Ontario studying electric-car incentives

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Consumers in Ontario could receive financial incentives to buy electric cars as part of the government's ambition to be in the vanguard of the next generation vehicle.

Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that his government will release a study in May that will look at speeding up the introduction of battery powered cars on Ontario's roads and highways.

The study will consider financial incentives, giving electric cars the same preferred access as carpoolers and buses to high-occupancy vehicle lanes and replacing his government's fleet of cars with electric ones.

“I think one of the most important things we can do is demonstrate that we are truly an electric-car-friendly jurisdiction,” Mr. McGuinty said at a news conference at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where he announced that his government is joining forces with a California company that is working with partners to build battery recharging stations for electric cars.

“I think it's fitting that we're looking at the next phase in the history of the car right here in Ontario,” Mr. McGuinty said.

“Ontario should be home to the first truly green car. Well, today we're taking one step to get us a little bit closer.”

The Premier was flanked at the announcement by Shai Agassi, founder and chief executive officer of Palo Alto-based Better Place, and the company's demonstration vehicle, a white, 2008 battery-powered Nissan Rogue.

As first reported by The Globe and Mail, this will be Better Place's first foray into Canada. The company is working with partners to build recharging stations in the United States, Israel, Denmark and Australia.

It is setting up shop here just as the embattled Detroit Three auto makers are betting their futures on hybrid and battery powered vehicles, which will arrive as soon as next year.

Better Place plans to open a Canadian subsidiary and build an electric car demonstration centre in Toronto to lay the groundwork to get electric vehicles up and running in Ontario. Mr. Agassi said consumers will be able to buy kilometres of electricity for their cars, much the same way they download music for their iPod music players or buy minutes for their cellular phones.

The McGuinty government has earmarked $1.15-billion in funding for ventures that will help the province survive the economic downturn and create jobs of the future. Better Place is an ideal example of the kind of ventures the government is targeting.

“It's an idea with the power to reshape our province,” Mr. McGuinty said. The venture will create new green jobs by building battery recharging stations, signalling to the world that Ontario is a jurisdiction that is friendly to the electric car, he said.

A big hurdle to persuading consumers to trade in their gasoline-fuelled cars for electric ones is that the batteries can cost as much as $8,000. But Mr. Agassi thinks there is a way to get around this obstacle by selling consumers cars without the battery. Under such a scenario, consumers would purchase just the electricity.

Mr. Agassi said electric cars should be sold the same as gasoline-fuelled cars. If a car came with a 12-year supply of gasoline, the cost would be prohibitive, he said. Better Place reached an agreement with auto maker Renault Nissan last year to make electric cars that fit this model, he said.

“Electricity kilometres are cheaper than gasoline kilometres, so we are actually able to make electric cars comparable or cheaper than gasoline cars.”

Mr. McGuinty said consumers will demand that the auto industry make recharging batteries for electric cars convenient and easy.

“They will want to be able to pull into a battery exchange station and replace a run down battery with a fully charged one,” he said.


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