Critics call Ontario EV rebates “a bribe”

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The Ontario government wants one in every 20 cars on provincial roads to be electric by 2020, and to get there it is promising rebates from $4,000 to $10,000 to those who buy a plug-in hybrid after July 1, 2010, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced.

"We want to make it easier to buy green cars," McGuinty told a news conference at the Courtesy Chevrolet dealership on the Queensway. The cash incentive is meant to ease sticker shock for plug-in hybrids, expected to cost around $40,000.

"We want people to become comfortable with these new technologies and help them become more widespread in the marketplace," McGuinty said.

Auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers called the cash incentive a bribe. One in every 20 cars adds up to about 350,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2020, he said. At $10,000 apiece in rebates, that means the province is looking at a $3.

5 billion program.

"It is foolish policy," he said. "It is misdirected, not thoroughly thought through. There is much more the Ontario government can do to green the auto sector."

McGuinty also announced plans to buy 500 electric vehicles for the government fleet and promised to set up a system of reliable charging stations – integral to the wide-scale acceptance of electric vehicles. Recharging will be available in some government-owned and GO Transit parking lots, and the province is working with the private sector to come up with more.

The premier did not have a clear answer on how much the incentive program will cost, but noted it will not last forever. The province still needs to figure out how many vehicles will be eligible, he said.

DesRosiers said the policy shows desperation by the Liberals to get their "green act together" and the incentive is pushing consumers to take an extraordinary risk on a new technology.

"For half the price of a plug-in electric, even with the bribe, a consumer can buy a Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, etc. These vehicles offer exceptional fuel efficiency, are nearly guaranteed to last 15 to 20 years and have a very well-defined maintenance cycle."

Ontario owns 3.8 per cent of General Motors after a multi-level government bailout of the U.S. automaker. GM hopes to be a front-runner in the electric car market with the Chevy Volt, which will be available in 2011.

The Volt can go 65 kilometres on one overnight electrical charge alone, but also has a small gasoline engine that will recharge the electrical motor, giving it a range of more than 500 kilometres before stopping to plug in.

Chevy is not the only car company to pursue electric vehicles. Toyota, Mitsubishi and Saturn are also pursuing plug-in hybrid cars.

The cars' demands on electricity will be modest, McGuinty said. "With a new electric car, and, if you have in place a smart grid, you can actually charge your vehicle up overnight when the rates are lower.

"It may be through the course of a day when you are plugged in at work to a smart grid, you can draw down electricity from the battery and contribute that to the system of electricity," he said. "You end up being a purchaser and seller of electricity through your electric car."

McGuinty also announced a green licence plate system to easily identify "green" cars and drivers and offer them perques. Drivers will be able to use provincial high-occupancy-vehicle lanes and private companies such as Wal-Mart will designate them priority parking spots.

New Democratic Party MPP Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale-High Park) called the announcement "spin," with no dollar figure released for the green initiative.

"This is your classic deathbed conversion for both Dalton ‘Diesel’ McGuinty and General Motors," she said. McGuinty is investing millions in diesel trains that she said will be worse on the environment.

"You heard no details on how this will be rolled out or where the infrastructure will come from."


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