With the federal zero-emission-vehicle mandate looming, Ottawa must accelerate efforts to educate car buyers and ensure the country is equipped with a robust network of EV charging infrastructure, a panel of auto industry executives say.
“EVs are great, we all want to help the environment, but we need the government to do more than just say, ‘here’s the mandate, go do it,’” Steve Chipman, president of Winnipeg-based Birchwood Automotive Group, said during the Automotive News Canada Congress Feb. 16 in Toronto.
Chipman said an education program on ZEVs and charging systems, spearheaded by government, would help boost sales.
“The charging system is all goofed up. I just learned that in some streets, you can’t even install Level 2 chargers because the grid won’t take them. Then, customers have to learn about the different charge rates, and what cars support which speeds,” he said. “The customers might not know a lot, but they know less than I do, which is why they’re asking me. The government has to get better at educating people about what these EVs are all about.”
The panel, which focused on the industry’s EV readiness, also included Laura Zanchin, principal at Zanchin Automotive Group in Vaughan, Ont., Steve Milette, CEO at Nissan Canada and Don Romano, Hyundai Canada CEO.
The proposed regulations will require that at least 20 per cent of new vehicles sold in Canada be zero emission by 2026, at least 60 per cent by 2030, and 100 per cent by 2035.
'WE ARE SO NOT READY'
Zanchin suggested the government pump the brakes on its mandate’s timeline.
“We have to pull the reins a little bit back because we are so not ready on an infrastructure level.”
While EV adoption is increasing, servicing cars and customers comes with a steep learning curve, she added.
“When it comes to servicing, whenever there’s an issue, it feels like we’re doing something for the first time,” she said, citing an instance in which one of her stores had to replace an EV’s battery.
“We needed a forklift [to get the battery out of the vehicle], then we needed to house the battery in a special box, then we had to store it in a special way and location. “So it’s a snowball effect, and we’re ready to take it on. [But] there's got to be a lot of conversations going.”
Retailers, she added, are left having to resolve customers’ questions and complaints. “All of these issues are trouble…A slower pace would be helpful.”
Both Nissan’s Milette and Hyundai’s Romano said they’re committed to helping their dealers gear up for the ZEV mandate. But they echoed their fellow panelists’ concerns about the unreliable state of charging infrastructure.
“We are still not ready in Canada for long-distance EV motoring,” said Milette, adding that it’s not uncommon for a driver to encounter a broken public charger, “Every time I take a long trip, I’ve found a charger that doesn’t work. We’re so used to today’s method of going in [to a gas station] and filling up, and we don’t want to line up for the fast chargers. This [issue] is priority number one.”
'AREN'T TOO MANY GOOD CHARGERS'
Added Romano: “There aren’t too many good chargers from Toronto to Ottawa or to Montreal. So, the cart is before the horse. The infrastructure should be coming first before we mandate that 100 per cent of cars be EVs by 2035.”
Romano also called on Ottawa to impose standards on manufacturers and distributors of EV chargers.
“The government should have regulations for the infrastructure, maybe issue penalties for non-working chargers or have a standard for them to be fixed in a specific time limit.” As well, gas stations should be required to install chargers,” he said. “Why not? It takes a village, let's all contribute.”
The CEOs expressed confidence, however, their companies and dealer networks would be EV ready.
“My job is to make sure that if that is the policy, regardless of government changes, I’m ready, I’m there and my network is there,” said Milette.
As well as grappling with ZEV regulations, automakers will also have to find ways of ensuring EVs are affordable, said Romano.
“One thing I’ve learned in this business over 40 years: if you build them, you’ve got to figure out how to sell them.”