It still isn’t easy for most Canadians to buy or test drive an electric car even though there are more electric vehicles available, according to the latest Transport Canada survey of car dealerships
In a survey for Transport Canada, Montreal’s Dunsky Energy and Climate Advisors contacted almost 80 per cent of dealerships across Canada and found an increase in the number of electric vehicles available, but that over half of dealerships still have no inventory.
This is the fifth year Transport Canada commissioned Dunsky to survey Canada’s car dealerships. The 2021 report — first released to Transport Canada in March — shows that even as EV availability is improving in some areas, equitable access to the technology continues to be a barrier for adoption.
“You have a chicken and egg situation,” says Jeff Turner, Dunsky senior research lead and head of mobility practice. “I think the big picture results that we saw here is that there’s there is significant improvement in availability of EVs compared to the previous year — a significant increase in terms of absolute numbers. But, at the same time, it’s pretty clear that a lack of availability is still a really important barrier to adoption in many parts of the country.”
The annual study, Zero Emission Vehicle Availability Estimating Inventories in Canada: 2020/2021, polled 3,182 car dealerships across Canada (roughly 78 per cent of all dealerships) across 10 provinces. The survey did not track EV availability in the Territories.
While overall the study finds encouraging growth in some areas, the report concludes half of national dealerships (80 per cent, outside of Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec) had no or extremely low ZEV inventory in 2021.
“If eight out of ten dealerships across Canada don’t have any EVs available at all…that’s hard to ignore,” says Turner
Of the dealerships canvased, roughly 1,500 reported having no EV inventory at all in 2021 and 31 per cent said the wait time for EVs would be over six months, compared to only 10 per cent reporting a six month-plus wait time in 2020.
The report demonstrates the uneven distribution of EV inventory between provinces and, on a micro-level, points to potentially significant differences in EV availability city-to-city.
Outside of Quebec, BC and Ontario, only 18 per cent of dealerships had any ZEVs available at all.
“If the chances are that you go into any dealership in Canada and you’re more likely to find a dealership without any EVs at all that, to me, suggests an impact on the potential for sales of EVs across the country,” explains Turner.
“If early adopters are having a hard time doing this, then what about those people who are just passively interested? There’s still a large portion of the population that decides ‘okay, we need a car. Let’s go down to a dealership and see what they’ve got on the lawn and try to drive something home.’ So we know that the amount of vehicles that are readily available is an important piece of the puzzle.”
This inconsistency in access also means less product choice for many Canadian consumers. For example, reads the report, a buyer in Ontario in 2021 could choose between 36 models, while a buyer in Newfoundland and Labrador only had access to seven models.
Solutions for 2022 and beyond
There is no silver bullet to solving Canada’s EV supply/demand problems, but the report nods to a few effective steps to be taken.
First, says the report, is the importance of specific original engine manufacturers (OEMs) such as Hyundai keeping all their dealerships well stocked with ZEV inventory and that what is required is “careful planning on the part of automakers and dealerships.”
And while the report does not recommend specific, policy-level solutions to ZEV inventory shortfalls, it nods to the role of effective federal and provincial incentives to support the emerging market.
“I think it’s pretty clear at this point that we’re going to have a ZEV mandate and I think that’s going to go a long way. A ZEV mandate can serve two purposes. One, and probably the most important to me, is kickstarting those early markets where you have that chicken and egg situation,” says Turner about his impressions of how the government is viewing the problem and potential solutions.
Regardless of which ZEV adoption strategies become actual policy — mandates, purchase incentives or otherwise — Turner says the data all points to the same conclusion: “governments and industry need to work pretty hard to make sure that folks who are just possibly interested in EVs can go down to their local dealership and test drive one or maybe take one home.”
EV availability in Canada snapshot
The 2021 edition of the Transport Canada report points to some key trends in the national EV marketplace:
- Between February 2020 and February 2021, inventory of EVs in every province increased, with the most absolute number increase seen in B.C., Quebec and Ontario;
- In February 2021 the same three provinces — B.C., Quebec and Ontario — were undersupplied for EVs if Tesla is excluded from vehicle count;
- In 2021 Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador dealerships are the least likely of all the provinces to have an EV in stock;
- In 2021, outside of Quebec, BC and Ontario, eight out of 10 dealerships had no EVs available, and only four per cent had five or more EVs; and
- Quebec leads in Canada with respect to EV inventory, but in Atlantic Canada — which saw all Atlantic provinces get a provincial ZEV purchase rebates in 2021 — saw inventory as much as quadruple.