As industry and government take on their electrification goals, electric vehicle owners are a key strategic resource often overlooked
When Canada’s national iZEV electric vehicle purchase rebate program was unveiled this spring, its structure excluded several key players — and vehicle models — in the EV industry.
By the time the program took effect on May 1, however, the qualification requirements had been adjusted to extend eligibility to more models and manufacturers, including Tesla.
Transport Canada heard from many stakeholders when the original plan was introduced, but input from one source was especially influential: EV owners groups.
“A lot of [owners] were very upset that Tesla did not qualify [initially],” says Ron Burton, president of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association. “If it wasn’t for Tesla, none of the other [companies] would have electric cars.
“It was the [EV owner groups] leaders’ association that crafted the letter to the Minister and said, ‘Hey, you kind of missed on this one.’”
Unique source of expertise
As municipal stakeholders, policy makers, manufacturers and other industry players move forward on electrified mobility in Canada, examples of their interaction with EV owners groups are becoming more widespread.
What they’re recognizing is that these groups — which exist at provincial, regional and city levels — can be an important and unique source of knowledge and expertise on products, infrastructure and regulation.
Frédérica Dupuis, senior advisor on media relations for Transport Canada, confirms that the department has sought feedback on the iZEV program from EV advocates.
“Over the last two years, Transport Canada engaged extensively with a wide array of zero-emission vehicle experts and advocates from across Canada to inform its policy-making,” says Dupuis. “Moving forward, the department will continue to engage with key stakeholders and may adapt the incentive Zero-Emission Vehicle program in response to feedback.”
Room for growth
Still, there continues to be room for growth. For example, while it’s clear that the EV-owner and driver experience is markedly different from that of an internal combustion engine vehicle, few Canadian manufacturer head offices contacted by Electric Autonomy Canada report seeking their input.
Mitsubishi Motors Canada public relations manager Michelle Lee-Gracey says the company does not communicate with owner groups about its Outlander PHEV SUV, while Ester Bucci, senior manager of product communications for General Motors of Canada, declined to provide details on how consumer input drives product development on the Bolt EV.
Nissan Canada, then, is an exception. Jennifer McCarthy, manager of product communications, says customer feedback is sought globally and considered for the Leaf and Leaf Plus.
“We chose an analog speedometer to enhance and convey the sense of acceleration,” McCarthy says, in reference to the second-generation Leaf launched for the 2018 model year. “On the previous version, we received feedback that the sense of speed was missing because of the lack of engine sound.
“Another example is the location and design of the charge port. On the previous-generation Leaf, customers told us the angle was not ergonomically ideal. The engineers placed the port in a more upright position on the current generation, and this is a direct result of customer feedback.”
Tesla known for outreach
Ron Groves, an EV owner with eight years of direct involvement in the industry and the manager for education and outreach at Plug’n Drive, says that he is not aware of any other outreach taking place among EV manufacturers toward owners apart from Tesla.
“There have literally been cases where [Tesla] owners have tweeted, ‘Hey Elon, I really wish my car could do this,’” Groves says. “He tweets back that day saying, ‘No worries, I’m going to have that for you next week.’ And he does.
“Nobody, at least in Canada, has phoned me up and said, ‘Is there anything you’d like us to change?’ Of all the owners of EVs that I’ve talked to over the last eight years, and that’s got to be thousands, I don’t ever recall one of them, other than Tesla owners, to say that the manufacturer asked them that question.”
From the perspective of charging station manufacturer AddÉnergie, of which charging network Flo is a subsidiary, spokesperson Caroline Martel says that her company seeks regular input from EV associations on everything from charging station features to the placement of infrastructure deployment. As AddÉnergie is based in Quebec, the Association des Véhicules Électriques du Québec and its highly active membership are a key resource.
Input on policy
“The perspective of EV owners and enthusiast groups, whose members are some of the most dedicated users, is important to us,” Martel says. “Even on some submissions to potential government policies, we keep in touch with them to get their input.”
Historically, EV associations have had the most power to effect change at a municipal level as regional groups. Burton says that his Vancouver group has successfully lobbied several municipalities in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland area to mandate the integration of hard wiring for EV charging infrastructure into new condominium builds.
“In Vancouver now, in any new buildings going up, 100 per cent of the parking stalls have to have the rough wiring for charging,” he says. “The city of Richmond is going for it, and Sidney on Vancouver Island. My little town here, Port Moody, is passing by-laws. That really paves the way.”
Wilf Steimle, president of the Electric Vehicle Society based in Ontario, says that the enthusiasm of EV owners can make them key advocates and liaisons in communicating with regional governments.
“That might involve presentations to council,” Steimle says. “It might involve arranging ride-and-drive events for staff and counselors and talking to them about how electrifying their fleets can save money and benefit the municipality.
“Owners’ groups are very active across the country in that sort of lobbying and outreach.”
EV associations are also able to play a bridging role regionally to connect small businesses and help them work together to take advantage of larger-scale government incentives.
“If you have a business and you’d like to have two charging stations but Natural Resources Canada has a minimum of 10 charging stations for an application, the EV associations can act as the aggregator and can get several of these businesses together to make one application,” says Jérémie Bernardin, president of the Electric Vehicle Association of Atlantic Canada.
Bernardin also says that Natural Resources Canada has been in touch with his association to seek input for its plans in Atlantic Canada under the electric vehicle and alternative fuel infrastructure deployment initiative.
“They do collect our feedback, and we do feel that we’re heard,” he says.
More recently, the heads of provincial and regional EV groups have begun to organize under a national association called the Canadian EV Leaders Council, which meets monthly to communicate about and coordinate their efforts.
Bernardin says that the insight that EV owner groups can provide shouldn’t be underestimated. “EV associations have a collective knowledge that’s tremendous. It gives us an interesting perspective.”
It’s also a given that as sales of electric vehicles increase, so will the number of owners and their potential to influence government and industry.
Says Bernardin: “I think EV associations have a really big part to play, and they should have a seat at the table for these discussions.”