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Transport Canada has welcomed a General Motors proposal to make millions of electric cars mandatory on U.S. roads, prompting questions about the federal government's promised national zero-emissions vehicle strategy.

General Motors (GM) recommended Friday that the U.S. government adopt a national mandate requiring a percentage of auto sales to be vehicles that don’t dump carbon pollution into the atmosphere. Such a mandate is already in force in 10 U.S. states and in Quebec, so far the only Canadian jurisdiction.

GM has estimated its proposal could place over seven million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road by 2030, removing 375 million tons of carbon pollution over the next decade. The company was responding to two U.S. agencies that had sought feedback on the Trump administration’s attempt to roll back Obama-era car emissions rules.

“Transport Canada welcomes GM’s zero-emission vehicles proposal and will be considering it in greater detail,” Marie-Anyk Côté, senior media relations advisor for Transport Canada, told National Observer Monday.

“GM looks forward to discussing the proposed U.S. National Zero Emission program with the Canadian government,” added Jennifer Wright, GM Canada’s communications director.

EVs are better, but hard to find

Washington itself has touted the benefits of EVs over traditional cars that burn gasoline to create energy. Battery-powered EVs are much more efficient at using the energy stored in their power source than their gas-powered cousins, which lose power to friction and waste heat.

While less efficient, gasoline is far more expensive than electricity in many parts of Canada. Even in high-cost areas, the cost of charging an EV battery is usually a fraction of filling up at the pumps. That means drivers of gas-powered cars pay more for less.

Burning gasoline, a fossil fuel, also creates carbon pollution that accumulates in the atmosphere and traps heat, leading to climate change. Older or less efficient gas vehicles sometimes also produce noxious or toxic substances like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and soot, affecting air quality. Transportation is responsible for a quarter of all of Canada’s carbon pollution. Scientists say rapid vehicle electrification can limit dangerous changes to the climate.

Pollution is also produced when EVs and their batteries are manufactured, but they make up for those emissions within six to 18 months — and most cars are driven for years. Some power plants also pollute when generating electricity used to charge batteries, but over four-fifths of the electrical grid in Canada is already non-emitting.

These advantages are part of why EVs make up 45 per cent of new car sales in Norway, and why California is aiming for five million emissions-free cars by 2030. But in Canada, they still make up a small portion of overall auto sales. Matthew Klippenstein of Green Car Reports has calculated close to 34,000 sales so far in 2018, for a 2.2 per cent market share.

While there are a number of EV models for sale, actually finding and buying one has been described as difficult, time-consuming or expensive. Consumers say models aren’t available to test drive, and many potential buyers end up on waiting lists. One in three British Columbians, for example, want an electric car but fewer than half of provincial dealerships have them.

In Ontario, buyers have to pay thousands of dollars more for EVs after the Ford government shuttered a generous subsidy program. It was funded by the province’s price on carbon pollution, that the Ford government has moved to abandon. The B.C. NDP government, however, is now considering its own sales mandate for electric vehicles.

Annie Bérubé, director of government relations for Équiterre, says a nationwide sales mandate is the most cost-effective policy to boost the amount of electric vehicles on Canada's roads. Photo courtesy Équiterre

Nationwide strategy missing in action

GM's nationwide proposal is based on California's zero-emissions mandate. Those rules mean GM must sell a minimum of roughly 2,200 EVs this year, or 1.1 percent of the vehicles it usually sells in the state.

California calculates its EV sales requirements by applying a percentage to most passenger vehicles that each automaker sells — so the sales target changes depending on the manufacturer. The EV’s range also determines the number of credits, and partial credit is given for hybrid vehicles.

Similar to a carbon market, automakers with surplus credits sell them to other automakers with a deficit. This is also similar to how the EV mandate works in Quebec. It has been in force there since Jan. 11, 2018.

The Trudeau government has committed to at least 30 per cent new EV sales by 2030, and promised a nationwide strategy for zero-emission vehicles “by 2018” as part of the Pan-Canadian Framework, its national climate plan. It has also allocated federal budget funding for installing new charging infrastructure.

But Canada’s EV market share has dropped globally from ninth in 2016 to 11th last year, according to Clean Energy Canada.

That group and others like Équiterre say the way for Canada to hit its EV sales target is to adopt a mandate similar to what GM is proposing and what Quebec, California and other U.S. states already have — forcing automakers to sell a certain percentage of EVs.

“The main barrier to increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles in Canada remains lack of inventory at dealerships,” said Annie Bérubé, director of government relations for Équiterre.

“A national ZEV mandate in Canada remains the most cost-effective policy the federal government could implement in its upcoming Zero Emission Vehicle strategy to reach our target of 30 per cent new sales being electric vehicles by 2030.”

The federal zero-emissions vehicle strategy could include such a sales mandate. The “advisory group” of government officials, stakeholders and industry representatives tasked with providing input into the strategy has considered the option.

With two months left in the year, however, no federal strategy has yet been announced, despite that advisory group having wrapped up its work over a year ago.

Nine months ago — on Jan. 31, 2018 — departmental spokesman Pierre Manoni told National Observer that “no additional meetings are anticipated” for the advisory group and that it had already “provided its advice” to government.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s office sent National Observer's questions about the strategy to Transport Canada. The government “continues to work with provinces and territories in the development of the Zero-Emission Vehicles Strategy,” said Côté.

A graph from Green Car Reports shows the percentage of electric vehicles as compared to all vehicles sold in Canada over the last few years. Green Car Reports screenshot

GM Canada, industry group playing wait-and-see

GM Canada said that while the company believes it would be in Canada’s interests to align with a U.S. mandate should it be adopted, it’s waiting to see what happens.

“The GM proposal for a U.S. 50-state Zero Emission Program, if adopted, would be a government mandated and required program. If the U.S. adopts that new mandated program, we would support Canada aligning with it,” said Wright.

Meanwhile, the industry group that represents GM Canada, called the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, isn’t yet ready to adopt GM’s proposal for all its members. The CVMA has been against an EV mandate, and president Mark Nantais said that isn’t about to change.

“At this point in time, this is one company’s proposal that they’ve made in response to the consultations on those same standards in the United States,” said Nantais in an interview.

“My organization hasn’t discussed (GM's proposal) collectively at this point. I’m not sure whether they will, to be truthful...the ultimate goal here is to have a single national standard right across the United States. Canada should not step out ahead of that, until decisions are made.”

But he added that depending on how the decision is taken in the U.S. in response to GM’s proposal, “that may change the landscape.”

Nantais, who sat on the government’s advisory group, also said he wasn’t sure what had happened to the strategy after he wrapped up work more than a year ago. “My understanding is that strategy is supposed to come out late this year, or very early next year,” he said.

Questions to the Global Automakers of Canada, another industry group, were not returned before publication.

Keep reading

For several years we have been researching and tracking the EV cars available to consumers. Finally we decided the design and performance was mature enough to go ahead with a purchase. Thie past spring we found 4 or 5 used vehicles listed on Auto Trader and by the time we had made the exploratory phone calls all but two had been sold and one was out of province. We hustled to the local dealer and decided to go ahead. Ours is a hybrid EV, & battery assist Gas engine. The range on the full ev isn't spectacular but we have now used it 6 times for long distance 12 hour trips and found the fuel consumption gratifying, the battery assist feature and the car's "coasting" capacity awesome. Learning to drive it to maximise economy as well as performance is a work in progress but so far the experience has been well worth the cost. As the article says - we aim to keep it for many more years. We bought it to lessen our carbon footprint, now we drive it because we love it. Join the parade folks!

Hmmmm....If the IPCC SR1.5 suggests that we need to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030, would having only 30% of cars available in 2030 be EV help to halve the emissions from transportation in that timeframe? I don't think so. We'd likely need to ban the sale of combustion engines by 2025 if we were to hope that by 2030 half the fleet would be non-emitting. Does anyone here believe that prospect is politically palatable?

You raise a good point about the political position we find our selves in at this moment. With a national election coming in 2019 surely the IPCC report must be pushed forward. Your math is also interesting. I have purchased a hybrid vehicle as an interim solution and await stronger provincial regulations with respect to ZEV sales percentages here in BC. Perhaps even a robust subsidy for buyers in the order of the KMX purchase cost.

What GM is proposing may be laudable, but as the two other North American car producers GM's profitability is not based on producing electric cars, and won't be the case for the near future. They may be able to offer you an electric car at a relatively reasonable price because they make tons of money selling light trucks (commonly called pickup trucks), SUV's and vans.
More than 65% of passenger vehicles sold in North America last year were light trucks. That's the main reason why greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector in Canada have been increasing in the last few years, which has more than offset reductions resulting from improved fuel economy and reduction emissions standards.
If North American car producers really want to help reduce GHG emissions, they should start by cutting their publicity budget (around US$15 billion a year) promoting the sale of pickup trucks and large SUV's and vans. As I said, promoting electric cars is laudable but for now it is mostly "greenwashing".
Note: It really bugs me when I see publicity on tv where car producers are using nature scenes and animals to promote the sale of their products when we know that vehicles are responsible for killing and injuring wildlife, and helping the spread of human habitat into natural habitat.

The demand is there.......both from the public and from the future. More of us need to demand better from our so called entrepreneurs. At this time in our history, the production line of gasoline powered vehicles is just a bad habit we don't want to kick.

Why not stop the sale of war machines to regimes like Saudi Arabia, and invest big time in retooling those plants for electric those would be vehicles 'armored' against climate change.

We need to say NO to war, yes to transition off the energy that has fueled war for the last century at least. And do it in a Canadian factory that is not a subsidiary of the American Empire.

Beware of False Green Prophet$

Canada needs honest viable energy and environmental policies based on science and economics, not on political rhetoric, nonscience or nonsense.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s proposed carbon tax is a clear example of this because of the delay in keeping his December 9, 2016, promise to create a matching national clean fuel standard “based on life cycle analysis” billed as “the single biggest element of Canada's national emissions reduction plan”.

There are at least seven major types of pollution caused in the life cycle of the production and utilization of energy: abiotic depletion; acidification; eutrophication; global warming; human toxicity; ozone layer depletion; and terrestrial ecotoxicity.

The Trudeau Liberal government’s proposed carbon tax applies to fossil fuels like coal, oil and bitumen, but exempts other forms of energy including natural gas used for power generation, which is worse over the 20 to 50 year time frame, and likely will so-called renewable fuels such as bio-fuels including those made from food crops, and biomass such as wood.

The results of the recent Ontario Election reflect upon the failure of the Government of Canada to disclose the real cost of the carbon tax, how it will be used appropriately and in the public interest, the true life cycle production and utilization of all forms of energy, or the facts regarding the real economic benefits of their energy and environmental policies.

The practice of letting politicians and civil servants make and implement policies that create winners false green prophet$ for their chosen technologies and multibillion-dollar losers out of the rest of us has been proven wrong in every instance, as was confirmed by Ontario’s last two Auditors General.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) both now officially warn that growing crops to make “green” biofuel harms the environment and drives up food prices, and rather than combating the effects of global warming, they could make them worse.

With one child under 10 dying from hunger and related diseases every five seconds now according to the UN, using food for fuel is actually a crime against humanity.

This applies to other so-called renewable energy sources like wood biomass, shown as not being "carbon neutral" at all, because the immediate harm from releasing the carbon in it and the fifty years or more needed to grow the trees to replace it actually makes it worse.

Taxpayer subsidies, mandatory use laws and exemptions from carbon and life cycle taxes further increase the negative impacts of these pseudoscience based policies.

That’s why the user-pay life cycle clean fuel policy should have been fully formulated and implemented before any other steps were taken.

We need to find ways as a country to economically and sustainably develop and utilize our vast fossil fuel and renewable energy resources to our advantage, instead of exporting them for the benefit of others at huge discounts while unnecessarily increasing life cycle environmental impacts.

According to Bill Gates, whose multibillion-dollar Breakthrough Energy Coalition now targets carbon-free ammonia energy, we should end all energy subsidies and spend our resources developing new and better technologies for all fossil and renewable energy production and use.

Gates’ most read and recommended author, University of Winnipeg’s Dr. Vaclav Smil’s June 3, 2018, IEEE Spectrum article, “A Critical Look at Claims for Green Technologies”, is subtitled “Green technologies are not yet proved, affordable, or deployable—but even if they were, it would still take them generations to solve our environmental problems.”

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley should join Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Ontario Premier Doug Ford in their proposed legal challenge to Trudeau’s unjustified carbon tax grab scheme using plans to implement realistic life cycle energy and environmental tax policies.

We need a level playing field for energy, and everything else for that matter, so consumers and industry can vote with their wallets in a true user-pay economy that doesn’t pass off the real costs to anyone else.

I am re-reading this article and thinking that the shutdown was inevitable, possibly blessed by Transport Canada, that Ontario was being short sighted in cancelling the rebates ... and that arguments regarding defending oil production jobs and high emission vehicle production is equatable engaging in an argument between Beta and VHS ... in 2018.