Buying an electric vehicle is a way to improve one’s overall driving experience, while lowering your fuel bills and environmental impact. With more vehicle choices now available, choosing the right one for you and your family can seem like a daunting task – especially because EV ownership means asking questions you wouldn’t need to consider when buying a gas-powered car.
One of those questions is whether you go fully electric or opt for a plug-in hybrid. The basic difference between a battery electric vehicle (known as an EV or BEV) and a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), is that the first uses no gas whatsoever while the latter offers the ability to drive a certain distance using a battery charge (generally 30 to 70 kilometres) before reverting to gasoline use.
Both BEVs and PHEVs are generally considered EVs, but automakers have been confusing the waters by calling hybrids “electrified” vehicles. A regular hybrid vehicle does have a small traction battery that may be able to briefly move your car slowly – say through a slow-moving Tim Hortons lineup – but it’s really just a more efficient gas-powered vehicle thanks to brake regeneration capabilities.
Buying an electric vehicle is a little more adventurous. There is also a wide range of how far EVs can travel on a full charge, from about 200 kilometres to more commonly between 350 to 500 kilometres. Even more than 600 kilometres is possible with some pricier models.
But remember, this is Canada, and lower temperatures will affect battery range.
To help you along we’ve broken down some of the factors you need to consider when deciding on an EV, including where you live, your driving habits and how easy it will be for you to charge your car. Here are four scenarios that may apply to you.
SCENARIO ONE: You have a place to charge and own a second vehicle
This is perhaps the ideal scenario for EV ownership. You can use your EV to get around the city running errands, and then rely on your gas-powered – or plug-in hybrid – vehicle for longer trips. Having a garage or a driveway to park overnight is preferred, as you don’t have to wrangle with a condo board or apartment landlord to install an outlet to charge your vehicle.
This trickle charging is the least expensive EV powering option, often dubbed Level One charging. But if you opt to buy a long-range electric vehicle, a 12- or 24-hour period may not be enough to fully charge it, especially in the winter. Instead, many owners will install a 240-volt electrical service into their garage since some EVs come with a charge cord that can plug into a traditional oven or clothes dryer outlet. However, this means you won’t have a charge cord with you when you are on the road and face a charging emergency. Most owners instead opt to have a dedicated charging station at home.
Consider these vehicles: The Kia Soul EV or Nissan Leaf for shorter commutes or the Hyundai Kona EV, Tesla Model 3 or Volkswagen ID.4 if your commute is longer.
SCENARIO TWO: You live in a downtown apartment or condo and don’t have a spot to charge
Charging stations located at workplaces are growing, and the existence of regular power outlets – while not ideal – can also help. There are also some free, government-sponsored public charging stations available, but many of these are time limited. Some businesses offer Level 3 quick charging stations, but these are a pricier option.
There are some new EVs that include a certain number of years’ worth of free quick charging, which would make a lease for that same time period worth it (Volkswagen’s ID.4 is one example), and some used Tesla models include lifetime charging.
Some longer-range plug-in hybrids may also be the answer for you, including the range-extended BMW i3 or a used Chevrolet Volt. Short-range plug-in hybrids make the least sense since they require constant charging to maximize your return on investment.
SCENARIO THREE: You have a spot to charge, mostly drive close to home but do go on longer road trips
A plug-in hybrid is the no fuss option, acting basically like a gas-powered vehicle on longer drives once its battery charge is used up. However, long-range EVs are becoming a realistic option thanks to better battery range and an improving charging network. Tesla’s Supercharger network is the most extensive – and user friendly – in Canada right now, but others are improving.
Consider these vehicles: The Ford Escape PHEV, Toyota RAV4 Prime, Audi Q4 e-Tron, or Tesla’s Model 3, Model Y, Model X or Model S.
SCENARIO FOUR: You have a charging station, and you regularly drive long distances or for long periods of time
Depending on your priorities and overnight parking situation, a high mileage driver could be an ideal candidate for a long-range EV. Yes, the up-front cost for these models tends to be higher, but the potential fuel savings also add up quicker. You will need to make sure you know your driving routes and where you can access quick charging stations along the way (there are some websites that can help, like plugshare.com).
As for the upfront costs, the Canadian government offers a $5,000 rebate of these vehicles and currently five provinces also offer varying amounts. And, if you are looking to make some added money, Uber and Lyft provide incentives for drivers using plug-in vehicles.
Michael Bettencourt bought his first EV in late 2011 and has closely followed the Canadian EV scene ever since. He has covered the auto industry and its technologies since the late 1990s.