Wanderings – The future is electric, if you can afford it

I am not a gear head. I have enough automotive knowledge to be annoying to the people who fix my cars, but lack the knowledge and skill to do the work myself. That said, I like vehicles. The higher the horsepower the better. Eight cylinders is better than six or four – but 12 cylinders is best. Standard over automatic transmission please.

I am a fan of British and German cars. If a 2016 Aston Martin DB9 landed in my driveway – I wouldn’t complain. Same with a 2023 BMW M5. Domestically I like Dodge vehicles, except for the transmissions. I’d gladly trade my Caravan for a 2022 Challenger SRT – or even better – a Hellcat. For classic vehicles, the dream is a 1950 split window Dodge B4 3/4 tonne truck.

All those expensive dreams aside, my next vehicle will be none of the above as all are above my budget – except in Hot Wheels form. I expect that my next vehicle purchase will be a gasoline-powered vehicle but those days are becoming soon numbered – not by my choice.

Not wanting to necessarily rock down to Electric Avenue, the future is becoming more and more electric. The political powers that be have decreed that its target by 2035 is to have all vehicle sales be zero-emissions. That doesn’t mean all vehicles will be electric. Plug-in electric hybrid vehicles will pass the smell test of this declaration as well. The future is electric.

There are battery plants being built, lots of tooling or retooling of plants to build electric vehicles – and that is all great. The carbon footprint of battery component mining sector must not as bad as the carbon footprint of the petroleum sector, I guess?

I even like electric cars, for the same reason I like super cars and hot rods. As Top Gear and Grand Tour host Jeremy Clarkson says “speed and power!” Have you seen the torque that electric powered cars have? The Tesla Roadster can go from zero to 100 miles per hour in 4.2 seconds according to Car Magazine (UK) and the Audi RS e-Tron GT can go from zero to 60 in 3.3 seconds! That is as impressive as the instant-on cabin heat that people love about electric vehicles.

Still, these vehicles are beyond the means of most people – and will be for a long time.

Let’s forget about the lack of charging station infrastructure and how all those new electric cars need to plug in for a bit. Electric vehicles are more expensive than conventional gas or diesel vehicles. The price has come down with advancements in technology and the more these cars are made. Conventional vehicles have a 120 year head start on electric vehicles, so there is still a large gulf. Affordability is key. Even in 2035, these vehicles will not be affordable for the masses.

Part of the affordability issue is how governments offset (subsidize) electric vehicles. The Canadian government offers a $5,000 credit, which is given when you buy a vehicle. On a $60,000 Tesla or Volkswagen, that is not chump change. In Ontario, there are no other incentives at the dealership. All remaining incentives are tax credits. For most people, tax credits are useless – here’s why.

A tax credit depends on a person having the means to pay out the money, then wait up to 15 months to receive the tax credit benefit and possible return to your bank account. Using tax credits as a method of incentivising people to pay more for vehicles up front, just does not work. Not only that, many people cannot, and all people should not, be a financier for the government. I’d like to keep my money in my pocket please.

The other issue with tax credits and tax rebates is how its applied on used electric vehicles. For most purchases, there isn’t one. Considering the hollowing out of the middle class of Canada, how many people can afford to switch from fuel to electric now – and how many will be able to afford to switch by 2035? My answer, not as many as the experts think.

One alternative might be converting a car from fuel to electric. I’d drive an all-electric 1950 Dodge. A Peterborough, ON company – ARC Motor Company – unveiled recently a 1974 Ford Bronco EV conversion recently. Wrong vehicle brand, cool concept. Unfortunately it cost as much as a new Tesla, plus you provide the vehicle to convert. And no tax credits or incentives to boot.

If EV companies want to really make it easy for people to switch, engine conversion is the way to go in my opinion. Just as people swap engines when souping up performance vehicles, having conversion kits that are much less expensive than the $60K-plus way will get more people driving existing vehicles with electric drive. Besides, recycling is eco-friendly so reusing existing vehicles with new drive-train components, will offset more carbon footprints.

And if governments want to incentivize people to buy or convert to electric, politicians need to put our money where their mouths are, and make it worthwhile.

This column was originally published in the January 3, 2024 print edition of The Morrisburg Leader.