Is the electric car right for you? Everything you should know before switching gears

As we progress towards a future of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles, drivers are still divided on the merits of this evolving technology
Rick Spence
Electric car right for you

Electric car right for you

In partnership with Surex

Fuelled by the renewable power of northern rivers or wind farms, emissions-free electric cars come with the promise of reducing your carbon footprint. Electric vehicles make a statement about living sustainably, though the production and recycling of batteries remains an environmental concern as manufacturing increases.

But buying an electric vehicle (EV) involves a lot more than going green. These cars represent a new technology platform that will change the way you drive, how you plan road trips, how you calculate the costs of ownership, and even lifestyle factors like daily commuting. The pros and cons are ultimately determined by lifestyle decisions, like whether you live in an urban neighbourhood or rural countryside, and how far you regularly commute for work. Here’s what to consider if you’re debating if the electric car is right for you.

The sticker shock

Yes, electric vehicles cost more than their internal-combustion counterparts. For example, Volkswagen Canada charges a base price of $37,895 for its eGolf sedan, and just $23,970 for a comparable gas-powered Golf. You’ll find offsetting advantages in fuelling and maintenance costs, but your immediate outlay will require due consideration (and a solid credit rating).

A key reason for the high sticker price is the new technology. The EV’s secret weapon is the lithium-ion battery that holds a charge of between 35 and 50 kilowatt hours, and incorporates many rare metals. Carmakers have spent billions designing new car models and parts for the EV era, and with initial sales of EVs just a fraction of the sales of traditional combustion-powered cars, automakers need high retail prices to earn back their investments. As the market matures, however, “prices are definitely coming down,” says University of Toronto marketing professor David Soberman. “That will make EVs much more attractive.”

Justifying the high purchase price

Still, there are many factors that offset the price of today’s electric cars. Since the transportation sector is the second-highest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, the federal government (along with Quebec and British Columbia) offers purchase incentives for zero-emission vehicles. Ottawa, for instance, provides a point-of-sale contribution of up to $5,000 for qualifying purchases of zero-emission vehicles, while plug-in hybrid vehicles earn a $2,500 incentive.

Ongoing savings will also offset the high purchase costs. Charging an electric vehicle at home is estimated to cost one-fourth of the cost of a gasoline fill-up. And with fewer parts to maintain (no transmission! no spark plugs!), operating costs should be significantly lower – although John Pliniussen, a professor of digital marketing and innovation at Queen’s University, notes this category is so new there are no reliable maintenance statistics.

Pliniussen also points out that EVs don’t depend on controlled explosions of liquid fuel, so your insurance costs could also dip. However, insurance rates rise with vehicle cost, so your savings may not always be apparent.

Range anxiety

This is the newest buzzword for the uncertainty EV drivers face: Will my car have enough charge to reach my destination? But those anxieties are slowly fading. Most entry-level electric vehicles now get a little under 200 kilometers on a single charge, and typical extended-range vehicles can reach between 400 and 500 kilometers. Most Canadians don’t drive more than 50 kilometers a day.

Still, EV drivers report that manufacturers’ range claims are best-case scenarios. Real-world results will be affected by how fast you drive, hilly terrain, and even the weather. (Pro tip: On hot and cold days, activate your temperature-control systems at home while your car is still plugged in, so you’re using house current and not precious battery supply.)

How does charging work?

How, where and when to charge your battery can be confusing. You can recharge your EV at home using house current, but you’ll only get about 8 km of range per charging hour. For faster recharges (30 kilometers per charging hour), install a Level II charging kit (about $1,500) that taps the 240-volt current used by your dryer. As more charging stations pop up in parking lots and workplaces across the country, some people can even charge their cars while they’re at work or shopping.

If you’re planning a longer trip, most Canadian communities of decent size now have charging stations. But plan routes in advance using an app like PlugShare to ensure their charger is compatible with your vehicle. Build extra time into your schedule in case there’s a lineup.

The driving experience

Finally, here’s the fun part. The very nature of EVs, which provide instant power and no gears to shift, gives you juice to spare for fast starts and long straightaways. Plus, with no engine roar, you can talk or listen to music at normal volumes. As one Tesla 3 owner noted on an online forum, “If you’re not having fun in this car, you’re doing it wrong.”