Montrealers surge toward electric cars

Montrealers are flocking to Branchez-Vous, an annual event which gives drivers the chance to take electric vehicles out for a spin. Quebec boasts nearly half the country's electric car sales.

Branchez-Vous event in Montreal lets motorists take vehicles for a spin

Bob Grimes got behind the wheel of a Kia Soul electric vehicle at the Branchez-Vous event. (Kalina Laframboise/CBC)

Bob Grimes and Susan Cooke weren't planning on buying a vehicle, but they couldn't resist taking an electric car out for a test drive through the streets of Montreal's Old Port.

The Montreal couple said they were impressed by how the vehicle they tested was quiet and smooth, even while transitioning from cobblestone streets to construction-choked main arteries.

"If I was going to buy a car I don't think there would be any doubt that I'd buy an electric car," Grimes said of the Kia Soul.

Their test drive is one of thousands expected to take place over the course of the weekend at Branchez-Vous, an annual event which gives Quebecers the chance to learn about electric vehicles and take them out for a spin. 

Drivers have the chance to test out electric cars in Montreal's Old Port this weekend. (Kalina Laframboise/CBC)

François Adam, the director of the Innovative Vehicle Institute, which organizes the event, said interest in electric cars is mounting.

In 2016, they had over 3,500 test drives and now the Branchez-Vous is expanding to other cities — a stark contrast to the first edition in Montreal where very few people showed up.

"We have more than 50 cars available for test drives," he said. "We want to put people behind the wheel and experience that."

Quebec's electric car boom

While electric and hybrid vehicles are slowly catching on in Canada, Quebec is way ahead — the province boasts nearly half the country's electric car sales. 

Part of that is due to the provincial government taking more steps to encourage Quebecers to opt for electric or low-emission cars over traditional cars, a fact that may push drivers like Robert Nastas to convert. 

"It's all about supply chain and we're lucky to have it," said Nastas. "We're competing with California at that speed."

Quebec offers up to $8,000 to drivers who buy an electric car. (Canadian Press)

Quebec offers rebates of up to $8,000 for drivers who purchase electric cars and additional compensation for drivers who want to install charging stations in their homes.

The province also passed a legislation setting a minimum number of electric and hybrid cars that car dealerships must sell per year — a first in Canada. 

"Electric cars may be the new iPhones in terms of technology change," said Grimes.

Drivers are also flocking to hybrid and electric cars because of the province's low rates for electricity. Quebecers pay about 10 cents per kilowatt hour to charge an electric car from home, nearly half of what motorists in other provinces pay.

Montrealer Robert Nastas said he's had his eye on Tesla models for a while now. (Kalina Laframboise/CBC)

However, while the City of Montreal and Quebec have also increased the number of charging stations across the province, there is concern that the network still isn't large enough to accommodate long travels.

"We have a garage here in downtown, so there's no issue. But for expansion, the distribution network has to be more available in all areas," said Nastas.

'Handle like sports cars'

Adam hopes to convince drivers that green is the way to go. With little maintenance needed and no need to pump gas, he said the benefits are worth the investment.

"Almost all EVs handle like sports cars," he said.

Drivers who ditch the gas pump to go green can also expect to save up to $15,000 if the vehicle's mileage clocks in at 200,000 kilometres, he added.

The price of electric vehicles range from under $30,000 to $150,000.

The Branchez-Vous event is in its fifth year. (Kalina Laframboise/CBC)

"They seem expensive at first," he said. "But operating costs are four to five times less expensive than gas vehicles."

Beyond the incentives pushing buyers to opt for electric, Grimes and Cooke say if they do buy a car in the future, they will be happy to choose it as an environmentally friendly option.

"I felt better driving in a car that I knew was not run on gas," said Cooke. "It made me feel better."

With files from The Canadian Press