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Volkswagen e-Golf.

Volkswagen Canada/Handout

Drive an electric car, says the conventional wisdom, and you might be won over by its simplicity to operate, or its affordable power consumption, or its quiet and easy ride.

But first, you have to drive one to experience it – and that’s the challenge for many who want to encourage their use.

Volkswagen Canada started right at the root of the challenge and last year, it made its new all-electric e-Golf available to any of its more than 300 employees who wanted to drive it home for the night.

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“We recognize that our efforts in Canada must reflect not only Volkswagen’s new direction, but also the desires of the customers we serve and, most importantly, the engagement of our work force as they are the representatives of our organizations out in the world and we need them on board,” VW Canada’s president and chief executive officers Daniel Weissland explained in a recent editorial for The Globe and Mail.

“Letting the work force feel the change – in their own lives – is an imperative first step before we can take it to our customers and beyond.”

Volkswagen has often allowed employees to experience its vehicles directly, but there was a much bigger push made for the e-Golf. Several cars at the Ajax head office were dedicated to staff requests, and this summer, there’ll be more.

It takes more than just a test drive, however. In 2017, in response to a request from one of its employees, Cascades Inc. surveyed the 1,400 people who work at its head office in Kingsey Falls, Quebec, to ask what it would take for them to drive an EV. “It told us the major obstacle was the price of the car, and they were worried about getting to work and getting back home without recharging their batteries,” says Hugo D’Amours, Cascades’ vice-president of communications and public affairs.

Daniel Weissland of Volkswagen Canada plugs in Volkswagen e-Golf.

Robert Kisin/Handout

So Cascades began installing charging stations, but it went farther and offered a $2,000 incentive against the purchase price of any all-electric or plug-in electric hybrid vehicle. So far, it’s installed 50 Level 2 charging stations at its various offices in Quebec, and helped 80 employees to buy electric vehicles. Last month, it announced it will install another 30 stations in Ontario, and extend the purchase subsidy to Ontario employees.

“Cascades has always been committed to reducing its footprint by using recycled materials in its manufacturing and through environmentally friendly processes,” says Mario Plourde, the company’s president and chief executive. “After reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by close to 50 per cent since 1990, Cascades is now giving our employees a hand to take action.”

More is still needed though, says Ron Groves, education manager for the non-profit Plug’N Drive lobby group. “It’s great that companies have been putting in charging stations, but it’s usually employee-driven, not company-driven. Companies reluctantly do it and then find a way to make it part of the corporate philosophy.”

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In fact, it’s not an employer’s responsibility to refuel its employees’ vehicles, he says – although it is a nice perk if the electricity is provided for free. Groves says the much greater promotion is when a company buys an electrified vehicle for its fleet and allows employees the opportunity to discover its advantages while driving it.

“On a fleet side, if you can start, where appropriate, putting vehicles in place that are plug-in hybrid or maybe even pure electric, then your employees are going to be exposed to them – and seeing is believing. ‘Look! I went out and I drove around all day in my [Chevrolet] Bolt or my [Nissan] Leaf or whatever, and I did all these jobs, and the car did it beautifully!’

“After several of those nice daily events, why wouldn’t you think about purchasing one of those vehicles for yourself?”

Groves cites the federal government as being a leader in this philosophy of EV promotion. Its “Greening Government” strategy now calls for all new executive vehicle purchases to be either zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs) or hybrids, and for 75 per cent of its new light-duty administrative fleet vehicle purchases to be either ZEVs or hybrids. By 2030, it expects at least 80 per cent of the administrative fleet to be ZEVs.

“Who is the government? The government is us. It’s We The People,” Groves says. “If we the people are trying to move off fossil fuel and move toward electricity as a transportation fuel, for all the right reasons, then we the people should have some help with that.”

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