ABOUT two months ago, the federal government released its next budget and, for the first time, it proposed an incentive for purchasing electric vehicles as part of its climate action program.

Simply stated, it is a $5,000 gift to help you purchase an electric vehicle costing less than $45,000. This to start after the election in October 2019. Quebec’s incentive is for cars $75,000 or less, British Columbia’s incentive is for cars $76,000 or less, and Ontario was for cars $75,000 or less. So the feds are really aiming for the low end of the scale.

The response from industry and consumers was immediate. The only Canadian-made electric vehicle (actually a plug-in hybrid), the Chrysler Pacifica, did not qualify for the incentive. Canada’s most popular electric vehicle, the Nissan Leaf, only the most basic would qualify. Same thing for Chevy’s Bolt and Volt. So the government responded.

The incentive is now to start May 1, 2019 instead of next fall. The $45,000 cut-off is for the base model of any car series. The higher end models would now also qualify up to a cut-off of $55,000. The Chrysler Pacifica is a plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) as opposed to a battery-only electric vehicle (BEV). With the new changes to the incentive program, both types of vehicles will qualify. The Chrysler Pacifica is a seven-seater vehicle so a new category (seven seats or more) was created with a $55,000 qualifying price. There doesn’t seem to be a top cap for this series.

At this point, some clarification of battery-only electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles is needed. All are primarily driven by electric motors that get their electricity from a battery. Battery-only electric vehicles have larger batteries and depend on these batteries for all of their driving. Plug-in hybrid vehicles have smaller batteries and a gas engine to run a generator to add more electricity so you can keep on driving.

Plug-in hybrids are around for basically two reasons. First, they are built by regular car manufacturers who are testing the water to see if there is an interest in electric vehicles. Secondly, electric vehicles don’t have a lot of infrastructure support like electric re-charging stations if you want to travel long distances. Typical plug-in hybrid owners try to do all their daily driving on electric only and still feel confident to travel on trips. The main drawback with them is that you still have a polluting car with all the needs of a gas car like oil changes and motor work.

Battery-only electric vehicles are all battery so range anxiety is the one basic problem. Figure out what your daily driving range is, then double that number. In winter at -40 C the battery will not work as well unless it is warm. Check on that. It’s important. In winter you will also heat the car or at least the seats with electricity. All of this takes away from your range.

All of these car batteries can be charged cheaply at your home so all of your regular driving is covered. Buy the longest range batteries you can afford to help limit your range anxiety.

In Thunder Bay, we do not have all the cars available that the government is subsidizing. Locally, the Nissan Leaf has been available the longest time and is the most popular. I would recommend the Leaf Plus because it has a 320-kilometre range, which many people consider the minimum for worry-free travel.

The Kia and Hyundai brands are relatively new but widely accepted in Europe. Not all dealers are interested in handling electric vehicle sales, so check local dealerships for availability for electric cars that interest you.

Tom Cook

Thunder Bay

(Originally published April 30, 2019)

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