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What challenges do Canadians face moving to a fully integrated EV future?

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With temperatures dipping into the minus teens and 20s across Canada, electric vehicle owners are also seeing their battery power plunge.

“The only issue is, like a gas vehicle, it does consume more. I’d say about 50 per cent more in this cold,” said James Hart, President of the Manitoba Electric Vehicle Association from inside his Tesla Model “X”.

CAA estimates electric vehicle drivers may see “as much as a 40 – 50 per cent decrease in range when temperatures drop below -15 C, but that should increase again as the battery heater starts to work.”

On Monday, in a Chicago suburb in sub zero temperatures, there was a long line to use 20 Tesla Superchargers. One driver said he had to wait three hours for a free spot. 

Some batteries were drained, and at least 10 cars had to be towed.

This month, the auto research firm “Reccurent” looked at winter range in EVs -- the Hyundai Kona ranked as having one of the best ranges in the cold, the Tesla models all lost nearly a quarter of their range, and the Chevrolet Bolt lost about a third of its range in cold temperatures.

Chevrolet's parent company General Motors says its EVs are designed to whithstand extreme temperatures, whether hot or cold, a spokesperson for the car company told CTV News.

"We perform cold weather testing on our EV batteries in temperatures as low as -40 F (-40 C) at our facilities in Michigan and Ontario," the spokesperson said.

In Alberta, record-breaking cold over the weekend prompted an emergency alert and a plea to citizens to conserve energy, including unplugging electric vehicles. 

With Ottawa phasing out gas-powered trucks and cars by 2035, there are questions whether the EV infrastructure can keep up.

Under new national standards, by 2026, zero emission vehicles must make up for 20 per cent of new car sales, 60 per cent by 2030, and 100 per cent by 2035.

The Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association said to reach that goal, Canada will need 442,000 EV charging stations.

In March 2023, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) data showed 20,478 charging ports are located at 8,732 charging station across the country.

David Adams of Global Automakers of Canada tells CTV news that it's a challenge both the industry and the Federal Government are trying to deal with.

“Of course one of the things consumers want to be assured of, if they do purchase an electric vehicle, they will have the ability to charge that vehicle wherever, whenever and at a speed that is convenient for travelling purposes.”

A fall survey by BrokerLink found range anxiety was one of the top reason Canadians hesitated to buy an EV, and the second, the cost. 

However EV drivers see the benefits, even in the cold.

James Hart doesn’t park his car in a garage. He charges his Tesla Model “X” in the driveway and says he’s had no issues starting his car, or keeping it warm, even as temperatures in Winnipeg drop to -21 C.

“In this cold, I always climb into my car the temperature it is now, about 20 degrees, and my seats were always warm. I never had an issue.”

CAA says during the winter months, EV drivers should ensure their range is double their daily driving needs.

Here are some fast facts from the CAA:

• Extreme cold weather does in fact drain EV battery power faster.

• EV drivers may see as much as a 40 – 50 per cent decrease in range when temperatures drop below -15 C, but that should increase again as the battery heater starts to work.

• Just like a conventional car fitted with an engine block heater, an electric car that’s plugged in when it’s cold out (below -20 C) will fare better in the morning.

• If your car is equipped with pre-conditioning, then you can plug it in and set what time you want to depart. That can help offset the range loss.

Tips to stretch out your EV battery life during the winter:

• Adopt conservative driving behaviours such as avoiding rapid acceleration and hard braking.

• Keep your EV plugged in when not in use for long periods of time -- for example, if you head south for the holidays.

• Check your owner’s manual for your manufacturer’s recommendations, as they may vary.

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