When a friend spoke to Seymore Applebaum about the efficiency of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, he was intrigued.
Applebaum, who lives north of Toronto, was looking for a new car. While safety features were at the forefront, the high cost of gasoline couldn’t be ignored.
So, in January, he swapped his sedan for an all-new plug-in hybrid (PHEV), a vehicle that can run on both electricity and gasoline. Applebaum says it can travel nearly 50 kilometers on battery power alone, which is more than enough to get around town.
On a recent trip downtown, he recalls, “I drove about 45 kilometers…and the only thing I used was the electric motor and the electric battery that runs the car. »
“Normally, on a day like this, [it] would be comparable to a $10, $15 driving fee. »
Auto industry analysts say rising gas prices are driving more consumers to turn to electrified and electric vehicles (EVs).
Prices at the pump have climbed across Canada in recent weeks. Estimates suggest Vancouver could see the highest prices in the country this weekend, potentially reaching $2.34 per liter for regular fuel. According to fuel price tracker GasBuddy, the national average Sunday afternoon was just under $1.98 a liter.
“Canadians are driven by high fuel prices, but they really believe this is the new normal,” said Peter Hatges, National Automotive Leader for KPMG in Canada, pointing to a recent poll by the advisory group.
“When consumers believe it or perceive it to be true, they will change their behavior regarding the type of vehicles they buy. »
Kevin Roberts, director of industry insights and analytics for the U.S. online vehicle market CarGurus, said Cross Country Record he saw a similar trend.
“As gasoline prices have risen, interest in electric vehicles has increased at nearly the same rate with only a few days lag for new and used vehicles,” he said.
But even as interest in electrified cars grows, experts say too few options – and too high prices – mean they haven’t quite reached the mainstream.
While North American consumers prefer larger vehicles like SUVs and pickup trucks known for their utility, electric vehicles tend to come in compact or sedan-like models. Electric vehicle range — and charger availability — are also considerations for many Canadians, Hatges said.
The big investments in electrification by the big car manufacturers, however, are beginning to bear fruit.
A wider variety of models and sizes will hit the market in the coming years, analysts say. Battery life is also improving, with several models able to travel over 400 kilometers on a charge, according to manufacturer estimates.
“It’s absolutely a tipping point,” Hatges said. “I think there’s a confluence of factors that point to an alternative to the internal combustion engine. »
The big test for consumers will be whether manufacturers can cut prices enough to lure customers into the showroom – and electric vehicles on the road – said Grieg Mordue, associate professor and ArcelorMittal Chair in Advanced Manufacturing Policy at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
While a handful of models start below $50,000, many are well north of that figure, with some selling for over $100,000.
The sweet spot for Canadian buyers? Between $35,000 and $45,000, says Mordue. The key to hitting that price is mass production, he added.
“We need North American production of vehicles at that level, and we need high-volume vehicles — not small, niche vehicles where they sell 10,000 or 15,000 a year — because it’s is a lot of vehicles we have now, Tesla notwithstanding,” Mordue said. Verification.
In April, GM announced a $2 billion investment, with support from the Ontario and federal governmentswhich will see electric vehicles rolling off the assembly lines in Oshawa and Ingersoll, Ontario, starting this year.
Stellantis, which owns brands such as Dodge and Jeep, is also invest billions in electrification at its plants in Windsor and Brampton, Ontario.
Mordue warns, however, that when factories start producing electric models, it will take time for them to reach current production of gas-powered vehicles.
Focus on energy efficiency
Although interest in electric vehicles may increase, Hatges also foresees a change for gasoline-powered vehicles.
“I think you’ll see an effort to make cars lighter, more fuel efficient, even when it comes to electricity,” he said. “Heavy-duty vehicles use more energy to propel themselves on the road, whether it’s electricity or fuel. »
And as long as gas prices remain high, the market could see a shift from SUVs and trucks — which consumers and manufacturers have favored in recent years — to gas-powered models.
“We have a fascination with pickup trucks and SUVs, North Americans have that, and there are a lot of them on the road now…I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” he said.
“But in the medium term or immediately, will you see a change or a re-examination of cars that are more fuel efficient? I think so. The price at the pump is very, very important. »
Applebaum touted the flexibility of a plug-in hybrid, saying he didn’t care about range at all. And although his PHEV costs more than a comparable non-electrified model, the trade-in for his previous vehicle combined with the fuel savings over three to four years made it affordable, he said.
With gasoline prices now higher than they were in January, “that’s even truer,” he said. Verification.
Now he says friends notice him.
“They say the next car they buy will be an electric car. »
Written by Jason Vermes with files from Abby Plener.