In this world of rising gas prices, fuel efficiency has been a leading factor in the search for a new car. Another important factor is climate change, which has helped force a lot of progress in vehicle technologies, such as the rapid adoption of electrification and zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs), including battery-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. 

Things have become so dire that Canada has pushed its key ZEV regulation, 100% ZEV sales, up from the year 2040 to 2035 in June 2021. Canada hopes meeting this goal will push its emissions to 40 or 45% of 2005 levels. 

But what is a ZEV and what's so great about them? We cover that and more below.  

What Is a Zero-Emissions Vehicle?

The term zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) gets tossed around a lot in the face of manmade climate change, and there's a clear, albeit flexible, definition to it. 

Of course, ZEVs include any battery-electric vehicles (BEV) and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, as both run solely on electricity. In the case of a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (HFCV), it uses hydrogen as an alternative fuel, which bonds with oxygen to create electricity. Hydrogen plus oxygen results in water, so an HFC vehicle emits water instead of noxious gasses. 

In Canadian law, though, a ZEV can also be a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). These vehicles have a shorter all-electric range -- typically between  30 and 50 km -- and then use a gasoline-fueled generator to extend travel after the batteries are depleted. 

While plug-in hybrids don't truly produce zero emissions, experts feel Canada had to include these in its ZEV initiative to account for more rural areas where a battery-electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicle simply wouldn't be practical.

What Are the Benefits of a ZEV?

There is no shortage of benefits to owning a ZEV, but let's look at some of the most significant ones. 

Significantly Cheaper Than Filling Up a Gas Tank

According to a Uswitch study, it costs an average of £162.20 ($284.77) per year to charge an electric vehicle. This is assuming a 150-mile range and driving an average of 10,000 miles per year. This made Canada the 14th cheapest country in the world to charge an EV. 

Gasoline prices in Canada average around $1.573 per litre, as of September 2021. Even if you drive the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid car in Canada, the Toyota Corolla 2.0L with a continuously variable transmission, which consumes just 6.7 litres of fuel per 100 km, you'd still pay an average of $1,053.91 per year on fuel. This assumes the same 10,000 miles driven per year as the EV charging calculation. 

That's a minimum of $769.14 saved each year. 

Of course, this all changes when you consider HFC vehicles and plug-in hybrids, which still require fuel. 

Minimal Maintenance 

Since electric cars and HFC vehicles have minimal greasy bits, like engines and complex transmissions, to maintain, their maintenance costs are significantly cheaper. According to a AAA study in 2019, a small sedan with a traditional internal combustion engine will cost 8.53 US cents (10.82 CAD cents) per mile in maintenance. On the other hand, an EV carries a 6.60-US-cents-per-mile (8.38-CAD-cents-per-mile) maintenance cost.

Using the same 10,000-miles-per-year number as above, this pegs your maintenance costs at ~$1,082 per year with a small sedan and ~$838 per year in a BEV or HFC vehicle. 

As for a hybrid, the study says they cost 9.77 CAD cents per mile to maintain, putting the cost at ~$977 per year. 

Big Incentives to Buy

One downside to buying a ZEV is the cost, as they're generally significantly more expensive than their equivalent gasoline-fueled counterparts. However, the Canadian government offers some cash back under its Incentives for Zero-Emissions Vehicles (iZEV) Program to help lower the burden and spur sales. 

Under the national ZEV program, a ZEV with six or fewer seats and a base MSRP under $45,000 qualifies, but buyers can buy a higher-trimmed version of a qualifying car for up to $55,000 and still get the rebate. 

If a ZEV has seven or more seats and a base MSRP under $55,000, it qualifies for the program. Like before, buyers can pick up a higher-trimmed version of a qualifying vehicle for up to $60,000 and still get the rebate. 

The rebates run $5,000 for BEVs, HFC vehicles, and PHEVs with at least a 15-kWh battery. For PHEVs with less than a 15-kWh battery, the rebate falls to $2,500. 

These are all point-of-sales rebates, so you see the savings immediately. 

There are also provincial credits to consider:

You could save up to $13,000 on a BEV purchased in Quebec with the provincial credits considered. That would more than cover the gap between most ZEVs and their gasoline-only counterparts. 

Cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions

While the cash savings are all great, the real benefit of buying a ZEV is the emissions reduction and the good it does for the environment, air quality, and future generations. 

That said, while HFC vehicles, BEVs, and PHEVs (when running on batteries alone) have no tailpipe emissions, BEVs and PHEVs aren't truly emission-free once you consider how they get their power. EVs must plug into a power source, and that power comes from an electric plant. How that plant produces electricity can significantly impact what's called well-to-wheel emissions. 

For example, if you live in a province that gets a large portion of its electricity from coal, an EV's well-to-wheel emissions will be far higher than one in a province that primarily uses an alternative fuel like natural gas or nuclear or renewable energy like hydro, solar, or wind. 

For example, Quebec and Manitoba are among the greenest electricity producers at just 1.2 and 3.4 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced, respectively, according to a Canada Energy Regulator study. A ZEV in these provinces would have low well-to-wheel emissions.

However, fossil fuel-heavy Alberta is among the worst at 790 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced. A ZEV in this province would have significantly higher well-to-wheel emissions.

What Are the Downsides of ZEVs?

The benefits of ZEVs are plentiful, but there are a handful of drawbacks that may make you think twice about buying one. 

Required Charging Hardware

When you buy a gasoline-fueled car, you don't need to install a gas station in your house because there's one on virtually every corner and it takes just minutes to fill up. With a ZEV, things are different because they need charging, which can take hours to complete. 

The most effective way to charge an EV is by installing a wall box charger in your garage or wherever you park your car. The problem is an EV charger can cost well over $500, plus the cost of having an electrician install it. You can go the cheaper route and install a special 240-volt plug and charge via that, but it's generally a little slower than a wall box. 

You can also charge a ZEV on a standard 120-volt household plug. However, it can take days to charge an EV with a high-capacity battery via a household plug. A PHEV is OK overnight on a household plug, thanks to their lower-capacity batteries, but a BEV is nearly impossible.

Limited Range and On-the-Road Recharging Limits

Electric vehicles are just now regularly meeting the long-sought-after 400-km driving range. In fact, in 2019, the average EV could travel 386 km on a charge. This made them a legitimate option as daily commuter cars. 

However, there is still that limitation there that causes anxiety. And unlike gasoline-fueled cars, you can just pull off at a local gas station and top off your car in a few minutes. A plug-in vehicle requires planning and time to charge on the road because you not only have to find a charging station, but you then have to wait. 

Fortunately, today's DC Fast Charge stations can get some vehicles to 80% charge in 30-40 minutes. While that's fast, it's still an eternity compared to the five minutes it takes to fill a gas tank. 

Upfront Cost

As of 2021, the least expensive new EV money can buy in Canada is the $41,449 Hyundai Ioniq Electric. If you're OK with a PHEV, that price can fall as low as $35,995 for the Kia Niro PHEV. HFC vehicles are significantly pricier than both BEVs and PHEVs. 

Compare this to the cheapest gasoline-fueled new car you can buy today, the $10,398 Chevy Spark, and you can see why ZEVs sell slowly. Even with the great national and provincial incentives, the upfront cost is still significant between a cheap PHEV or BEV and the cheapest gas car.

ZEV prices will continue falling as battery technology advances, but we likely have many years before we see them reach the levels of some of the cheaper gas-only cars.

Get Your Electrification at Clutch

Seeking a vehicle that will save you money every time you drive and help with environmental protection? A BEV, PHEV, or HFC vehicle may be right for you. 

Here at Clutch, we offer a range of quality pre-owned BEV and PHEV vehicles that you can scoop up at a bargain. Plus, the ZEV rebates will still apply in some provinces, giving you an even better deal. 

All our ZEVs have been through a 210-point inspection and reconditioning process to ensure it's ready for the road. Plus, we add a 90-day or 6,000-km warranty just in case something happens. 

On top of that peace of mind, you get the added convenience of a 100% online car-buying experience. No pushy salespeople, and no pressure to buy a car that's not perfect for you. Just a wide range of quality used cars delivered to your home.