Electric vehicles, until recently, have been a futuristic fantasy – a technology that was not accessible to the average person.
However, as the cost of purchasing an electric vehicle (EV) decreases and the network of charging stations increases, they are becoming more of a viable option for those looking to buy their next automobile.
A recent analysis completed by Clean Energy Canada, a clean energy and climate program at Simon Fraser University, found that the total lifetime costs for almost all of the EV models researched were cheaper than their gas model equivalents.
For example, one set of vehicles compared in this study was the electric 2022 Chevrolet Bolt and the gas-powered 2022 Toyota Corolla Hatchback. In comparing these vehicles, the researchers found that although the 2022 Chevrolet Bolt retails for $38,198, it has a total ownership cost of $45,509. On the other hand, the gas equivalent 2022 Toyota Corolla Hatchback has a lower retail price of $21,450, but the total ownership cost with fuel, maintenance, repairs, and other costs is higher than the electric version at $67,380.
In terms of range, or how far each vehicle can drive on a full fuel tank or battery, the two are fairly similar. The 2022 Toyota Corolla Hatchback can go about 481 km, and the 2022 Chevrolet Bolt with a standard 40kWh battery has a range of 417 km.
When discussing EVs, range is one of the most common concerns that people have, but many electric vehicle owners say that this is not as big of a concern as it is made out to be.
“The idea of range anxiety that gets talked about a lot; it quickly goes away as an EV owner. It’s one of those things that you fear going into it and then you kind of get used to the vehicle you have and it’s no longer a thing you concern yourself with,” said Andrew Batiuk, director at the Electric Vehicle Association of Alberta (EVAA). He has been driving electric vehicles since 2014, and currently drives a Tesla Model 3.
“[Range] can vary depending on the model, but is anywhere from about 350 kilometres to upwards of 650 kilometres for a full charge. [It’s] equivalent to a tank of gas kind of idea,” he said.
For some EV models though, the range is still lower. For example, the 2022 Nissan Leaf has a 240 km range, which could prove inconvenient for longer trips.
That being said, one aspect of EVs that may prove to be a disadvantage is that range decreases in cold temperatures.
“The coldest extreme weather can reduce an EVs range by as much as half,” says SaskPower’s website. SaskPower is Saskatchewan’s power corporation.
Although the range can decrease with cold temperatures, this is becoming less of a concern as newer models have larger battery capacities and driving ranges than previous versions did. On top of this, although range can be impacted by cold temperatures, electric vehicles may prove to be advantageous compared to gas models in Alberta’s cold winter months.
For example, EVs take far less time to heat up than gas vehicles do and they do not contain engine oil or other fluids that can become too thick when cold.
“You typically get instant, or near instant, heat. The heat of most EVs is effectively like a hairdryer. If you think of a hairdryer, you’re pressing a button and hot air is coming out right away,” said Batiuk.
“Plus, when it’s minus whatever out … either yourself or people you know are almost guaranteed to have run into times where their car won’t start. It’s just too cold and won’t turn on, whatever the reason is, and [you’re] left stranded for that moment,” he said. “That doesn’t happen with EVs.”
Along with these advantages in cold temperatures, as gas prices continue to rise and EVs become more widespread, they will become an increasingly cheaper option for vehicle owners compared to gas vehicles, especially considering the minimal maintenance required to upkeep an EV.
For example, gas vehicles have more moving parts and thus require more maintenance, such as regular oil changes. This is an expense that electric vehicles do not have.
“There is almost nothing that needs maintenance on an electric vehicle aside from windshield fluid, windshield wipers, and tires, which are obviously equivalent to gas cars,” said Batiuk. “The brakes typically are looking to last the lifetime of the EV, or at least through the first ownership period, because the brakes are hardly used. Regenerative braking is the term and the motor is actually doing the slowing of the vehicle.”
Another advantage of EVs is not having to spend time at the gas station. Instead, EVs can be charged in outlets, including regular 120-volt household outlets that are called level 1 charging stations. This is the slowest charging option though, “adding about 5-8km/hr,” says the EVAA’s website.
There are also level 2 and level 3 charging stations, which have increasingly higher voltages and therefore charge faster. Level 2 stations are the most commonly available charging stations for EV vehicles.
“[Level 2] chargers use 240V to quickly charge an EV. These can range from dryer plugs easily added in a garage to J1772 EV charging stations,” says the EVAA’s website.
Another common concern about driving EVs is road trips, having to find charging stations on the planned route, and having to spend valuable time charging the vehicle. With larger battery capacities, faster outlets, and more charging stations becoming available, the time it takes to charge an EV is decreasing.
Databases such as user-sourced Plugshare and ChargeHub provide maps of charging stations in North America, with information about over 140,000 charging stations in Canada and the USA.
However, even with charging stations becoming more widespread and accessible, there are still many routes that do not have adequate charging opportunities.
“I think for the general 80% population there needs to be better solutions for most people to buy any [electric] vehicle,” said Alex MacKinnon, who owns two electric vehicles. “I think Tesla, the reason they have so much success aside from their supercharger network is honestly the route planning.”
Tesla’s route planning feature allows drivers to input their route and see where charging stations are along the way.
MacKinnon and his wife purchased their first EV, a Chevrolet Spark, in 2015. They were originally just looking for a second car for their family. Since then, they have purchased another EV, a Tesla Model S.
They have found that one benefit of owning EVs is not having to worry about gas prices or when you are going to fuel up next.
“The convenience of charging at home, it just buys my wife and I additional time to spend at home or just spend doing what we want to rather than taking a detour on a route to stop at a gas station,” said MacKinnon.
During road trips, he says that charging has not really been an issue.
“You just need to consider the route you’re going to take and the steps needed, but it’s been fine. Especially with young kids, I feel like you need to stop anyway,” he said.
With charging infrastructure becoming more widespread and initial purchasing costs becoming lower, EVs are becoming more mainstream and more of a viable option for the average vehicle buyer.
“I think a lot of people, when I hear conversations, they’re always talking about the really small percentage items, like ‘Hey, how do we replace a tow truck with an electric vehicle? How do we replace a cement mixer? … And we sometimes get hung up on those,’” MacKinnon said.
Instead, he said, “think about the number of Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics that are on the road today. Let’s just solve the easy stuff first, right?”