Is Ford abandoning Canada’s EV ambitions because it’s focusing on self-driving?

Canadians have always appreciated a car or two from Ford. They have always backed the company when there were the rollouts of the Focus compact and the new Escort. But not this time.

The news that the company has ditched plans to have at least one all-electric vehicle for sale in Canada by the middle of the decade had nothing to do with Ford itself. Rather, it was due to an update to provincial regulations on vehicle registration and roadside testing. Ford followed through on a promise it made when it first considered its electric-vehicle strategy in the country’s auto capital, Toronto.

Canada is the only G7 nation without a government program to help buy electric vehicles (EVs) for the public, despite the fact that an estimated 34% of the country’s population are driving at least one EV right now. In Ontario, EVs account for 1.8% of sales and plug-in hybrid sales account for 4.2% of the total.

So Ford’s announcement that it is axing plans to build a 100,000-unit annual capacity by the middle of the decade signals good news for both the province and the rest of the country. According to Toronto-Dominion Bank, Canada is failing to step up and help bolster the EV industry despite the fact that the country produces around 5% of the world’s EVs – far better than even the United States, which stands at less than 1%.

Ford’s move – or rather, lack of one – is especially noteworthy coming from the company that wants to lead the world in self-driving vehicles, but without the first-class auto body shop to actually make them.

Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether Ford will stick to its guns. While the company said it would maintain its hybrid and electric vehicle operations in the province, it has made similar proclamations before only to abandon them.

For example, Ford was among the signatories of a letter to the United Nations General Assembly in 2012 about the possible future of lithium-ion batteries.

“We predict electric vehicles are likely to outgrow their hybrid counterparts by 2030,” Ford wrote.

Ford Canada has given five different responses to the question, “Will the federal government fund the buildout of EV infrastructure?”

The one consistent answer is that Ford stands behind federal tax incentive programs on the EV front. On that front, Ford feels it has plenty of support.

“Ford is currently fully qualified to receive federal gas and tax credit program support, which is provided through the Canada Automotive Partnership Fund (CAP), in this province and across the country,” the company said in a statement to the Guardian.

Because in Canada, the rules are quite different, they must be correctly applied. Still, when it comes to EVs, the CAP uses a circuitous route. First, municipalities – such as Toronto – apply for funding for infrastructure based on a very broad definition of “public charging”. Then, the funds are used to fund one-time costs, such as installing infrastructure or providing incentives for sales.

The upshot is that when you think you can have your self-driving vehicle at your charging station, be warned: the government requires three different applications for subsidies on the local level. So here is a tip: when you think your municipal official is going to look kindly on you asking for help from the government, pay them a visit if you really want to find out.

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