Green Machines – The Top Electric Cars in Canada
By Ian Darwin
While there are not yet any $1,000 used electric vehicle (EV) clunkers on the market in Canada – in part because EVs hold their value better than gasmobiles, and because they’ve not been around long enough yet – there are quite a range of options to choose from. At any price point, you will save lots on fuel and maintenance. And when you include the tax breaks or outright subsidies that many governments offer, EVs become a very attractive option.
Let’s look at a few current pure-EV (or “Battery EV”, BEV) top electric cars in Canada. I’m skipping hybrid EVs (HEVs) because they typically have fairly small batteries and have gasoline engines (with all the failure points thereof) and still use gasoline some or most of the time. I know some HEV owners who rarely use the gasoline option, but the one time I rented a big-name hybrid, it would switch into gasoline mode whenever I did any serious driving. I’m also skipping hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) because that technology strikes me as complicated and inefficient.
To help the EV industry achieve scale volumes, as well as to make up for the extreme tax advantages given to the fossil fuel industry, forward-leaning governments have provided tax breaks or outright subsidies to EV purchasers. Among these are the US$7,500 tax credit to purchasers in the United States, and the up to CAD$14,000 new EV purchase (or lease) subsidy in Ontario. (The Canadian government has talked up a proposal for a national subsidy, but has not yet acted on it.)
Picking the Right EV
In some jurisdictions, cars with special EV plates get privileges, such as using HOV (High-occupancy Vehicle) lanes on major highways. All of these grants and privileges either have built-in expiry dates or conditions, or will probably be phased out in a few years, once the EV makers achieve price parity with gasoline-based cars for comparable models. Indeed, the current House of Representatives tax bill plans to terminate the federal tax credit prematurely, while still keeping the massive economic benefits that it gives to the coal and oil industries. The Senate version of the bill keeps the tax credit. At this point in time the major automakers (including GM and Nissan) are lobbying against the proposal to end the tax credit.
To pick an EV you need to consider the kind of driving you do, your budget, and the car’s TCO, or Total Cost of Ownership. TCO is a required re-think from the traditional approach of only considering monthly car loan payments. EVs currently cost more to buy but much less to operate, including both the cost of powering them and the cost of maintaining them. Most drivers commute less than 40km each way to work; add in a short side-trip for dinner or shopping and an EV with a range of 100 km will probably do for your daily driving. But, if you regularly drive 300km on weekends to a cabin in the woods with no electricity, then you’ll need something with more range.
The notion of “range anxiety” has been used by critics of EVs to describe the fear of running out of power. It is the same issue as with gasoline, as we have found out repeatedly when things like hurricanes and computerized system crashes have left large parts of entire provinces/states without electricity. It’s just compounded because current high-end EV batteries store enough power for about half the range that a gasoline tank holds, and earlier/cheaper ones less than that. Every year brings higher production distances for EVs, but it can still be an issue when choosing an EV.
To help you decide which EV is right for you, we’ve pulled together the following list of currently available top electric cars in Canada.
Tesla – The EV Poster Child
Tesla has been around for a decade, and is widely associated with its celebrity CEO Elon Musk, a co-founder of PayPal and also CEO of SpaceX, and The Boring Company (as in tunnel boring) which plans to build automobile tunnels to help reduce gridlock. Musk is also the prime mover behind the Hyperloop concept – very high speed transport capsules travelling in vacuum tunnels above ground.
Originally known as Tesla Motors, the company was renamed Tesla Inc. when it absorbed Solar City (which was predominantly owned by Musk and his relatives), the #1 seller of rooftop solar panels (as well as solar roofs, which replace traditional shingles) in the US. Tesla also puts its batteries into PowerWall, a home electricity-storage product that allows you to download energy (either from rooftop solar, or from the grid at the cheapest times) for use when you need it. At medium scale, their PowerPack unit is used at a few SuperCharger stations to keep charging going during power grid failures and to even out load. At a larger scale, they sell PowerPack units to electrical utility companies, and are involved in several really exciting large-scale projects in this area.
The Model S sedan was Tesla’s first mass-produced luxury EV (they produced a small number of the Roadster model before that). Introduced in 2012, the Model S was a major disruptor, as was Henry Ford’s Model T in 1908. The definition of luxury has of course moved up many notches in the century between the T and the S. Tesla’s Model S proved that you could build an EV that was a luxury car, good looking, fun to drive, and with decent range. The US NHTSA gave the Model S a Five-Star rating in all crash test categories, and it was named Car of the Year by Motor Trend and received numerous other accolades.
I’ve ridden in several Model S vehicles and they are a true luxury car. Although maybe not a match for a Rolls Royce or my grand-uncle’s Bentley, the Model S is the equal of most production luxury cars. Of course, that’s a matter of opinion, and you can find plenty of debate pro and con in various online forums. But as evobsession.com once put it, the Model S “has robbed Mercedes and BMW of loyal buyers quicker than the roadrunner can dart away from a certain coyote.” As of fall 2017, the entry level Model S 75D is priced in Canada at CAD$96,650 and has a range of 416km (they also offer used or “CPO” Model S vehicles starting at about CAD$70,000).
Tesla’s second mass-produced luxury car is the Model X, an SUV. Priced above the Model S and famous for its gull-wing doors, this vehicle continues Tesla’s classiness. At the same time it adds features such as more room and trailering capabilities. Tesla is now moving towards producing its first mass-market EV, the Model 3. Designed to be simpler to manufacture than earlier models, this is meant to be a “more affordable Tesla”, with a base price of US$35,000 (Canadian pricing has not been announced yet). The base Model 3 has a range of 220 miles/350km (a larger battery option gives it 310 miles/498km) and is just now becoming available to customers. There is a huge backlog; around half a million reservations. If you order one now, you probably won’t see it for at least a year if you’re in the US or Canada, longer elsewhere.
Speaking of ordering, all Tesla reservations and sales are done online at Tesla.com. Instead of traditional ‘dealers’, they have Tesla Galleries in some places, and Tesla Stores in others. In Galleries you can discuss EVs and Teslas, and buy Tesla merchandise such as clothing and accessories, but not discuss car pricing, nor order your car. In jurisdictions where it’s allowed, the Tesla Store staff can help you purchase your Tesla. Tesla is currently in litigation with several US state governments over legislation which prevents car manufacturers from selling cars. (I could point out the irony of the “free-market” USA using force of law to prevent manufacturers from selling their goods, but this isn’t supposed to be a political article, so I won’t.)
Nissan is the other poster child for Evs thanks to their Leaf, introduced in 2010/2011. Since it slightly pre-dated the Tesla Model S and because of its much lower price, this has been the top seller most years. It was also known for its “ugly” or at least unconventional styling up to the 2017 model year. In the US at least, a lot of the older Leaf cars are available off-lease for under ten grand. A redesign for 2017/18 provides more range (expected to reach ~150 miles under US standards) and the more conventional car styling.
In 2016, GM’s Chevrolet division introduced the Bolt, their first all-electric large-scale production vehicle. Chevy had previously introduced the hybrid Volt, so the name resemblance is confusing, though obviously intentional. Priced just above Tesla’s Model 3 at US$37,000, and with similar driving range, this vehicle is sold at Chevrolet dealers throughout North America. It sells in Europe as the Ampera-E where demand has been exceeding capacity.
BMW i3 BEV
BMW has produced several EVs, including the popular i3 BEV and the high-end i8 hybrid. The i3 sold 50,000 units (worldwide) in its first year or so, quite respectable for an EV from Germany. The i8 is a luxury-range vehicle.
Mercedes B Class Electric
Daimler Mercedes has several EV products, including the B Class Electric. In 2017, Mercedes announced that their smaller city car, the Smart ForTwo, would only be available as a BEV in the North American market. Unfortunately more than half of US Mercedes dealers have announced they would no longer carry the vehicle, which some would say proves my point about dealers depending for revenue on your gasmobile breaking down and needing lots of repair.
And Many More…
Almost all major auto manufacturers in the world have, in fact, announced plans to introduce electric vehicles.
At the sporty end, there are several three-wheeled EVs becoming available, including Canada’s ElecttraMeccanica Solo (CAD$20,000) and the US-based ArciMoto SRK (US$11,900). For two-wheeled travel, there are several producers including Zero Motorcycles. There’s even an electric version of the iconic Vespa Scooter.
While this article talks about electric cars, there are also battery-powered buses, semi-tractor trucks (announced by Cummins, Daimler and Tesla so far) and other types of vehicles. Not to mention that subway trains have been powered by electricity for as long as we can remember, for reasons of safety and air quality, and many surface trains, trams/streetcars and buses are electrically powered.
For a current list of the currently available top electric cars in Canada, check out the Plug’n’Drive website, or visit their EV Discovery Centre in Toronto (they also have a printed booklet summarizing models with their range, prices, charging info, and so on). For US readers, a similar web offering is at https://pluginamerica.org/, and a list of BEVs on sale stateside is at EVObsession. Models and configurations change frequently, so check these websites, and your favorite car maker’s site, for up-to-date information.
Some other good EV information sites are electrek.co (not .com!), insideevs.com/, https://evobsession.com/ and chargedevs.com/. There are also many vendor-specific news sites, forums, and Facebook groups, etc.
Contributor Ian Darwin is a freelance computer software developer, trainer and author who loves to travel and tell stories of where he’s been – and how he got there. There’s an EV page on his personal site, at https://darwinsys.com/evs/.