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An electric Nissan Leaf, belonging to rent-a-car company Autoshare, charging its batteries. The government of Quebec has announced a major plan to boost sales of electric vehicles in the province.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The Quebec government is proposing to spend $420-million by 2020 to boost sales of electric and hybrid vehicles in the province to 100,000 units annually, about five times the current number sold in the entire country every year.

"Transportation electrification represents a way for Quebec to set itself apart by promoting important values such as respect for the environment, collaboration and knowledge as well as the desire to enhance the public's prosperity and well-being," the province's Ministry of Transport says in Propelling Quebec Forward with Electricity, a document that lays out the program.

The focus on electric vehicles makes sense for Quebec, the document says, because of its hydroelectric system, abundance of materials used in the manufacture of batteries and vehicles, and expertise in making components and some electric vehicles. It notes, for example, the only manufacturer of electric school buses is located in Quebec.

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The plan calls for more electric buses, trucks and trains, as well as using $116-million to make sure more electric vehicles are on the road. The government itself will add 1,000 electric vehicles to its own fleet by 2020.

It also includes fast-charge stations on main roads to recharge electric vehicles and charging stations in new office buildings and multiunit residential buildings. The plan includes permitting electric vehicles to drive in carpool lanes and modifying the highway safety code to allow low-speed electric vehicles to travel on public roads.

The plan covers the years when emission and fuel economy regulations by national governments in Canada and the United States grow more stringent and as auto makers spend billions of dollars to develop fully electric vehicles and fuel-cell-powered cars and trucks, and try to reduce the emissions and cut the amount of fuel used by internal combustion engines, which put the world on wheels more than a century ago.

But sales of hybrids and electric vehicles are at best stagnant with the price of gas below $1 a litre in parts of Canada and as low as $1.81 (U.S.) a gallon not far from Mobile, Ala.

Sales of light trucks, which includes sport utility vehicles, crossover utilities, minivans and pickup trucks, represented 61 per cent of the market in Canada in September, up from 58.2 per cent a year earlier. That means sales of more fuel-efficient passenger cars have fallen.

Hybrid and electric vehicles have not won over Canadian consumers, said industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers, president of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc.

They represented just 1.2 per cent of the Canadian market in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available, Mr. DesRosiers said. Canadians bought about 22,000 such vehicles in total in 2013, his data show.

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Quebeckers buy about 5,000 to 6,000 such vehicles annually, he said, so sales would have to jump to 15,000 annually this year and in the next five years for the goal of 100,000 annually to be reached.

The best way to reduce emissions is to get older vehicles off the road, he said.

A carrot-and-stick approach would work best, he said. That would involve incentives to buy new, more fuel-efficient, lower-emitting vehicles and increasing licence renewal fees on older vehicles that are less fuel efficient and higher polluting.

Groups representing auto makers that sell vehicles in Canada warned that imposing a mandate on car companies directing them to sell a certain number of zero-emission vehicles in the province by 2020 is not the way for the province to achieve its goals.

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