Navigating the transition to Electric Vehicles

An electric car EV charging

Written by Abel

Abel is the founder of Esper’Ance In Action. He is a Sustainability & social impact practitioner for 12+ years. Value driven, Abel loves to build community, engage and solve complex problems with empathy and compassion.

February 15, 2023

First, let me put this out there straight: I do not think EVs are the climate solution we think they are and Elon Musk did a “great” job convincing the masses they were. Let’s face it: we need public transport, 15-minute cities and other alternatives, not 4,000 Lbs individual driving machines that perpetuate unhealthy habits and lifestyles.

So… EVs: more problems or actual solution? Let’s dive in to understand what’s what and whether it is even possible right now to consider them as an alternative to internal combustion engine cars. 

Are EVs saving the planet? 

The transportation sector is an important contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions, and in fact, the second contributor in Canada in 2020 with almost a quarter of emissions. With that said, emissions from the transportation sector vary depending on a set of factors as demonstrated here: at the global scale, emissions from passenger cars represented “only” 7.1% of total emissions in 2016.

In comparison, in Canada, passenger car emissions represented approximately 11% of the global emissions in 2020, mostly driven by emissions from personal truck use, accounting for two thirds of these emissions.  

Click on images to see them bigger. 

Based on these numbers, EVs definitely have a role to play in fighting climate change but not as big as one might think at a first glance. There are other sectors to tackle, even within the transportation sector, to make a bigger impact. 

In addition to this, EVs have their own carbon footprint, mostly driven by the manufacturing process and the batteries that for now are somewhat difficult to recycle. Detractors use this argument as the main reason not to transition to EVs and to continue business as usual. However, several studies have been done and show the impact of EVs on climate change compared to Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles. In the USA, it will take you to drive about 22,000 Kms in your electric car to emit less than with an ICE vehicle, which is not bad, around 2 years of use for most people. Obviously, this number depends on the quality of the electrical grids and its emissions, but EVs always win. More fossils fuels in the power generation mix just means more kilometers it will take to offset the emissions of your EVs from its production. In Ontario, we are pretty lucky with a “clean” grid that is 91% greenhouse gas emissions free although this might change because of Ford, who canceled green energy projects in 2018 and is now trying to make up for it by pushing for more gas plants… 

The difference between EVs: what technology is best?

There are many different types of electric vehicles and they all have their pros and cons. Their positive impact on the environment also depends on the type of engine they use. Here is a brief recollection of what I understand, without nerding too much:

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs)

hydrogen powered electric car. These vehicles are still rare on the road but the ones I am probably the most excited about. After trailblazing the technology, Toyota will soon be joined by other manufacturers putting some of those on our roads, like Hyundai and Honda. Basically, no battery here but a tank to refill with hydrogen. It takes less time than charging an electric car, it doesn’t have the battery recycling problem and the ranges are improving. The only issue is the availability of hydrogen stations, how the hydrogen is produced (i.e. level of emissions) and the cost of refilling. It is very exciting to see the technology evolve on this. 

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs)

the most common type of EV. Fully electric and zero emissions. There are different types of batteries, sizes, way of charging and honestly it is too much details for this exercise. 

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)

those vehicles are equipped with a thermal engine and a bigger electrical engine and battery pack as a support. They emit less than their ICE counter parts. I would not recommend those (and this is my personal opinion) as they seem to offer the worst of both worlds: need to refuel and recharge, added weight from the battery leading to less efficiency when on the fuel engine and two systems to maintain. They are also not much cheaper than regular EVs. 

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs)

the most famous of them must be the Toyota Prius. Those cars run on fuel but there small hybrid engine help reduce consumption by up to 50%, especially in a city environment. They are a great choice but as difficult to get as regular EVs right now. 

Should you own an EV? The good, bad & ugly!

Most countries are pushing to transition their vehicle fleets to electric in the future. In Canada, internal combustion engine cars will be banned for sale in 2035 although existing cars on the road will be grandfathered. This means that you still have time to jump on the bandwagon and that the technology might still evolve. Yet, it might be interesting to think ahead and long term to switch to an electrical car. 

Most manufacturers are also coming out with pledges to have all of their offerings electric in some ways in the near future, by 2030. 

The Good: 

Electric cars might be more expensive to buy but are getting cheaper and the federal incentive is helping to bridge the gap compared to a gas vehicle. 

Throughout the life of your EV, you will definitely save money on refilling, electricity being cheaper than gas (saving up to 4 times the cost in energy) and on insurance as you are likely to qualify for a “green vehicle” rebate.  You will also likely save on maintenance as EVs (except hybrids and plug-in hybrids) do not require as much as an ICE car. 

In addition to this, charging stations are more and more abundant, some even coming to Erin, making it easier to get on the road for longer trips. Charging technology is also improving with faster charge time and now, even smaller and cheaper EVs, such as the Chevrolet Bolt, have ranges in the 400 Kms, demonstrating that all previous anxieties about using EVs are vanishing as the technology improves. 

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 The Bad: 

The EV market is some sort of the wild west at the moment. I’ll talk about pricing in the ugly section and will focus here on the wild claims made by manufacturers on their EVs. 

It is hard to decipher and understand who is legit in the industry. New startups pop up and go in a whim and new revolutionizing models are announced regularly, to be only a disappointment. The launch of the Vietnamese EV maker Vinfast, on the US market, is a good example of how people can be left hanging, between delays and range disappointment

Even with proven manufacturers, some issues can arise and recalls happen. Most of them are done voluntarily and proactively by the manufacturer such as Chevrolet did with the Bolt in 2021. It is important to compare the various guarantees manufacturers offer so that you can sleep with peace of mind. 

To navigate this, it is important to do your research and take the time to really understand what is claimed versus what is attested, regarding new models. Talking to EVs owners and users is one of your best bet to figure out what is happening on the market and what brand to go with. Locally, we are very lucky to have one of the best EV advocate in Canada: Mr. Kenneth Bokor, being an EV journalist, the leader of Caledon’s EV Society Chapter and a solid youtuber, providing lots of information on everything EV through his channel “EV Revolution Show“.

Watch below one of the latest episode of Kenneth’s show where he discusses 2023: 

The Ugly:  

My biggest pet peeve with EVs at the moment and the one I lost sleep over, looking for one. The affordability and accessibility to EVs. Currently, it is depressing to search for an EV. There are none available new in the short term, sometimes you cannot even see the model you might want to order AND nobody at the dealership seems to be able to give you relevant or useful info to help you decide and select the right model. 

There is so much speculation going around, coupled with supply chain issues, that the market is just nuts. Getting a new EV is a wild guess and you need to have faith in your local dealership (which honestly, I don’t…). 

The ugly though goes deeper: the market manipulation and speculation made by dealers (and even individuals) to make a quick buck. I’ll explain: 

When you order a brand new EV, you’ll get an incentive of $5,000 from the Federal Government (depending on the EV you chose – list of eligible vehicles here) to go towards the purchase price. To benefit from this incentive, you have to commit to not sell the car within a year of the eligibility date (fixed by the model of car, not by the date of purchase). Since most EVs are coming a year past the eligibility date, the incentive is received by the owner, without any issue. Where it gets ugly, is that dealers or said owners of new cars, then put these cars back on market at a mark up of $10,000 to $15,000 compared to the regular purchase price, making up to $20,000 profit on the sale of the car if you include the incentive money. 

In the meantime, because of this mark up of “new used” EVs, normally used EVs – two to five years old – are put on market at the price of new EVs! It is just nuts! 

Here is an example, for a Hyundai Kona Electric – Preferred Trim: 

  • $43,077 + tax for a 2023 New Kona ordered from Hyundai which will be received in 6 to 12 months and for which you will get the $5,000 incentive from the government; 
  • $53,495 + tax + licensing for a “Used” new 2023 Kona with 80Kms from a Hyundai dealership available now (no incentive so the dealer is making $15,418 benefit compared to an ordered new Kona); 
  • $48,995 + tax + licensing for a used 2021 Kona with  50,809Kms from a used car dealership, available now (no incentive). 

The Hyundai Kona Electric:

A small SUV boasting 415 kms of range with its 64KWh battery pack. 

A manufacturer guarantee of 8 years or 160,000Kms for the battery. 

No need to say that this is pretty ugly out there and not really helpful to encourage the adoption of EVs. I have been asked by a dealer how much was worth the year wait for me; I quickly answered that certainly not $15,000!

Same thing goes on for hybrid (although they don’t get the incentive) and plug-in hybrids.  The offer and demand is kind of crazy and some are making lots of money on this.

This is really something our government ought to straighten out in the near future if we want to achieve our emission reduction targets and increase the adoption of EVs. The $5,000 federal incentive (low compared to other countries) and the different or unexisting provincial incentives (which can get slashed in a flash as it was done in Ontario) already are enough of a barrier to adoption in my opinion, that we don’t need to add other levels of complexity or complication for people to make the switch.

In conclusion

Whether we want it or not, the transition to EVs is happening. Governments have set targets and manufacturers are now picking up the pace, launching an exciting race into innovation and democratization of the technology. 

We still have time to adapt and to make the switch progressively but the earlier we get on with it and the easiest it will be. EVs are not the solution for climate change but they are part of it, especially if hydrogen and fuel cell technology proves to be as effecient as it is promising now. 

In order not to get caught up in the frenzy, I would suggest that you consider looking at EVs ahead of changing your current car. Make a plan in advance, maybe 12 months at the latest before changing your car so you can order an EV at the right price and benefit from the government incentive. 

It is also completely understandable that EVs are out of reach for some at the moment, especially with the current financing rates. For people in this case, I am hopeful that prices will go down progressively as competition increases and as Tesla just dropped their prices, creating waves in the industry. 

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