Tag Archives: Better Place

The incentives are there, the signals have been sent: Where are the Ontario manufacturers of plug-in vehicles and technologies?

UPDATE: The “comprehensive study” referred to below was, as suspected, never done. Here is a response from the Ministry of Transportation on the matter: “The study was not completed as originally intended. Subsequent to the press release that is being referred to, MTO conducted research and analysis to determine options the Ontario government could take to support consumer adoption of electric vehicles. This included identifying types of electric vehicles major OEMs were producing and when these vehicles were expected to enter the Ontario market. In addition, a broad scan was undertaken to determine what other jurisdictions are doing to support the introduction of electric vehicles. A cross ministerial working group on EVs was set up to identify the barriers and opportunities to the introduction of electric passenger vehicles in the province. Elements of this research will be released as a public education document to inform Ontarians about this newly emerging transportation technology. This document is expected to be available on the ministry’s Website in the very near future” — i.e. more than two years after the comprehensive study originally envisioned, this “newly emerging” technology isn’t as new as it once was.

On Thursday, January 15, 2009, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty walked in front of a podium at the Toronto Convention Centre and signaled to the world that the province was a good place to invest in electric-vehicle manufacturing and infrastructure. “One of the most important things we can do is demonstrate we are truly an electric-car friendly jurisdiction,” McGuinty said to a scrum of reporters, outnumbered only by the black-suited government bureaucrats and policy wonks trying to “manage” the importance of the event. What McGuinty announced was a partnership with Better Place, the California company led by Shai Agassi that’s trying to establish electric-vehicle charging and battery-swapping infrastructure around the world. There were no investments from either side. Rather, Better Place said it would establish an office in Toronto and serve to educate the public about electric vehicles while also demonstrating its charging technology (a commitment the company, to its credit, fulfilled with this March 2011 announcement).

“The province has committed to conducting a comprehensive study, which will look at ways to speed up the introduction and adoption of electric vehicles. This study is scheduled for release in May 2009,” according to a Better Place press release issued on the day. Personally, I don’t remember having ever seen that comprehensive study, nor do I know if it was ever done (am currently checking on this).

Better Place continued, “This announcement maintains the province’s traditional strength in automotive production while incorporating the forward thinking technology of battery operated vehicles. Embracing this technology in its early stages will provide the province with the stimulus needed for enhanced job creation and economic growth.” Indeed, the province’s own press release stated,”Expanding the use of electric vehicles by consumers and government will help create and sustain jobs in the auto sector and put Ontario at the forefront of the new, green economy in North America.”

McGuinty, at the press conference, specifically said: “It’s going to make it more attractive to build those very cars right here in our province.”

To strengthen the signal sent to the market — that is, the message that Ontario is serious about electric vehicles — McGuinty also announced the province would offer rebates of between $4,000 and $10,000 (among the highest rebates in the world) for plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles purchased after July 1, 2010. It would also issue green vehicle license plates that would allow drivers to use high occupancy lanes and gain access to public charging facilities and parking at Ontario government and GO Transit lots.

The vision was sound. But two and a half years later, what has all this signalling and messaging and “incentivizing” brought to the province? Not a heck of a lot. Not only is there not a single original equipment manufacturer in the auto sector making (or planning to make) a plug-in vehicle in this province, Ontario car buyers have to wait a year or more before they can purchase plug-in vehicle models that are available in the United States, and they have to pay several thousands of dollars more at a time when the Canadian dollars is worth more than the U.S. greenback. There’s no manufacturing of electric-vehicle charging systems and related infrastructure being established within our borders. There’s no indication that homegrown Magna, which is making and supplying the electric drivetrain for Ford’s upcoming Focus BEV, is doing the manufacturing in Ontario. There’s no hint of any foreign, including Chinese, manufacturers planning to set up operations in Ontario. We’re not even making conventional hybrid-electric vehicles in this province.

There is one battery maker that I know of, Mississauga-based Electrovaya, that is producing battery packs for two Chrysler demonstration plug-in models (a pickup and a minivan), but Electrovaya was here before McGuinty’s 2009 announcement and, if this little company does end up getting volume orders, there’s no sign yet that it will do such manufacturing in Ontario. If there is something I’m missing here, please let me know.

The Ontario Smart Grid Forum — a group representing members of Ontario’s utility sector, industry associations, public agencies and universities — recommended in a February 2009 report that:

A Task Force, led by the Ministry of Economic Development and involving other relevant Ministries, should be created consisting of representatives from the auto sector (vehicle manufacturers and suppliers) electricity sector (OEB, IESO, OPA, distributors and generators) and universities to develop a comprehensive plan for enabling plug-in electric vehicles in Ontario. The plan would address policy, financial, and electricity system impacts of substantial electric vehicle penetration and identify what is required to ensure that vehicles can be charged as they develop. The Task Force should link to the ongoing collaborative work by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and standards development organizations to develop electric vehicles standards.

Never happened. Neither has the government released an economic development roadmap related to electric vehicles and technologies.

From what I gather, none of the billions of dollars in bailout money that went to the Canadian operations of major U.S. automakers during the economic meltdown were conditional on these companies establishing a plug-in vehicle/technology manufacturing footprint in Ontario, nor have any rewards since then. Just today, it was announced that the federal and Ontario governments would be supplying up to $140 million in loans and grants to Toyota to upgrade its manufacturing operations in Cambridge and Woodstock. Again, no mention of Toyota’s commitment or intention of building capacity for next-generation vehicle technologies in Ontario.

At this point in time, it appears the McGuinty government’s 30-month-old “signal” to the auto sector as an attempt to attract investment in next-generation electric vehicle technology/infrastructure has been a dismal failure. This next-generation manufacturing is instead being created in Michigan and other U.S. jurisdiction. Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development and Trade has failed to execute on the promise of “creating and sustaining jobs” in this emerging and increasingly strategic part of the North American transportation market.

What gives? Can’t say, but wouldn’t it be nice if the Libs, after three years of talk, actually pulled a rabbit out of the hat and delivered on that earlier promise? Perhaps there will be a pre-election surprise, but don’t count on it.

Attention Toronto fleet managers: the city needs your EV

My story today in the Toronto Star is about an ambitious electric-car project being spearheaded by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, which is an agency of the city that promotes and provides grants for projects that reduce air emissions and pollution. Called the EV300 Initiative, the aim is to create a buyer’s club of private- and public-sector fleet managers in the Greater Toronto Area. The goal is to get at least 300 EVs in the program, which would monitor the cars over a year or two and collect data on charging patterns, winter and summer time driving performance, as well as the impact of charging on the grid. Members of the group would be able to exchange information and experiences, while a working group would be set up to analyse the data and make recommendations for what the city can do to prepare for greater penetration of electric vehicles on Toronto streets.

The Toronto Atmospheric Fund has so far signed up several public-sector partners, including Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, Toronto Hydro, Hydro One  and the Ontario Power Authority, and smaller electric utilities and municipalities that surrounding the city are also being invited to participate. Next month, efforts will begin to start attracting private companies that would like to purchase at least one electric vehicle for their fleet as part of the program. The hope is that the buyer’s club will be set up and committed to a bulk purchase by July 1, which is when provincial incentives (up to $10,000) for purchasing electric cars are supposed to kick in.

So, if you’re in a company with its own vehicle fleet, spread the word. The more who take part in this program the merrier.

BTW: Wonder what Better Place is up to? After a big splash last January in Ontario its interest in the market seems to have faded.  Where’s the electric-vehicle demonstration and education centre it promised?  Where’s the network rollout plan and the investment timeline it was going to put together for Ontario? At least it’s making progress in Denmark, Tokyo and other parts of Europe and Asia, having just raised another $350 million.

Ontario signals to automakers, and consumers, that it’s serious about electric cars

When Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty revealed in January that the province was partnering with Better Place, it wasn’t clear whether it was simply a PR stunt or if the government was serious about bringing electric cars in Ontario through the appropriate investments and incentives. That’s because the province put no flesh in the game.

Now, it appears, McGuinty is truly serious. He announced today the goal of having one out of every 20 vehicles driven (not just sold) in Ontario be a plug-in hybrid or pure electric vehicle by 2020. To get there, the province will offer rebates of between $4,000 and $10,000 for plug-in vehicles purchased after July 1, 2010. Buyers of such vehicles would also get green vehicle licence plates allowing the vehicles to be driven on High Occupancy Vehicle (carpool) lanes and providing access to public charging facilities and parking at Ontario government and Go Transit parking lots. The government itself plans to add 500 electric vehicles to its own fleet.

These are the kinds of moves that signal to automakers that Ontario is a place to focus on as a market for both sales and investment. By aiming to have hundreds of thousands of plug-in vehicles driving on Ontario roads by 2020, and by providing generous incentives to help get us there, manufacturers will be more inclined to set up shop in the province.

I should add that Ontario, unlike Michigan, will by 2020 have an electricity system that’s 90 per cent emission-free. Michigan will be closer to 30 per cent. This means the cars being produced in Ontario could be designed as green and manufactured as green.

Prediction: I expect Chinese car manufacturers to rush into Ontario.

Better Place, Dong Energy close $134 million for Danish EV network

Shai Agassi seems to be doing okay when it comes to raising money in a tough market. Better Place and Danish partner Dong Energy announced today the closing of a $134 million (U.S.) financing — a combination of equity and convertible debt. The funds will go toward building out Denmark’s electric-car charging network in advance of the introduction of Better Place-compliant vehicles in two years. “Starting in 2011 through the extensive network, The Renault-Nissan Alliance will begin to commercialize a complete range of EVs especially adapted to Danish customer requirements,” the companies said in a statement. “These cars will benefit from the Better Place mobility services and products.”

Of course, we shouldn’t assume Better Place is the only EV-charging game in town. There are other companies, such as Campbell, Calif.-based Coulomb Technologies, going after the same market with a different — and less flashy — approach.

Is Ontario serious about Better Place?

I want to believe the Ontario government is serious about pursuing the electric car opportunity, and that the partnership announced yesterday with Better Place isn’t just a PR exercise — a classic case of greenwashing. There was no investment, by either the government or Better Place. All that was really announced is that the two sides will study what it will take to accelerate the manufacture and introduction of electric cars and deployment of the charging and “battery swap” infrastructure needed to support them. It’s a start, I suppose — which is exactly what Premier Dalton McGuinty emphasized. And sure, the education and demonstration centre Better Place plans to set up will be important as a tool to introduce the general public to the benefits of electric cars — to literally kick the tires. As McGuinty said: “One of the most important things we can do is demonstrate we are truly an electric-car friendly jurisdiction.”

Can’t disagree with that. Continue reading Is Ontario serious about Better Place?