Why electric vehicles are still out of reach for some Canadians

Price, range and lack of infrastructure continue to prevent some from buying electric cars - despite their support for the technology.
Justin Miller hooks up a charging cable to charge his 2013 Nissan Leaf electric car at ABB, Inc.'s DC fast charging station in Salt Lake City, Utah, April 30, 2014. (George Frey/Reuters)

Susan Echlin lives 60 kilometres from her nearest electric vehicle charging station.

"There's long distances between places and very few people in between," she says, describing rural Saskatchewan. "It's a different kind of remoteness." 

Although Echlin loves the concept of buying an electric car, the Perdue, Sask., farmer says she feels "left out" of the EV discussion.

"The one conversation I never hear being had is how [we can use electric vehicles] — remote, rural people who grow the food in this country," she said. "I'd like to see this conversation happen in ways that [would allow] us to utilize this technology and not be left out of the conversation."

Her needs and remote location make it nearly impossible to use an electric vehicle today.

"It's a good 150 kilometres for us to even go to a hospital," she said.

Echlin's rural location and the small population of her town also mean a lack of nearby charging stations.

"In our entire regional municipality, there's about 400 people … The conversation [about installing charging stations] hasn't happened because there's just not the population base to even begin the conversations."

Although Susan Echlin loves the concept of buying an electric car, the Perdue, Sask., farmer says she her needs and remote location make it nearly impossible to use an electric vehicle today. 5:39


'I'm an electric vehicle advocate. Can I buy one right now? No.'

In urban centres — where the number of charging stations are higher and distances travelled are lower — there are other impediments to electric vehicle accessibility.

The price, even with provincial incentives, is still too much for some.

Adam Vaiya lives in Toronto and works for an organization that installs EV charging stations, yet he cannot afford an electric car himself.  

"I'm an electric vehicle advocate. Can I buy one right now? No. That's because I don't like to put myself in debt with my purchases and even with the incentives that go up to $14,000 off the retail price of the car, I personally cannot buy an electric vehicle."

Adam Vaiya lives in Toronto and works for an organization that installs EV charging stations, yet he cannot afford an electric car himself. 4:25
 Vaiya hopes the work he does encourages others who can afford them.

"We really wanted to spread awareness, have people see them, install them in visible locations, get them on the map … People started to get their range anxiety addressed and it was really in your face that there are places that you can top up when you're out and about. So it'll hopefully give them confidence to get one," Vaiya said.

Electric vehicle expert Josipa Petrunic is executive director & CEO of the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium. She also lives in Toronto and says that the high costs of city parking makes any car expensive — even an electric one.

"My parking spot costs me $45,000 in a condo in downtown Toronto. When I take that, plus my Nissan Leaf, which is about $300 a month to lease and I add up all the costs of operation and maintenance, it is almost always cheaper to take mass transit and not actually own a car, even when I'm going long distances. In my household, owning and operating a car, even an electric vehicle, doesn't make a lot of economic sense."

Slide to compare the number of charging stations in urban and rural areas:

When does buying electric make sense?

While electric vehicles may not be right for every driver, there are many for whom buying electric may be worth it.

Petrunic says that while EVs may still be too expensive for some, "if you use your car a lot and you use it fairly regularly for predicted patterns of behaviour where you know you can charge at home, then it's probably going to be cheaper for you already to buy an electric car."

However, "if you're driving patterns are erratic, if you don't drive a lot and your car sits in your parking lot… it's probably going to be more expensive for you to go electric today," she said.

Government subsidies also help bring electric vehicles within reach. Incentives are currently available in three provinces: Ontario offers up to $14,000 off the purchase of an EV, Quebec offers up to $8,000 off and B.C. offers up to $5,000 off.

Josipa Petrunic is the executive director & CEO of the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium. She tells Checkup when an electric car would be the best fit. 3:43

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