Category Archives: Canada

April 2013 Canadian plug-in electric vehicle sales

My April update on Canadian plug-in car sales stats in Canada is now up at GreenCarReports.  The Volt’s title reign continues — while the Prius Plug-in Prius dropped to fourth place!

As noted in the article, I think some of the Prius Plug-in’s challenges come from the fact that it’s a plug-in option on a pre-existing vehicle.  Early adopters of new technology probably have a bit of a “peacock” complex and so want their conspicuous consumption to be obvious to others.  If so (and I’m pretty sure it is so!) then they’d prefer to buy an electric car with a distinctive silhouette than a plug-in retrofitted on an existing car model.

People who follow cars can probably make out a Tesla, Volt, or LEAF from a fair distance.  But when it comes to the Toyota Prius Plug-in, Ford Fusion Energi, Ford C-Max Energi and others, they’d pretty much have to be in bumper-to-bumper gridlock before noticing the different badges, or the extra port to accommodate the charging outlet.

Oh, and a belated congratulations to Tesla for their Model S’s record-tying Consumer Reports rating (it was the second-ever vehicle to score 99/100, after some Lexus model), their sales achievement and new-found profitability.  I’ll need to update the American figures in my EV sales database!

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Meanwhile, work on the theatre-play-turned-graphic-novel continues.  Considering that I’ve been working on this for the past fifteen (!!) or so years, I must be well past ten thousand hours and on my way to one hundred!  Which, by Malcolm Gladwell’s logic (he popularized the “ten thousand hours to greatness” meme) clearly means that I’m now Great — at spending time on this Shakespearean samurai story.  :)

But wow, fifteen years…!  Heck, the siege of Troy only lasted ten!  :)

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March 2013 Canadian plug-in electric vehicle sales

The blogging quietness continues, as my other projects percolate.

In my persistent pursuit of these other projects, I forgot to note down my March update on the Canadian electric vehicle market, over at GreenCarReports.  Nissan’s LEAF came out of nowhere to tie the Chevy Volt at a category-leading 82 sales.

In the imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery category, my content doppelganger over at InsideEVs followed my April 5th Canadian EV sales update with an April 7th post of their own.  :)

Not that I think this a big deal — if I was Monsanto, I might make unreasonable claims about owning data which is in the public domain, the way they’ve purportedly tried to file patents for pigs who have genes which have evolved in pigs, the course of nature.  Heck, I even use some data from InsideEVs in my electric vehicle sales database!

It’s just that I, you know, give them credit (as per the screengrab below) when I do so.  ;)

Feb 2013 Canadian plug-in electric vehicle sales

Been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently, due to some gratifyingly awesome progress on separate writing projects — a trend likely to continue for another couple weeks at least.

In the meanwhile, my post on Canadian plug-in electric vehicle sales in Feb 2013, went up last week at GreenCarReports.  The Volt won the category for the 12th straight month, followed by the Nissan Leaf and then the Toyota Prius plug-in.

The master database is, as always, available here.

Plug-in electric car sales in Canada, January 2013 (via GreenCarReports)

My column on plug-in car sales in Canada for January 2013, is now up at GreenCarReports.  Since it’s hard to write ~600 words about sales statistics in the very small Canadian market, I discuss how Quebec — not B.C.! — is the leading province for plug-in vehicle adoption, and reasons why this might be the case.  You can think of me as being “unpaid by the word”.  ;)

For Canada as a whole, the Chevy Volt retained a narrow lead, with the Nissan LEAF and Toyota Prius plug-in a close second and third — among reporting manufacturers.  Which is to say, if we ignore Tesla, which doesn’t divulge monthly sales statistics.  (They’ll be forced to cough up some numbers on Feb 20, though, in their quarterly conference call!)

Tesla may prove to have had the best-selling plug-in car in both Canada and the U.S. in January.  They claimed to have been producing about 400 vehicles a week in January, which would’ve been good for 1600 vehicles.  If true, they very well could have overtaken the Volt in January in both the U.S. (1140) and Canada (44).

When the Tesla results come out, I’ll update my public-access spreadsheet of EV sales statistics, which also contains the sales stats referenced in the aforementioned GreenCarReports column.

Wynne-win for Canada! And, is America ready for another white male President?

I welcomed Kathleen Wynne‘s victory in the leadership race for the ruling Ontario Liberal Party this past Saturday, even though I live in faraway British Columbia.   And I do mean far away — seriously, the International Space Station is ten times closer to the surface of the earth, than Vancouver is to Toronto.  (Though that probably says more about how not-so-far-away the International Space Station is to us.)

Wynne is of course lesbian, and her ascent to the Premiership of Ontario — Canada’s most populous province — is a matter of minor national pride, whatever her policies may be, and however effective historians judge her tenure.  Someone’s always got to be first.  [For our dear American readers, a provincial Premier is analogous to a state Governor.]

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Douglas, Deng and Diocletian

(originally written May 21, 2012.  Part of Great Upload of 2013.)

Tommy Douglas

I read a bio of Tommy Douglas recently, figuring as a guy with sinister leanings (sinister in the original Latin sense of “left”, that is :) ) I might as well brush up on the father of Canadian Medicare, and reigning Greatest Canadian.

To me, the biggest surprise was the standing ovation he got from the NDP faithful after his farewell speech at their 1983 convention. Not the fact that he got one, mind you; the fact that it was twenty-three minutes long!  Given the way he shaped the CCF, its successor the NDP, and ultimately the scope of the Canadian welfare state, a standing ovation was a given. But twenty-three minutes — holy cow! …TV sitcoms are only twenty-two!

From this, we can infer that Douglas was a rare political leader who was able to transcend party factions after he stepped down. Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien may have led the Liberals to three majority governments, but there’s no way his successor’s faction would’ve clapped that long: Chretien beat Paul Martin in the 1990 Liberal leadership convention, and Martin’s supporters were impatient to see P.M. become PM.

It’s also hard to see current PM Stephen Harper getting that kind of ovation, however long he leads Canada’s Conservative Party: he’s already infuriated libertarians (having characterized them as child porn supporters) and religious conservatives (by refusing to reopen the abortion debate). At the end of his career, those conservatives will give him the clap, but not twenty-three minutes’ worth, however much Ezra (“ethical oil”) Levant urges them on. :)

Douglas, a socialist, was famous for his parable of Mouseland, which went to the effect of:
“every few years, the mice of Mouseville would elect a black or white cat to Parliament [ie. the Liberals or Progressive Conservatives]. One year a mouse suggested they elect mice instead [ie. the CCF]. He was branded a Bolshevik and jailed.”

Funnily enough, Deng Xiaopeng, the Communist, was famous for a very different cat/mouse parable, along the lines of:

“I don’t care if the cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice.”

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The Black Swan’s Thanksgiving Turkey

(originally written Nov 24, 2011.  Part of Great Upload of 2013.)

It came to my attention that Naseem Nicholas Taleb, who authored The Black Swan (surprisingly, not about a ballet dancer, but about financial crises) discussed other avians in his book, among them the Thanksgiving turkey.  Per the Wikipedia page, he seems to’ve co-opted the idea from a turkey anecdote by philosopher Bertrand Russell, whose atheism doubtless led antagonists to brand him cuckoo.  ;)

The abrupt change in the turkey’s situation is part of an argument that it’s ridiculous to project present trends very far into the future, because, well, things change.  Hockey-wise, the Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers of the 1980’s inspired a high-scoring decade for the NHL.  This was followed by a low-scoring decade inflicted on fans by the New Jersey Devils’ success with the neutral-zone trap in 1994-1995.  (As per the viral video most of you’ve doubtless seen, the Tampa Bay Lightning are going retro with their 1-3-1 system.  Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was part of the Red Wings team the Devils upset in the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals.)

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Sniffs from a Schiff…

(Originally written March 7, 2012.  Part of Great Upload of 2013.)

A colleague once showed me a book by Peter Schiff, in which the author and investment-house CEO purported to explain how the US got into the muddle they’re in.

Like so many textbooks I left it unread, but according to Wikipedia, Schiff believes a lot of the US’s problems would go away if people just saved more money.  (Oddly enough, there’s no mention of drastically-higher taxes on high-income earners like himself.  Go figure…!  ;)  )  As is typical for people in the financial sector, he finds a way to blame government.  :)

So it’s hilarious that his brother and coworker Andrew Schiff is saving so little from his $350k salary that he’s worried about the effect a smaller-than-average bonus would have on his lifestyle!  (It’s all over the web, so you may well have been pointed to it already.)

Schiff, 46, is facing another kind of jam this year: Paid a lower bonus, he said the $350,000 he earns, enough to put him in the country’s top 1 percent by income, doesn’t cover his family’s private-school tuition, a Kent, Conneticut, summer rental and the upgrade they would like from their 1,200-square- foot Brooklyn duplex.

“I feel stuck,” Schiff said. “The New York that I wanted to have is still just beyond my reach.”

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The malaise is shared by Schiff, the New York-based marketing director for Euro Pacific Capital, where his brother is CEO. His family rents the lower duplex of a brownstone in Cobble Hill, where his two children share a room. His 10-year-old daughter is a student at $32,000-a-year Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn. His son, 7, will apply in a few years.

“I can’t imagine what I’m going to do,” Schiff said. “I’m crammed into 1,200 square feet. I don’t have a dishwasher. We do all our dishes by hand.”

Welcome to the club, Schiff — may I suggest cucumber-scented Method dish detergent?  It’s “aromatherapeutic”!  ;)

And a note to my fellow 10-percenters

Not that we should snort too loudly of course; if any of us 10-percenters [most folks on I emailed this to, being fellow engineers or other professionals, are probably among the top 10% of individual income earners in Canada] were to complain about the lifestyles we strive for being just out of our reach (thanks to the hedonic treadmill), there’d be people a-plenty across town, let alone across the world, justly ridiculing us for our own fiscal profligacy and distorted lifestyle expectations!  :)

Plug-in electric car sales in Canada, 2012 (via GreenCarReports)

My new adventures as a Canadian correspondent for GreenCarReports.com begin with this post.  Readers are encouraged to show them some love.  :)

My ongoing efforts to track Canadian EV sales figures (and those of a few other countries) remain visible here.

Alberta oil selling at 50% discount to world price…

…which explains why the Canadian government is Hell-and-High-Water-bent on building a pipeline, any pipeline, anywhere.

First, the stats

Over the past few months, new stories have noted that Canada’s oil sector isn’t getting full price for its heavy oil — in large part because American pipelines are well-supplied with newly-flowing tight oil (“shale oil”) from North Dakota.

As a side note, I should clarify that heavy oil — termed Western Canada Select — is a somewhat-upgraded form of bitumen.  Removing the sulfur and upgrading the oil a bit more, would turn it into the “light sweet crude” used for the world’s billion automobiles.) 

Western Canada Select is more refined, and more value-added, than the diluted bitumen that Enbridge has proposed to ship to the coast of British Columbia.  The Kalamazoo River spill in 2010 that added $750+ million in cleanup costs to the local economy, involved diluted bitumen (and Enbridge).

The discount on Alberta heavy oil is measured relative to the North American benchmark price, which is for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude.  And said discount has been growing faster than a pimple before prom reaching a jaw-dropping $40 per barrel this week.  [2013-01-31: historically the discount has been about $20 per barrel  – Matthew]  WTI sells for $96 per barrel, and Alberta heavy sells for … $56.

One barrel of oil is about 160 Litres, so this means that Alberta is giving up 25 cents per litre on its oil exports.  By way of comparison, the current WTI price works out to a total price of only 60 cents per litre.  We’re talking some serious discounting, here.

Western Canada Select vs. Brent crude

Of course, the world benchmark price is Brent crude, traded in London.  And for various reasons, West Texas Intermediate Crude trades at a discount to it!  I’ve taken a snapshot of the Bloomberg Energy page below; you can see that the Brent price is $112 per barrel.

Bloomberg Energy Jan 18, 2013

We see that the price of Brent crude ($112/bbl) is exactly twice as high as the price we established for Alberta heavy ($56/bbl).  Alberta heavy crude is selling for half-off — it’s like a BOGO (buy one, get one) sale!

Oh, but it gets worse (for Alberta)

I’ve previously mused about the plausibility of US oil demand falling in the coming decade.  Which means Alberta will need to find other markets.  It will probably benefit from the building of an east-west pipeline across Canada (finally!) but wouldn’t be enough added consumption to justify expanding bitumen projects.  That would mean leaner profits for Calgary head offices, less construction work in the oil patch, and lower royalties for the Alberta government.  (Tales abound of Newfoundlanders leaving Alberta in droves, to ply their trade in their home province’s newly ascendant offshore oil sector.)

It’s a far cry from the Bow River bluster of five to ten years ago, when Alberta seemed assured of sustained, stupendous wealth — and provincial surpluses which would dwarf those of the Federal government.  (Despite the highest average yearly oil price in history, the province ran a deficit in 2012!  In basic terms, the oil sector has effected a regulatory capture of Alberta’s government, which allows them to export raw goods and perform the value-added refining elsewhere.)

The oil patch’s hopes now seem pinned on one of a few pipelines, all of which face strong opposition, and none of which can soak up the new production to which Alberta aspires.

a)  Keystone XL, by which Alberta heavy oil could be upgraded further in the US, and then exported.  Opposed by the worldwide 350.org movement.  (600,000 barrels per day)

b)  Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, by which the oil could reach the Pacific Coast.  Given the dozens of First Nations standing in the way, who have recourse to the courts and have sometimes reported dismissive treatment at the hands of Enbridge representatives, this seems unlikely.   (500,000 barrels per day)

c)  Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, by which the oil would be exported via Vancouver — birthplace of Greenpeace and the David Suzuki Foundation.  (Added capacity: 600,000 barrels per day.)

Pipe dreams

CAPP, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, recently projected that Alberta would produce 3.2 million barrels per day of heavy oil, by 2020.  This represents an increase of 1.6 million barrels per day.  To accommodate this increase, all three of the above pipelines would have to be approved, up and running!!  Given the opposition each pipeline will face, a Beatles reunion would seem more likely…

(Yes, Alberta could of course use a *lot* of railcars, as they’re doing in the Dakotas right now.  This is doable, but more expensive — and would again cause Alberta’s oil to sell at a discount, to reflect the added costs of rail transport.)

To sum up, it doesn’t look like Alberta will enjoy another run of euphoric boom years, for some time to come.  Their product is currently selling at a deep discount due to a surge in production of US tight oil.  Meanwhile, US oil consumption is dropping (thanks largely to more-efficient vehicles) and all three pipelines face opposition.  (A Vancouver paper recently noted that opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline in rural British Columbia ran so high, it could prevent the Prime Minister from winning a majority in the next election.)  Industry shows no signs of wanting to locally refining the product further, meaning the province is locked out of adding further value, winning higher prices.  And perhaps most fearfully of all, the following words from the head of AIMCo, the Alberta Investment Management Company:

“The notion that oil is going to become more expensive because as Asia and India need more energy there’s going to be a demand-supply imbalance, well, it may not be as much of an imbalance as everybody thought it was.”

The bitumen barons’ triumphalism from roughly 2004 to 2008 was predicated on the belief that a rising tide of Asian oil demand would lift Alberta above its provincial peers.  If, maybe, China and India won’t need as much as everyone thought … the ebbing tide could leave them beached.  On the upside, its residents’ expertise with heavy equipment and drilling could help Alberta pivot into a wind turbine / geothermal powerhouse, if it chose to do so.

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[note: while environmental considerations — and generally, the desire not to befoul one’s nest — are also a factor in the future of oil production, I side-stepped the topic altogether, as the above factors are formidable enough on their own.]