How Easy is it to Purchase an Electric Vehicle in Canada?

 In EV Industry

*Editor’s note: The study was originally completed in late 2015. With a significant increase in EV sales in 2016, it’s possible that the landscape may have changed over the past year.

Growing the electric car market outside of California has had its share of challenges. For starters, consumers might find a limited selection of electric vehicles on local dealership lots – if they see any EVs at all. Secret-shopper studies by plug-in advocates across the U.S. found cars often did not have enough battery charge for a test drive.

Consumers looking to buy a pure electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid (PHEV) in Canada face similar issues. Availability in some provinces is limited, as is the number of sales associates trained to sell plug-ins to the public. To gauge the difficulty for the average Canadian plug-in consumer, we conducted a study focusing on dealerships and the cars they market and/or stock on the lot.

The findings reveal some similarities with the U.S. market, but even more challenges appear when Canadian shoppers plan to buy an affordable electric car.

Canadian Electric Vehicle Inventory

Though everyone agrees inventory is essential when selling cars to the public, there are many factors that determine how many vehicles happen to be in a dealership on any given day. For example, a dealer may have little or no plug-in inventory because:

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  • EV sales are low
  • Cost of stocking EVs is high
  • Sales associates lack EV training and certification
  • Available models were recently sold

Nonetheless, PHEVs and pure EVs must be on-site for Canadian consumers to consider the technology. According to the state of the market at the end of 2015, consumers rarely had the chance to see and test plug-ins.

Comparing PEV Inventory per Capita in Sample Provinces and StatesEven in Quebec and British Columbia, where inventories are at their highest per capita, the number of available EVs were less than half those in Oregon, Washington, and California. Authors of the study noted the lack of demand largely governed the stock of EVs in Canada at the time they conducted the study.

Based on inventory, purchasing an EV is 5x harder in Canada than the eight U.S. states used in the study when considering stock per dealership.
Canadian PEV Stock Per 100,000 People by Province/Territory

Canadian Dealers with Electric Vehicle Certification

Dealerships certified to sell EVs in Canada are important for several reasons. Most have the following elements in common:

  • A staff member trained to sell electric cars and PHEVs
  • A service technician trained in EV repair and maintenance
  • One or more charging stations on site
  • Safety equipment for EV service technicians

Consumers have the confidence someone on staff knows how EVs work and have a place to charge, service and repair their plug-in vehicles should they choose to buy one when a dealer has certification. Most people expect these things out of any dealer no matter the fuel source.

PEV Certified Dealerships By Province/TerritoryIn parts of Canada where population and demand are at their highest, more dealerships are certified to sell and repair plug-in cars. Still, the percentage of certified dealers fluctuates wildly among the nine different automakers cited in the study. (Tesla, which only sells electric vehicles, is not included.)

PEV Certified Dealerships by OEM - CanadaFewer than half of Nissan dealers were certified to sell and provide infrastructure for the all-electric Leaf. The numbers among Detroit manufacturers were not much better. While 58% of Chevrolet dealers were certified to sell and service the Volt, fewer than one quarter of Ford dealers had certification.

PEV Certified Dealerships By OEM – CaliforniaCompared to California, which has the highest percentage of certified dealers in the U.S., Canadian consumers have a much harder time finding one. Yet even states like Ohio – which has neither high sales volumes nor is a ZEV state – consumers in Canada don’t have the same type of options.

PEV Certified Dealerships by OEM – OhioIt is also worth noting:

  • Quebec featured the highest percentage of certified EV dealers (66%) followed by B.C. at 56%.
  • Overall, 48% of auto dealerships in Canada ranked as certified.
  • Though the statistics do not factor in proximity to dealerships, Canada had more certified dealers per capita than residents of the more populous U.S. states

PEV Certified Dealerships - Canada vs USOrdering Electric Cars in Stock

Whereas EVs like Tesla Model S are custom orders in every case, most consumers order lower-end cars (including PHEVs and EVs) from examples on the lot. At the time of the study (late 2015), we found fewer than 100 plug-in models from every automaker in the country except Nissan and BMW.

canada-pev-stock-oemOverall, these totals amounted to fewer than one (0.7) plug-in vehicles per certified dealership in Canada. For Tesla, Porsche and other automakers through whom factory-ordering EVs is mandatory, these totals would not impact the buying process. However, buyers hoping to make a purchase and receive delivery in the near future could be dissuaded by a lack of inventory.

Other key findings include:

  • 611 plug-in vehicles total were available in Canada at the time of the study
  • More than half of certified dealers had no EVs in stock
  • The eight U.S. states averaged 3.3 EVs per certified dealer

Average PEV inventory per Certified Dealer - Canada vs Selected StatesCanadian EV Purchasing Conclusions

Concerning the shopping experience of Canadian plug-in vehicle consumers, the study found the following:

  • Canada’s levels of certified EV dealers is similar per capita to rates in the U.S.
  • Due to population density, Canadian consumers are likely to travel farther than American counterparts buying an EV
  • Inventory levels in Canada are not helping sales
  • However, inventory levels are a result of low sales
  • Dealerships that sell at least 7 EVs per year tend to have one in stock at all times
  • Dealers selling 21 or more tend to have at least 3 plug-ins at stock

Since the end of 2015, inventory levels rose across North America with the new Chevrolet Volt arriving as well as new Ford Fusion Energi and Nissan Leaf 30 kWh. Canadian sales hit an all-time monthly record in September 2016 with the Volt leading the pack.

Sales are headed in the right direction, which is what we concluded as the best way to get new models into dealerships and make purchase process easier. With more sales and more interest as new models appear, expect the number of certified EV dealers and inventory to keep rising.

The Ease of Purchasing EVs in Canada report Download

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  • bob

    As a person with a 2015 Leaf And a new 2017 Volt, it was not great to see, when I was buying there were no examples at the dealers. A bit better now.
    What does not help is if the manufacturer limits the number a dealer can get.
    My Chevy dealer is getting 5 Bolts. Our city wants 4, leaving “one” for public sale!
    They are trying to get more but not doing well. If people want these cars, let’s sell them!
    I live in Ontario with great support with rebates to encourage purchase and adoption.
    Only company pushing ev is of course Tesla. I am one of those that has a deposit on a 3.
    I know the big boys need to make money in service and it will not happen with EV cars.

  • John M. Glennie

    My local Chevrolet dealer, has two locations and sells the Volt but has a limited number of vehicles that he can get for sale. Will it be the same for the Bolt? The closest three Nissan dealers won’t sell the LEAF. I bought my 2015 SL while it was on the assembly line, not at the dealership. I test drove all of the vehicles that I had on my EV short list, at a Plug and Drive event. I show my car at events promoting EV purchases in S. Ontario. I write to my municipal, provincial and governments regarding EV purchase incentives, and also, EV travel infrastructure. Niagara Falls, is installing four new EV charging stations close to the tourist area. I too, am in line for my model 3…if not, I’d be buying a Chevy Bolt. I am promoting No Tax on EV Purchases from provincial and federal governments.