Geography and Limited Charging Infrastructure Make Model S the EV to Own in Canada

By · December 19, 2013

Tesla Canada

The Model S has shot to the front of the Canadian EV market since its release there in 2012. (Photo: Tesla Motors)

The Tesla Model S appeared to take Canada by storm. According to research firm IHS, the Model S captured 20 percent of the EV market in Canada in 2012, the year of its release. In the first three quarters of 2013, that surged to a 43-percent market share. Is that due to an enthusiasm for electric vehicles, a love of Tesla, or just a lack of alternatives?

“I think they are buying Tesla because it is a show-off car,” Chris Hill, the former president of Electric Mobility Canada, told PluginCars.com. Hill, now a consultant specializing in electric vehicles, called the Model S “the must-have gadget for people who want to show off.”

That does back up what IHS analyst Ben Garden wrote in his somewhat breathless blog about the seemingly amazing market share gain of the Model S in Canada. Garden wrote: “Tesla did not necessarily conquest customers from other electric vehicle OEMs, but instead, brought new customers from outside the electric vehicle market to grow the current EV customer base.”

Canada’s EV market is not very big, and not very broad. With just over 2,000 cars sold in the first nine months of 2013, it isn’t exactly a hot market for plug-in electric vehicles. That may be due to the dearth of choices. Garden notes that the other EVs available in Canada include the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Smart Fortwo, Ford Focus EV, Toyota RAV4 EV and the Chevrolet Spark EV. But the availability of those models varies widely. For example, though a couple may have been sold there, the RAV4 EV is not officially available in Canada, only in California, said Jana Hartline, a spokesperson for Toyota.

And the Chevrolet Spark EV is available in Canada only to fleets, according to Chevrolet spokesman Randy Fox. “The Spark EV is a fleet vehicle only in Canada and is eligible for EV incentives in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. It is available for retail in the states of California and Oregon only,” he told PluginCars.

A Challenging Environment for Small-Battery EVs

British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario account for 75 percent of Canada’s population and the overwhelming majority of its PEV sales. They are also the only three provinces with incentives to buy electric vehicles, said Hill. Don’t look for the market in other provinces to expand in coming years, either. IHS forecasts the three provinces will account for 97 percent of Canada’s 230,479-unit plug-in electric vehicle market in 2022.

Canada lacks a nationwide charging infrastructure, which could limit sales to those three provinces. On the other hand, the spotty infrastructure may also have helped boost Model S sales, said Norman Hajjar, managing director of PlugInsights, a sister company to PluginCars.com. “Because of the Canadian wide open spaces and iffy charging infrastructure, the Tesla range makes it a good choice for those who can afford it,” he said.

To be sure, the charging infrastructure in those three provinces is “coming along,” said Hill. But, “it needs to be better to get EV skeptics on board,” he said. British Columbia has around 500 charging stations, Quebec around 300, and Ontario around 200. There are projects underway in all three provinces to expand charging infrastructure, said Hill.

The lack of a charging infrastructure has also limited sales of less expensive plug-in EVs, Hajjar noted. The population of potential LEAF buyers likely does not overlap potential Tesla buyers. And the relatively short range of a LEAF may have convinced buyers it wasn’t right for them, he said.

The real test of Tesla’s appeal in Canada will occur when it has a worthy challenger, said Hill. “The next game changer here in Canada will probably be the BMW i3 which costs $25,000 less and is performance oriented,” he said. It will be available “in all markets” in Canada in the first half of 2014, BMW Canada spokesman Kyle Denton told PluginCars.com

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