car dealership used electric car
Trina Chapman, the wife of the author of this article, following the couple’s successful purchase of a Hyundai Kona EV

Alex Chapman, executive director of Our Energy Guelph, experienced firsthand the lack of availability of new EVs and, by crossing provincial borders, overcame a salesperson’s “bait-and-switch tactic” to go gas instead  

This story is a small one, insignificant compared to a worldwide emergency, a candle compared to the noonday sun. This is not a story of woe; my family has been lucky, virtually untouched by the pandemic. It is, rather, a vignette of how everyday life — the act of buying a car; in this case, our first electric vehicle — has been changed by COVID-19.

My job is to fight climate change — specifically, to make the city of Guelph, Ont., net zero carbon by 2050 if not sooner. I keenly feel the need to set an example. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world,” Mahatma Gandhi urged. When I moved from a countryside hamlet into the city five years ago, one reason was to heed Gandhi’s plea. Soon after, we were a two-car family no more. I’d traded in my Mazda 3 for a bike, and given up dodging impatient country road drivers for weaving around geese (and their droppings) on the bike path in Riverside Park.

Not enough.

Every time I fired up the engine, I winced.
Every time I filled the tank, I grieved.

Alex Chapman

Part of the problem

Every time I looked at our remaining vehicle, an aging Toyota Sienna minivan, I cringed. Every time I fired up the engine (which was seldom, since my wife, Trina, is the driver of our household now), I winced. Every time I filled the tank, I grieved. I was still part of the problem.

However, it’s a tough call to cut and run. We came close last year, after test driving a Nissan Leaf at the Plug ‘n’ Drive Electric Vehicle (EV) Discovery Centre in Toronto. We learned that you could get a $1,000 incentive for buying a used EV — a more realistic proposition than a new Leaf, and much more realistic than a Tesla Model Y (my wife’s dream car). However, we loved the look of the new model year Leaf and hated the old. It would be quite a while before any of the former appeared in Auto Trader, so we would wait.

Fate intervened.

Alex Chapman Guelph
The author of this article, Alex Chapman

In March, our van was written off in a minor parking lot mishap. We found ourselves plunged into the car market just as a plague descended to Earth.

To keep us mobile while we shopped for a replacement, our insurer provided a rental car. It was a Hyundai Kona, a cute crossover and a relatively new kid on the automotive block. My wife loved it. She spoke idly of getting one instead of another minivan — most of our brood had left the nest, after all — but when she learned there was an electric version, the talk went from idle to high gear. 

She read reviews praising the Kona EV as a crowning engineering achievement and naming it “Leaf Killer,” and she was sold. She started shopping, vowing to score a sweet deal and hop right out of the rented gasmobile Kona into our very own battery electric one. We saw an ad posted by a dealership in Burlington, less than an hour away. It was exactly what we wanted, so we booked a test drive, and made the trip.

First drive a delight

The test drive was a dream. I decided to check out the acceleration as we headed down a highway on-ramp, and it was peppy enough that my wife squawked my name in alarm. Changing lanes was a delight. The car felt glued to the road, since the batteries — the majority of the vehicle’s weight — are distributed along the underside, making it very bottom heavy. The minimal sound it made was straight out of Star Trek. While stopped at a traffic light, we were acutely aware of the engine rumble from a car beside us — not Cousin Cleetus in his rusty jalopy, but the late model Lexus SUV that seems to be standard issue in affluent Burlington. Most of the test drive was reserved for my wife. She loved it, especially the one-pedal driving that you can do when you amp up the regenerative braking. We were ready to sign a deal on the spot.

Not so fast.

“By seeing the ad [for an EV] and thinking the dealer actually had one available to purchase, we were being hopelessly naive.”

Alex Chapman

Year-long waiting list

Shopping for an EV is not like shopping for an internal combustion engine vehicle, we soon learned. Apparently, by seeing the ad and thinking the dealer actually had one available to purchase, we were being hopelessly naive. The salesman, standing several COVID-respectful paces across the showroom, explained that the waiting list was over a year long. He’d be pleased to take our order of course, but wouldn’t we much prefer to have the gas version and drive it off the lot then and there?

It was the classic bait-and-switch tactic. Tease the customer with pictures of the car they want, entice them into the showroom and offer a test drive. Then, when they decide to buy, act surprised and explain that, of course, the one they just drove is already sold. Oh, good heavens no, the waiting list for their dream car is two human gestation cycles long. But wait, great news, we have one that’s almost the same, right here on the lot! It runs on gasoline, but everything else is identical. And you’re in luck, we have a special zero-percent financing if you sign today!

Fortunately, we had a line on another Kona EV — an honest-to-goodness, lightly used, on the lot, ready to be bought, non-phantasmal Kona EV. It was the exact trim and colour we wanted. The only hitch: the dealer was in Edmonton and the car would have to be shipped.

Kicking tires, remotely

The Edmonton dealership experience was Burlington’s polar opposite. Their sales agent made a complete walk-around-walk-through video and posted it on YouTube. They gave us the complete run-down on the prior owners, who decided they just weren’t ready for an EV after putting barely enough mileage on the vehicle to go to Calgary and back. The dealer organized the shipping. The document signing was a headache — clearly, and understandably, they were far more used to doing that in person — but before too long it was all settled.

The shipping took far longer than we expected, owing to pandemic-caused delays. More than a month later, we worked through the bureaucratic headaches of registering an out-of-province vehicle, and proudly took ownership of our new Kona — which Trina promptly christened “Karma.” I keep expecting the honeymoon to come to an end, but it hasn’t yet; every time she drives it, she comes back with another delight-filled story of some extra feature that shows how much care the designers had put into it.

We’re not out of the pandemic woods yet. But at least we’ve graduated from the fossil-fuelled driving era, and that’s cause for celebration.

Alex Chapman

Alex Chapman is the Executive Director of Our Energy Guelph, a not-for-profit enterprise created in 2019 to guide the city of Guelph toward its goal of becoming a net zero carbon community by 2050.

  1. Alex
    You will like the car. I have one since April 2019. Best car I ever had.
    Regards from a country far away – from Switzerland

  2. Interesting story and so sad about the sales tactic. They just don’t get it. You wanted a car of the future not the past. You wanted to help the climate not continue to make it worse. Working on commission must be terrible for them.

    I have had a 2020 Soul EV (very similar drive train etc) for 11 months and still smile when I drive it. I have been keeping a lot of stats re. charging and efficiency and my cost per km has been between 1c and 3c, and some days for fun I use max regeneration so my brake pads should last a very long time. I drove a gas car the other day and it felt like watching TV on a cathode ray tube, if you get my drift. It truly felt odd and SO old fashioned.

    Enjoy your new car Alex and good luck with your mission.

  3. Thanks for sharing your story Alex [& Trina!] I too just made the shift from ICE to EV. I too had heard good things about the Kona & her cousin the Kia Niro but also the long wait times. I too took the course at Plug N Drive which i found extremely helpful and rented a Chevy Bolt for 5 days in the cold days of January 2020. Despite some of the lack lustre press, I found the Bolt Peppy, Practical, comfortable and roomy. Traveling back and forth from Norfolk Co. to Toronto with Kvh to spare my range anxiety was waylaid I scored a great deal on a 2019 Bolt Premier yesterday @ finch chevrolet in London. Morgan Crosbie was very knowledgeable about EV’s and was a great help making the experience painless 7 pleasant even in these Covid Pandemic days.

  4. Alex – do you see the City of Guelph doing anything to foster EV adoption?

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