydro-Québec's investment and environmental awareness are combining to make Quebec the hottest hybrid market in Canada.
Not coincidentally, manufactures chose the Montreal Auto Show to show off the latest electric and hybrid vehicles that are being priced within reach of the average consumer. One week ago, Volkswagen Canada introduced the 2017 all-electric e-Golf to a Canadian audience for the first time, Honda had the Clarity plug-in hybrid on view, Hyundai showed the new electric/plug-in hybrid/hybrid Ioniq. The three cars will be available for sale in Canada this year.
Nissan said it is bringing Flo to showrooms to facilitate Leaf sales. Flo sells a 240-volt home charger for $995 and a connected version for $1,295. Ontario and Quebec subsidize charger acquisition and installation, and Nissan will throw in $500 to Leaf buyers through March 31. And Toyota kicked off a promotional campaign for its hydrogen fuel-cell-powered Mirai.
Daniel Breton, politician, author and environmentalist, has attended the show for more than 40 years and this year, he says, "it is the first real electric-car" exhibition. The show opened last Friday and runs through Jan. 29 at the Palais des congrès de Montréal.
While electric and hybrid vehicles combine for a tiny fraction of overall vehicle sales in Canada, Quebeckers buy about half of all plug-ins.
"You can see the trend coming in the last three or four years," said Breton, who's written The Guide to Electric, Hybrid & Fuel-Efficient Cars. "Ontario has been behind but now is starting to show more aggressive policies."
With Hydro-Québec investing robustly, there are some 1,000 publicly available EV-charging stations across the province, and more than 40 400-volt quick chargers. At Level 2 (240-volt) stations in parking facilities such as the Alexis Nihon Plaza's, the cost is $2.50 a charge or $1 an hour, billed per minute, which equates to cheap parking and even cheaper "fill-ups."
François Lefèvre, chief marketing manager of the Nissan Leaf EV, said infrastructure and growing public awareness of EV utility go hand-in-hand. Sixty per cent of Leaf sales in Canada are in Quebec. "The more awareness there is in the province, the more you see the numbers go up," Lefèvre said.
Lefèvre says research shows the average Canadian commutes 41 kilometres a day. Core to successful EV operation is to install a Level 2 home charger, while private and public sectors combine to build out "electric highways" with fast chargers.
Nissan partnered with Hydro-Québec two years ago to install 26 fast chargers. Today, it is possible to drive from Ottawa through Montreal to Quebec City and beyond without range anxiety.
Meantime, manufacturers are beginning to appease consumers by extending the range. The new Chevrolet Bolt rates at 383 kilometres a charge. The Leaf is up to 173 kilometres on average, according to Nissan. The second-generation e-Golf, the one to be sold here later this year, is outfitted with a new lithium-ion battery, bumping range to about 200 kilometres on a charge, VW says. It generally takes about five hours to recharge the battery at a Level 2 AC station at home and 30 to 45 minutes at a Level 3 DC station.
The hybrids and EVs on view at the show are eligible for rebates in Quebec, whether a consumer is leasing or buying. The province's Drive Electric Program, in effect since 2012 and guaranteed through 2020, also provides rebates on electric motorcycles and installation of charging stations. EVs such as the e-Golf are eligible for $8,000 from the province, hybids $500 to $8,000, low-speed EVs $1,000, motorcycles $2,000. The amount depends on vehicle type. For instance, a hybrid Toyota Prius returns $500, a plug-in 2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron $4,000, while the all-electric Smart fortwo or the Tesla Model S gets $8,000.
The province refunds $350 for a charging station and $250 for installation. The charger must be powered by a 240-vote supply, and installed by a licensed electrician.
Last summer, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, speaking at the 29th annual International Electric Vehicle Symposium in Montreal, said the goal is to connect the electric highway to Ontario and the northeastern United States. "By 2030, 25 to 40 per cent of our cars will be plug-ins," Breton predicts.
However, on Monday, auto makers expressed concern that it will be difficult to comply with a new Quebec law that requires them to sell a minimum number of electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
Starting with the 2018 model year, 3.5 per cent of all auto sales in the province will have to be from those types of vehicles.
That threshold will rise to 15.5 per cent for 2025 models.
Quebec is the only province that has such legislation.
"It's very aggressive," David Adams, president of the Global Automakers of Canada, said last week at the Montreal Auto Show.
The legislation, which was passed last October, should be delayed, Adams said, adding that the auto industry should be recognized for its efforts to cut emissions through the development of hybrid vehicles as well as fuel efficiency improvements with its non-electric fleet.
"I don't think that it's realistic to impose that kind of mandate on consumers who ultimately are going to decide what they want to purchase based on their own needs," said Michael Hatch, chief economist of the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association.
With a file from The Canadian Press
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