Automobility

Have You Ever Tried Pulling a Camper with an Electric Truck? The Real Costs and Benefits of Ottawa’s EV Revolution

James R. Coggins
February 8, 2023
The Trudeau government recently released its regulatory impact statement – including a cost/benefit analysis – explaining the plan to make Canada an all-electric-vehicle nation by 2035. James R. Coggins takes a deep dive into the document and finds it full of wishful thinking and sloppy logic. It also excludes many of the biggest costs consumers and taxpayers will face in the shift to electric cars and trucks. If the Liberals confronted the real costs and benefit of their policy, they’d have to admit that forcing Canadians to go electric will be as impractical as it is pricey. Those amazing and expensive electric pickup trucks? They won’t get you very far with a load in tow.
Automobility

Have You Ever Tried Pulling a Camper with an Electric Truck? The Real Costs and Benefits of Ottawa’s EV Revolution

James R. Coggins
February 8, 2023
The Trudeau government recently released its regulatory impact statement – including a cost/benefit analysis – explaining the plan to make Canada an all-electric-vehicle nation by 2035. James R. Coggins takes a deep dive into the document and finds it full of wishful thinking and sloppy logic. It also excludes many of the biggest costs consumers and taxpayers will face in the shift to electric cars and trucks. If the Liberals confronted the real costs and benefit of their policy, they’d have to admit that forcing Canadians to go electric will be as impractical as it is pricey. Those amazing and expensive electric pickup trucks? They won’t get you very far with a load in tow.
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New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time for saying good-bye to the old and hello to the new. Such was the case on December 31 when the Justin Trudeau government quietly released its regulations requiring all cars and light duty trucks sold in Canada to be “zero-emission” by 2035.

This looming ban on internal combustion vehicles for personal use is one of the most dramatic and sweeping changes ever imposed on Canadians by their government. No doubt some will welcome the prospect of zipping around town in new, futuristic and purportedly carbon-free electric vehicles (EVs). But many others will likely experience a very different reaction. Anyone who enjoys camping, fishing or snowmobiling – and thus needs the ability to tow or haul heavy goods – will be left much worse off by this change. The same goes for people who work in the trades, construction, landscaping or any other sector that requires a work-duty truck and trailer.

Uphill battle: Ottawa’s electric vehicle (EV) plan means all light trucks will need to be zero emission by 2035; EVs are so bad at towing and hauling goods that anyone who enjoys boating or camping better have fun while they still can.

That’s because buried deep within the government’s own regulatory filings is the stark admission that electric trucks are very, very bad at towing and hauling. So bad, in fact, that if the true cost of towing with an EV were included in Ottawa’s own cost/benefit analysis, it would turn the entire result on its head, flipping an allegedly positive outcome into a negative one.

This is not the only disturbing conclusion to be found tucked away in the government’s official assessment. A close reading of the document reveals numerous other costs – higher taxes, more accident fatalities, less consumer choice – that are otherwise ignored in the federal calculations but will still ripple throughout Canada’s economy and society. The shift to an allegedly zero-emission world is going to be vastly more expensive, disruptive and restrictive than the Trudeau government admits.

If you like to spend your time off pulling a trailer as far away from anyone else as you can get, you’d better enjoy that peace and quiet while you still can. The Liberal’s EV revolution is about to put an end to your freedom to haul your troubles away.

The Plan So Far

In March 2022, in fulfilling its self-imposed obligations under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the federal government issued its 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan. In it, Ottawa vowed to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions by 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Net-zero emissions are supposed to be achieved by 2050. Since cars and light-duty trucks contribute about 13 percent of Canada’s emissions, the plan calls for all new cars and light-duty trucks sold in Canada to be officially zero emission by 2035. (It is, of course, a fallacy to make such a claim. No car can ever be considered “zero-emission” given the continued necessity of gas-fired electricity throughout the country as well as diesel back-up power in remote areas plus the ample emissions entailed in mining and transporting the materials required to manufacturer EVs.)

Ottawa’s plan is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030; its regulatory impact statement is filled with wishful thinking and sloppy logic. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the plan in March 2022 flanked by Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson (left) and Minister of the Environment Steven Guilbeault (right). (Source of right photo: The Canadian Press/Chad Hipolito)

The legal details of how this switch will be achieved were finally published in the Canada Gazette on the last day of 2022. New Year’s Eve is not a date typically associated with major government announcements, which suggests Ottawa is not particularly interested in having Canadians read the contents of its EV scheme too closely. The document – formally called a Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement – constitutes a sort of business plan for government and includes a cost/benefit analysis of the switch to EVs as well as other calculations and explanations, including the necessary regulations. Public comment is invited before the regulations are finalized on March 16.

If such a process seems backward, it’s because it is. Proper methodology suggests making a policy decision only after it has been established that a proposal makes sense on a financial basis. Instead, the Trudeau government announced its intended policy first and only later published a cost/benefit study to see if it makes sense. This document proves it does not.

Costs and Benefits

The regulations as currently drafted state that 20 percent of cars and light trucks manufactured in and imported into Canada must be zero emission by 2026, rising to 100 percent by 2035. Even the 2026 goal seems a big stretch given that only about 6 percent of cars currently on the road in Canada are fully electric and that EVs made up only about 5 percent of car sales in 2021. Electric pickup trucks are only now starting to even become available, and many manufacturers are months or years away from developing them.

The first order of business is to calculate the costs and benefits. According to the Impact Statement, total consumer costs are estimated at $24.4 billion between 2026 and 2050. This includes the extra expense of buying an EV as compared to cheaper internal combustion vehicles plus the cost of home chargers to keep all those batteries charged. On the other side of the ledger, switching to EVs is predicted to save Canadians $33.9 billion in net energy costs, since electricity is assumed to be less expensive than gasoline and diesel fuels.

By 2050, it is thus claimed Canadians will have an additional $9.5 billion ($33.9 billion less $24.4 billion) in their pockets as a result of the switch to EVs. Another $19.2 billion in health benefits are also predicted as a result of reduced emissions. Altogether, Ottawa claims its cost/benefit analysis yields a total net benefit of $28.6 billion from forcing Canadians to drive EVs.  A closer look at Ottawa’s numbers reveals this to be nonsense.

Manufacturing delusions: Ottawa assumes the average EV will be just $3,300 more expensive than its gasoline-powered counterpart in 2026, but it’s counting on innovations that have not yet been achieved and ignoring the fact that prices for minerals like lithium and nickel for EV batteries are sure to rise. (Source of photo: Tennen-Gas, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Using U.S. evidence, the federal government assumes the average EV will be only $3,300 more expensive than a similar gasoline-powered car by 2026. By 2033, EVs are predicted to be less expensive. Electric pickup trucks are assumed to be $7,150 more expensive in 2026, decreasing to $655 more expensive by 2035. In reality EVs are already about 50 percent pricier than gasoline-powered vehicles, and electric light trucks far more than that. The Canadian government’s estimate of total incremental vehicle costs being just $15.3 billion thus seems wildly optimistic. Even if every EV was just $1,000 more expensive than its gas-powered competitor, replacing all of Canada’s existing 25 million cars and light trucks would cost at least $25 billion.

It beggars the imagination that EVs (which currently cost approximately $13,000 more than equivalent gas-powered cars) will be only $3,300 more expensive three years hence. Ottawa is counting on economies of scale and technological innovations that have not yet been achieved to reach its goals. It seems wishful thinking. Furthermore, the federal analysis does not take into account the massive increase in demand for the minerals and other materials used to create EV batteries, which will almost certainly increase the overall cost of the vehicles. The actual incremental cost for electric vehicles could easily hit hundreds of billions of dollars, not $15.3 billion, with almost all of it falling on ordinary Canadians.

Zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) registrations are rising, in part because the federal government has been offering generous subsidies; several provinces offer subsidies of their own – Quebec’s amount to $8,000 per vehicle. (Source of graph: Electric Autonomy Canada)

To speed the adoption of EVs, the federal government currently offers a $5,000 subsidy to purchasers of EVs. So far Ottawa has subsidized about 175,000 vehicles (or seven-tenths of one percent of Canada’s 25 million vehicles) at a cost of close to $1 billion. The 2022 budget added a further $1.7 billion to carry the program through 2026, when the mandated sales for EVs will ramp up in earnest. In addition, several Canadian provinces offer subsidies of their own, with the highest subsidy being Quebec’s at $8,000 per vehicle. Ottawa also admits to having spent “nearly $16 billion” since 2018 on subsidies for the development and manufacturing of EVs and batteries.

These expenditures are not included in the cost/benefit analysis, but will fall on Canadian taxpayers nonetheless. As this C2C analysis explores in more detail, the higher purchase price is only one of multiple new multi-billion-dollar cost categories that the transition to EVs will impose on Canadians. In addition, an earlier C2C story looked at the impact EVs will have on government revenues, given the disappearance of the gas tax and the expected appearance of new taxes and/or road fees. One way or another, we will be paying much more for EVs than Ottawa admits.

Charge It

The federal government assumes most EVs will be charged at home, at night, when electricity costs are cheaper. This is based on U.S. evidence that 80 percent of EV owners currently charge at night. But even if the 80 percent figure is correct today, this is likely because existing EV owners have self-selected for ease of charging vehicles at home. That will not be true when everyone is forced to switch. What will happen to the millions of people who currently park on the street? They cannot run hefty charging cables across public sidewalks to their cars. Nor is it reasonable to expect older buildings to be retrofitted with accessible parking/charging spaces. Many vehicles will have to be charged at higher-speed public chargers during the day, at considerably higher cost.

Buying powerful Level 2 fast chargers for all Canadian homes is estimated at $9.1 billion, which is added to the $15.3 billion incremental purchase cost for EVs to produce the $24.5 billion total consumer cost figure. Fast chargers, which run up to $870 apiece, provide enough power to drive 16 to 32 kilometres per hour of charging. (Level 1 chargers are cheaper but so slow they’re not worth considering here.) It is not clear how the government arrived at $9.1 billion. If there are 25 million vehicles in Canada and 80 percent of them will eventually require an $870 charger, then the full cost should be closer to $17 billion. That is, unless the calculation assumes that each home charger will be used to charge more than one EV, a questionable assumption since it takes so long to charge a single EV. It is likely that new homes will eventually be built with several chargers to handle multiple family vehicles as well as overnight visitors.

Charging a premium: The federal government thinks most EVs will be charged at home, at night, when electricity costs are cheaper; but what about the millions who park on the street, or who live in older buildings that can’t be retrofitted with charging stations?

Further, the calculation does not include installation costs, which can be several times the actual cost of the chargers themselves, since they require 240-volt service (which legally requires installation by a certified electrician plus a municipal permit and subsequent inspection). Many homes will also require new wiring and a new circuit breaker panel to facilitate this, meaning expenses will run to many thousands of dollars. And not only homes will need to be rewired; the added load will require widespread upgrades to the entire electrical infrastructure.

As for electricity costs, upon which the entire EV mandate hangs, the government’s Impact Statement assumes a whole-of-country switch to EVs will only increase electricity consumption by a paltry 2.6-4.8 percent. “A significant change in electricity pricing is therefore not expected,” it claims. This too seems like wishful, if not delusional, thinking.

Saskatchewan Conservative MP Warren Steinley recently submitted an “Inquiry of Ministry” in the House of Commons requesting information on how the federal EV mandate will affect overall electricity demand. The official response from Natural Resources Canada states, “the total annual additional electricity required due to EV charging…represents approximately 3.4%, 16.1%, 22.6% of today’s domestic electrical power demand for 2030, 2040 and 2050 respectively.” How much will it cost to boost electricity generation by nearly 23 percent by 2050 to meet EV demand? The official response demurs on a clear figure, but notes that Ottawa is already spending $49 billion “to support the affordability and economic opportunities associated with clean electricity.”

Ottawa’s calculations did not include the installation costs of EV chargers which can require new wiring and circuit breaker panels as well as permits and inspections.

If even more electricity is needed for things such as additional electrical home heating or cooking, costs will rise even further, especially if new transmission lines and generating stations are needed. And all of this will occur at the same time as the Trudeau government is attempting to regulate fossil-fuel-generated electricity out of existence. The entire set of consequences will inevitably be passed on to consumers in the form of higher electricity rates.

Charge It Again

Access to charging is the biggest immediate barrier to widespread adoption of EVs. An ample network of charging stations is absolutely necessary to overcome consumer “range anxiety,” or the – entirely valid – fear of being left powerless and stranded by the side of the road when your battery goes dead. In 2019 the federal government spent $150 million to support the establishment of 33,500 fast-charging stations, at an average cost of $3,880 each. This is not the full cost of such stations, but only the federally-subsidized portion. Again, this was not included in the cost/benefit analysis.

According to Natural Resources Canada, at least 442,000 public charging stations will be needed, each costing about $45,000, representing a total estimated cost of $20 billion. Since these stations take about 30 minutes to charge a typical car and there are currently about 160,000 gasoline pumps in Canada, that estimate seems low. And there will need to be excess capacity near places where people congregate – shopping malls, stadiums, public parks, beaches, ski hills and other popular places.

Fill ’er up: Ottawa estimates 442,000 public charging stations will be needed, at a total cost of $20 billion; with no plan to pay for them, it’s hoping malls, restaurants and hotels will install them, and pass the cost on to consumers.

The Liberal government has no plan to pay for all these required charging stations. As the federal analysis states in its detached tone, “Various businesses may choose to capitalize on the opportunity to increase foot traffic at their establishments by investing in charging infrastructure.” In other words, the government is hoping restaurants, hotels, motels, and shopping malls install the needed stations at their own expense. It admits that those costs will be passed on to consumers.

If private businesses do not voluntarily spend the billions of dollars necessary, especially in rural and remote areas, the government (and taxpayers) will inevitably have to provide this funding. Again, none of this is included in the cost/benefit analysis. Also not included in the calculations are other privately-born expenses arising from the EV transition, including the cost mechanics and garages will face “to retrofit their shops and invest in training to service EVs.”

Tow, Tow, Tow Your Boat (Not Any Longer)

While EVs may work well for short commutes to and from work or running errands, even Ottawa’s boosterish and blinkered analysis admits EVs “have a finite amount of power, and any additional burden you place on the battery will pull power away from the propulsion of the vehicle and decrease its range.” This directly impairs the usefulness of electric trucks.

The ample torque and horsepower of electric sportscars such as the Tesla make them wonders of acceleration and handling. People buy pickup trucks, however, not for their speed and agility but for their ability to pull and carry. And here, the relative paucity of total energy embodied in battery power is a serious impediment to their core function.

A hard pull: When Car and Driver magazine reviewed EV trucks it found that towing cut their range by more than half; the battery range of the Ford F-150 Lightning dropped from 450 km to 170 km.

Last year Car and Driver magazine reviewed the towing capacity of three high-end light-duty electric trucks – GMC Hummer EV, Rivian R1T and Ford F-150 Lightning. (The Hummer is listed at $88,898, the Rivian at $90,000 and the Ford at $82,545. All figures for base-level trim with towing ability.) The review found, “The range for all three trucks when towing was less than half as far as when cruising lightly loaded.” (Emphasis added.) The full battery range of 450 km for the Ford F-150 shrank to a mere 170 km when pulling a 29-foot, 6,100-pound camper around the magazine’s test track.

An equivalent problem arises with a truck’s payload, or the amount it can carry in the bed. According to a recent review by car industry authority Kelley Blue Book, the Ford F-150 Lightning has a maximum payload of 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms). The “extended-range” model has an even smaller payload of 1,800 pounds due to the extra weight of its additional batteries. By comparison, a gasoline-powered F-150 V-8 can carry 3,325 pounds. The F-250/350 Super Duty has a payload capacity of 7,850 pounds. You can, in other words, get an EV truck to go fairly far – empty. Or you can get it to haul or tow a modest load for a short distance. But you can’t get it to do both, let alone move a large load a long distance.

Many, perhaps most, truck owners depend at least some of the time on their vehicle to pull trailers and carry cargo long distances. This usefulness is reduced to an almost comical degree under battery power. As we have seen, pulling a trailer with an electric truck means a dramatic drop in carrying capacity and a doubling of required recharging stops. If you are hauling a boat to the cottage, this likely means stopping every hour or two for a half-hour recharge – if you can get a spot at the recharging station during congested cottage season.

Consider also that most existing charging stations are not designed for a truck with a trailer to be “pulled through,” as is the case with current gas stations. Imagine how frustrating it would be to have to unhook your trailer every time you wanted to charge your electric truck on a long trip. Then there’s the lack of charging stations in rural or remote areas where fishing or camping is most desirable. All this conjures up the image of drivers pulling a second mini-trailer with an additional battery pack simply to tow a heavy trailer. Which in turn would require provincial highway laws to be rewritten so that light-duty trucks could tow two trailers instead of just one.

Trust the science: The popular YouTube series Engineering Explained has unpacked the reason EV trucks are almost comically useless for hauling big loads or pulling trailers – two of the main things trucks are supposed to do.

As the federal Impact Statement observes, it is possible to add a “towing package” to many all-electric light-duty trucks to improve their towing ability. The estimated cost of such a package in 2026 is $17,100 per truck. Adding a towing package to ensure all light-duty trucks can actually tow something for several continuous hours would therefore cost $66.3 billion. This is a large enough sum that even the government admits it is impractical. It alone would flip the government’s entire cost/benefit analysis from positive to negative – wiping out all claimed benefits to consumers from gasoline savings and pollution reduction. For this reason, it is simply ignored by the Impact Statement.

There are clearly enormous problems associated with electric trucks that Ottawa has not explained to Canadians. When Trudeau first announced the federal government’s EV plan via Twitter in 2021, he said “by 2035, all new cars and passenger trucks that are sold must be zero-emission.” Taking that statement at face value would mean a practical end to trailering in Canada, and quite possibly an uprising among Canadian truck owners and rural drivers.

The PHEV Escape Clause

To get out of this self-created jam, the Trudeau government has fiddled with its definition of what “zero-emission” actually means. According to the new proposed regulations, truck owners are to be allowed the option of purchasing plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) instead of all-electrics. PHEVs are a compromise that includes an internal combustion engine alongside a battery-powered motor. This format typically allows for either or both power sources to be used at any one time. Significantly, the gas-powered feature substantially reduces refuelling and range concerns.

PHEVs are, however, even more expensive than conventional battery EVs. This is because they have two power plants: a battery system with the capability of being externally recharged and the gasoline engine. When running in internal combustion mode, they must necessarily be refuelled more often, since their gas tanks tend to be somewhat smaller and the overall vehicle is heavier due to the battery pack. Finally, PHEVs are most definitely not zero-emission vehicles, a fact that has earned the ire of some environmentalists and directly contradicts Trudeau’s boast from 2021 that eventually every light-duty car and truck sold in Canada will make no emissions.

The hybrid loophole: Because of the drawbacks of EV trucks, the government will allow a limited number of plug-in hybrids; but they are expensive and likely to get more so as demand rises, and they are definitely not “zero-emission” vehicles.

Under Ottawa’s new proposed rules, PHEV sales are to be capped at 20 percent of all vehicles in 2028 and beyond. As these will be the only trucks on the market with any reasonable towing capability, we can expect demand will be high. This will presumably push their cost up even further. As the Trudeau government’s EV mandate takes hold, recreational drivers who simply want an affordable truck to pull a trailer will increasingly find themselves priced out of the market as they compete with contractors, tradespeople, landscaping companies and anyone else who needs a functional truck for their livelihood.

At the same time, however, the lower capability of PHEVs will inevitably reduce their users’ productivity. Perhaps tradespeople will have to leave some of their tools or equipment behind. Or buy more trucks. Or make multiple trips to haul all their equipment, supplies and materials. In whatever way the work force responds to these new federally-imposed restrictions, it seems inevitable that the cost of doing business will go up. And this will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. These costs are again not included in the Liberal government’s cost/benefit analysis.

Fatal impact: Ottawa’s assessment casually observes that heavier EV trucks will be harder to maneuvre and will not only “cause more accidents, but accidents could become more fatal” – an added toll in human life not included in the federal cost/benefit analysis. (Source of photo: Driving Line)

Finally, it bears mention that ponderously heavy electric trucks are by their nature harder to maneuver and stop due to their large battery packs. A heavier vehicle is also a heavier projectile in an accident and will cause more damage. (This also applies to electric cars, which are heavier than gasoline-powered cars.) As the federal Impact Statement casually observes, this fact will not only “cause more accidents, but accidents could become more fatal.” It is, of course, impossible for accidents to become “more fatal.” Either people die or they don’t. What the mandarins mean is that there will be more accident fatalities due to the proliferation of heavier and harder-to-drive electric trucks and cars. This added toll in human life is also not included in the federal cost/benefit analysis.

The EV Revolution’s Other Victims

The burden for switching consumers, however reluctantly, to EVs is to be laid at the feet of vehicle manufacturers and importers. Beginning in 2026 they will face mandatory EV quotas of 20 percent of sales, rising to 60 percent in 2030 and 100 percent by 2035, with the notable PHEV exception. During this period, it is easy to imagine a situation in which a car manufacturer quickly sells out of its quota of cheaper and convenient gas-powered vehicles and is then left with pricey and inconvenient EVs no one wants. The manufacturer would then have to increase the price of gasoline-powered vehicles to bring supply and demand back into balance.

This ratcheting up of vehicle prices, as the federal Impact Statement observes, is “expected to have a disproportionate impact on low-income households.” It will thus become more difficult for low-income families to afford a vehicle. This is bad news, given ample evidence that having access to a car is crucial to finding and keeping a good job and escaping poverty. The news gets worse. “Low-income households are also more likely to live in rental units, which…may not be suitable for at-home charging equipment,” the federal report observes. Without the means to charge at home during the night, low-income car owners will have to buy higher-priced electricity at daytime public charging stations. The conclusion: “Low-income households would likely be disproportionately and negatively affected.”

The document also reveals that EVs will be less useful for households in rural and northern communities because they “may have lower access to public charging infrastructure” and because “prolonged periods of cold temperatures…may affect the range of battery-powered EVs.” Of course, it is already well known that “may affect” actually means “will dramatically reduce.” Plus, electricity rates tend to be higher in rural and northern regions. None of this will come as news to rural residents, as they have avoided EVs and electric trucks until now for these very reasons.

In claiming the new regulations “will make sure that Canadians have access to the vehicles they want,” Liberal MP Julie Dabrusin seems to have ignored the conclusion of her own government’s impact assessment: “The proposed Amendments are expected to lead to a loss of consumer choice.”

At a media event announcing the new federal regulations in December 2022, Liberal MP Julie Dabrusin, parliamentary secretary to Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, claimed that the regulations forcing Canadians to buy EVs are “about making sure that Canadians have access to the vehicles they want.” It is a strange claim to make. According to her government’s own Impact Statement, it’s the exact opposite. Rather than increasing choice, “The proposed Amendments are expected to lead to a loss of consumer choice,” the document reads. (Emphasis added.) Given all the above, how could anyone disagree?

It seems clear from this detailed review of the federal government’s own cost/benefit analysis – particularly given the many obvious costs deliberately excluded from the analysis – that most vehicle owners and users will be left worse off for many reasons. EVs may actually be attractive for wealthy urbanites who live in single-detached homes and face short commutes to work, shopping, friends and entertainment. But such is not the case for the majority of Canadians. Anyone who lives in an apartment or townhouse, has a modest income, lives in a rural or northern area, depends on a truck for their livelihood or simply enjoys getting away from it all by towing a trailer into Canada’s great wilderness will find the Liberals’ EV revolution amounts to a serious burden on their wallet and dramatic reduction in their quality of life.

That red blinking light means it’s time to replace Canada’s harmful and dangerous EV policy.

James R. Coggins (www.coggins.ca) is a writer, editor and historian based in Chilliwack, B.C.

Source of main image: Dan Carney.

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