Tag Archives: GM Volt

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.

GM sets dates, gives (few) details for Chevy Volt release in Canada

GM’s much-anticipated Volt extended-range electric car will be available in the second half of 2011 at dealerships in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Victoria, Quebec City, Oshawa and the Ottawa area, the automaker said today. Unfortunately, the company said it won’t be disclosing Canadian pricing until closer to the launch, so we’ll have to wait. The second-half 2011 release is also when Nissan plans to launch its Leaf electric vehicle in Canadian markets, so it will be interesting to see these two pioneering vehicles going head to head.

BTW: If you want to read an out-of-touch column about electric cars, read my friend Eric Reguly’s anti-EV rant in the Globe and Mail. Eric gets it right most of the time, but not this time. I think some incentives are required to get any new industry going, but I do take his point about the rebates on offer for EVs being a little rich. My own opinion is that incentive or no incentive, there will be a first wave of electric car buyers because they love electric cars. They’ll pay the price, just as someone will pay for fancy upgrades on a car. As volume picks up, prices will come down. To compare today’s situation with the state of electric-car technology 100 years ago is just ridiculous, as is comparing the track record of the Toyota Prius. This isn’t just about one carmaker coming out with one hybrid car; this is about all major carmakers and new entrants each coming out with their own models that will compete against each other in the market and, as a result, drive down costs and push innovation around battery technology. The situation we have today is unprecedented, so to poo-poo it simply because electric cars couldn’t make it in 1920 or 1950 or 1990 is just sour grapes. Energy technology transitions don’t happen overnight, and nobody believes the world will be dominated by EVs in a couple of years, but they never will become a significant part of the market if you don’t start somewhere. Besides, there are other issues driving us toward EVs: global warming, peak oil, urban pollutions, etc… He says the market doesn’t demand electric cars, and a big part of the market doesn’t, but there is a growing group of consumers who do want them and it’s not insignificant — and it will get bigger in my opinion, as EVs develop a track record and come down in cost.