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Opportunity for B.C. to become e-ride market leader

Canada trails in EV adoption race, but could be a micro-mobility front-runner
Movmi CEO Sandra Phillips: “the back and forth between province and municipalities makes adoption slow” | Chung Chow/BIV files

Editors' note: This story originally appeared in the Oct. 25 edition of BIV, published just hours prior to the B.C. government's announcement of its CleanBC plan, which accelerated its zero-emissions vehicles mandate to reach 90% of new sales by 2030, among other targets.

Team Canada has had few problems outmatching Team Norway in men’s Olympic hockey.

But the Nordic country’s prowess at besting Canada behind the wheel is of particular note heading into the United Nations Climate Change Conference at the end of the month.

Statistics Canada estimates the road transport sector is responsible for 74% of global CO2 emissions. Rapid adoption of electric vehicles (EV) at a time the country lags behind many other developed economies, such as Norway, appears critical if it’s to meet climate goals such as reaching net zero by 2050.

EVs accounted for 62% of light-vehicle sales in Norway last year compared with 3% in Canada, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s (NYSE:JPM) 2021 Annual Energy Paper.

Other much smaller countries such as Sweden (30% of sales), the Netherlands (22%), Denmark (14%) are also outperforming Canada. But larger countries such as Germany (13% of sales) and the U.K. (9%) are also outdoing Canada by a significant margin.

“Incentives can help,” said EV expert Matthew Klippenstein, a regional manager with the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, noting that Norway has been pushing pro-EV policies since the Soviet Union was still on the map.

“There is also the matter of the zero-emissions vehicle [ZEV] mandate.”

Passed in 2019, B.C.’s ZEV Act set the target for requiring all new light-duty cars and trucks sold in the province to be emissions-free by 2040.

While the administration of President Joe Biden wants ZEVs to account for 50% of new vehicle sales in the U.S. by 2030, B.C.’s legislation aims for just 30% by that same year. Meanwhile, Ottawa’s newest targets, announced in June, call for ZEVs to represent 100% of new vehicle sales by 2035.

“There has been more policy consistency in Norway,” said Klippenstein, adding that differing federal and provincial policies have added to adoption challenges in Canada.

Despite the current chasm in federal and provincial ZEV targets, demand for EVs in B.C. still far outstrips the country as a whole.

Light-body EV sales accounted for 9.4% of all new light-body vehicle sales across the province last year, according to the B.C. government’s 2020 annual ZEV update released this past spring.

That’s up slightly from 9% a year earlier and more than three times the national average.

And as ZEV mandates put additional pressure on manufacturers in the coming years, B.C. firms have been announcing plans over the past few months to shoulder part of the burden.

Vancouver-based ElectraMeccanica Vehicles Corp. (Nasdaq:SOLO) revealed in March that it had selected Mesa, Arizona, as its home base for manufacturing in North America. The American plant is expected to begin producing the distinctive three-wheeled, single-passenger Solo vehicles next year, and the company already has one manufacturing facility in China.

Electric-motorcycle maker Damon Motors Inc. officially broke ground earlier this month on its manufacturing hub in Surrey, where up to 40,000 motorbikes are expected to be produced annually once the plant opens in about a year’s time.

B.C. has also lost out over the years in terms of advancing decarbonization.

Corvus Energy Inc. made waves developing lithium-ion batteries for marine vessels after it was founded in Vancouver in 2009.

“[Corvus] didn’t have that much policy support for whatever reason, and its deployments were all in the Scandinavian countries,” Klippenstein said.

In 2019, the B.C.-founded company moved its headquarters to Norway.

And while other developed economies are far ahead of Canada in terms of EVs, Klippenstein said the West Coast could try to become a sustainability leader in another way.

“There’s a golden chance for Vancouver to … take a huge leap, especially in North America, on micro-mobility, e-scooters and e-bikes,” he said.

A 2021 white paper from Vancouver-based Movmi Shared Transportation Services Inc. concluded that EVs could become more affordable and accessible through car sharing.

“A single car-sharing vehicle has been evidenced to replace seven to 13 privately owned cars,” the paper stated.

“Typically, a car-share vehicle, with a higher utilization of 30% vs. a private car’s utilization of 3-5%, stands to serve more members of the public than the latter, which serves just the private car owner.”

Movmi CEO Sandra Phillips said Vancouver would be well positioned to become the largest ZEV car-share market if not for policy challenges.

“With purchase rebates and infrastructure deployments all focused on the individual or small fleet owner … it will take about 260 years to turn Evo [Car Share] and Modo [Co-operative] completely to ZEV,” she told BIV.

Phillips said she’s hopeful the region could also become a leader in e-scooters and e-bikes, but “the back and forth between province and municipalities makes adoption slow.”

“For instance, you are not allowed to ride an e-scooter in any city that doesn’t have a pilot status from the province. So while you can own and ride one in Vancouver or North Vancouver, you wouldn’t be allowed in Burnaby.” •