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By 2035, all new vehicles sold in B.C. must be electric. Is it achievable?

The goal in B.C. is for 26 per cent of vehicle sales to be electric by 2026, 90 per cent by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2035.
The B.C. NDP’s goal of having all new light-duty vehicles sold be electric vehicles by 2035 could be difficult to achieve without expanded charging infrastructure and more incentives to make EVs affordable, observers say. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST)

The B.C. government’s goal of having all new light-duty vehicles sold be electric by 2035 could be tough to achieve without expanded charging infrastructure and more incentives to make EVs affordable, observers say.

While the province introduced a rebate program to offset the cost of installing EV chargers in homes, workplaces and multi-unit residential buildings, Werner Antweiler, an associate professor at the University of B.C.’s Sauder School of Business, said people still face uncertainty about whether they’ll be able to charge-up in their strata or rental building.

“Many people rely only on street parking and don’t have dedicated parking spots or garages where they can actually install a charger,” said Antweiler, who has closely studied EV adoption trends worldwide. “So the charging issue is one of the more significant challenges that I see here in B.C. that is holding back uptake.”

The fix for that, Antweiler said, is more incentives for landlords to retrofit rental buildings with charging infrastructure and political will from municipal governments to install more overnight, slow-charging and fast-charging stations in public parking spots.

Low Carbon Innovation Minister Josie Osborne introduced the Zero-Emission Vehicles Act in the legislature Tuesday, which will enshrine into law the province’s previously announced sales targets for zero-emission vehicles.

If passed, it will require automakers to meet escalating annual targets for new, light-duty zero emission vehicle sales and leases. The goal is for 26 per cent of vehicle sales to be electric by 2026, 90 per cent by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2035.

Antweiler believes that goal is achievable because car companies will want to avoid a $20,000 penalty for internal combustion engine vehicles that exceed the prescribed sales’ targets.

“So essentially, the manufacturers will meet the quota because otherwise they’ll have to pay the penalty,” he said. “And that will drive down the sales on the other types of vehicles.”

Blair Qualey, president of the New Car Dealers Association of B.C., is pushing for a more flexible approach to EV targets, arguing the province’s rules could have unintended consequences that could make vehicles more expensive and slow the adoption of zero-emission vehicles.

Qualey said the penalties for each vehicle that isn’t zero-emission, coupled with post-COVID-19 supply chain issues, could inflate prices of new and used vehicles.

The government’s mandate deals with the supply of zero-emission vehicles, but car dealers are focused on the demand side, he said, essentially whether customers want to buy one.

“The dealers are thrilled to sell somebody an electric vehicle if they want one. But not everybody’s convinced that an electric vehicle will work for them.”

Qualey noted the average price of an EV in Canada is $73,000, so there will need to be more incentives to bridge the price gap between EVs and gasoline vehicles.

“Our message to government … is we get setting targets, that’s great,” he said. “However, you need to build flexibility into the system to take into account the needs of consumers in rural areas, consumers who may be lower-income, a variety of things that will stand in the way of them purchasing an electric vehicle.”

The province’s Clean B.C. EV rebate program gives British Columbians with incomes up to $80,000 a $4,000 rebate for a battery electric vehicle, and $2,000 for a plug-in hybrid. Coupled with the $5,000 federal rebate, that means middle-income British Columbians looking to purchase an EV can get $9,000 off their purchase.

British Columbians who make between $80,000 and $100,000 will also get a rebate of between $2,000 and $500.

B.C. Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau said in a statement that “despite declining prices, EVs are still financially out of reach for most, with lengthy waiting lists, inadequate charging infrastructure and limited rebates primarily targeting new vehicles.”

Furstenau supports the push for EV adoption but urged the government to invest in a provincewide expansion of reliable public transit as a way to reduce emissions.

Evan Pivnick, program manager for Clean Energy Canada, an energy think-tank at Simon Fraser University, said research shows EV owners save an average of $4,500 per year by not paying for gas and lower maintenance costs.

Pivnick noted EVs are gradually becoming cheaper and that the savings at the pump, coupled with government rebates, mean “many models make up their slightly higher sticker prices in less than a year.”

The government’s zero-emission sales targets “are key to making these vehicles more available and more affordable,” he said.

B.C. is a leader in Canada when it comes to electric vehicle sales this year, Osborne said, with electric vehicles making up 21 per cent of all new, light-duty vehicles sold in the province.

She noted the province has consistently exceeded sales targets for zero-emission vehicles since the targets were established in 2019.

However, a consumer survey released in June by J.D. Power’s Canada Electric Vehicle Consideration study found 66 per cent of Canadians said they were unlikely to consider buying an electric vehicle for their next car purchase, up from 53 per cent in 2022.

Thirty-four per cent said they would consider buying an electric car, down from 47 per cent a year earlier.

“Growing concerns about affordability and infrastructure (both from charging and electrical grid perspectives) have caused a significant decline in the number of consumers who see themselves in the market for an EV any time soon,” said J.D. Ney, director of the automotive practice lead at J.D. Power Canada.

Harry Constantine, president of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association, said the biggest barrier to owning an EV is supply.

“Cars are being made almost to order,” he said. “There’s very little in the way of stocks that are sitting on people’s lots.”

That’s because California was an early adopter of EV sales targets in 2012, which resulted in manufacturers flooding that market.

Using data from the International Energy Agency, Antweiler analyzed the share of new EV care sales among overall sales and found Canada ranked 17th among the countries that have adopted EV targets.

Norway, the world leader in EV uptake, sweetened the deal for EV owners by giving them half-price ferry and parking fares.

However, Antweiler doesn’t support those type of incentives, saying EV owners are disproportionately affluent British Columbians.

The B.C. government also announced Tuesday that its Go Electric EV Charger Rebate Program for homes, workplaces and multi-unit residential buildings has been topped up with $7 million.

The program’s funds, doled out on a first-come, first served basis, were exhausted earlier in the year due to high demand.

EV charger rebate applications for single-family homes and workplaces will reopen Oct. 31.

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