Thinking of buying an electric vehicle? For a lot of Canadians, the prospect of switching from a gas-powered car to an electric one comes with some questions: How do I install a charging station at home? How far can I drive? What if I need to go on a long trip?
There’s a mindset shift required when making the switch from gas to electric, and dealers are trying to make it easier to go through that transition.
“You can’t just hand over the keys to an electric vehicle — they’re not going to have the best experience unless they’re set up to charge at home,” said Laurance Yap, creative director of Pfaff Automotive Partners, which sells EVs from Porsche, McLaren, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen among others, as well as Harley-Davidson’s electric LiveWire motorcycle.
Yap said Pfaff is getting ready for the “tidal wave” of EVs that will eventually flood the Canadian market, driven in part by legislation in Europe that’s pushing manufacturers in this direction. The U.K., for example, is banning the sale of internal combustion vehicles by 2030. “These cars are coming,” Yap said, “so how are we going to adapt and make customers more comfortable with them?”
The City of Toronto has 864 Level 2 or Level 3 public charging stations, according to ChargeHub (which has a free app for iOS and Android to help locate charging stations). Of those, 522 are free, but “you’re going to get the best experience when you can charge at home,” said Yap.
That’s because a home charging station can help to ease “range anxiety” — a fear that your EV won’t have enough of a charge to reach your destination — since you’re leaving home with a “full tank” every day, said Yap.
Pfaff has partnered with electrical contractor Rocket EV to facilitate the installation of home charging stations for customers — typically before they take delivery of the EV. While the customer still pays for the installation, it’s meant to make the switch to EVs as seamless as possible.
Indeed, home charging is a significant part of the EV ownership experience, according to a 2021 EV home charging study by J.D. Power. Overall home charging satisfaction is highest among EV owners who install a Level 2 permanently mounted charging station at home, versus those who use a portable charger or those who use a slower Level 1 charger.
Pfaff is also tackling range anxiety by offering loaner gas vehicles to customers for longer trips at no charge, for the first two years after purchasing their EV. “To assuage that fear, we offer anybody who purchases an EV a seven-day loan or up to 2,000 kilometres with a gasoline vehicle,” Yap said. “The reality is, once people figure out the whole electric charging thing, they use it, they love it, and very few of them go back (to gas cars).”
There are several apps available to help drivers locate charging stations, whether in the city or along the highway for longer trips. It’s not quite as straightforward as filling up with gas, said Yap, because there are different rates at which chargers will deliver a charge — you might be waiting for 20 minutes, or you might be waiting an hour.
But overall, EVs require less maintenance than gas vehicles because there are fewer moving parts, and most EV batteries come with a substantial warranty. Many German, Japanese and Korean EV manufacturers, for example, offer a minimum eight-year warranty on their batteries.
Manufacturers from Tesla to Nissan and Kia are also trying to overcome consumer reluctance with apps that make it easy to view the battery charge status, charge level and driving range.
Another hurdle on the road to EV ownership is cost. While dealers may offer their own incentives, the federal government offers point-of-sale incentives of $2,500 to $5,000 to consumers who buy or lease a hybrid or EV (on vehicles with an MSRP of less than $45,000). And in Ontario, the Used EV Incentive Program provides $1,000 toward the purchase of a used EV.
While the Ontario government scrapped its home EV charging station rebate program in 2018, the City of Toronto’s Home Energy Loan Program (HELP) provides low-interest loans to cover the cost of home energy improvements, which includes adding EV charging stations. And vehicles with an Ontario green vehicle licence plate also gain access to high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, regardless of the number of passengers.
When doing the math on whether an EV makes sense, it’s important to consider the total cost of ownership, said Yap. The purchase price of an EV may be higher but consider the ongoing costs of gasoline and maintenance for a gas vehicle. “The more you drive,” he said, “the more you’ll save with an EV.”
Learning from Norway
Norway is leading the way in electric vehicles, with EVs making up more than half (54.3 per cent, to be exact) of all new cars sold in 2020, according to the Norwegian Road Federation. Not only is this a global record, but Norway aims to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars to its citizens by 2025.
While this Scandinavian country also happens to be a leader in climate change policies, that isn’t necessarily what’s driving sales. Rather, citizens are being incentivized to make the switch. Cars imported into Norway are subject to a value-added tax for consumer goods and an additional purchase tax for vehicles. EV buyers are exempt from both. That levels the playing field, making an EV similar in cost to a petrol vehicle — and sometimes even cheaper.
EV drivers can also drive in bus lanes and, until 2017, could park and use toll roads for free (nowadays, they pay half price). They also have access to ‘supercharger’ points, where multiple vehicles can charge simultaneously. And the City of Oslo (along with several other municipalities) offers grants for installing EV charging stations at housing co-operatives. With so many incentives, making the switch to an EV in Norway is a no-brainer.