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Buying an EV: It Ain’t Easy Buying Green

In the spring of 2013, I made a big promise to myself.  I would own an electric vehicle (EV) by the time I turned 50.  Since I was the New Year’s baby in Wiliams Lake in 1964, that left me approximately 8 months to accomplish the feat.  Easy peasy, right?

Turns out I was being overly optimistic.  

What was the hitch, you ask?  Can’t you just pop down to a dealer, pick your favourite colour, sign the credit card slip, and drive away (silently)?

The world conspires against EV owners, I’ve learned -- at least this part of the world (I live in Kamloops, BC).  

My early research on which car to buy had me salivating over small cars with excellent ratings: cute little ones like the Fiat 500E or Chevy Spark EV.  

All too soon, I learned that these cars, as well as my next choice, the Honda Fit-EV, are simply not available in Canada because they were built largely to meet California’s strict emissions standards. Despite their popularity with the lucky owners of these “compliance cars,” manufacturers have shown little interest in making these darlings available in other states, let alone way up here in the forgotten north. 

So onto more mundane choices.  Given that I wanted a pure EV (with no gas engine to maintain), the Prius and the Chevy Volt were out.  A call to my local Ford dealer confirmed the Focus Electric was not yet available here.  I could have had a Mitsubishi i-Miev trailered up from a Vancouver dealership, but the reviews on that one were less than enticing.  The Tesla, while beautiful, was not a practical or affordable choice for me.  The Nissan Leaf seemed to be my best bet.  

In June, 2013 I called Nissan and informed them that I’d like to purchase a Leaf.  Although it took several phone calls (neither the Leaf “specialist” nor the manager seemed overly keen to help me), I learned that they were happy to sell me the 2011 they had on the lot, and if I insisted, they could try to find me a 2012 model.  Given that it was already halfway through 2013 and knowing that the 2013 model had better standard equipment and was priced lower than the 2012, I held out for a 2013.  Here’s where my problems began. 

It soon became obvious that I knew more about the car than the salespeople did.  My questions about options could not be answered, and this admission was accompanied by a confession that they were not yet “an approved Leaf dealership.”   

When they couldn’t guarantee any kind of a delivery date on a 2013 model, they suggested that I contact the Nissan dealership in Burnaby, which was apparently “approved.”  A couple of unreturned phone calls later, I went back to my local dealer, who suggested that I try another dealership in Kelowna.  After several conversations during which the salesperson and I worked together to figure out the various options for the 2013 model, the trail once again went cold when they could not guarantee delivery of a 2013 Leaf by the end of the year.

Discouraged, I went back to the drawing board.  An analysis of my driving habits showed that I rarely need more than 2 seats.  In addition, my husband would still have a second vehicle with greater capacity if need be.  What we wanted was a fun, easy-to-park, cheap-to-drive vehicle for zipping around town.

Success!  In late August, I put down a deposit for a 2014 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, sold by Mercedes Benz, with an estimated delivery date of mid-December.  I would meet my deadline!

Alas, it was not to be.  December came and went.  So did January.  By February, I was becoming concerned that I would miss out on the $5,000 provincial incentive, set to expire at the end of March, and apparently due to be fully subscribed earlier than that.  Meanwhile, as I was looking longingly at photos of Smart cars on the website, I realized that Mercedes Benz was offering an additional $3,000 rebate of their own on the 2014 Smart … but ONLY until the end of February!  My car was not here yet, and it did not look like I was going to make either deadline, meaning a potential loss of $8,000 in savings.

Panic ensued.  The Smart salesman at the Mercedes dealership and I put each other on speed dial.  Thankfully, my buddy Norm got right onto arranging for the $5,000 provincial incentive, and managed to get the paperwork for the MB rebates done in time as well.  Yes, it was 5:30 pm on February 28, but we got the deal done!  Being able to take advantage of the great incentive offered by Mercedes Benz made the delay (and missing my self-imposed deadline) much easier to forgive.  My total cost was under $20,000 after rebates, before taxes and fees.

I am now the proud owner of a sporty little EV, and I couldn’t be happier!  I love the quick acceleration, the wonderfully quiet ride, and especially my new-found ability to nip into any pint-sized parking spot.  Being able to ignore the price of gas is an added bonus.

Buying an EV in Kamloops has been a frustrating experience, both for me and for the several dealers I spoke to.  It made me realize that dealers have little motivation to sell EVs: they don’t make a lot of money on them, and they take much more time to sell than a regular car.  Both customer and salesperson have to learn a whole new vocabulary; EVs are very different from other vehicles.  But I know that the next person who orders a Smart EV will have a better experience than I did, and things will continue to improve as demand for these cars increases.  The end result is worth it.