British Columbia’s plan to accelerate its zero-emission-vehicle (ZEV) transition has alarmed the auto industry and brought calls for more flexibility.
The NDP government’s revised sales mandates, announced Oct. 24, call for 100 per cent of sales of new light-duty vehicles to be ZEVs by 2035, five years ahead of the original date but now the same as the federal ZEV mandate. Interim targets of 26 per cent by 2026 and 90 per cent by 2030 are also tougher. The current B.C. law calls for 10 per cent ZEV sales by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030.
The new targets, which could become law in spring, are also significantly tougher than the federal mandates of 20 per cent by 2026 and 60 per cent by 2030.
The federal and Quebec ZEV schedules specify targets every year from 2026 to 2035, but B.C. currently has announced just three increments.
The change comes as the industry points to slowing EV sales in the U.S. and Canada, raising concerns that government mandates might not be attainable. Automakers face stiff financial penalties if they aren’t reached.
“We need to see detailed plans on how to make that possible,” Brian Kingston, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, told Automotive News Canada.
“We expect to be engaged. They’re going to have to build in some flexibility, or this is going to cause severe economic damage.”
Josie Osborne, B.C.’s minister of energy, mines and low-carbon innovation, is not convinced that the schedule is unrealistic, based on third-party market forecasts used to set the new targets.
“The results we have show that industry should be able to comply with the proposed accelerated targets,” Osborne told Automotive News Canada.
The provincial government is committed to regular reviews, making adjustments if necessary to reflect factors such as changing market trends, she said.
“It’s important to balance the signal with the response.”
Based on demand, available charging infrastructure and other factors, Kingston said, “There is no obvious pathway to 90 per cent” in seven years, he said.
Urban areas account for 90 per cent of EV sales, according to 2022 figures, Kingston said. Low adoption rates in rural areas make reaching the 2030 target challenging.
The B.C. plan is similar to Quebec’s ZEV regime, using a system of credits and financial penalties to compel automakers to meet sales targets toward an ultimate 2035 phaseout of fossil-fuel light vehicles.
British Columbia leads Canada in per capita EV adoption at about 21 per cent, according to the province. Along with the new targets, the province announced an additional $7 million in funding for its EV charger rebate program.
But inventories of unsold EVs are growing in B.C., as well as the rest of the country, suggesting there’s no pent-up demand.
“Some dealers are sitting with a lot of electric vehicles on their lots, which wasn’t the case a while ago,” said Blair Qualey, president of the New Car Dealers Association of B.C.
CHANGING PLANS FOR AUTOMAKERS
Early adopters have purchased their EVs, Ford Canada CEO Bev Goodman said Oct. 23 during the Automotive News Canada Retail Forum in Toronto. That leaves mainstream buyers, who are more sensitive to price, vehicle choice and charging availability, she said.
Slowing EV demand has prompted Ford and General Motors to postpone investments in North America, although Toyota is more than doubling its spending to US $13.9 billion on its battery plant in North Carolina. GM and Honda have abandoned plans to co-develop a line of affordable EVs starting in 2027.
Any future rules should be flexible to account for regional differences such as limited charging, lower adoption rates in rural areas and resistance to high EV prices despite generous rebates, Qualey said.
Automakers face penalties of up to $20,000 for every nonZEVs sold outside the targets, which could lead to reduced internal-combustion inventory available, driving up prices, he said.
“There’s going to be some real pain, I think,” Qualey said.
Osborne, the B.C. minister, said some flexibility is already built in, such as counting plug-in hybrid vehicles the same as ZEVs for sales credit, which should address some of the regional challenges.
Other aspects could be worked out during technical consultations to set the regulations, likely by spring, she said.