A Matter of Time

Even if EV sales stall, the road to the future remains electrified, experts say.

By Kristen Lipscombe

Are you behind the wheel of an electric vehicle (EV) yet?

Have you been thinking about making the switch from gas to electric, or maybe even about testing out a hybrid vehicle before jumping completely onboard the EV bandwagon?

No matter how environmentally conscious you may be, can you even afford to think about buying an electric vehicle (EV), or any vehicle right now, considering the continually rising costs of living these days, including fuel and repairs for really any car?

A lot of average folks have a lot of common questions about electric vehicles, from how they could ever possibly afford those hefty Tesla price tags to how they’ll be able to charge even more affordable EVs vehicles if their particular province doesn’t yet have enough infrastructure in place to get them from home to final destination safely.

Well, governments at all three levels, along with EV advocates across the country, are still very much encouraging Canadians to eventually make the move simply because the current state of the automotive industry isn’t sustainable environmentally or economically in the long run – or perhaps on the long road to the future.

In the short term, the successful adoption of EVs by average Canadians still faces many challenges, but positive changes can still be made one car – and one stretch of road at a time.

In late December, just before the holiday season, The Government of Canada announced that it “has finalized the new Electric Vehicle Availability Standard to increase the supply of clean, zero-emission vehicles available to Canadians across the country.

“The standard complements additional actions underway by the federal government to develop a robust electric vehicle supply chain and infrastructure that creates good, middle-class jobs and ensures a cleaner, safer environment,” the federal government news release reads.

The objective, according to the release, is for Canada to reach a coast-to-coast-coast “target of 100 per cent zero-emission vehicle sales by 2035,” with interim targets calling for at least 20 per cent of all car sales by 2026 and 60 per cent by 2030.

This new standard “will channel supply to Canadian markets instead of going abroad, reducing customer wait times and making sure Canadians have access to the latest affordable and technologically advanced vehicles that are coming to the market in the next few years,” the news release states.

These moves will help Canada keep up with EV technology being used in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union “and other major economies which are all taking action to lower emissions and put more electric vehicles on the roads.”

Fair enough. We all want to protect our environment, not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

But let’s take a look at how the electric vehicle industry is evolving in Atlantic Canada.

In July 2021, Steele Auto Group, the biggest auto dealership in Atlantic Canada, announced its acquisition of All EV Canada, a motivated company that specialized in selling pre-owned Teslas and other EVs. The local company opened up a successful storefront in Halifax, N.S., back in 2019, then expanded to Moncton, N.B., in 2022 – with more locations then being scouted across the region. The All EV Canada owners were passionate about their business venture, leading education, and training initiatives to help kept both the industry and drivers alike excited – and electrified.

But in June 2023, Steele Auto Group announced in a short statement that it had “made the difficult decision to discontinue the All EV business,” citing a lack of demand for electrical vehicles under current market conditions, which have “made it increasingly challenging for us to sustain operations and remain profitable.”

So, what the heck happened there?

“All EV was awesome,” said Kurt Sampson, executive director of the Electric Vehicle Association of Atlantic Canada (EVAAC), which has a mission of “accelerating the adoption of sustainable electric transportation in Atlantic Canada.”

That innovative company didn’t just start selling EVs to make money; the owners themselves were also invested in making sure citizens, partners, companies, communities, stakeholders, and governments alike understand why adopting electric vehicles sooner rather than later is the best road forward.

However, one of the barriers that Steele Auto Group faced soon after acquiring All EV was the fact that Tesla quickly started dropping its own prices, as they “were able to produce the vehicles more efficiently and cheaper,” to an average price drop of about $20,000 per vehicle within a year, Sampson explained. That makes it hard for pretty much any other company to compete in the EV market.

“So, can you imagine if you’re holding on to an inventory of like 100 used EVs to sell,” Sampson said. “It’s really hard to sell it at more than the price of a brand-new Tesla. The wait times to actually get a Tesla shipped to you here in Atlantic Canada also dropped pretty significantly, down from several months to just a few weeks,” Sampson added. “So that’s a double hit.”

But business plans changing doesn’t mean the demand for electric vehicles has gone down, Sampson added. “It’s not a lack of demand for EVs,” he said, “it’s lack of demand for used EVs at prices higher than new EVs.”

The market will continue to evolve, and it’s possible Steele could one day bring back All EV since it owns the rights, or perhaps another EV company will start competing with Tesla again when the timing is right, he said, but for now the company’s former owners are focused on other impressive ventures within the automotive industry.

Former All EV co-owner David Giles, for example, worked with Steele Auto Group on its expansion of electric vehicles until the company pulled back on its plans. He then decided to open up a new company this past July, PoweredEV Consulting, which Giles said “deals on a global market for consulting with electric vehicles, whether it’s manufacturing, infrastructure, or even adoption.”

As President of Powered EV Consulting, Giles told Auto and Trucking Atlantic he is now working directly with countries in the Middle East, Europe and Asia, and even presenting to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to help educate not just Atlantic Canada – but the world – on the importance of getting more EVS in motion.

Giles is also an EV Education Specialist with Consulab Educatech Inc., in Quebec City, Que., which is developing specialized training materials for technical schools so that they can teach the next generation of electric vehicle experts. “We’re developing some new innovative products for students to learn how to test and diagnose and work safely on high voltage vehicles.”

Additionally, Giles recently travelled across the country for the Powered EV Conference, where he presented to members of the automotive industry ranging from insurers to collision specialists to explain what they can expect in their own industries when electric vehicles, he believes, inevitably take over our roadways.

Closer to home, Giles helped build and create the curriculum post-secondary institutions are now using to teach first responders how to work with electric vehicles in emergency situations, with the help of a grant from the Government of Nova Scotia.

According to Giles, “the world of EVs is changing rapidly,” with incentives to buy accelerating at a rapid rate and new brands entering the market at record speeds. Manufacturing is ramping up with more facilities opening around the world – including right here in Atlantic Canada.

In fact, Tesla set it sights on Atlantic Canada some time ago, leasing a more than 60,000-square-foot-building at 236 Brownlow Ave. in Burnside Industrial Park, nestled in Dartmouth, N.S. Tesla Halifax officially opened its doors to the public in early 2024 and is now set to become one of the automaker’s largest locations in Canada.

Drive Tesla originally started posting jobs seeking sales advisors and technicians during the pandemic, with Chapman Autobody in Halifax currently serving as the only official “Tesla certified” collision repair centre in Atlantic Canada.

For EV advocates such as Sampson and Giles, electric vehicle education remains key to the industry’s success.

They certainly get the hesitancy people feel about getting behind the wheel of an EV and both the economical and infrastructure-based barriers that still exist but “understanding the fundamentals really helps,” Giles said.

“There’s only a certain population that can really truly afford EVs in the beginning,” Giles said, pointing out that’s because most people can’t afford the up-front costs involved before they get back any financial incentives or grants available to them.

But over the course of a vehicle’s lifetime, Giles points out, a driver actually often ends up paying much more in fuels and repairs for the gas-powered versions of their vehicles.

In fact, new facts and figures release in late April from Consumer Reports shows “the first real long-term objective analysis of maintenance costs over 10 years that includes electric vehicles,” Sampson pointed out.

The updated information “confirms what we’ve been saying regarding maintenance savings,” including for more expensive performance luxury EVs such as Tesla. The report numbers show they’re “cheaper to maintain than your average fossil-fueled vehicle,” he said.

That’s why companies such as Tesla are looking how they’re actually selling cars, Giles said. For example, instead of owning a $100,000 car, you could perhaps pay only a monthly fee, “like a lease almost,” but at a reduced cost knowing the cars will be recycled and resold in the end.

“We’ll probably see some changes in the future of ownership,” Giles said, pointing to Norway as an example where different options based on people’s ability to afford EVs are already being put into place to speed up electrification.

“This is part of the evolution of electrification of transportation,” Giles said. “By All EV starting up, it created a whole movement within the industry to start adopting it – and people started to recognize Tesla in Atlantic Canada.”

“So even though we didn’t sell for Tesla, we helped their brand,” Giles said, adding we can expect the road to electrification to start moving fast.

As of January 2024, there were currently about 850 Teslas on the road in Nova Scotia, up about 100 from a year ago, according to Sampson.

Nova Scotia Power says there are more than 1,900 EVs total currently registered in Nova Scotia, and more than 200 public charging stations available across the province. Those numbers were from more than a year ago, though, which means some are unaccounted for in the stats.

As of early 2024, global EV sales – including hybrids – were at about 17 per cent, Sampson said.

“We’re still definitely behind the curve here,” he said,” but that’s one in five cars globally with a plug.”

Like his colleague Giles, he too expects that in a post-pandemic world, the demand for electric vehicles will rev up again quickly within Atlantic Canada. He points to initiatives such as Halifax Regional Municipality’s Electric Vehicle Strategy already being set in motion. Its expected the city will add significant charging infrastructure across the city this summer, with the chargers themselves to be installed by summer 2025 across urban, rural and suburban areas to help meet HRM’s HalifACT climate action plan.

Meanwhile, just last year, the Government of Nova Scotia announced a $500,000 investment to help install more charging stations across the province. That’s in addition to the $1.2 million federal Zero-Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program being administered by the Clean Foundation to install Level 2 electric vehicle chargers for light-duty vehicles. The same national foundation is also running EV Assist, which helps drivers “skip the gas station,” offering provincial rebates to help drivers reduce emission “with an exciting new driving experience.”

It seems that as far as EV advocates such as Sampson and Giles are concerned, along with all three levels of government, the domination of electric vehicles on our roads will only take a matter of time.

But will education, advocacy and investment be enough for our cities, provinces and country to reach promised and hopeful government targets? Only time will tell.

So, when will you getting behind the wheel of an electric vehicle?

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