VANCOUVER — The auto industry has met British Columbia’s proposed sales targets for zero-emission vehicles with a mixture of concern and acceptance.
Dealers and automakers know there’s little chance of changing the mind of the minority New Democratic government on forcing a sharp increase in electric-vehicle sales over the coming decades. But representatives hope to influence the final shape of the legislation, expected in the spring.
“We need further discussion with the government to better understand what they are thinking and how we are going to make this work,” said David Adams, president of Global Automakers of Canada, which speaks for import brands.
The proposed policy sets targets of 10 per cent of light-vehicle sales to be ZEVs by 2025, jumping to 30 per cent by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2040. The government also would bolster buyer incentives and fund expansion of rapid-recharging stations throughout the province.
The announcement came as no surprise. The B.C. government had been signalling policy revisions for months, in part because of complaints the industry can’t or won’t meet growing demand for EVs. The government solicited public input and submissions from stakeholder groups.
Details remain to be worked out, especially for what the government calls the ZEV availability standard — in other words, a sales mandate.
‘UNREALISTIC’ SALES MANDATE
Adams said the targets, if based strictly on vehicle sales instead of a Quebec-style system of credits, seem to be the most stringent in North America. It is, he said, “both disconcerting and, in our view, somewhat unrealistic.”
The auto industry also opposed Quebec’s mandate, which allocates credits for ZEV sales based on a vehicle’s range. Automakers falling short can buy credits from companies that have them or can pay a penalty.
EV sales in British Columbia were climbing rapidly without a ZEV mandate, said Blair Qualey, CEO of the New Car Dealers Association of British Columbia. Even the provincial government agreed that the adoption rate there is the highest in Canada.
“Our approach of using the carrot and not the stick seems to have been working very effectively in British Columbia,” Qualey told Automotive News Canada. “We’re doing very, very well without adding legislatively punitive and potentially vehicle-restricting mandates in place.”
In a submission in August, the dealer association recommended, among other things, that the B.C. government continue funding the dealer-administered Clean Energy Vehicle program, which provides up to $5,000 toward the sale of battery EVs and plug-in hybrids ($6,000 for hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles) and stable funding for Scrap-It, which gives additional rebates if the ZEV replaces a fossil-fuel vehicle.
A ZEV mandate is unnecessary and, the association warned, risks leaving unsold vehicles on dealer lots while automakers face penalties or restricted availability of non-EV models. Many dealers, the brief said, “would have their businesses seriously threatened.”
Dealers outside major cities are most at risk, Qualey said. Interest in EVs is limited in the north and the mountainous Southern Interior, where pickups are the rule and charging infrastructure spotty.
“As opposed to putting in [a ZEV mandate] provincewide, make it Lower Mainland and perhaps southern Vancouver Island, the big urban areas,” Qualey said. “I’m not sure government’s going to look at that. They talked about it at one point, so we’ll wait and see.”
While automakers would be responsible for penalties if they fell short of sales targets, Qualey said the cost probably would be passed on to dealers.
“They’re caught in the middle of this and have no control,” he said.
A ‘BALANCED APPROACH’
The government declined an Automotive News Canada request to interview Michelle Mungall, B.C.’s minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources, or any official familiar with the policy. A spokesman provided unattributed answers to questions via email.
The province is taking a “balanced approach,” the email said, and is consulting stakeholders on key components of the availability standard, “building on lessons learned from other jurisdictions” as the government shapes next spring’s legislation.
“A ZEV Availability Standard is expected to result in automakers making it more profitable for dealers to sell ZEVs, compared to their limited margins now,” the email said.
Further measures to increase affordable access will be announced as part of the upcoming clean-growth strategy.
A mandate will ensure that automakers send enough ZEVs west to meet growing demand, as has been the case in Quebec and other jurisdictions, the B.C. government said.
EV advocates welcomed the announcement while regretting its lack of detail. Industry pushback was expected, said Bruce Sharpe, president of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association.
“I’m sure they won’t like it very much,” he said, “but this is kind of the history with the auto industry. Any kind of regulation, they’ll fight it pretty hard.