EV World: Bridging the knowledge gap

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June 4, 2024 by Adam Malik

EV World: Bridging the knowledge gap​

Automakers explore the challenges in getting more Canadians behind the wheel of an electric vehicle
Consumer interest in electric vehicles jumped in 2023. In fact, zero-emission vehicles overall saw a greater market share of new vehicle registrations last year.
Data from S&P Global Mobility’s fourth quarter and year-end Canadian Automotive Insights reported ZEVs accounted for 11.7 per cent of new vehicle registrations last year, up from 8.9 per cent in 2022. BEVs accounted for 8.8 per cent while plug-ins made up the remaining 2.8 per cent. Both sets increased form the year before. Hybrids were 10.7 per cent of the market last year, compared to 7 per cent in 2022.
That means internal combustion engines saw its share drop from 84.1 per cent in 2022 to 77.6 per cent last year.
So EVs and alternatives to ICE vehicles are continuing to resonate with buyers in Canada. But that doesn’t mean the path to becoming a fully electrified society is without its bumps.
Education gap
There is still a large knowledge gap between fact and fiction when it comes to electric vehicles in Canada.
“We still get questions about electric vehicles and battery degradation, range, cold weather operation,” said Brian Kingston, president and CEO of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association. He was speaking at TalkAuto, a gathering of automotive professionals representing the dealer, OE and new vehicle supply segments of the industry.
“There’s still a lot of questions that people have legitimate questions,” he added. “So there’s more to be done on education to explain the technology and help many people make the switch.”
Representatives from several automakers agreed with this sentiment this recently. They acknowledged that consumer education is something they need to work on as electrification moves forward. At the Canadian International AutoShow this year, EV World spoke to representatives from Chevrolet, Stellantis, Ford and Volvo about electrifying the Canadian car parc.
Holly Broome, national marketing manager of Chevrolet cars and crossovers, emphasized the important role of education in overcoming range anxiety and other consumer concerns holding Canadians back from making the switch to electric.
“We have to do a lot more education to help customers understand what owning an EV is really like,” she said.
For example, most charging is done at home, reducing pressure on public infrastructure.
“Once folks realize that, it puts less pressure on needing to understand the infrastructure when they’re out and about on the road.”
Stellantis has put out its first fully electric vehicle, the Fiat 500e.
“Part of introducing that vehicle is definitely educating consumers on what it’s like to live with a battery electric vehicle,” explained Brad Horn, product communications manager at Stellantis Canada. “It’s even started with things like educating people on how the federal EV incentives or the provincial ones because that vehicle is going to be introduced in B.C. and in Quebec first.”
The company now plans to have half of its vehicle sales be electric by 2030.
“So while we will build the EVs and market them — we have six of them coming this year — there will still definitely be internal combustion, or PHEV vehicles in our lineup. It’s going to be sort of a mix, and it will have something that will address everybody’s wants.”
And there’s Volvo, which will fully electrify its fleet by 2030.
“Our purpose as a company [is to] provide freedom to move in a personal, sustainable and safe way,” observed Matt Girgis, managing director of Volvo Car Canada. “And we just see the natural evolution of our safety DNA, transitioning into sustainability, which, of course, a big part of that is to reduce tailpipe emissions. So this is our ‘Ambition 2030.’ And we’re committed to that.”
As for the education concept, he noted that the early adopters have bought their EVs and now it’s time to attract the next group of buyers.
“We do see that there is a bit of anxiety still around range, around accessibility,” he said about the next group of buyers.
Over at Ford, they say they understand what the issues are and they’re working to address those concerns.
“So if we take range, for example, so we’re always working on our product to improve range,” said Alexa Desjardins, vehicle line manager for BEV and commercial vehicles, at Ford Motor Company of Canada. “So our engineers are so focused on driving every single kilometre of range that we can get in our vehicles, and we give it to our owners. It’s not just in the new products. We give it through over-the-air updates as soon as there are updates.”
She pointed to range concerns and consumers being so focused on how far a vehicle can go on a single charge rather than assessing daily use case where people will generally travel far less than the occasional road trip. Nevertheless, options are expanding for longer road trips,
“And now we just made a deal with Tesla, where we’re going to unlock 15,000 Superchargers in the spring for our customers,” Desjardins said. “And so we’re always looking at improving our customer experience from a charging perspective.”

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Repair concerns

There is a shortage of automotive repair technicians. The industry knows this. But it seems other sectors are still wrapping their heads around it. And when there’s a shortage of technicians to meet the demands of he industry, repair costs escalate.
Take, for example, rental car company Hertz. It added Tesla vehicles to its fleet for its customers. But they recently announced they’re dumping many EVs, citing the high repair costs associated with the vehicle type.
“Collision and damage repairs on an EV can often run about twice that associated with a comparable combustion engine vehicle,” then-Hertz CEO Stephen Scherr said during an analyst call. He resigned from the company after this debacle.
The insurance industry is also realizing this. Owners of EVs are looking to face higher premiums to insure an EV. Morningstar DBRS warned this could happen if trends in the United Kingdom cross over to Canada.
Despite EVs typically having lower maintenance costs than their gas-powered counterparts, the expensive nature of repairs and a shortage of skilled technicians could elevate overall costs, subsequently impacting insurance claims and premiums. Insurance companies reassess premiums annually, taking into account factors such as repair costs, theft, inflation and claims experience.
This would be of no surprise to Kevin FitzPatrick, senior vice president at OPUS IVS. In an episode of Auto Service World Conversations, he explained the many issues plaguing EV repair. With the lack of talented industry professionals, those who can service and repair EVs are charging more for their time.
For better or for worse, “I think people are going to take advantage of that,” FitzPatrick said.
Girgis from Volvo noted that his company sees the same issue themselves.
“We see it in our industry like everybody else does. Everybody else [knows it’s] difficult to get technicians, difficult to get people in general,” he said. “So we’re working with our dealers on different clever ways to help support them to retain talent to get more technician all those kinds of things.”
A way for the market to correct itself is to have more of the aftermarket be a willing participant in the area. But the unwillingness of the industry to get involved is a concern for FitzPatrick.
“You know, if you take 100 shops, you’re probably going to find about 85 of them that are unwilling right now to work on EVs,” he said. “And that’s, that’s just a stark reality. It’s a bit of dedication, you have to get trained — I mean, these vehicles are no joke. They can hurt you. You have to take some extensive training in order in order to work on them. You have to tool your shop to work on them, you have to have a technician that spent multiple days in training. And it’s a bit of a commitment.”
Currently, high insurance premiums for EV owners have not become a widespread issue in Canada, thanks in part to the gradual adoption rate of electric vehicles, DBRS reported.
And the problem of repairability is common among other BEV brands. Chris Sutton , J.D. Power’s vice president of automotive retail, noted the subpar service experience for non-Tesla owners in his company’s 2024 U.S. Customer Service Index Study.
He emphasized the urgency for automakers and dealers to address these issues as the market shifts from early adopters to more typical consumers who are less forgiving of inadequate service.
“On the manufacturer side, a higher rate of BEV recalls is also contributing to an inconsistent experience,” he said. “This is an area that automakers and dealers need to address now to help make the transition to electrification as pain-free as possible for owners in the future.”
Despite consumer concerns, repair issues and potentially higher insurance costs associated with EVs, automakers remain committed to providing solutions to consumers so that they can find the EV that fits their needs.
Even though the early adopters have generally bought their EVs, there’s the next segment of the market to capture, Chevrolet’s Broom pointed out. She recommended anyone unsure about an EV to try one before they decide.
“Try it. Call the dealership,” she said. “We have 400 Chevrolet dealerships across Canada that are eager and ready and waiting to talk about EVs.”
It’s a sentiment Desjardins from Ford echoed, calling EVs a “life changing” experience. She noted that the vast majority of EV owners wouldn’t go back to a gas-powered vehicle.
“So once you drive it and you understand what your day-to-day is — because it is a change in how you think about charging, range, what your next stop is — but once you understand that, and through education, it is such a great experience,” she said.
At Stellantis, Horn also touted the benefits of real life testing of EVs to win over the skeptics. Even sharing the experiences of those with an EV can be beneficial. For example, a colleague has been travelling back and forth to Michigan regularly with an EV. Despite initial concerns, the colleague has come around.
“I think there is definitely going to be some word of mouth from those early adopters that is going to comfort some of the concerns of people,” Horn said.
When people realize the reduced maintenance and ability to make repairs over-the-air, Volvo’s Girgis said that would be a big selling point.
“I would say that we’re evolving the product in line exactly with what the consumer demands are, which is less maintenance required more convenience, more accessibility,” he said.

“So as these BEVs come out — and they’re not niche and they start filling in these segments.”​

Product variety will also help. Horn noted the several models his company will be releasing to give consumers more options that fit their lifestyle, from small vehicle to pick up trucks.
“So as these BEVs come out — and they’re not niche and they start filling in these segments — and, again, people start to purchase them and live with them and speak about the positive experience, it’s going be … a rising tide lifts all boats.”
And they emphasized their commitment.
“Our dealership network is committed to electric future and we’re excited for what it has to come,” Broom said.
Desjardins noted the challenges of balancing production, consumer demand and cost, “but one that we’re really committed to. It’s for its key priorities to build an enduring EV business.”
Volvo’s commitment may stand above the rest with their 2030 goal of full electrification.
“It sends the message that we’re living out our brand purpose. We’re committed to deliver on what we said,” Girgis said. “Of course, we understand that markets evolve. Consumer demands change. There’s many reasons for that. But for us, it’s important to keep our eye focused on the end goal managed through the peaks and troughs there and ultimately deliver, by 2030, fully electric cars to all of our consumers around the globe.”
 

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