Canada puts brakes on electric vehicles

Despite increasing local demand for zero-emissions cars and trucks and robust exports of electric vehicles, Canada will not allow them on its roads, lament manufacturers.

“It’s a daily embarrassment,” said Ian Clifford, president of Zenn Motor Company, which builds “zero emissions no noise” vehicles in Canada for export primarily to the United States.

“Even my employees can’t drive to work in a Zenn. It’s absurd,” he said of federal and provincial rules that forbid electric cars from being driven on most Canadian roads.

Clifford’s frustration is aggravated by the view that Canadians are increasingly concerned about the environment and are said to be eager to drive electric vehicles in this warming climate.

“We build the car in St. Jerome (Quebec) and ship them all south of the border,” where 44 states allow them, and some 45,000 electric cars are in use today, he said.

But Transport Canada says the vehicles made of lightweight metals and plastics are not safe to drive on Canada’s open roads, and would not stand up in a collision.

The regulatory agency has so far certified only five models as road-worthy, including the Zenn, and two others that are no longer in production, said Transport Canada spokeswoman Maryse Durette.

But most provinces, which have jurisdiction over the vast majority of roads and highways in the country, have balked at giving electric cars the green light, citing Transport Canada’s safety concerns.

“We found Transport Canada to be very hostile towards low speed electric vehicles,” echoed Danny Epp of Dynasty Electric Car in an email to AFP.

The Canadian company was recently sold to a Pakistani group which plans to move production to Karachi and continue exporting its vehicles to the United States.

According to reports, others allege political bias, noting Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government’s base of support in oil-rich Alberta province.

To date, only westernmost British Columbia allows low speed electric vehicles on its urban roads.

This week, Quebec in eastern Canada announced a three-year pilot project that would permit starting in July the Zenn and an electric truck called Nemo on its roads with posted speed limits of 50 kilometers (31 miles) per hour.

Manufacturers are hoping Quebec’s pilot may spur its neighbors to jump on the bandwagon and eventually make it possible to drive an electric car from coast to coast across all 10 of Canada’s provinces.

“We hope it will lead to changes,” said Jacques Rancourt, head of utility truck maker Nemo, based in Montreal. But the road promises to be uphill all the way, he said.

Despite their widespread use in the United States and strong sales, there are still technical improvements to be made, say experts, such as boosting the life of batteries used in electric vehicles to allow them to go further.

Hydro Quebec subsidiary TM4, which makes electric motors for the Cleanova electric car built by a subsidiary of France’s Dassault auto group, is working on a new more powerful lithium-ion battery for use in electric vehicles.

According to Quebec’s Transport Minister Julie Boulet, TM4 is also seeking to partner on the project with a large automaker, which she refused to name.

“The battery is really at the heart of the matter to get electric cars rolling,” said Hydro Quebec spokesman Flavie Cote. “We all want exceptional performance from a battery that doesn’t take long to recharge, at a low cost.”

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