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By 2035, Canada will require all new cars sold to be zero-emission. That may seem like a long way off, but the transition to electric vehicles (or EVs) has already begun.
So, in this episode host Stephen Meurice meets with Plug’n Drive CEO and President Cara Clairman, pictured above, at the organization's Electric Vehicle Discovery Centre to answer some of the most common questions Canadian drivers have about EVs. Everything from price to range, environmental impacts and supply of new vehicles, and we even take a test drive.
Key moments this episode:
2:57 - What types of EVs are on the market in Canada?
3:29 - New EV cost and rebates
3:53 - How much it costs to “fuel up”
4:17 - EV range
5:07 - Environmental benefits
6:30 - Charging 101
9:35 - Maintenance and battery life
11:59 - EV test drive
12:30 - New EV supply issues
If you’re looking for more advice on what electric vehicles cost and what you’ll need to buy one check out this post.
(*Text in bold = host narration)
Stephen Meurice: Do you hear that?
[sound of electric vehicle quietly driving]
SM: No, your earbuds aren’t broken. There’s not really much to hear. That’s kind of the point. Because this is the sound of me test driving a brand-new electric car. My first time driving one, actually. It’s whisper quiet. And in hindsight — not the most podcast friendly activity. But — it’s really fun.
SM: Maybe too much fun? I kind of forgot that even in an electric car you need to use turn signals...
Mary: Signal, please.
SM: Of course.
SM: That’s Mary, by the way. My chaperone on the test drive. And I better learn where those turn signals are soon. Because by 2035, Canada will require all new cars to be emissions free. Sure, that sounds a ways off — but the transition is starting as we speak. Sooner than you might think, electric vehicles won’t be a novelty anymore.
So, we’re dedicating this episode to learning the ins-and-outs of electric vehicles. Or EVs for short. And to do that we’re visiting a place called the Plug’n Drive Electric Vehicle Discovery Centre here in Toronto. Scotiabank’s one of the sponsors. It’s a one-stop-shop where people can learn about EVs, ask questions, and of course – take a test drive. They have a whole bunch of different electric cars from a bunch of brands in one handy location. And Plug’n Drive CEO and President, Cara Clairman has agreed to give us a tour and answer our EV questions along the way. So, let’s get started.
I’m Stephen Meurice and this is Perspectives.
[sound of a busy road]
SM: I’m standing in a parking lot on a busy weekday morning. We’re in the north end of Toronto.
SM: Testing, testing. Stephen speaking into the boom mic.
SM: The lot is dotted with brand new vehicles, ready to be test driven. You might think we’re at a car dealership. Except the showroom we’re about to visit is actually run by a non-profit. Headed up by Cara Clairman.
SM: Hi, Cara. Nice to meet you. I'm Stephen.
Cara Clairman: Nice to meet you, too.
SM: And Cara’s on a mission. To get more people driving EVs.
CC: Alright. Well let's just go on in.
SM: And this showroom she’s walking us through today — she calls it the Discovery Centre — plays a big part in that.
CC: What we learned really early on was that the test drive is the thing. You have to give people the chance to try the car. Because they had a lot of misconceptions about the car and I think that’s true today, too. Our stats tell us that about six months after visiting here, about 35 to 40% of the people have already bought the car.
CC: So, we know it's working.
SM: Cara starts us on our tour.
CC: And this is our EV 101 Zone
SM: There’s colourful wall-sized diagrams, timelines, interactive screens with stats. It’s like you’re at the Science Centre.
CC: Well, we like to actually — it's funny that you say that, because we say here it's science centre meets car showroom.
SM: And just like at a regular showroom, Cara’s first step is to ask the customer about their driving habits. Do they commute? Is it their second car? But unlike at a traditional showroom, the next step isn’t selling a car. It’s dealing with those misconceptions she mentioned earlier. Cara opened this centre five years ago. And the hang-ups she finds people have around EVs are kind of the same now as they were then.
CC: It was like they thought either it was more of a golf cart, or it was a very expensive car. So, it was one of those two extremes that they had in their mind.
SM: Believe it or not, there’s now close to 60 models of EVs available in Canada.
CC: And by this time next year there'll be more than 100. So, you know, I mean you see here we have three SUVs, we have a couple of crossovers, we've got some smaller cars, we've got like a whole mix. And you know, the trucks are coming, this year, so that's going away as an issue.
SM: Right now, a new electric vehicle is usually about $10,000 more than its gas counterpart.
CC: And if it qualifies for the federal incentive, that would take it down to about 5,000. So, it's not a huge amount but it's still significant. So, that 5,000 you're easily going to make back in two to three years.
SM: Because you’re not going to be filling up that EV with gas. Gas that currently costs about two bucks a litre.
CC: Yeah. I mean it's just unbelievable to me. I plugged in overnight last night and it costs me less than 30 cents equivalent per litre. If you do the math of comparing, you know, electricity to, gas. So, I mean you have to show people how, yes, you're gonna pay a little bit more up front, but you're gonna save every year.
SM: So, that takes care of the first common misconception.
CC: And then the other one that we usually end up getting into pretty early is range. It's a big preoccupation. So, you have to help people. You say, well how much do you drive? And they say, well my work is here, and I go to hockey, I go to grandma, whatever, things. And typically, those things are 10, 20, 30 kilometers. They're not far.
SM: EVs these days average about 300 kilometers on one charge. By the way, a full tank of gas will get you about 400 – just for comparison. Either way, the average Canadian only drives about 30 to 50 kilometres a day.
CC: So, it's nothing. In fact, you're just using only a third or not even of the battery capacity for most of those vehicles. So really, you don't need a big battery range, it's more psychological than real for the daily drive.
SM: But for all the misconceptions, one thing is clear to most people who walk through the doors here. The environmental benefits of EVs. And because of that it’s not only customers clambering to get them. It’s whole countries.
CC: And because there's so many countries making climate commitments there’s really no other easy-ish way of hitting some of those targets without doing a transportation transition. Like here in Canada, transportation is the second largest emitting sector. In Ontario, it's actually number one. And so, you actually can't achieve the climate goals without transportation. And EVs not the only way obviously, but it's a major way,. as well as electrifying transit and other things. But it's a huge piece of it.
SM: Of course, the electricity — the E in EV — still needs to be generated somewhere. So, the actual emissions depend on where you plug it in. If you charge up somewhere that relies on lots of renewables to power their grid, things like hydro power in Quebec or Manitoba or BC, you might see a 90 to 95% emission reduction versus your standard gas-powered car. But even if you plug into a grid that generates power with little to no renewables — it’s still less emissions than a standard car. The fact is that an internal combustion engine just isn’t that efficient compared to any type of large powerplant.
CC: You know, EVs are actually an environmental improvement pretty much anywhere in the world that you drive them. Of course, the cleaner the electricity grid the lower the emissions.
CC: Alright. So then usually once we've kind of covered the basics on cost and on environmental benefit and, sort of what EVs are all about, we'll start talking about charging.
SM: We head to another part of the showroom and there’s an array of chargers on display. They look like high tech central vacs. And using one of these instead of a gas pump is another potential hurdle for newcomers to EVs.
CC: Everyone has got a gas station mindset; they're used to going out to get their fuel. And so, when you say you're going to charge at home most of the time, people can't really imagine how that is. And then they say, “Well, how long does it take?” So, people imagine they're going to be coming home every night dead empty, which they're not. And also, they think they're used to standing there, you know, filling their vehicle. And when they say how long I said say, “Well, how long does it take to charge your phone?” And they’ll say, “I don't know.” I say that's how I feel about my car. I don't know. I plug it in at night and then I come out in the morning is charged and I don't know how many hours it took. I suppose I could look it up. I do like 98% of my charging at home. I go on the odd road trip and that's the only time I use public charging.
SM: And if you do have to top up your EV on a road trip, you’ll probably be using a different type of charger than at home. They break down into three levels. Level one just uses a standard electrical outlet.
CC: All the cars can be charged on level one. The challenge with doing that is, it takes a long time.
SM: So, most people when they charge at home, it’ll be with a level 2 charger. One end goes into your car, the other into one of those big, washer/dryer plug outlets. Or you can get a box installed on your wall. Cara’s got one mounted here to show people.
CC: Yeah so, these are just some examples of home charges that you can buy on our store.
SM: Then there are level 3 chargers.
CC: These will charge your car from empty to full in about 40 to 45 minutes.
SM: They’re the quick chargers that you might have seen at shopping malls or highway rest stops. There’s actually EV charging stations all along the Trans-Canada Highway every 250 kilometers or so. And some of these chargers can even text you when your battery is full.
[receiving text ding]
SM: How thoughtful!
[sound from parking lot. Cars passing and wind blowing.]
SM: Out in front of the Discovery Centre, Cara shows me how one of these things actually works. She starts by pulling a card out of her wallet.
CC: And so basically you tap.
SM: She presses her card up against a small box mounted on a pole.
SM: There you go.
CC: And then you just take the wand and you just snap it on. That’s it!
SM: It’s actually kind of anticlimactic.
CC: I know, people imagine that it's going to be difficult, right? “How am I gonna do it?” Like, you know, “Where am I gonna charge?” It's actually very pleasant and it's going to be one-sixth the price.
SM: And while we’re outside, we get looking at some of the EVs they have here for people to test drive. This one’s an SUV.
SM: Nice car, well looks like a regular car.
SM: That is until you pop the hood.
[hood unlatching sound]
SM: It’s got a combustion engine and an electric motor. It’s a plug-in hybrid. This one has about a 50-kilometre range before the gas engine kicks in. Cara jokingly calls plug in hybrids like this one, gateway drugs to a full EV. And for those who do make the switch to a fully electric vehicle, what we’re doing right now — popping open the hood – is apparently something you rarely have to do. Gas powered cars have hundreds of moving parts. EVs have barely any.
CC: And so, when you think about maintenance and repair, I mean there's just very little to break and to fix in an EV.
SM: And how long would the battery typically last?
CC: That's a good question. And the truthful answer is we don't actually know. Because the oldest EV is like 10, 11 years old. The data so far suggests the batteries are going to outlast the car. Also, the battery is warrantied. Most of these models that you're going to see here, the warranty is eight years on the battery. So, if the automaker is giving you an eight-year warranty, they believe it's going to last longer than that. So, chances are, you will never have to replace the battery in the life of the car. We hear that question like, “If I have to replace the battery that’s going to be really expensive.” But, for the most part you will never have to do that.
SM: And one of those cars with a brand-new battery is sitting just a few feet away.
SM: It's a very cool kind of space-agey looking silver car.
SM: It’s a fresh-off-the-lot Hyundai IONIQ 5. I'm about to take it for a test drive.
SM: This will be my first time driving electric car. I'm very excited about this.
SM: Cara’s seen countless people like me come through here and try an EV for the first time. And as soon as the turn the car on, they all say the same thing.
CC: Everyone says, “Is it on?” Because it's so quiet and its sort of like in a gas car when you just turned your accessories on, and you didn't actually turn the car on. Because there's nothing. People are just like, “Wow. I can't believe it.” Right? So that's the first thing. And then the pickup. The pickup on an EV you just can't beat it.
SM: I’ve heard that.
CC: So, you'll notice that. It's instant torque. So, it's not like gas where actually there’s a little delay. Whereas with the EV, you just go. Awesome on the highway if you want to pass somebody.
SM: That’s all well and good, but lucky for you, dear listener — I’m not afraid to get answers to the real pressing questions when it comes to this new technology.
SM: I want to see if an electric horn sounds different from a gas-powered horn.
CC: No, it sounds the same.
SM: Feeling satisfied at having fulfilled my journalistic duties, I head inside to take care of another very important matter. Filling out the test drive waiver.
SM: Hmmm, age? I don’t need to say that out loud. Hmmm. Wow, income level.
SM: After filling out “25” and “podcaster” respectively, I head back outside to meet Mary.
Mary: Good morning, folks!
SM: Hi there. How are you doing?
SM: Remember her? She’s the one taking me out on my test drive. So, we get in.
[car door opening]
SM: Buckle up.
SM: And we’re off.
[sound of electric vehicle quietly driving]
SM: Again, there’s not much to hear. But I’ve driven lots of cars. Gas powered cars. And driving an EV is familiar, but totally different.
SM: It's actually amazing. It feels really smooth.
SM: I mean - how often is doing something so eco-friendly so fun as well?
SM: The pickup is awesome. It's so quick. It’s a very nice ride.
SM: But let’s say I wanted to head to my local dealership right now and buy a brand-new electric vehicle like this one. As Cara tells me back in the showroom, at least here in Ontario, they’ll probably say, “Take a number.” There are a lot of used EVs on the market. But if you want a new one, they just don’t have the supply right now.
CC: So, you're gonna wait. And some people can’t wait. So that’s a big challenge right now.
SM: Lots of brands are ramping up production, but those cars may not arrive for another year or year and a half...
CC: So, it's gonna be awhile. And so, it's a struggle right now.
SM: Cara says part of the issue is that different jurisdictions do things differently. Provinces like BC and Quebec and states like California just have better incentives to buy an EV.
CC: Yeah. So, there's really good rebates in certain provinces like British Columbia and Quebec. So, when there's a limited supply of vehicles, the vehicles tend to go to those provinces.
SM: And those provinces also have mandates where if you want to sell new cars, a certain percentage need to be electric. Those types of mandates are coming soon Canada wide. According to the Federal Environment Minister. They're called Zero Emission Vehicle mandates or ZEV mandates.
CC: And I think we need that Zev mandate or standard. Because we're competing with the world. The supply goes where the demand is and it's hard to compete. I mean, you look at Norway. 90% of the new car sales are electric. So, we can look to them to see what policies have they implemented. They've done sort of a whole suite of things. They also have a lot of other EV friendly policies that are a lot less expensive. For example, like certain parking incentives and HOV lane incentives in the main cities. They've done just more on their building codes, so they're just sort of tackling everything.
SM: Which brings us right back to Canada’s 2035 commitment I mentioned in the intro. All new cars – emissions free. Cara says it’s ambitious. But can be done. And that sentiment also sums up what she does here at Plug’n Drive.
CC: You know, it's arduous one person at a time and everything. And you think, wow that's a slow process, but it works. And we are convincing people and each car that we switch actually has a really significant environmental benefit. So, I feel good about that.
SM: That was Cara Clairman, President and CEO of Plug’n Drive. We’ll put a link in the description and on the story page to where you can find out more about what Plug’n Drive does and their in-person events across Canada.