The transportation sector is the second-largest source of pollution in Canada, accounting for one quarter of our annual emissions. If we want to meet our climate targets, 100 per cent of all new cars sold must be electric by 2035. This goal was affirmed by Canada with a joint declaration at COP26 in Glasgow. Right now, the clock is ticking to put in place the policy measures needed to ensure we can rapidly transition the auto industry towards this goal.
Car corporations love to make commitments about shifting to zero-emission vehicles in public because it makes their stock price go up. But behind closed doors, they are using their industry associations to fight against regulations that would require them to meet their green pledges. Canadians are ready to make this shift — it's automakers that are holding us back.
According to a recent Abacus Data poll commissioned by Environmental Defence, Équiterre, Ecology Action Centre and The David Suzuki Foundation, 70 per cent of Canadians indicated that long wait times were making them less likely to purchase a zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV).
Canadians want to buy electric vehicles, but can’t get their hands on one. Just last year, a majority of Canadian car dealerships (55 per cent) reported they don’t have a single electric vehicle in stock, and nearly two thirds (64 per cent) reported wait times for electric car orders of three to six months. These wait times have only gotten significantly worse after gas prices increased, with reports now indicating buyer wait lists up to three years long.
The federal government has a plan to enforce its zero-emission vehicle sales targets and solve this supply problem with a regulation called a “clean car standard.” This regulation (also known as a zero-emission vehicle standard) would set clear targets for electric car adoption and penalize car companies that fail to shift their business plans towards a zero-emission future.
The federal government isn’t alone on this — British Columbia, Quebec, California and 15 other U.S. states all have these regulations in place, and the U.K. will have one enforced beginning in 2024.
The same Abacus Data poll found that the majority of Canadians (58 per cent) support this plan and want to see the federal government stepping in and imposing financial penalties on vehicle manufacturers who don’t meet sales targets. To meet sales requirements, automakers comply by increasing investment in ZEV production, spend more on research and development and lower ZEV prices directly by reducing their markups, but this would also involve a profit squeeze. Canadians overwhelmingly support these outcomes, such as increased investment (83 per cent), more equitable access Canada-wide (84 per cent) and reduced prices (86 per cent).
Profits are fundamentally what the conflict over the path to 2035 is about. Automakers currently set their prices and allocate their investments towards what makes them the most profit — higher-margin, fuel-inefficient SUVs and pickups.
Car companies would rather sell you a gas guzzler instead of an electric car because they make more money that way. The auto lobby is fighting against enforcing ZEV sales targets because it would disrupt their profit-maximizing sales plans.
It's clear Canadians care more about the future of the planet than the bottom lines of multinational car corporations. According to the same Abacus poll, 74 per cent of Canadians think automakers have a responsibility to shift towards making zero-emission vehicles and away from gasoline vehicles — even if it means reducing their profits.
Opinion: According to a recent Abacus Data poll, 70 per cent of Canadians said long wait times were making them less likely to purchase a zero-emission vehicle, write Nate Wallace, Andréanne Brazeau and Thomas Arnason McNeil.
It's right to ask that polluters pay their fair share for the transition to a clean economy. They certainly can afford it. Last year, the “big three” North American manufacturers, Ford, Stellantis and General Motors, collectively made $41.5 billion in operating profits.
Looking at foreign manufacturers, Toyota made $25.1 billion and Volkswagen made $27 billion. General Motors even recently announced that it will be buying back $5 billion of its shares and boosting dividends instead of accelerating ZEV investments.
The federal government shouldn’t delay in moving forward with a clean car standard or give into pressure from auto industry lobbyists who want the plan scrapped. We can’t let the greed of the auto industry stand between us and a sustainable future.
By Nate Wallace, clean transportation program manager at Environmental Defence, in collaboration with Andréanne Brazeau, policy analyst at Équiterre and Thomas Arnason McNeil, climate policy co-ordinator at Ecology Action Centre.