Why an electric vehicle is a viable cottage car

illustration of a cottage and electric vehicle charging Illustration by Victor Wong/Cottage Life.

Clipping north along Highway 400 towards Sudbury, you may catch a glimpse of a red Tesla Model 3 plugged into the Supercharger station outside the Parry Sound Inn & Suites. Attached to this Tesla, sitting on a trailer, is a 21-foot pontoon powered by solar panels.

The owner of the two vehicles, Ian Graham, is what you might call an electric man. He’s all about pushing the limits of what electricity can do.

The Parry Sound Supercharger station is a 20-minute pit-stop on Graham’s six-hour journey from Kitchener to his Charlton Lake cabin north of Manitoulin Island. With 500 kilometres of range, Graham’s Tesla could almost make the journey in one shot, but towing the pontoon eats up about 60 per cent of his charge, forcing him to make a quick stop.

Tesla towing a solar-powered pontoon boat
Photo courtesy of Ian Graham

The hesitation to adopt electric vehicles (EVs) puzzles Graham. To him, driving his Tesla to the cottage isn’t just feasible, it’s old news. “It’s been seven years that I’ve been driving electric vehicles north to the cabin, and it’s a bit funny to hear people go on about range anxiety because my cabin is over 500 kilometres away. I stop once for 20 minutes,” he says. Along Graham’s cottage commute, which takes him through Barrie, skirts Muskoka, and then heads north towards Sudbury, there are more than enough charging stations, he says, Tesla or otherwise.

Most cottagers are hesitant to adopt the EV lifestyle, voicing concerns about affordability, availability, and limited charging infrastructure. But rapid developments in battery and charging technology are bringing prices down while allowing EVs to drive farther on a single charge. EVs are no longer the stuff of science fiction, they’re a viable option.  

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This, at least, is the stance the federal government is taking. In 2022, the Liberal government released their sales requirement plan for car manufacturers, specifying that by 2026, 20 per cent of passenger vehicles sold must be electric. By 2030, the goal is 60 per cent, which is expected to play a major role in helping Canada achieve its 2030 climate reduction targets of cutting all greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 per cent of the country’s 2005 levels. By 2035, 100 per cent of passenger vehicles should be EV. 

To increase EV sales, the federal government has introduced an incentive. If you purchase an EV car with a base model price of less than $55,000 or an EV truck, SUV, minivan, or station wagon with a base model price of less than $60,000, you could be eligible for a $5,000 discount at the time of sale.

Certain provinces have their own EV incentives on top of the federal government’s, including B.C., Quebec, and the Maritime provinces. These incentives range from $1,500 to $7,000 off of EVs at the time of sale. Combined with the federal government incentive, this means you could get up to a total of $12,000 off of an EV. 

While the Ontario government’s rebate was cut in 2018, the non-profit group Plug’n Drive offers an incentive, but it’s only $1,000 off of a used EV. That’s likely why the province ranks third behind B.C. and Quebec in total EV sales. EVs made up 11.6 per cent of B.C.’s total vehicle sales in 2021, 8.9 per cent in Quebec, and 3.1 per cent in Ontario. 

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But even with the incentives, EV sales in Canada are lagging behind the federal government’s targets. Last year, EVs comprised only 5.2 per cent of all motor vehicles sold, according to Statistics Canada. That’s a three per cent increase from 2018—but not enough to put the country on track for 20 per cent by 2026. So why aren’t EVs flying off the lots?

Zoe Long, a PhD student on Simon Fraser University’s Sustainable Transportation Action Research Team, says that part of the reason EVs are having trouble establishing a foothold in the Canadian market is sticker shock. “People want to consider an electric vehicle, but the electric version is much more expensive than a similar-sized gas-powered version,” she says. “I think there’s some aversion to paying more upfront, even though [the EV] might be cheaper over the lifetime of the vehicle.”

She’s right. The Chevrolet Bolt will cost you $38,000, while the Chevrolet Trax, a gas-powered vehicle, is selling for $24,000. And if you look at Ford, their traditional F-150 pick-up truck costs around $38,000. Whereas the company’s new EV, the F-150 Lightning, costs $68,000.

Long does suspect, however, that the spike in gas prices may start convincing Canadians to look at EVs as a more affordable option in the long term. The price of gas in Ontario this summer eclipsed $2 per litre, with no signs of slowing down. At that price, $1 of gas would allow you to drive approximately six kilometres. EVs, however, offer a much better range for your money. With off-peak charging costs in Ontario at 8.2¢per kilowatt-hour (kWh), you could travel approximately 78 kilometres for $1 in an EV. Plus, EVs require less maintenance—no oil changes and fewer part replacements. 

But even if you are swayed to buy an EV, you may have trouble getting your hands on one. Similar to gas-powered vehicles, EVs have been hit with supply chain issues, Long says. This is exacerbated by the fact that very few EVs are manufactured in Canada. Most are shipped from the U.S. The federal government has signed a deal with LG Energy Solution to open an EV battery plant in Windsor, Ont., but it isn’t expected to be operational until 2025. 

“Fifty per cent of dealerships in Canada don’t have an electric vehicle on the lot to test drive,” Long says. “Motivated buyers might face wait times of several months, even up to a year or more after they’ve ordered an EV and put money down.”

The wait is a major deterrent to buyers. To keep people enticed, automakers are introducing new EV vehicle types. “Eighty per cent of the new vehicle market is dominated by SUVs and pickup trucks,” Long says. “If automakers are required to sell electric vehicles, I think they will sell vehicles that match consumer tastes.”

Most major automakers are in the process of releasing or have already released, EV SUVs. Nissan, for instance, which won the 2019 and 2020 Canadian Green Car of the Year Award for its Leaf, is releasing the Ariya this fall. François Lefèvre, a senior manager with Nissan Canada, says it will be an ideal vehicle for cottagers and families. Since the SUV’s battery is in the centre of the vehicle’s floor, the Ariya offers a lot of storage space, he says. The other feature that will please cottagers is the SUV’s increased range. The Nissan Ariya will be able to travel up to 482 kilometres on a single charge—not far off gas-powered vehicles. 

As charging infrastructure in Canada improves, concerns about range anxiety diminish. According to the Electric Vehicle Society’s 2020 Annual Report, Canada had a total of 15,619 public charging stations; 4,972 of which were in Ontario, many in cottage country. For people stressed about making the cottage commute, there are apps now, such as ChargeHub and PlugShare, that show stations in your area and help you map out your route. 

Many of the public chargers are level 2, the type you install in your house or cottage, says Mark Marmer, the founder of Signature Electric, a company that installs EV charging stations. This type of charger requires a 240-volt input, similar to your oven or dryer, and adds approximately 35 kilometres of range to the battery per hour. With a home or cottage level 2 charger, you can plug your EV in overnight and be ready to go in the morning. But if you’re stopping at a level 2 public charger, it’s best to use it as a quick top-up, otherwise, you could spend eight to 10 hours waiting for a full charge.

Buying your own level 2 charger will cost between $350 to $900, depending on the brand and extra features. Having a professional install the charger will cost in the ballpark of $1,000. Marmer does add that it’s usually as easy to install a charger at an on-grid cottage as it is at a house.

If you’re looking for a cheaper charging option at home and at the cottage, most EVs come with a level 1 charger. This is a cable that plugs into a 120-volt outlet, similar to a phone charger. The only issue with a level one charger, Marmer says, is that it charges the EV much more slowly than a level two charger, averaging approximately six kilometres per hour. 

A level 3 charger, which needs a 480-volt input, is much faster than both the level 1 and level 2 chargers, charging approximately 250 kilometres per hour. But a level 3 charger costs can cost  $50,000 or more and is typically reserved for public charging stations. According to the Electric Vehicle Society’s Annual Report, there were only 2,349 level 3 chargers spread across Canada in 2020—915 of them in Ontario, including cottage country towns such as Parry Sound, Huntsville, Bancroft, Gravenhurst, Norwood, and Kincardine.

Public chargers, with the exception of Tesla chargers, can charge any type of EV. (The Tesla ones are designed to only charge Tesla models; though each Tesla vehicle comes with an adapter that allows it to connect to a regular charger.) The average cost of using a level 2 public charger is $1.50 per hour, and level 3 is .33¢ per minute, says Marmer, who is also on the board of directors of Canada’s Electric Vehicle Society. But, he says, if you have chargers installed at your home and cottage, it’s rare that you’ll have to use a public one.

Charging infrastructure continues to improve in Canada. By 2025, CAA estimates that an EV with a 600-kilometre range will be fully charged at public stations in 10 minutes. And concerns about waste from dead EV batteries are also being solved. Companies such as Li-Cycle have figured out ways to recycle lithium, cobalt, and other key minerals in the batteries.  

With rapid developments in range and charging infrastructure over the last four years, EVs have become a real option for the cottage commute. They’re no longer the future, they’re the present. “People are still so reliant on gas and don’t realize that they can convert so easily,” says Ian Graham. “This is so possible to do, to live this electric life.” 

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