An electric vehicle, now commonly referred to as an EV, relies for propulsion on an electric motor powered by electrical energy stored in on-board rechargeable batteries.
Electric cars were initially popular in the early 1900s, but production of cheaper gasoline powered vehicles led to their decline. And it was mass production as pioneered by Henry Ford that made gasoline powered vehicles affordable for all.
This article is mainly focussed on EVs as opposed to the popular “hybrids” now available from most automobile manufacturers. As an example of the hybrid’s growing popular appeal Ford has announced a hybrid version of the F-150 truck for next year.
To be clear, hybrid vehicles combine a gasoline-powered engine with an electric motor in the same vehicle. The basic principle is that the two different motors work better at different speeds of the vehicle; the electric motor being more efficient at producing low-end torque, or rotational force, and the combustion engine being better at maintaining high speed. This combination yields better mileage, but it is still basically a gasoline powered vehicle.
In the meantime, we have yet to see high-volume mass production of pure EVs, such as the Chevy Bolt, the Nissan Leaf, and the Tesla 3, with no gasoline engines under the hood, so they remain high-priced, mainly because of the high capacity rechargeable batteries installed in the vehicle.
In the meantime, our federal government and two of our provincial governments have recently created financial incentives to promote the adoption of EVs in the mass market, recognising that prices will decline in time as their popularity and sales volumes build.
Starting from May 1, 2019, the federal government of Canada is contributing $5,000 to reduce your cost of an EV. There is a requirement that the base price of a qualifying electric vehicle be less than $45,000, and that it costs no more than $55,000 after options are added.
In British Columbia, buyers get an additional $5,000 off the cost of EVs, so residents there can expect to get a total $10,000 off the sticker price, including the $5,000 federal contribution, when purchasing a qualifying model.
For example, the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV – a machine which just squeaks in under the wire with a base price of $44,800 – now comes in at $34,800 in British Columbia.
A similar program in Quebec, which offers a larger $8,000 contribution on EVs, brings the sticker price of the same Chevy Bolt EV down to just over thirty thousand. And remember that these vehicles require less maintenance, with no oil to change and minimal engine upkeep.
A good thing about EVs is that you can top off your battery as much or as little as you like. Or you can simply plug it in at night and by the morning it’s fully charged and ready to go.
And the cost of the top-up using your local power company electricity is generally around half what it would be to fill up a gas tank at your gas station, on a cost-per-kilometre basis. EVs also have a range of up to 400 kilometers on a full charge, and are not slowpokes, with the Chevy Bolt electric motor, as an example, rated at 200 horsepower.
Of course, if you live in a solar energy powered home complete with energy storage batteries, your overnight charge costs you nothing. Aside from environmental benefits, imagine a future where you no longer pay for another drop of heating oil and gasoline - and its easily shown that the resulting cost savings more than pay for the solar power investments you have made.
Looking overseas, half of all new cars sold to Norwegians are electric, making that country of 5.3 million people, slightly larger than Alberta, the highest per-capita market for EVs in the world.
Norway’s EV success is the result of a powerful “carrot and stick” strategy. While they offer very generous incentives to EV buyers, gasoline prices remain high. That kind of approach could work here with a few more carrots thrown in to make it more palatable.
Norway’s lavish incentives are made possible by their Sovereign Wealth Fund filled with royalties saved, and not spent over the years, from their North Sea oil deposits. It now has over US$1 trillion in assets, 65 times larger than the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, making it the world's largest sovereign wealth fund.
How smart of the Norwegians to foresee a day when fossil fuel revenues would eventually decline, and that such a fund could be relied upon to maintain critical public services.
Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at email@example.com.