Why dealers need to watch new EV charging sites

An important metric every dealer should keep an eye on.

There’s a fair amount to learn about electric cars, the buyers, and how the vehicles are used in real life. One area with more than its share of myths and misinformation is charging — plugging-in an electric vehicle to “refill” its battery and add range.

A recent Ipsos Global Study of 20,000 customers found what a large number of experts and published literature agree on: well-distributed public charging infrastructure, of which DC fast chargers (DCFCs) are a key element, is not only crucial but a prerequisite to increase EV penetration in a given market.

Given this consensus, I wrote this column to help Canadian auto dealers understand the evolution of public charging in Canada and its current state both across the country and in specific regions.

Today, there are currently 136,000 EVs in the country, according to Electric Mobility Canada.

The evolution of public charging is an important indicator to help gauge a region’s EV readiness. It’s an important metric for dealers to watch as the market evolves, to time their efforts and investments in the EV market.

First, let’s review the most important point — one that continues to be overlooked:

EV drivers don’t “fill up” the same way gas-car drivers do.

In general, almost 100% of gasoline kilometres in Canada are driven using fuel purchased at a gas station open to anyone with a car and money.

EVs in Canada on average cover less than 15% of their total kilometres using energy purchased from a “public” station, based on data from FleetCarma’s Charge The North study.

Canada has just under 12,000 locations dispensing gasoline, according to The Kent Group National Retail Petroleum Site Census of 2017, to serve the country’s 23 million cars, trucks, and SUVs across the nation.

Today, there are currently 136,000 EVs in the country, according to Electric Mobility Canada.

An EV can be charged two different ways in public: one is similar to re-fuelling a gas car — the EV driver stops at a public DCFC station. The other isn’t and can be charged much more slowly, at a Level 2 station, while the vehicle is parked in a downtown parking structure (for example) and the driver is out and about.

As public charging has evolved in recent years, the faster varieties (DCFC) have increased more rapidly in recent years.

The charts that follow show that since 2017, public charging stations are being deployed at a rate of more than 2,000 new units per year. The past 12 months revealed the fastest growth, with more than 3,000 new stations available to Canadian EV drivers.

As impressive as that is, what‘s even more impressive is the increase in deployment of public DCFCs in 2019. Last year saw more new DCFCs going online than all previous years combined. The result: the number of fast chargers available to Canadian EV drivers more than doubled in a matter of months.

However, it’s worth noting that these newly deployed public charging stations are not evenly distributed throughout the country.

It’s worth noting that these newly deployed public charging stations are not evenly distributed throughout the country.

Quebec is home to more than 40% of all the public charging stations in the country, as shown in the chart above. At the current rate, counting all charging station types, Quebec will soon have more public charging station locations than sites for selling gasoline. During this decade, locations with DCFC stations are on track to outnumber gas dispensing locations in Canada’s three largest provinces.

What this means is that in many parts of the country, one of the largest barriers to EV adoption is being removed faster than many expected. Right now, with the current federal government continuing to invest in this sector, it is safe to expect rapid deployment of public charging infrastructure to continue nationwide — or at least until the next election.

And the federal government is not the only organization investing in this sector. Provincial governments and electric utilities are also increasing their investments in public charging infrastructure.

When such convergence of investment in public charging infrastructure happens in a given province, it’s a strong signal to dealerships that some major barriers to EV adoption may soon become a non-issue for their customers. Dealers must be aware of this and plan accordingly.

Quebec dealers are already seeing the impact of this barrier removal which, when combined with government EV purchase subsidies, resulted in EVs growing to about 6% of all light-duty vehicle sales in the province in 2019, according to data published by Electric Mobility Canada and the Quebec Government.

As with any market trends, those who try to anticipate future behaviour typically keep an eye on early market indicators. Public charging station deployment is one indicator for the EV market. So keeping track of the number of new fast-charging stations appearing in your province can provide you with a preview or an early indication of things to come.

Right now, that early indicator is rising faster than ever before.

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