A Chevrolet Bolt electric car is seen during media day at the Montreal International Auto Show in Montreal on January 19, 2017. The federal government has started to give away money to encourage people to buy electric cars, but before long it will have to decide how far it will go to force the market towards lower-emission vehicles. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

As U.S. lowers auto emissions standards, Canada is at a fuel efficiency crossroads

The federal government has started to give away money to encourage people to buy electric cars

The federal government has started to give away money to encourage people to buy electric cars, but before long it will have to decide how far it will go to force the market towards lower-emission vehicles.

The electric vehicle rebate program launched May 1, giving up to $5,000 back to buyers to help them afford zero-emission vehicles which have higher up-front costs but long-term financial and environmental benefits.

Ottawa, however, is still thinking about whether it will stick with ambitious future emission standards, which would potentially add up-front costs to all vehicles sold in Canada with the promise of lower emissions and long-term costs.

A decision is needed because the U.S. Trump Administration has said the requirements are too stringent and will be lowering them.

READ MORE: Energy Minister: B.C.’s 2040 target for all electric vehicles sales is realistic

Canada has matched U.S. standards since 2011, and will have to decide whether to match new U.S. requirements expected to be announced in late spring or early summer, or to align itself with California and other states that have vowed to maintain the current standards.

Canada’s auto industry has urged the government not to create separate emission standards for Canada and the U.S., while environmental groups say maintaining the current regime is crucial to meeting climate change targets.

The federal government is still in consultations, but it says it is open to following California in maintaining the current standards.

“Canada is looking at following the actions of California and other like-minded U.S. states as we move forward on Canada’s mid-term evaluation,” Environment and Climate Change spokesman Mark Johnson wrote in an email.

“Clean cars are a key part of Canada’s climate plan to fight climate change,” he said.

A decision on whether to maintain the standards, which call for making cars about five per cent more efficient per year, and light trucks 3.5 per cent and later five per cent per year, will come as Canadians increasingly buy larger, heavier vehicles.

The trend towards SUVs, crossovers and pickups that make up the light truck category has helped make Canada’s 2017 vehicle fleet the most fuel hungry per kilometre in the world, according to the International Energy Agency.

It found Canadian vehicles sold in 2017 consumed an average of 8.9 litres for every hundred kilometres, ahead of the 8.6 litres per kilometre in the U.S., 7.9 in Australia, and about 5.4 in France, Turkey, and India.

Since existing regulations will increase stringencies on light trucks, it’s crucial that Canada keeps the current standards in place, said Annie Berube, director of government relations at environmental group Equiterre.

“The bulk of the emissions reductions that we’re getting from those vehicle regulations are from models years 2020 going forward, because of specific technological developments and because the regulations are getting a lot more stringent.”

The shift to bigger vehicles has, however, made it harder for auto companies to meet the increasing standards, which are based on the average of everything they sell.

Industry is pushing for an easing of regulations, but is still committed to continued improvement, said Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association.

“The industry is still looking for year-over-year improvement, and the question is just whether the slope of that line will be as steep as it was,” Nantais said.

He said member companies, which includes Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, believe the higher up-front costs of lower-emission vehicles would actually slow uptake of new vehicles that are already more efficient.

“The single-most cost effective and greatest way to reduce GHG emissions is actually to accelerate fleet turnover,” said Nantais.

But as vehicles become more durable, which allow people to hold on to them longer, it’s especially important to ensure significant improvements are maintained, said Berube.

“Unless that regulation is there to ensure that the next model year is even more fuel efficient, we’re going to be missing in terms of big emissions gains from the fleet turnover that happens naturally as people replace their older vehicles.”

But unlike California, Canada has an auto manufacturing base it must also consider.

If the higher standards are maintained, industry has said that companies may have to stop selling some less-efficient vehicles in Canada to meet the averaged standard.

Reducing options for manufacturers could affect production decisions, said Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturer’s Association.

“If you undercut the build where you sell proposition, maybe they don’t build here.”

He said the association advocates to go with the critical mass that best aligns with the product mix manufactured in Canada.

It’s not yet clear which way Canada will go on the standards, but with such a complicated file and wide-reaching implications, Volpe said he appreciates that the government is committed to thorough consultations.

“I think they’re being cautious, rightfully so.”

Ian Bickis, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Three young Sylvan Lake residents are asking for lights to be added to the walking trail system to make them safer and less scary at night. Photo by @workinonmyfitness72
Young Sylvan Lake residents ask for lights to be added to walking trails

Three young Sylvan Lake residents appeared before Council recently to present their ask

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Alberta government photo)
Town of Sylvan Lake recieves funding to help with COVID-19 related revenue losses

Minister Devin Dreeshen says the funding will help the Town pay staff and provide services

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo by The Associated Press)
Alberta records 410 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Shaun Isaac, owner of Woodchucker Firewood in Trochu, is awaiting a new shipment during a firewood shortage in the province. All of the wood he has left is being saved for long-time customers who need it to heat their homes. (Contributed photo).
Firewood shortage in central Alberta caused by rising demand, gaps in supply

‘I’ve said “No” to more people than ever’: firewood seller

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

Most Read