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Are we entering the era of electric cars in Canada?

The popularity of electric cars is growing, but could they ever dominate the Canadian market?

There are currently only around 28,000 electric cars on the road in Canada, but that number is starting to grow. The question is, by how much?

The idea of driving a battery-powered car may seem like a great idea in balmy California, where the cars first started growing in popularity. But many Canadians, ever wary of how their vehicles may perform in our colder winter climates, have waited with bated breath to see if improvements to battery life and efficiency would make them a viable option up North. As a result, adoption rates here have been slower.

As these electric vehicles have been gaining popularity over the last decade in other regions, car manufacturers like Ford, Nissan and Chevrolet have started offering more hybrid and fully electric options. With more choice and availability on the way, it’s easy to expect that Canadians could begin to embrace these efficient and eco-friendly options.

How quickly are Canadians warming up to electric cars?

According to a 2015 study from Simon Fraser University, more than one-third of Canadians are willing to buy a plug-in electric vehicle. The researchers surveyed 1,754 car buyers who were presented with information about gasoline, hybrid, plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles of generic cars, and asked which kind they would prefer.

Many of the respondents indicated that, while they liked the idea of a battery-powered electric vehicle, they felt that it was a safer choice to choose a vehicle which allowed them to “fall back” on their gasoline-powered hybrid engine in the event of a battery failure.

How will electric cars handle Canadian winters?

For many Canadians, the biggest barrier when it comes to investing in an electric vehicle is the uncertainty surrounding how well they will work during subzero temperatures. Batteries work less efficiently during colder temperatures, which means that electric cars have a longer range in more temperate climates, like in California, compared to the icy cold winters we experience here on the prairies.

To investigate the effect that our notoriously unforgiving winters may have on the performance of electric vehicles, let’s take a look at how a country with similar climates has adopted electric vehicle use: Norway.

Norway has various incentives for electric vehicles, making them a popular option for motorists in the European country. In the first nine months of 2015 for example, electric cars accounted for over 20% of all newly registered vehicles. And by the end of 2016, there were over 100,000 electric vehicles on the roads in Norway.

Norway’s climate, which is similar to much of Canada’s, hasn’t seemed to be a deterrent to Norwegian buyers. While it’s true that electric vehicle performance is impacted by colder temperatures, longer range vehicles are being tested and rolled out, which could soon become affordable options for the average Canadian.

Electric cars in Canada

In fact, one Chevy dealer, Bourgeois Chevrolet in Rawdon, Quebec, has already adjusted their dealership to almost exclusively sell Chevy Volt plug-in hybrids. That area of the country can also see heavy snowfalls and freezing rain as everyday occurrences during the winter, so it's apparent the hybrid option can face the elements.

Adapting electric vehicles for long distances

Battery range is another big concern that Canadian motorists have when it comes to investing in an electric vehicle. With such a vast and widespread geography, we can spend hours taking road trips from one city to another, or crossing the country with friends and loved ones in search of adventures. This may not be possible with many current electric vehicles.

Right now, Tesla vehicles are the only fully battery-powered electric vehicles which come with an official battery range of more than 200 miles per charge (they tout an over 370km range for the Model S in average highway driving conditions, and a 475km range for the Model X). But Canadians who are feeling left out need only to look to the not-too-distant future for better options: most major automobile manufacturers, including Volkswagen and GM, have expressed their intentions to either roll out or begin production on longer-range electric vehicles as early as this year.

Is electric the future of long-haul trucking?

One area which may benefit immensely from advances being made in battery technology is long-distance electric trucks.

Europe is currently experimenting with fast-charging technology for use with large-scale electric vehicles, such as the Volvo electric overhead charging stations being used for buses in Sweden, Germany and Luxembourg.

In the US, a company called Proterra has been experimenting with high-voltage overhead charging systems that can replenish electric bus batteries for a 48-kilometer drive in as little as 10 minutes.

These improvements in charging technology don’t just bode well for large-scale electric vehicles; advancements in quick-charging technology can be scaled down to accommodate and improve upon current consumer demand.

With advancements in battery life, charging times and more makes and models being introduced into the Canadian automotive consumer marketplace every year, you’ll be seeing more electric cars on Canadian roads in the future. And you just may be sitting in one, too.

Up Next: Get some more auto tech info in How self-driving cars will change every one of these industries

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Alyson Shane

Alyson Shane is a writer and business owner from Winnipeg, Manitoba who has been publishing content online for 16+ years. She runs Starling Social, an agency which develops digital marketing strategies that combine social media, paid advertising and content strategy to keep businesses growing and engaged with their customers. Outside the office, Alyson is a passionate urbanist who loves gardening, riding her bike and thinking about the public spaces that bring us together. She can be reached on social media at @alysonshane.

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