Charging a Chevrolet Volt(Photo: Chevrolet)

Questions still remain about real-world range, availability of charging stations and operating costs.

An analyst at J.D. Power Associates in Toronto predicts the EV market will parallel that of hybrids, which have less than two per cent of Canadian sales. That's about 30,000 vehicles on last year's total of 1.55 million after a dozen years on the market and an expanding range of model choices.

"There are even more barriers, in my opinion, in the mind of the consumer to buying an EV over a conventional internal-combustion engine," says Brian Murphy, senior manager of the company's Power Information Network, pointing to such question marks as battery range in winter, availability of charging stations and overall operating costs.

EV manufacturers are also being selective as to where they will sell, targeting markets where governments and electric utility companies are co-operating to develop public recharging infrastructure, which generally means major cities such as Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

Another possible barrier: price. The Leaf starts at about $38,400, while the Volt's base price is $41,545 and the i-MiEV is at $33,300. So far, only Ontario and Quebec are offering cash incentives to EV buyers - $8,500 and $8,000 respectively - to reduce the sticker shock.

"Interest seems to be predominant in provinces where there is financial support for the buyers, the early adopters," Cormier says.

Ottawa has not signaled that it's prepared to jump-start EV sales with tax dollars, he adds.

Stuck for choice? MSN Autos guide to electric cars

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid(Photo: Toyota)

There's a lot of choice - and more will come soon. Do you go with a plug-in hybrid, a range-extender or a pure electric car?

But if you still want an EV, what kind? Automakers at this point seem headed in two distinct directions: all-battery plug-ins like the Leaf and i-MiEV; and range-extender plug-ins like the Volt that use an internal-combustion motor to charge the battery when the juice runs low and boost power at highway speeds.

"Above 120 km/h there's the ability to pass some power through from the engine," says GM's Easton, adding it's more efficient than simply charging the battery.

Analysts think pure battery EVs will appeal most to two-vehicle families, their 100-plus kilometre range more than enough for most daily commuting and errand-running. For inter-city trips, their conventional vehicle would be used. Single-car families might prefer the Volt, whose backup system eliminates range-anxiety on long trips.

Tharp says his EV Smart has wintered well and is a decent commuter, as long as you're aware of its power limitations at higher speeds. But living with it has not been without hiccups. More than once he's jumped in the car and ... nothing. Usually it's a small issue involving the way the home charger was plugged in.

"You have to stop and say 'what have I done wrong?' You have to reset the car," Tharp says.

Nissan Leaf(Photo: Nissan)

Unlike a regular car, there's not much to look at - and in some cases, there isn't anything to look at. When things go wrong, an EV simply shuts down.

An early problem with the charger, supplied by Toronto Hydro, was quickly rectified by the utility's and Mercedes' technicians.

"We're so used to racing into a car and just going," Tharp says. "This car, if it decides to not go, it's deader than dead, deader than an internal-combustion car will ever be."

And that, says Tharp, may be the deciding factor in whether consumers embrace EVs on a large scale. The worst thing that could happen would be a spate of stories about new EVs sitting lifelessly on the roadside.

"That is going to be a killer for the industry."