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SFU researchers find promise for plug-in vehicles in Canada, but need for increased supply and policy support

New work by a team at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Canada has found that more than one-third of Canadian buyers want a plug-in vehicle (PEV), with the majority of those (89—93%) wanting a plug-in hybrid rather than a pure electric vehicle. However, less than 1% of vehicle sales in Canada are electric because of low consumer awareness and limited vehicle choice.

With the current supply of PEVs in Canada (7 models), the future PEV new market share is not likely to exceed 4—5% by 2030, according to the report; increasing supply (to 56 models) could increase market share to over 20% by 2030.

Impact of constraints on PEV sales in British Columbia, 2020. Source: “Electrifying Vehicles”. Click to enlarge.

The Simon Fraser Sustainable Transportation Research Team, led by Professor Jonn Axsen and adjunct professor Suzanne Goldberg in the School of Resource and Environmental Management (REM), authored Electrifying Vehicles: Insights from the Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle Study and Preference and lifestyle heterogeneity among potential plug-in electric vehicle buyers. The latter report was published in Energy Economics.

There is hope electric vehicles could grow to more than 20% of vehicle sales by 2030 with policies that increase these vehicles’ availability and variety, such as California’s Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate.

—Suzanne Goldberg

PEV new market share scenario forecasts (for passenger vehicles in British Columbia). Source: “Electrifying Vehicles”. Click to enlarge.

The studies found that awareness of electric vehicles is low—two-thirds of consumers are not familiar with those currently on the market—and supply is limited.

However, with today’s electricity grids, usage of PEVs could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80—98% in British Columbia, around 45% in Alberta, and 58—70% in Ontario. Potential mainstream usage of PEVs could vary widely by province, where electricity de- mand could range from 6.8 to 8.7 kWh/day per vehicle.

To investigate how consumer interest in PEVs may guide shifts in technology and behavior, the SFU team engaged a sample of Canadian new vehicle buyers and British Columbian PEV owners in a mixed-mode survey and interview process. Data collected for this study came from two distinct surveys: the 2015 Plug-in Electric Vehicle Owners Survey (PEVOS, n = 94) and the 2013 New Vehicle Owners Survey (NVOS, n = 1754).

Through the survey data, the researchers identified three groups of PEV buyers: PEV Pioneers (current PEV owners); the potential Early Mainstream buyers (next PEV buyers); and Later Mainstream buyers (not PEV buyers). Among the other findings were:

  • PEV Pioneers tend to have higher engagement in technology- or environment- oriented lifestyles, and express higher levels of environmental concern than Mainstream buyers (NVOS respondents). PEV Pioneers also have higher education and income; they are more likely to have a graduate degree (30% vs. 11%) and an annual household income greater than $90,000 (67% vs. 33%). Moreover, PEV Pioneers are more likely to be male and to own their own home compared to both Mainstream new vehicle owners and the Canadian Census.

  • Most PEV Pioneer respondents owned either the Nissan Leaf (46%), Chevrolet Volt (24%), or Tesla Model S (10%). Tesla owners, in particular, report the highest income and education levels.

  • Among PEV Pioneer respondents, the median driving distance for one “driving day” was 45 km (28 miles), with a mean of 59 km (37 miles). Median “driving days” varied across owners of the Nissan Leaf (37 km), the Chevrolet Volt (45 km) and the Tesla (39 km). Among Mainstream (NVOS) respondents, the median driving distance for one “driving day” was 36 km (22 miles), with a mean of 54 km (34 miles).

  • Most Mainstream respondents have little familiarity with PEVs, and are particularly confused about the concept of a PHEV.

  • Motivations for PEV interest included driving flexibility (for PHEVs), fuel savings, and pollution reduction. Resistance to PEVs included range limitations (especially for BEVs), reliability concerns, and aesthetic concerns (i.e. PEVs look “strange”).

  • Two-thirds of Mainstream respondents already have Level 1 recharge access at home. Only 20—33% of Mainstream respondents are aware of public chargers, but awareness does not seem to influence PEV interest.

  • Different PEV models are associated with different symbols; all are associated with being pro-environmental, while the Tesla is more associated with images of style and success.

  • Mainstream and Pioneer respondents differ considerably in terms of motivations for PEV interest, e.g. exploring new technology, seeking environmental benefits, or realizing savings.

  • Mainstream and Pioneer PEV respondents are generally open to the idea of enrolling in a “utility controlled charging” program, though some are concerned about privacy and the potential for battery degradation.

The SFU team used latent-class analysis to identify five preference-based segments among Mainstream (NVOS) respondents:

  • The “PEV-enthusiast” class (representing 8% of the sample) place very high value on hybrid, PHEV and BEV designs relative to a conventional gasoline vehicle. This group has high interest in PHEVs and BEVs, but places no significant value on fuel savings.

  • The “PHEV-oriented” class (25% of the sample) has positive and significant valuation of hybrid and PHEV designs, and a negative and significant valuation of BEV designs. This group has high interest in PHEVs and is very conscious of fuel savings.

  • The “Hybrid-oriented” class (16% of sample) prefers hybrid vehicles to other vehicle types, having a mildly positive valuation of PHEVs and a negative valuation of BEVs.

  • The “Hybrid-leaning” class (27%) only has a positive valuation for hybrids, which is smaller than the “Hybrid-oriented class.”

  • The “Conventional-oriented” class (23%) has negative valuation for hybrids, PHEVs and BEVs, These respondents have no interest in any vehicle other than a conventional gasoline vehicle.

The studies were funded by Natural Resources Canada’s ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative (ecoEII), BC Hydro, Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS), BC Ministry of Energy and Mines and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada.




Projections based on current electrified vehicles ONLY is a waste of time because it will not happen.

Projections based on 100+ models (including 50+ from China) may be closer to future reality?

A change in (Fed) Government (and Fed policies) after October 2015 may redirect buyers attention from ICEVs to EVs as early as 2016 on so.

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