Electric vehicle rebate program undersubscribed

Car makers cherry-picking where to make EV options available
The B.C. government wants to see 450 electric vehicle charging stations like this one built by the end of March 2013

The Lower Mainland might be home to innovators in hydrogen fuel cell and natural gas engine technologies, but not a single British Columbian applied for a rebate to buy a hydrogen fuel cell or natural gas-fired vehicle under the Clean Energy Vehicle (CEV) for BC program launched last year.

However, more than 270 B.C. drivers have used the program to buy electric vehicles. Local car dealers had hoped EV sales would have been higher than that.

“We were hoping we would get a little bit more with the rebate program,” said Ken Elmer, vice-president of sales for the Dueck Auto Group, which sells the Chevrolet Volt – hands-down the top-selling electric vehicle in B.C.

The CEV for BC program was launched one year ago as part of a wider $17 million program designed to build critical mass for EV adoption in B.C. It offers rebates of $5,000 for electric vehicles and $500 for EV chargers. It also provides rebates for hydrogen fuel cell and natural gas cars.

So far, only $1.4 million of the $7.5 million CEV for BC budget has been spent. Part of the problem is that automakers restrict the number of EVs available to dealers, based on anticipated demand.

“It’s only recently that we’re actually seeing a lot of these cars available at dealers to be sold,” said Darryl Halse, communications manager for the New Car Dealers Association of BC.

“It’s a chicken-and-egg situation: we’ve got manufacturers who don’t want to put clean EVs on lots that aren’t going to sell them, and we’ve got dealers who are saying we can’t sell them if we don’t have them here to sell.”

Malcolm Shield, climate program manager for the City of Vancouver, suggested a measured adoption is better than what has happened in the U.S., where the federal government has pumped hundreds of millions into an EV charging infrastructure that has been far ahead of demand.

“The [manufacturers] are choosing where their vehicles go,” Shield told members of the Downtown Vancouver Association last week at a presentation on electric vehicle infrastructure. “They’re selective about it to ensure those vehicles go to a market where they can be guaranteed success.

“How do we draw them into Vancouver? You have the infrastructure just ahead [of EV sales] so that they can see the infrastructure is there for the vehicles. But we don’t want hundreds of stations collecting dust, as you see in some U.S. cities.”

So far, there are about a dozen charging stations in Vancouver. The B.C. government plans to have 450 built throughout B.C. by offering incentives to municipalities and the private sector. The EV charging network would include up to 27 fast charging stations, which can charge an electric vehicle in 15 to 20 minutes.

The prospect of a battery dying in traffic is one of the biggest mental barriers to wider adoption of EVs, which helps explain why the Chevrolet Volt is the top-selling electric vehicle in B.C.

The Volt is primarily an electric car, but it has a gas-powered backup generator – just in case.

Vancouver is said to be uniquely positioned in North America to adopt EVs. It has a dense, geographically constrained population, high gas prices, low-cost hydro and a green mindset.

“That combination is unique – being able to convert from gasoline to clean hydro power, to fill your car with water, if you will,” said BC Hydro CTO Kip Morison. “Many jurisdictions that are burning coal or gas can switch to EVs, but their energy still comes from dirty sources.”

The City of Vancouver has adopted a number of EV adoption policies, including a requirement that all new condo developments include EV charging stations. The city wants to see EVs make up 15% of all new car sales by 2020.

EVs now make up 10% of the city’s own light-duty vehicle fleet. Its ultimate target is 50%. •

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