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Bloomberg New Energy Finance recently released its Electric Vehicle Outlook 2017—its "long-term forecast of global electric vehicle (EV) adoption"—and lifted eyebrows across the global energy sector.

Electric vehicles will reach price-parity with internal combustion engine models by 2025, the company found, and battery manufacturing capacity will triple in the next four years. Further, electric cars will comprise 35 percent of new light duty vehicle sales globally by 2040. The shift to electric mobility is happening far faster than previously believed.

Meanwhile, in early June, at the Clean Energy Ministerial in China, Canada signed on to EV30@30. Under that program, participating nations will work to collectively reach a 30 percent sales share for electric vehicles by 2030.

I was curious how Canada is—or isn’t—tracking along that adoption curve, so I pinged Colin McKerracher—the Canadian-born head of advanced transport with BNEF, in London, U.K. and co-author with Salim Morsy of the recent report.

Here’s our conversation, condensed and edited for clarity.

Colin McKerracher is head of advanced transport with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, based in London, U.K. Photo provided.
Colin McKerracher is head of advanced transport with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, based in London, U.K. Photo provided

Do you have a sense of whether Canada will track along a similar adoption curve to the one you detail in the Electric Vehicle Outlook? Why or why not?

EV adoption in Canada is rising, but it is still well behind leading markets. Charging infrastructure outside of a few key areas—most notably Quebec—is still limited, and the number of models that consumers can buy is far lower than in some of the more advanced markets.

Canada is developing a National Zero Emission Vehicle Strategy. What should it include if we are to see that kind of quick adoption rate you see globally, and meet the EV30@30 target?

If Canada wants to be a leader in EV adoption, the national ZEV strategy should include specific provisions to build more public fast-charging infrastructure, and incentives for automakers to make EVs available in the country. A Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate is one option, and the analysis we have done shows that electric-vehicle model availability is one of the most important drivers of EV adoption. Simply put, consumers can't buy a car that they can't find. More leading EV markets are heading in this direction. For example, China will introduce a quota system next year and the European Commission may move to a similar mandate.

Canadian Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr announces an electric vehicle project at the Glebe Parking Garage in Ottawa on April 4, 2017, as FleetCarma customer success manager Megan Allen and Natural Resources Canada Assistant Deputy Minister Frank Des Rosiers look on. Colin McKerracher says Canada has a "natural advantage" in an electric vehicle market. Photo by Alex Tétreault

In Canada, despite all the excitement around electric vehicles, sales remain a slim percentage of overall sales. But we also hear a lot of anecdotal stories of would-be EV customers signing on to four-month waiting lists. To what extend is this due to limited availability, and limited range of models in the market here?

At BNEF, we’ve found that increased model availability shows up in the sales numbers pretty quickly. In France, you had all the purchase-incentive subsidies in place, but it wasn’t until you had a certain number of models in the market that sales started to go anywhere. There is a strong argument that having vehicles available can create demand. In short, people can’t buy cars that they can’t see.

You certainly see that in the data. In the U.K. the Renault ZOE is the leading EV by a large sales margin, because it came in and hit a segment that wasn’t being served and at an attractive price point. In Canada, there are very few models consumers can choose from.

Is there any characteristic of the Canadian market that would make a strong suite of ZEV supply-side policies, such as a ZEV mandate, an easier sell politically speaking?

Two things come to mind. First, Canada has strong reserves of a lot of the things that go into a batteries—such as copper, cobalt, nickel, and manganese. Our projections show that nickel and aluminum will both see demand from EVs rise to about 327,000 tons a year from just 5,000 tons in 2015. For Canada that’s a net benefit. The other thing is that with respect to emissions, you have one of the cleanest power sectors around. So you have a natural advantage on both the materials going into the cars, and the cleanliness of the power used to run them—especially in hydro-rich provinces like B.C., Manitoba, and Quebec.

With battery costs falling, will the shift to electric mobility just happen anyway?

The battery cost declines we are seeing are driven by policy. If the policy is not there, then the cost declines slow down, and the adoption takes much longer. That’s because the policies give certainty to the market, to help mature the supply chain, and that certainty is what gives rise to the competitive economics—particularly when we look out to the 2020s and beyond. It’s not the right call to say “Let’s just sit back, it will happen anyway.”

Last week Bollinger Motors revealed the first all-electric all-terrain sport-utility truck. How important is it to have a variety of different kinds of vehicles?

If you want the EV market to grow, you need a steady stream of additional models coming online in various vehicle classes. People don’t generally start vehicle shopping with the drivetrain in mind; they start with a demand for a certain class of vehicle. Consumers don’t generally go to an auto dealer to buy an electric vehicle, they go to buy a truck or a van and then they would need to happen to see an electric vehicle there in those classes.

electric vehicle, Quebec, clean energy, General Motors
An electric car is on display at the Montreal International Auto Show on January 19, 2017. File photo by The Canadian Press

At the moment, Quebec has Canada’s only ZEV mandate, which will require dealers to stock electric cars. While advocates cheer this on, they also privately worry that it could serve to make already limited access to EVs even worse elsewhere in Canada.

That could happen, yes. The manufacturers might send most of their already-limited supply to Quebec. That really highlights the problem with a patchwork approach to ZEV policy, and points to the need for the National ZEV Strategy that is now underway. I’m from British Columbia, and I’m always surprised that there is so little movement on the EV front out there.

What's the most important policy tool or investment that Canada can use to increase adoption of these vehicles? Awareness? Mandate? Infrastructure?

The big moving pieces are things like fuel economy standards and a potential ZEV mandate, but don't underestimate some of the smaller things as well. Countries like Norway—where 42 percent of vehicles sold in June were electric—also include a raft of non-financial incentives. These are things like reduced ferry fares, free public parking, and road- and bridge-toll exemptions. These incentives won’t last forever, but can help kickstart the market.

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While it's great that electrics are finally being supported, the number of cars on the road needs to be dramatically reduced. Multiple households need to be able to share ownership and insurance of a vehicle, as well as community carshare programs need to be developed and individual ownership discouraged. Inexpensive delivery of groceries and whatever is purchased would really help as a $75 delivery charge regardless of whether it is one item or a truckload is ridiculous. We need fewer roads and to have areas of towns with access closed to vehicles.

Instead of pillaging nature for resources, we should be recycling metals sent for scrap that are currently sold to countries (mostly China) smart enough to use them. The federal government is still firmly supporting energy extraction both financially and by legal loopholes. They are making a show of support for renewables but it is nothing compared to the billions industry gets every single year.

Surely the answer to that question is easy: nervousness about our cold climate, long distances and the relatively high price of even the lower-cost EVs.

First thing is to have more dealers selling EVs. One dealership in Quebec is about the only one that has actively embraced the technology - and has been very successful. But that is just one of thousands - and most of the rest will just shrug or maybe point to hybrid.

Second thing is to tackle the role of strata councils who stand in the way of most changes to the built infrastructure, like better energy efficiency or charging points for EVs. Metro Vancouver - to its great credit - does have advice to potential EV owners on its website about how to approach a strata council. But that by itself is not nearly enough.

EVs will do nothing to solve the major issue of Canadian urban areas - traffic congestion. They are still cars, and the simple geometry of road space and the lack of really good transit service both stand in the way of dealing with that. More shared vehicles and autonomous cars could actually make matters worse at peak periods .

EVs are growing fast. But so are fossil fuel burning cars (ICE). The BNEF EVO2017 report covered in this article is perhaps the most EV-bullish projection out there. And even it projects that the number of fossil fuel burning cars will be even higher in 2040 than today. That is a troubling but important "lock-in" stat for the public and policy makes to understand. The other favourable EV projections, like OPEC, show even greater growth in ICE lock-in.

This is similar to how renewable energy is growing quickly but fossil fuel energy is too.

I'm a fan of both -- I've got grid-tie solar panels and a plug-in car -- but I'm increasingly concerned that we are cherry-picking climate hope by focusing on just the good new stuff and not also covering the fossil burn side as well. I keep getting into conversations with people who think the climate problem is solved because of all the positive EV and Renewable news. The data says otherwise...

There is a company based in BC, Electra Meccanica, which is just going into retail production of a three-wheel single-seat all-electric commuter vehicle (the SOLO) for C$20,000, minus whatever provincial rebates are available. It has a 6-hour full-recharge time on 110V, with a ranmge of 160 km. Given that most commuting cars are single-occupancy, and daily commutes are under 30 km., there could potentially be a huge market for such a vehicle. Disclaimer: I have absolutely no financial interest in the company.

I have been on EM's mailing list for a long time, eagerly awaiting news of when I can buy a SOLO in Ontario to supplement my bikes for commuting in Toronto, especially in the winter here (I don't own a car, and I am about to turn 68). But Electra Meccanica has no dealerships in Canada outside BC, and nobody apparently has any interest in setting one up. So EM are understandably turning their attention to the huge market opening up in California instead; their main website is now aimed at the US market.

EM's cars are not even listed under the Ontario government's EV rebate program. However, many high-priced EVs from foreign manufacturers *are* eligible for the huge rebates.

Why are such all-Canadian potential success stories not being better supported in this country, neither by governments nor by private investors? Why do we not accept home-grown solutions but constantly fawn over imported ones?

A few detail points on purchasing an EV:
I've been driving a Tesla "S" now for over 8 months, including last winter with some very cold -35C weather, and found the car performed well in the cold weather. The concerns about EVs and cold weather are exaggerated in my experience. I strongly recommend moderate home-charging to condition the battery and warm the car's cabin using shore power right before setting out on long trips to maintain range in extreme cold weather.
The Tesla charger infrastructure to my mind makes the Tesla the only EV worth buying if you plan to use the car for longer trips, otherwise you have to rely on the public charger system which is spotty at best. Although more expensive (the Model 3 less so), these are all-aluminium cars built to really last. Also, the batteries are built for EV use by Tesla, and are designed much more ruggedly than the off-shelf general purpose batteries you find in other models likely to expire after 4 years. These factors, and others, make for a lot less expensive EV over the lifetime of the vehicle compared to other EV models that are less expensive up front. I don't want this to sound like a Tesla advertisement, but I've looked into this a bit during my purchase period, and suggest that those considering an EV need to consider the whole vehicle-life picture before selecting a specific model. Finally, with the low maintenance cost of EVs compared to your typical ICE box, the higher up-front cost of the EV starts to look quite moderate. I particularly enjoy the little perks a green license plate gives me, and thumbing my nose at the gas stations with their ever-rising price/L signs.