Serious shortcomings in the federal government's ecoAUTO program


by Richard Roch,

Jim Flaherty
Following the presentation of the latest federal budget by the Finance minister, Jim Flaherty, on March 20, we published an article about a new incentive program put forward to encourage drivers who care about the environment. The Harper government also announced a tax on large-displacement vehicles in hope of further reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Let's focus our attention on the ecoAUTO incentive program which, in my mind, contains a number of shortcomings susceptible of angering and frustrating a lot of consumers.

In its current form, the ecoAUTO program offers refunds of up to $2,000 to consumers who buy or lease a highly fuel-efficient vehicle after March 20, 2007. Why March 20? Simply because the budget was tabled on this date. OK, fine. It really is an incentive if you bought, for instance, a 2007 Toyota Prius in the following days. In this case, based on the program's chart, you are eligible for a $2,000 refund. That's an interesting amount, especially if you consider the additional $2,000 refund coming from the Quebec government.

On the other hand, if you bought your Prius on March 19, on the eve of the budget, you get absolutely nothing. It didn't take long before a group of consumers who had already acquired an eligible, highly fuel-efficient vehicle expressed their discontent and frustration -- they are penalized for acting more quickly than the government. If I were in the same boat, I would also be raging mad!

In reality, there are no measures to reward the eco-minded consumers who already tried to reduce their GHG emissions by purchasing or leasing a green vehicle between January 1 and March 20, 2007. Again, that's got to be frustrating! In other words, the federal government wants to encourage non-initiate while forgetting about those who had already started to protect the environment.

2007 Toyota Prius

Why not January 1, 2007?

Personally, if I had a single recommendation for the ecoAUTO administrators, it would be to broaden the program's application by retroactively refunding consumers who bought or leased a highly fuel-efficient vehicle since January 1, 2007. Obviously, there has to be a limit; any purchase or lease made in 2006 would be excluded. In its current form, the program isn't fair to hardcore fans of Mother Earth. It's like a boss who decides to motivate his non-productive employees instead of rewarding the best members of his team. Doesn't the government know anything about positive reinforcement?

Yes for the Jeep Patriot; no for the Honda Fit
I won't publish again the list of eligible vehicles (see previous article), especially since it keeps getting updated by the program administrators. You can also visit Transport Canada's website. When analyzing the ecoAUTO program, we find out that the list includes new cars with a fuel economy rating of 6.5 L/100 km or less as well as new light-duty trucks and SUVs with a fuel economy rating of 8.3 L/100 km or less. If I understand this correctly, cars that burn between 6.6 and 8.3 litres of fuel per 100 km are not eligible. Now, that can't be right?

2007 Honda Fit

Well, it's the reality. What an aberration! This means that the Jeep Patriot, with its 8.3 L/100 km rating, is eligible for a $1,000 refund while small, economy cars such as the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio (to name only a few) are left in a void; their owners cannot benefit from the program.

Flexible-fuel vehicles
On further inspection, when looking at the list of flexible-fuel vehicles that are eligible for a $1,000 refund, there are four models that can run on E85 fuel (85 % ethanol):

1. Chevrolet Impala, 3.5 L, 6 cylinder, 4-speed automatic;
2. Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 3.5 L, 6 cylinder, 4-speed automatic;
3. Chrysler Sebring, 2.7 L, 6 cylinder, 4-speed automatic;
4. Chrysler Sebring, 2.7 L, 6 cylinder, 4-speed automatic with manual mode.

GM's 3.5 L V6 engine

Let's be serious here. First, the E85 supply infrastructures are extremely rare, especially in Quebec. Besides, it's highly likely that flexible-fuel vehicle sales will increase exponentially over the next few years, which means that, in order to increase the level of ethanol in fuel from 10 to 85 %, producers such as Ethanol Greenfield will have to turn to another resource than corn. And in terms of GHG reduction and air quality improvement, what are the benefits of purchasing or leasing a Chevrolet Impala or Chrysler Sebring that burns up to 13 litres of fuel per 100 km? I'm asking you, please!