Automakers pitch electric vehicles as an ideal form of transportation for city drivers, but some cities are friendlier to EVs than others.
If measured by the availability of public charging stations in a given city, Montreal leads the rest of the country. According to ChargeHub, which tracks and maps chargers across the United States and Canada, Montreal has 1,003 Level 2 (240-volt) and Level 3 (480-volt direct-current) charging stations within a 15-kilometre radius of the city. Quebec City, with one-fifth the population, has 275.
Vancouver, with slightly more than half the population of Montreal has 428, while Toronto, with a metropolitan population of 5.92 million, has 301 chargers.
Canada has about 8,400 EV chargers nationwide, according to the Canadian Automobile Association. Level 2 chargers can provide about 30 kilometres of range in one hour of charging, while Level 3 chargers provide enough power for about 250 kilometres of range in that time.
The development of a nationwide charging network is seen as one of the keys to making EVs grow from a niche market that makes automakers little money, into a larger and more profitable segment. Other factors include increasing vehicle range, cutting charging times and reducing costs.
“We’re still in that chicken-andegg scenario where the infrastructure is only going to grow if we see a critical mass of consumers buying electrics,” said Ryan Robinson, automotive-research leader at accounting firm Deloitte. “You’ve got regulatory environments that are a little bit all over the board in terms of their support to see the growth of electrics.”
PITCHING TO SHORT COMMUTES
In the meantime, automakers pitch EVs to urban commuters who have short drives to work and whose daily driving habits make a vehicle’s limited range viable.
The BMW i3, for instance, is “meant for shorter commutes within metro areas,” said Kevin Marcotte, national manager for i series vehicles, including the i8. “That’s where the majority of our sales volume is and our clientele and usage is.
“However, as technology develops, we’ve had battery upgrades that increase range upward of [in] ideal conditions 200 kilometres of range — the technology is suitable for more than just inner-city driving.”
Automakers have concentrated on selling most of their EVs in provinces with rebates to consumers. When Premier Doug Ford’s government axed Ontario rebates of up to $14,000 for EVs soon after taking office in July, automakers said they would likely shift their EVs toward British Columbia and Quebec, the only other provinces that offer rebates. That came as welcome news to dealers in those provinces, as a lack of supply has hurt overall sales of EVs nationwide, according to a federal survey of salespeople released in August.
The move also means Ontario — by far Canada’s most populated province — is likely to have fewer EV sales, at least in the short term. As a result, demand for charging stations could decline.
“Even the people who are really wanting that environmentalism badge or that hip badge that comes along with an EV, it’s going to make them think twice about buying [one],” Robinson said.
The changes come as the charging networks in those provinces grow to match demand and, in the case of Quebec, help meet provincial EV-sales requirements. Most publicly available chargers are the slower Level 2 stations.
Francois Lefevre, chief marketing manager for the Nissan Leaf, said that while at least 80 per cent of Leaf drivers simply charge their cars at home overnight for their commute to work, having more Level 3 chargers would help to ease range anxiety. Still, Lefevre said, the public charging network tends to be a major factor in a buyer’s decision-making only if the customer has a long commute or travels often.
“There’s definitely a correlation between the number of chargers being installed and the number of EVs being sold, but it’s not the main factor,” he said. “People travel, on average, 42 kilometres per day, round trip. So we think we drive a lot of kilometres as Canadians, but we don’t.”
Nissan urges potential Leaf customers to map out their daily commute to show that it typically is not far enough to have to worry about an EV’s range, especially if they have a second vehicle, Lefevre said.
Likewise, BMW Group Canada spokesman Marc Belcourt said pitching the convenience of charging vehicles at home helps win over some customers.
“New owners have high levels of range anxiety, and as you put more and more kilometres through your driving experience, your anxiety or your concentration on range decreases quite rapidly because you realize that trip to the office or the grocery store isn’t 75 kilometres, it’s only four kilometres,” Belcourt said.
“And then the greatest benefit of that public charging infrastructure becomes using the best parking spot in your favourite mall, movie theatre or office building that’s always beside the elevator and is, for now, typically vacant.”
CITY EV NETWORKS
Canada’s public charging network for electric vehicles varies wildly from city to city. Municipalities with high concentrations of EVs — generally in provinces with EV rebates — tend to have more chargers than those without rebates. Below are Canada’s eight largest cities by metropolitan population, with the number of public charging locations within 15 kilometres of the city, according to ChargeHub.com. Populations are for a city’s metropolitan region as of the 2016 census.
- Toronto (5.92 million): 301
- Montreal (4.09 million): 1,003
- Vancouver (2.46 million): 428
- Calgary (1.39 million): 48
- Ottawa (1.32 million): 140
- Edmonton (1.32 million): 31
- Quebec City (800,296): 275
- Winnipeg (778,489): 28