As other major countries move towards banning gasoline vehicles and increasing sales of electric cars, it can be hard to find an electric car in B.C..
Starting next year, China is aiming for 10 per cent of new vehicle sales to be zero-emission vehicles.
But in B.C., just 40 per cent of car dealerships have a single electric vehicle for sale and drivers who want one can wait up to a year and half, according to a new report from Clean Energy Canada.
“British Columbians should be able to more easily choose to go electric,” said Merran Smith, executive director at Clean Energy Canada. “They should have local dealerships where they can test drive that new (electric vehicle) model that’s supposed to be available — and if they like it, drive it off the lot in the colour they want.”
Clean Energy Canada contacted 292 car dealerships in B.C., posing as an interested zero-emission vehicle buyer, for the report. While dealers were enthusiastic about electric vehicles, they said the cars are sold as soon as they hit the lot.
With rising gas prices, alarming environmental reports and calls for sharp cuts to emissions in B.C., the demand for electric vehicles promises to continue to grow. But if consumers can’t easily try out and access electric vehicles, a golden opportunity for change could be lost, unless the government steps in.
Later this fall, the B.C. government will announce a new clean-growth strategy, an economic plan focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The government’s target is to reduce carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, and 60 per cent by 2040.
B.C. is considering a mandate for electric vehicles — a provincial requirement that zero-emission vehicles make up a certain percentage of auto sales, such as 10 per cent by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030. New gasoline and diesel cars could be phased out by 2040. If the proposal goes ahead, automakers would report on their sales in 2019 and meet specific targets for sales by 2020.
Stopping short of announcing that there will be a mandate for electric cars, George Heyman, B.C.'s Minister of the Environment, said the strategy will outline the government's direction and include targets for zero-emission vehicles and other greenhouse gas reduction measures.
It's a no brainer. B.C. needs a electric car mandate, writes @tracysherlock
"Lots of British Columbians want to get into clean energy vehicles because it feels like the right thing to do, but also because they know it's more affordable in the long run," Heyman said in an interview. "The job of government, and we will be addressing this in the climate action strategy, is how do we address the affordability, choice and availability issues."
Heyman refers to the "climate action strategy," rather than the clean-growth strategy, saying the government hasn't landed on a final name yet for the plan due in late November or early December.
But B.C. Green party leader Andrew Weaver insists the clean growth strategy will have “a very aggressive mandate” for zero-emission vehicles.
To reduce carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 was always going to be a challenge. With the recently announced approval of an LNG plant in Kitimat, which will add significant emissions into our atmosphere, it's going to require even more drastic change.
Premier John Horgan said he believes the province can do it, but his power-sharing partner Weaver has expressed skepticism that the province can meet the goals at the same time as adding emissions from LNG.
About 14 per cent of B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions come from personal transportation, Clean Energy BC says.
British Columbians appear poised and ready to adopt electric vehicles. But if they can’t find them on their local car lot, that altruism could disappear fast. One-in-three British Columbians expect to buy an electric car as their next vehicle, a BC Hydro report found, and B.C. drivers choose electric vehicles more often than in other provinces, according to the latest statistics.
The province of B.C. recently added $10 million to a clean vehicle purchase incentive program, because strong demand depleted an initial investment. When asked whether the rebates will continue, Heyman said the government is aware affordability is an issue.
"That's why incentives are offered until the prices between clean energy vehicles and the price of gas vehicles is on par," Heyman said. "The industry expects that to occur around the mid-2020s. We also know that we need to ensure that British Columbians have have access and choice of the vehicles they want to buy."
There are more than 10,000 zero-emission vehicles and about 30,000 hybrid vehicles on the road in B.C., and typically, drivers of electric cars save about $2,400 on fuel and maintenance.
“The demand is exceptional,” says Weaver. “Once you’re in an electric vehicle, you’re never going back. They are more fun to drive because they are much zippier, … (and) they cost nothing to drive.”
But because other jurisdictions have already adopted zero-emission vehicle mandates, when these cars are built, many of them are shipped to those markets instead of to B.C., Weaver said.
With the United Nations warning us that we need to make drastic cuts to emissions by 2030 to limit global warming, making the choice to drive an electric vehicle should be clear.
But if people can’t find them at car dealerships, can’t test drive them and don’t hear about them from their friends, the switch is unlikely to happen.
It's a no brainer. A clean energy vehicle mandate — a rule that says a rising percentage of vehicles sold must be emission-free — will ensure dealerships have those cars on site, when people want to buy them. It will ensure manufacturers continue to improve such cars and that the price differential is minimized. A change is going to come, and this is an obvious move for B.C..
Tracy Sherlock writes about B.C. politics for National Observer. Send your tips and ideas to [email protected].