"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

Henry D. Thoreau



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The “Automobile City”?

Steinbach has long put itself forward as “The Automobile City”. It seems the early Steinbach automobile dealers recognized that the future of transportation did not lie with horses. They promoted a switch to the automobile. These early automobile dealers were not only aggressive, but also visionary – that is, they saw that the future would not be like the past.

One is justified in wondering what has happened to that Steinbach vision. One does not need to be particularly visionary to know that the future of transportation does not lie with internal combustion engines (ICEs). The switch away from oil consuming engines will occur for two reasons. Governments will increasingly regulate and limit the sale of ICEs but economics will also drive this transition. Is “The Automobile City” leading this transition?

In many ways Steinbach has what it takes to be an ideal hub for the promotion and popularization of electric vehicles. We here in Manitoba have access to some of the cheapest electricity on the planet. Electricity in Manitoba is hydro – it is not generated from oil. Electricity in Manitoba is two thirds the price of electricity in Ontario. Manitoba is seeking export markets for its electricity. Steinbach is a ideal electric car commuting distance from Winnipeg. When electric cars first came out, it may have been necessary to charge the battery at both ends, Winnipeg and Steinbach, but with today’s battery capacity, that is no longer necessary. And, significantly, Steinbach has an aggressive consortium of car dealers, dealers who at one time, at least, had a vision for the future of the automobile.

I say “at one time” because in preparation for the writing of this article, I called the major Steinbach auto dealers, asking each if they were in a position to sell me an electric car. Only one was in a position to do so.

That’s the situation in Steinbach; in Manitoba. What about elsewhere? According to Electric Mobility in 2018, 164 electric cars were sold in Manitoba, but over 8,000 were sold in BC, over 16,000 in Ontario, over 17,000 in Quebec. Ontario has had a program to encourage the purchase of electric cars for some time, Manitoba has never had one.

Plug’n Drive maintains an online map of charging stations across the US and Canada. According to that map, there are by now well placed charging stations all along the Trans-Canada Hwy. To the east Kenora, Dryden, Ignace, Thunderbay. To the west, Portage la Prairie, MacGregor, Austin, Carberry, Brandon. Morris, Altona, Winkler and Carman have charging stations, but Steinbach, “The Automobile City” has no charging station.

In California, almost 8% of all car sales in 2018 were electric vehicles.

You may think that electric vehicles do better in warm climates and that this accounts for their popularity in California. Electric vehicles may do better in warm climates, but this does not seem to have a bearing on electric vehicle sales. In Mississippi, electric vehicles account for only 0.22% of all vehicle sales in 2018. In Norway, electric vehicle sales account for 40% of all vehicle sales.

I have no doubt that the electric vehicle revolution will also come to Steinbach as this revolution spreads across the world. It seems, however, that the vision that could have made Steinbach a leader in this revolution is absent.