Why the electric car market is set to explode



The amazing new “Chevy Bolt” is not going to make much of a dent in the disappointing numbers in the U.S. for new-car sales in 2018 so far. General Motors — the nation’s biggest automaker — and other big names are offering innovative new electric vehicles in markets and regions where the thirst for consumer power is so high that the cars can be pretty profitable.

Chevy is already a technology leader in electric vehicles, with models built on the Bolt’s platform. But the stylish hatchback adds the handsome allure and finish to make it a nice addition to one of our electricity-owning friends’ shiny new neighborhood garages. Indeed, according to Ford, half of its California electric-vehicle sales were the recently added Focus Electric. Tesla’s customer base is such that any mass-market car comes as a little bit of a shock. And the introduction of the “Chevy Bolt” gives GM more potential customers to sell to.

From a policy standpoint, Ontario’s imprimatur is making a big difference. While other provinces and states in North America struggle to catch up with on the “cheap electricity” policies that promoted electric cars, Ontario is already shipping Toyota Prius hybrids and other advanced models out of the province on a weekly basis. Those same regions that are racing against each other to bring on more electric car models — from cities like Seattle, New York, and San Francisco to the countryside — are also doing things differently, like switching from one clean energy source to another at the utilities, something that most electric car makers might go against in today’s climate.

Ontario’s provincial government has championed a much more aggressive set of program benefits for electricity used to build and power electric cars and quickly creating a market for the technology. When the province requires that 50 percent of electric-vehicle sales in Ontario come from one or more of Ontario’s residents, which led to the first competitive sales program, that greatly reduced the overall upfront costs of the vehicle, in addition to helping drivers.

Enabling electric-vehicle customers to spend less for those vehicles significantly increases the number of users. And Ontario’s 15 percent tax on gasoline, with tax credits for residents who buy electric-vehicle, is also an ingenious solution to get more sales. While the majority of electric-vehicle car sales are in urban areas, more of those sales could occur in rural and regional areas with wider distribution of electricity, due to that energy source. Ontario’s action has also led to a greater need for household customers to trade in their gas-guzzling cars for electric vehicles. That very fact of moving toward cleaner energy — including wind, solar, and hydroelectric power — are factors in getting consumers to buy electric vehicles.

It is certain that Ontario can do even more to foster electric vehicles. As the birthplace of the controversial gas-tax increases that caused a plunge in demand for automobiles in 2008, it may be easy to refocus those sales just on electricity vehicles and subsidies for the nascent renewable energy sector. That seems fine to most. But Ontario’s strategy actually goes far beyond that: The province’s energy strategy aims to transition the entire electric grid into more clean energy over time. And a warm embrace of electric cars and a robust policy development should be done on the transportation side, too.

One needs look no further than electric-vehicle dealer sales in Michigan to see how quickly attitudes can change in favor of electric cars and away from traditional gasoline or diesel vehicles. How soon is too soon? Only time will tell. But a more and more successful electric-vehicle program in Ontario is an answer to both consumers and manufacturers.

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