Quebec electric vehicle law sparks concern within automotive industry

FILE - In this file photo, electric vehicles sit on display at an auto dealership.
FILE - In this file photo, electric vehicles sit on display at an auto dealership. AP Photo/David Goldman, File

Automakers are expressing concern that it will be difficult to comply with a new law in Quebec that requires them to sell a minimum number of electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

Starting with the 2018 model year, 3.5 per cent of all auto sales in the province will have to be from those types of vehicles.

That threshold will rise to 15.5 per cent for 2025 models.

Quebec is the only province that has such legislation.

READ MORE: Montreal to install 1,000 electric car charging stations

Companies that don’t meet that threshold will have to buy credits from other automakers that do.

It’s unclear what penalties automakers would face if they violate the law, as regulations that would define that have not been released.

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“It’s very aggressive,” David Adams, president of the Global Automakers of Canada, said last week at the Montreal Auto Show.

“It’s going to be a real challenge to see how we’re going to find a path to get there.”

The legislation, which was passed last October, should be delayed, Adams said, adding that the auto industry should be recognized for its efforts to cut emissions through the development of hybrid vehicles as well as fuel efficiency improvements with its non-electric fleet.

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Adams said some carmakers may simply reduce the supply of non-electric vehicles on their lots in order to abide by the law, a move that could hurt sales.

Quebec’s environment minister didn’t respond to requests for comment about the industry’s concerns.

Officials instead pointed to the Environment Department’s website, which says the goal behind the law is to increase consumer choice.

While sales of electric vehicles have grown, they still account for less than one per cent of overall new auto sales in Quebec.

Across Canada, they make up 0.5 per cent of all auto sales.

“I don’t think that it’s realistic to impose that kind of mandate on consumers who ultimately are going to decide what they want to purchase based on their own needs,” said Michael Hatch, chief economist of the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association.

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WATCH BELOW: Electric cars in Montreal

Automakers have made strides in introducing news lines of electric vehicles.

Chevy is adding the electric Bolt to its plug-in hybrid Volt, the country’s bestselling electric vehicle.

The Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid, which is assembled in Windsor, Ont., is making its debut this year and Ford is planning to introduce 13 additional electric vehicle models by 2020.

BMW and other luxury brands are also introducing new electric models, including the upcoming Mini Countryman plug-in.

READ MORE: Climate change: Electric cars can make bigger difference than once believed, study finds

George Saratlic, a spokesman for General Motors, said there is no “silver bullet” that would increase sales of low- or no-emission vehicles as consumer demand is driven by factors such as technology, price and the availability of charging stations.

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“If you look at places like Ontario and B.C., electric vehicle adoption is growing there as well as sales and its doesn’t need legislation,” he said.

Ontario offers up to $14,000 in rebates for electric vehicle purchases, the most in the country.

Quebec offers rebates of up to $8,000 and B.C. provides rebates of up to $5,000.

READ MORE: Tesla Motors to ‘massively’ expand supercharger network in Ontario and Quebec

Not all auto manufacturers have reservations about Quebec’s law.

Nissan Canada president Joni Paiva rejected calls for changes to the legislation, saying it forces car companies to “walk the talk.”

The full-electric Leaf accounted for 2.4 per cent of Nissan’s sales in Quebec last year, Paiva said.

The automaker is also expected to build credits from sales of 2014 to 2017 model years to help meet the government thresholds, which the law allows for.

READ MORE: 106 electric car charging stations to be added in Montreal

Mazda does not yet sell a vehicle that meets the law’s requirements, but the automaker is planning to launch an electric vehicle in 2019, said spokeswoman Sandra Lemaitre.

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The company has been paying credits in California, which has a law similar to Quebec’s, and expects to have to do the same initially in Quebec, Lemaitre said.

“It will be challenging for us to get caught up but we will get there,” she said.

Here are five things to know about the legislation:

  • At least 3.5 per cent of auto sales of 2018 models must be from electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. That threshold rises to 15.5 per cent as of 2025.
  • Less than one per cent of auto sales in Quebec were of electric vehicles last year.
  • Auto manufacturers that don’t meet the threshold will have to buy credits from other companies that do.
  • The provincial government aims to have 100,000 electric vehicles on Quebec roads by 2020. As of last August, there were 11,619 electric vehicles, according to the Environment Department’s website. It does not specify how many plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are in the province.
  • Quebec’s law is the only one of its kind in Canada. Ten U.S. states have similar legislation.

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