Canadian study ranks ZEV mandates as the gold standard of policy to make the EV shift

  • More stringent vehicle emissions standards won’t necessarily push automakers to ZEVs
  • ZEV mandates were rated the gold standard of policy, ranking first in all criteria except policy simplicity, as noted above.

Researchers at Simon Fraser University modeled three ways Canada could achieve 40% ZEV market share in 2040 (corresponding roughly to 30% market share in 2030). The three options, as well as the business-as-usual / continuation-of-current-policy prediction, were then charted, as shown below:

  • Supply-focused policy: namely, a ZEV mandate for 40% in 2040.
  • Demand-focused policy: a $6,000 ZEV nationwide electric vehicle rebate for the next 20 years.
  • Supply-focused policy #2: ramping up vehicle emissions standards so that in 2040, new vehicles average 71 g CO2e/km, roughly equivalent to the non-plug-in Prius, as compared to an average of 170–180 g CO2e/km today. (CO2e = CO2 equivalent)

Modeled ZEV market share in Canada under BAU and three policy options.  The policy options were then scored on five criteria:

Effectiveness: how likely the policy would be to help achieve the market share goal. As can be seen above, a ZEV mandate is highly effective, and vehicle emissions standards much less so.

Cost-effectiveness: how many ZEVs the country gets per public buck.

Public support: how popular the policy would be, based on a recent representative sample of Canadians. Unpopular policies tend to get overturned, so while a high ($500 per tonne CO2?) carbon tax might sound good, it wouldn’t accomplish much, because the next government would immediately ratchet it back.

Policy simplicity: is the policy easy to implement? If armies of lawyers are needed to monitor loopholes, or if teams of negotiators are required to coordinate between multiple levels of government, then however well it works on paper, the policy might not be feasible in the real world.

Transformational signal: will stakeholders (such as auto OEMs) have the confidence that the policy will be in place for the long term, and will it guide their investments towards ZEV technologies (as opposed to, say, hybridization).

The three policy options’ scores in each category are shown below.

Score for each of three policy options (five criteria).

Unsurprisingly, purchase incentives (“demand focused policy package”) earned the lowest score — at a certain point, they’re just not financially sustainable. This doesn’t apply to Norway, where the preferential treatment shown to ZEVs isn’t a matter of government reimbursing money (rebates or tax credits) but is rather a case of government exempting ZEVs from the penalties applied to combustion vehicle ownership. Sadly for non-Norwegians, gradually ramping up “pollution taxes” on combustion vehicle sales going forward is unlikely to work, as it would probably fail the “public support” criterion: an opposition party could probably sweep to power by campaigning on eliminating it. (Ah, how lucky those Norwegians truly are…)

An ever-more-stringent vehicle emissions standard finished second. It lost points relative to the ZEV mandate because emissions standards won’t necessarily push automakers to ZEV technologies. They might choose to improve combustion technology, as with Nissan’s or Mazda’s new gasoline engines (as efficient as diesels), while lobbying for cleaner fuel standards, pushing some costs onto oil companies. Vehicle emissions standards were judged to be a simpler policy to execute and maintain than ZEV mandates, though.  

ZEV mandates were rated the gold standard of policy, ranking first in all criteria except policy simplicity, as noted above.  

Of course, as CleanTechnica readers all know, the clean energy transition doesn’t happen in the saying, but in the doing. Here’s to hoping Canada’s federal government heeds the insights of the ZEV Policy Handbook — informing public policy is one of the purposes of academic research, after all. The government’s own ZEV Policy Committee is preparing its own report as well. I’ve been told the earliest these recommendations could realistically make their way into government policy is the fall 2018 session of Parliament. (I wonder if Santa takes post-dated Christmas wishes…?)

Further Reading

For readers wanting to delve more deeply into the scientific literature surrounding our transition to zero-emission propulsion, SFU’s START team has conducted some ground-breaking research. Its Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle Survey (spanning 2013 to 2015) unearthed valuable insights about just how different EV early adopters and mainstream car buyers are (I summarized different parts of the study here and here) and its 2016 EV report card took Canada’s governments to task for the poor-to-mediocre policies then in place.  Clean Technica shares how the Canadian plug-in electric vehicle market has evolved over time, head on over to my open-access spreadsheet at!

Canada’s Electric Vehicle Policy Report Card (2016)

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from Canada’s transportation sector will be essential in meeting federal and provincial emissions targets. Electric vehicles are likely to be a key component in the transition to a lower emissions transportation system, as they can reduce emissions 45% to 98% compared to a gasoline vehicle with Canada’s current electricity grid.

Climate change experts suggest that more than 40% of vehicles will need to be electric by 2040 to keep warming under 2 degrees. Electric vehicle sales in Canada are low, capturing only 1% of all new vehicle sales. However, across the country interest in electric vehicles is growing and some provinces have put in measures to increase electric vehicle sales. But will these policies put Canadian provinces on track to boost electric vehicle sales to the levels needed to meet emissions targets?  

Canada’s Electric Vehicle Policy Report Card evaluates the key question about whether these policies are likely to be sufficient to put Canadian provinces on track to boost electric vehicle sales to levels needed to achieve emissions targets.  Based on our evaluation we generate policy report cards for each province. This report is intended to be a helpful guide for policymakers, researchers, and other stakeholders to identify policies that are likely to be effective in reaching provincial and national greenhouse gas targets.

We generate the following conclusions:

  • No Canadian province is currently on track to achieve an “A”. More stringent policies are needed.
  • Based on our evaluation, the most effective policies include a Zero Emission Vehicle mandate (like in California and Quebec), strong and long-duration financial incentives (like in Norway and Ontario), and strong taxation on gasoline or carbon pricing.
  • Different combinations of stringent policy can be used to achieve an “A”. Therefore, regions have some degree of flexibility in selecting the policies best suited for their jurisdiction.
  • The federal government could raise the grades of all provinces to an “A” and position Canada as an international leader by implementing effective policies such as a ZEV mandate and strong purchase incentives, as well as continued strengthening of the proposed carbon pricing policy.
  • Municipal governments can also play a role in improving their province’s electric vehicle policy grades by implementing policies such as building regulations and public charging infrastructure deployment, and supporting effective policies at the federal and provincial level.

We conclude that more effective policies are needed to reach provincial and national targets. As more is learned about the relationship between electric vehicle supportive policy and long-term electric vehicle sales, we plan to update our framework.

Related Media Coverage

Related Peer-Reviewed Publication

Melton, N., J. Axsen, and S. Goldberg (2017), Evaluation plug-in electric vehicle policies and progress toward decarbonizing passenger vehicles in Canada, Submitted to Energy Policy.