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By Blair Qualey

A recent survey conducted by AutoTrader highlights a concerning trend: consumer interest in zero emission vehicles among Canadians experienced a consecutive decline over the last two years.

The softening in zero emission vehicle (ZEV) interest underlines that purchase incentives will remain a critical part of transitioning consumers to ZEVs and why there needs to be a more flexible approach to mandated targets for clean energy vehicles.

In 2022, 68 per cent of Canadians expressed enthusiasm regarding plans to purchase an electric vehicle; however, by early 2024, this figure has dropped significantly to a mere 56 per cent. This trajectory raises significant concerns against the backdrop of government mandates, requiring 26 per cent of light duty vehicle sales in the province be ZEV by 2026, 90 per cent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2035.

The survey describes several factors that may be contributing factors to the latest survey results, including range anxiety, inadequate charging infrastructure, the price of new electric vehicles, and performance issues in cold weather. The relative stabilization of gas prices throughout most of the country (well except BC perhaps) since their peak in 2022 is also cited by respondents. The broader challenge of affordability, including high interest rates and inflation cannot be overlooked.

In the face of softening demand, federal and provincial mandates pose a significant challenge. A significant majority of respondents to the AutoTrader survey expressed skepticism about the likelihood of achieving them.

With the two senior levels of government establishing mandated targets, the NCDA has recommended a more flexible approach – along with an ongoing commitment to point of purchase rebates and investments in building a fast-charging network. It’s important to recognize that while the initial target (26% of light duty vehicles be ZEV by 2026) is within striking distance, it also represents — to a large extent — early adopters who didn’t require a great deal of convincing, whereas the broader population will.

The New Car Dealers of BC have supported the transition to zero emission vehicles, and our work with government to advance ZEV adoption has produced nation-leading results. In BC, electric vehicles made up almost 23% of all new light-duty passenger vehicles sold in 2023, the highest percentage for any province or territory in Canada on a per capita basis. For many ZEV consumers, the two rebate programs (up to $5,000 from the federal iZEV program and $4,000 from the CleanBC Go Electric Vehicle Rebate program) are significant. The 22,500 rebates processed through the program last year was an all-time high – while on the national level, federal incentives supported the purchase of about 146,000 ZEVs in 2023, up 150 per cent from the roughly 58,000 vehicles that received rebates the year before.

Consumers make decisions when it makes economic sense, not because of hard and arbitrary targets – so we need to continue to drive demand with incentives and providing needed charging infrastructure. Furthermore, forcing a sales target that will penalize auto manufacturers, with a $20,000 charge per vehicle sold outside the arbitrary mandate, for not hitting a target means they will simply reduce availability of certain gas models to meet the quota and avoid penalties, which will restrict supply and drive up the price for both new and used.

By prioritizing flexibility, innovation, and collaboration between government, industry, and stakeholders, Canada and British Columbia can navigate the transition towards a cleaner, greener, and more sustainable transportation future.


Blair Qualey is President and CEO of the New Car Dealers Association of BC. You can email him at [email protected].