The Five Things You Need to Know About the Most Authoritative Study Ever on Canadian Electric Vehicle Adoption
Author — Matthew Klippenstein Category — Transportation
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Whoomp. That’s the sound of Electrifying Vehicles: Insights From The Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle Study landing on our desks—a massive new piece of research from British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University.

The paper summarizes three years of research into the country’s nascent electric vehicle market by the School of Resource and Environmental Management. It’s a weighty read—the executive summary alone runs 26 pages.

The full report and supporting documents can be accessed here, but if you don’t have a long weekend to spare, we pulled out five of the most intriguing bits:

1) More than one-third of Canadians are willing to buy a plug-in electric vehicle.

SFU researchers surveyed 1,754 recent car buyers from across English-speaking Canada. Respondents were given price information for gasoline, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery-electric versions of a generic automobile, and were asked which they would purchase. Of the respondents who own plug-in electric vehicles, the survey found that the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, and Tesla Model S are the most widely owned. Despite its higher up-front costs, one-third chose the plug-in hybrid vehicle; comparatively few chose the battery-electric. (In follow-up interviews, some explained that they preferred plug-in hybrids because they could fall back on the gasoline engine in case of battery problems.)

Extrapolating to the general population, that means more than 8 million Canadian drivers were willing to buy electric cars. (There are about 25 million people with drivers’ licences nationwide.)

2) Car shoppers strongly prefer plug-in hybrids over pure battery-electric models.

When mainstream car buyers were shown the relative purchase prices of conventional, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and pure battery-electric versions of a given vehicle, about one-third went for the hybrid. Very few opted for the battery-only car.

The biggest barriers to purchasing electrics cars were limited model options, and sufficient inventory such that customers could find their preferred trim, colours, and options.

Follow-up interviews suggested that many car shoppers wanted a gasoline engine as a backup in case anything went wrong with the unfamiliar battery technology. (For what it’s worth, batteries predate the automobile by about fifty years.)

In a similar survey, 96 percent of plug-in pioneers chose one of the electric vehicle options over conventional and hybrid choices. More than half opted for a battery electric vehicle, suggesting that familiarity is the best cure for range anxiety. 

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of plug-in pioneers chose EV over conventional or hybrid models.

3) Thirty percent EV interest doesn’t translate to 30 percent market share.

Despite more than 8 million Canadians potentially being open to buying plug-in electric vehicles, researchers concluded that electric car market share in 2020 could be as low as a measly one percent, due to a compounding of factors. The biggest barriers were limited model options, and sufficient inventory such that customers could find their preferred trim, colours, and options.

Despite more than 8 million Canadians potentially being open to buying plug-in electric vehicles, researchers concluded that electric car market share in 2020 could be as low as a measly one percent.

Car dealerships’ interest in electric vehicles has so far been tentative, and despite the popularity of SUVs and trucks in Canada, almost all early electric car offerings have been sedans.

4) Home is where the plug is, two-thirds of the time.

Another factor limiting EV uptake is that only two-thirds of car buyers surveyed had access to electric outlets where they parked, and only one-third could easily install the faster Level 2 chargers needed to make battery electrics a realistic option.

Coincidentally, thanks to plentiful charging infrastructure, plug-in pioneers in British Columbia charged at home about two-thirds of the time, splitting the rest of their recharges between work and public stations. These home-charging numbers were a lot lower than commonly reported data in America, suggesting that drivers there “filled up” at home up to 90 percent of the time.

5) Canadian EVs are cleaner than hybrids (yes, even in Alberta!)

Finally, researchers compared the greenhouse gas intensity of plug-in electric vehicles with that of conventional and hybrid vehicles in three provinces. They did so by measuring the pollution from marginal electricity supplies when owners were most likely to charge their vehicles. The result? Even on Alberta’s coal-reliant grid, electrics are about half as polluting as conventional vehicles and are, in fact, cleaner than hybrids.

It’s possible to foresee a not so far-off future where electric vehicles become half as polluting as even hybrids. And in such a world, would the Toyota Prius be classified as a relatively high-polluting gas guzzler?

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