When my husband Stephen and I told our parents we were buying an electric vehicle (EV), they worried we were making a mistake.
His parents heard manufacturing EVs is bad for the environment. Stephen battled away their concerns.
“If you do a little math about how much gas you’re actually burning over the lifetime of the vehicle,” says Stephen, 33, “there’s no way manufacturing greenhouse gas emissions would top that.”
My parents were concerned about the price tag.
Yes, our 2020 Volkswagen e-Golf was $44,000 after taxes, but we’re on track to save $1,600 a year on gas, spend four times less on maintenance, and significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
Our parents aren’t the only people in Manitoba skeptical of EVs. As the first of our family, friends, and coworkers to purchase one, we answered a lot of questions:
- Can you drive them in the winter?
- How far can you go on a single charge?
- What if you need to replace the battery?
- Are they safe to drive?
I realized Manitoba drivers don’t know a lot about EVs. With the help of other early adopters, a car salesman, and a lot of research, I hope this article provides answers.
In the first three quarters of 2020, only 3.6 per cent of new registered vehicles in Canada were zero-emission vehicles (electric and plug-in hybrid), and almost 94 per cent were registered in Canada’s most populous provinces: Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia. (For more information, see Statistics Canada’s infographics from the first half and third quarter of 2020.)
With so few EVs on the road, many Manitoba drivers don’t understand how EVs work and dealerships don’t have a lot of options (if any) for interested buyers. Plus, EV myths about cost, durability, and performance are discouraging people from going electric.
“Word of mouth is still key in the car industry,” says Tony Dang, Product Specialist at Murray Hyundai Winnipeg. Last year, Dang’s dealership sold 50 or 60 EVs, mostly to people who test drove a friend’s vehicle.
Meanwhile, major car manufacturers like General Motors (GM) are announcing multi-billion-dollar investments in EVs and stated plans to put “everyone in an electric vehicle.”
But will the demand be there?
Peter Harrison, 63, thinks it will be. He and his wife Shawn Kettner started shopping for EVs three years ago. “If we get an electric car, there’s bound to be other people who’ll get an electric car in no time.”
Until then, early adopters, like my husband and I, are working to dispel myths and tell other drivers what it’s like to buy and own an EV.
Not a lot on the lot
The drivers I spoke to told stories of how difficult it was to find EVs to test drive.
“I remember standing in [a Kia dealership] lot and looking out at this prairie field full of cars, and of course they’re all gas-powered,” says Kevin Longfield, 70.
Kevin and Diane Longfield test drove gas or hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) versions of the vehicles they were interested in before ordering a 2019 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV).
Most EVs must be special-ordered, and Dang says delivery can take a few months or longer. When the Kona Electric came out in 2018, it sold out for the first two years and Hyundai Canada had a one-year waiting list.
Many dealerships aren’t interested in selling EVs because they’re “loss leaders” says Dang, 31. Dang has worked in the car industry for 10 years. Hyundai Canada calls him “Wikipedia” and other Hyundai dealerships call Dang for information and advice about selling EVs.
“Us selling you one Santa Fe for 50 grand, a very common SUV, is equivalent to selling four EVs as far as how much the dealership makes,” he said.
For context, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for the 2021 Santa Fe is $13,600 less than the 2021 Kona Electric.
EVs aren’t exactly worth a dealership’s investment. Most drivers aren’t buying them, commercial chargers cost a couple thousand dollars, training staff to operate EVs is expensive, and salespeople make little commission on small profit margins.
“That salesperson,” says Dang, “if he’s looking out for his best interest, he’s not going to spend that much time trying to convince you to take that car home.”
Some drivers have turned to buying EVs online.
Harrison and Kettner bought a Tesla Model 3 online in January but got a refund when they realized their options were to pay “another chunk of change” for delivery or drive 8 ½ hours to pick it up in Saskatchewan – in winter, during a pandemic.
In Manitoba, one can purchase a Tesla from Nott Autocorp, but Harrison and Kettner say it costs about $5,000 more than buying a Tesla online.
Before Stephen and I bought our e-Golf, he tracked down where we could test drive EVs. We drove the e-Golf, the Hyundai Kona Electric and IONIQ Electric, the Toyota Prius PHEV, and the Kia Niro Hybrid.
“I was really interested in the Niro Electric,” says Stephen, “but dealerships don’t sell them in Manitoba.”
None of the Kia dealerships in Manitoba are authorized EV dealers. They don’t have the charging stations, technical training, or servicing capabilities to sell vehicles that are 100 per cent electric.
Our metallic grey e-Golf was covered in green and white stickers that read “e-Golf,” “Take Charge,” and “One Drive And You’ll Almost Forget It’s Electric” when we first drove it in September 2020. The dealership turned the vehicle into a test vehicle to try and get it off the lot. Despite having more features than the standard e-Golf – like self-parking, a larger touchscreen, and leather seats – it was a few thousand dollars cheaper because it was a demo.
We chose the e-Golf because it’s a fully electric car (also known as a battery electric vehicle or BEV) that lives up to its slogan: it drives like a gas vehicle. Other EVs felt heavier, particularly when navigating corners, but because the e-Golf has a smaller battery it was a fun and familiar ride.
The e-Golf looks the same as the gas-powered Golf except for blue accent features and modifications to fit its lithium-ion battery and electric motor. The car plugs in where one would typically fill the gas tank.
Stephen was giddy the first time we drove it. He accelerated and decelerated so quickly my stomach turned. He says he was “testing out the driving capabilities.”
How far can you drive on a single charge?
We brought the car home on Sept. 29, 2020 and named it ‘Gimli’ after the J.R.R. Tolkien character in The Lord of the Rings. Gimli, a dwarf, frequently complains about running long distances cross-country but insists he’s a “natural sprinter” and “very dangerous over short distances.”
The e-Golf’s range is 198 kilometres on a single charge.
In August 2019, the Analytics Team at Autolist surveyed 1,567 vehicle shoppers about their attitudes towards EVs. Range anxiety, or the fear a vehicle’s battery doesn’t have enough range to reach its destination, was the number one reason drivers said they wouldn’t buy an EV.
But EV owners don’t tend to worry about range: we charge our cars accordingly.
When the Longfields decided to purchase an EV in 2019, most BEVs couldn’t go over 200 kilometres on a single charge. The Longfields purchased a PHEV so they could travel to Montreal and visit their grandchild without having range anxiety. In the city, they rely almost entirely on the battery.
PHEVs runs on electric power until the battery runs out and then automatically switches to the gas engine. Kevin and Diane Longfield’s Kia Niro PHEV has a range of 40 kilometres on a single charge.
Diane Longfield, 68, only filled her gas tank twice in 2020: once in March and then she added an extra 25 litres in November because gas was 93 cents a litre.
“I’m hoping I can get to March again,” she says.
Most Canadians drive less than 60 kilometres a day, and today, most EVs have a range of 200 to 400 kilometres on a charge. An EV with a 400-kilometre range could loop Winnipeg’s Perimeter Highway four times before the battery runs out. And in Manitoba, where we often rely on block heaters to get our cars through frigid winters, charging EVs shouldn’t be a problem: they can plug into a standard 120-volt outlet.
The issue with Level 1, 120-volt AC chargers is that charging takes a long time. Our e-Golf takes at least 26 hours to go from empty to a full charge.
Like many EV owners, we hired an electrician to install a 240-volt plug in our garage and bought a Level 2, 240-volt AC charger. With the upgrade, it now takes five hours to charge the e-Golf from empty and an hour to charge up after a daily commute.
The third and fastest charger is the 400+ volt DC fast charger which takes 30 to 60 minutes to get a full charge. As of March 26, 2021, there are 15 DC fast-charging stations in Manitoba and 969 across Canada. Some worry about the lack of charging infrastructure in Manitoba.
“Being on an ‘island’ in Winnipeg has its disadvantages,” says Brenden Dufault, a 35-year-old biostatistician and father of two.
He and his wife Nicole own a Tesla Model 3 Long Range. Dufault says a Tesla was the only EV they considered because they needed something “with a range and charging network to take us on any trip.”
A new Tesla Model 3 Long Range starts at $64,990 and has a range of 568 kilometres.
Dufault believes improvements to the size of the charging network will come soon, and the numbers seem to show this.
As of March 26, 2021, there are 13,406 charging outlets at 6,033 publicly accessible stations across Canada. That’s up more than 15 per cent from what Electric Autonomy Canada reported in March of 2020 and the number changes daily. But as noted, very few are DC fast charging stations. In Manitoba, there are 94 charging outlets at 50 publicly accessible stations.
Do EVs cost a lot more than gas vehicles?
Our e-Golf has about half the range of the Hyundai Kona Electric and the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range. But at a base price of $38,178.25, it was also at least $10,000 cheaper.
Still, a new 2021 e-Golf goes for about $15,000 more than the gas-powered Golf.
On average, EVs cost $30,000 to $50,000 depending on whether you buy a BEV, PHEV, or HEV. The initial price-tag is steep, but the trade-off is savings over the vehicle’s lifetime.
Sarah Walkey is a 35-year-old occupational therapist who lives in Squamish, B.C. and works in Whistler and Pemberton. She bought a Chevrolet Bolt EV in June of 2018 because it was cheaper than owning a gas vehicle.
Walkey’s commute from Squamish to Pemberton is 180 kilometres round-trip. Before Walkey bought her Bolt EV, she spent $500 to $700 per month on what she calls “dinosaur gas.” She couldn’t afford the bill for gas, insurance, and maintenance so she started shopping for EVs.
Walkey’s since driven more than 103,000 kilometres, saved about $15,000 in gas, and spent less than $300 on maintenance.
Dang says maintenance is another reason why dealerships consider EVs “loss leaders.” He sees customers who purchased EVs at Murray Hyundai Winnipeg come in for service four times less than customers who bought gas vehicles.
That’s not to say there’s no cost over the life of the vehicle. Electricity is one cost, but Manitoba has among the lowest rates in North America.
According to Manitoba Hydro, driving an EV 15,000 kilometres a year uses approximately the same amount of energy as a typical electric water heater. That comes out to one or two cents per kilometre or $250 to $300 per year.
Plug’n Drive says EV drivers typically save $1,500 to $2,000 on fuel annually.
But the cost most people fear when it comes to EVs is the high-voltage lithium-ion battery that powers the electric motor.
EVs are more expensive because batteries are expensive, but batteries are covered under a manufacturer warranty. The warranty is for eight years or 160,000 kilometres, whichever comes first, for material and workmanship defects and net capacity loss below 70 per cent.
Dang believes the worry about batteries came from performance issues with the first generation of the Toyota Prius in 1997. EV battery technology has come a long way in 20 years. Dang says it should now last the lifetime of the vehicle.
Perhaps the best cost-saving opportunity for Manitobans is the Government of Canada’s iZEV Program which offers a $2,500 or $5,000 rebate for EV buyers. Dang says it’s a big incentive to get people into the showroom.
“If [the rebate] weren’t there,” Dang says, “we’d have half the clientele.”
The three-year iZEV program was introduced on May 1, 2019 as an incentive to help Canadians afford an EV and reduce the amount of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. If you purchase a BEV, hydrogen fuel cell, or longer-range PHEV, you’ll receive a $5,000 rebate. Shorter range PHEVs are eligible for a $2,500 rebate.
In Quebec and British Columbia, EV buyers can take advantage of provincial rebates too. Ontario used to offer rebates, but the Progressive Conservative government cut it when Doug Ford was elected premier. Six months later, EV sales in Ontario plummeted by over 50 per cent.
Kevin Longfield was concerned the same thing would happen to the iZEV program if the Conservative Party won the October 2019 federal election, so he and Diane Longfield purchased their Kia Niro PHEV beforehand.
“If the conservatives got in power,” Kevin Longfield joked, “there might have been fines for driving electric vehicles.”
Stephen and I factored the federal rebate into the cost of every vehicle we looked at.
Are EVs better for the environment?
The iZEV program is part of Canada’s stated commitment to decarbonize the transportation sector and reach ambitious EV sales goals. By 2025, the federal government hopes 10 per cent of passenger cars sold in Canada will be zero-emission.
Transportation is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and driving an EV can reduce a vehicle’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90 per cent, depending on the source of electricity and whether you drive a BEV, PHEV, or HEV.
In Manitoba, 97 per cent of the province’s electricity comes from hydroelectric power which has virtually no greenhouse gas emissions.
Stephen is a telecontrol technician at Manitoba Hydro.
“The power I’m using is coming from hydro power – literally from the company I work for – in a renewable form,” he says. “I don’t feel bad about driving anymore.”
When we started shopping for vehicles, Stephen’s mom sent us an article that suggested manufacturing EVs caused greenhouse gas pollution because of mining operations and extracting materials for lithium-ion batteries. Most of the EV drivers I spoke with heard the same concerns.
“Have you seen the way they mine oil and gas?” says Kevin Longfield. “It’s all pretty nasty.”
Walkey says she doesn’t know a lot about manufacturing EV batteries. Still, she can’t understand how it could be worse than the carbon her gas vehicle emitted on her daily roundtrips from Squamish to Pemberton.
“Even if that kind of mining and technology isn’t the best it can be right now, it’s a starting place,” Walkey says. “And that’s the only way technology is going to get better.”
Lithium-ion batteries are 90 per cent recyclable, and some companies are recycling old batteries as energy storage devices.
Do EVs perform as well as gas vehicles?
Many drivers purchase an EV out of concern for the environment, but others are more attracted to the speed.
When Walkey bought her EV, her father said, “You’re not going to like it. It’s not going to be fast enough for you.”
He was wrong.
Electric motors accelerate quicker from a stop and maintain their power, whereas gas engine torque is produced on a curve with less acceleration at the beginning and at the end.
And you won’t hear the rev of an engine: EVs are very quiet.
Walkey says her Bolt EV is “the most fun car” she’s owned. “I’m surprised I haven’t had more speeding tickets,” she says with a grin.
That’s not to say EVs are unsafe. They undergo the same safety tests as gas vehicles and have the same safety features.
And despite what one might see on YouTube, they rarely explode or catch on fire.
“Gas cars catch on fire all the time,” Dang says. “If you ask me how many cars caught on fire in the last year, it’s probably hundreds.”
He says other dealerships that don’t sell EVs perpetuate those rumours. “They will shove that down people’s throats.”
In Manitoba, there’s one big question people often ask.
I attended an online EV chat in November hosted by the Manitoba Electric Vehicle Association, and one woman, in the process of EV shopping, asked the question:
“What’s it like to drive in the winter?”
A dozen or so EV enthusiasts piped up: “The same.”
Our e-Golf has a heated front windshield, forced air, a heat pump, and electric heating. Stephen often schedules the car to warm up before he leaves for work and at the end of his workday. If we haven’t pre-warmed the car, we crank the heat, put on max defrost, turn on the heated seats, and start to drive. It warms up in no time.
Unfortunately, heat and air-conditioning use battery power which affects the range.
“The range dropped to like 100 kilometres on a full charge,” says Stephen, recalling a day in February when the temperature dropped below -30 C. But once the car warmed up and he turned the heat, defrost, and heated seats down, “the range just jumped back up to 150.”
Drivers can expect the range to drop in the winter because of the added power demands of operating a vehicle. In 2020, the Norwegian Automobile Federation tested 20 EVs in winter conditions and found they lost, on average, close to 20 per cent of their range. But Stephen and I have noticed the range can drop up to 30 per cent on the coldest winter days in Winnipeg. The solution? Plug it in more often.
GM’s new ‘EVerybody In’ marketing campaign is part of the company’s effort to accelerate the mass adoption of EVs.
This year, GM will begin to launch their lineup of new EVs, including the GMC HUMMER EV, the Cadillac LYRIQ, and 28 other vehicles in different shapes and sizes with plenty of range. They’re all supposed to be on the market by 2025.
At Hyundai, Dang says they’re introducing the IONIQ 5, the first of a brand-new EV series. The IONIQ 5 is a compact SUV available in all-wheel drive.
“Eighty percent of vehicles sold in Canada are pick-ups and SUVs,” says Dang. He expects vehicles like the GMC HUMMER and the IONIQ 5 to sell well if they’re priced right.
Dang also points to California, where last October, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order saying all new passenger cars and trucks sold in the state must be emission-free by 2035.
If they’re selling EVs there, they’re going to sell them here too, Dang says.
I asked everyone I interviewed if they’d purchase an EV again. The answer was unanimous.
“Without hesitation,” writes Dufault in an email. I imagine he then puts on a pair of sunglasses, starts his Tesla, and accelerates, quietly, to 100 kilometres in 3.3 seconds.