Cash-fuelled electric vehicle industry is about to surge
Al Cormier has a vision. The president and CEO of Electric Mobility Canada, a not-for-profit in Mississauga, Ont. that would like to see the combustion taken out of transportation, dreams of a day when people from coast to coast will choose to drive cars with zero harmful emissions. The key to doing that and achieving more sustainability in transportation, he says, is to promote the development of electric vehicles.
That raises some interesting questions for manufacturers. Who’s going to make them and what’s in it for Canadian assemblers and auto parts makers?
Not that replacing full-on combustion vehicles won’t be a challenge, given the infrastructure needed to recharge vehicles that run purely on battery power for a trip of more than 35 kilometres is almost non-existent. True, electric vehicle owners can plug in their cars at home – even using the existing 110-volt grid standard in most Canadian homes – and charge the car battery at off-peak time within about 12 hours, depending on the size of the battery pack. That would be enough for most commuters.
Cormier notes the average Canadian daily trip to work is less than 30 kilometres. Installation of higher voltage systems would lessen the time. Anything from an upgrade to a 220-volt system, which is the same needed to run a clothes dryer, to 660 volts, which is what it takes to run a hot tub, would reduce charging times to between three and four hours.
But charging stations along the highway, say from Montreal to Toronto, will be needed to travel farther than 30 kilometres. North American standards for charger plugs were recently put in place. He says soon it will be possible to charge an electric vehicle in just five minutes, about the same time it takes to fill a conventional car tank with gasoline.
It’s important for people to switch to electric vehicles, says Cormier. It won’t affect their lifestyles, but it would reduce emissions, hence global warming; hydro electricity is cheap, clean and abundant in most provinces; and we’re running out of cheap oil as growing industries in India and China ratchet up the price pressure on oil and gas.
Since 65% of Canada’s electricity is generated by hydro compared to just 20% in the US, he contends it just makes sense for Canada to push for electric vehicles.
There is another, pragmatic reason for the automotive industry to look beyond internal combustion.
“We need to develop electric vehicles and hybrids to hit the 2016 environmental standards in NAFTA,” says Steve Rodgers, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA).
That goal requires automakers to reach corporate average fuel economy (or CAFE) standards of 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2016. Last July, an increasingly tighter CAFE goal of 54.5 mpg by 2025 was announced. There is some consensus that reaching such a goal with the existing internal combustion engine technology alone would be difficult.
Governments are providing incentives to ignite sales. Ontario offers a cash rebate for grid-connected EVs purchased or leased after July 1, 2010 of between $5,000 and $8,500 based on the vehicle’s battery capacity. The Quebec government offers similarly generous tax credits.
Now that the standards for the plug-in to electric cars are in place, the Canadian government is kick-starting the development of a potential network. In September 2011 the feds announced the Eco Energy Innovation Initiative, a $97-million fund for renewable and clean electricity demonstrations – including infrastructure needs, such as charging stations for electric transportation.