How to Buy a Family EV

Doing battle with the global supply chain.

May 1, 2022 • 10 min read

When our second kid was born a couple years back, I started working on getting us a bigger car. This proved… challenging.

The requirements

My quest had two key requirements that I thought were simple, but weren’t:

  1. Big enough to haul around two young kids, plus stuff. Nothing huge; just barely big enough to take a family of four on a camping trip. Every car manufacturer measures cargo space differently, but for me this meant a vehicle roughly the size of a RAV4.
  2. An electric vehicle. EVs have a lot of advantages, both practical and ecological, and the new generation of “clean sheet” EVs are even better. The idea of buying a fossil fuel powered car in 2022 felt backward.

After two years of research, shenanigans, and some luck, I finally completed my quest. A couple months ago I was fortunate enough to get a Hyundai Ioniq 5. It’s been excellent.

Successful in my quest, I’ve received a lot of questions from other families about the EV buying process. Unfortunately, I have no easy answer for them.

You’re looking at backlogs for years, pre-orders stacked to the ceiling, pre-pre-orders falling through the cracks, dealers playing shenanigans, global-supply-chain-sized headaches. A certified garbage fire.

But! But. There are some really good cars to be had. And if your family has recently grown, or your current car is on its last legs, then you might be really keen to get your hands on one. So, while it’s still fresh, I wanted to present what I learned on my humble quest, so you can decide if you may want to embark on it yourself.

Note: While this is written from a Canadian perspective, most of this information also applies in the US, where manufacturers generally make the same vehicles available as in Canada.

The 4 ways to get a family EV

Depending on your budget and timeline, there are basically four paths towards getting a family-sized EV right now:

  1. Hustle
  2. Compromise
  3. Overspending
  4. Patience

Let’s step through them one by one.

Tactic 1: Hustle

If you want to get a family EV this year that really checks all the boxes, you’re going to have to hustle.

The hot ticket of 2022 is what you could call the mid-priced true EV. These are the long-awaited SUVs and crossovers that have been designed from the platform up to be EVs, priced at the entry level for this market – currently around $45k CAD, qualifying for $8k in sweet rebates. All four of these models were released in the last year:

  • Hyundai Ioniq 5
  • Kia EV6
  • Ford Mach-E
  • VW ID.4

The good news is that, while each of these vehicles have their own quirks and features, they’re all well reviewed and pretty comparable. While I quite like the Ioniq 5 – I talked a bit about why on Fun Fact #55 – any of these would be a big upgrade for a family moving from a smaller gas car.

The bad news is that gosh darn global supply chain. Manufacturers are not even close to meeting demand for these models. In most cases, pre-orders for the whole 2022 model year were sold out before the first deliveries were even made. These are some of the most in-demand vehicles out there at a time where supplies are short for even the most pedestrian of cars. So if you want to get one of these, you’re going to have to be crafty.

What do I mean by crafty? I’m talkin’ things like:

  • Contacting and working with various dealers at once
  • Putting down a deposit on a model that hasn’t come out yet
  • Following rumor blogs and subreddits, watching for signs of stock and releases of inventory
  • Subscribing to be notified so you can urgently put in a pre-order when they open up
  • Working to determine if your “pre-order” is a real manufacturer-legit reservation with a verified spot in line, or just a name in a spreadsheet that a salesperson at a dealership hopes to convert into an order next time the manufacturer starts accepting reservations again
  • Agreeing to buy a vehicle you haven’t even test driven yet
  • Trawling second hand markets trying to spot some exceedingly rare used inventory
  • Traveling to another state or province to snag inventory
  • Basically, busting your butt trying to get somebody somewhere to take money in exchange for one of these vehicles

Given that the official 2022 allocations of these models are spoken for, you’re likely chasing a 2023 or 2024 model at this point. Given that, it’s worth also reviewing a list of upcoming EVs, and adding some 2023 models to your shopping list too. Of particular note are:

  • Toyota BZ4X
  • Subaru Solterra
  • Nissan Ariya

Early reviews indicate these should be pretty compelling options in the space. As you look into 2024 there are also some 7-seater family vehicles on their way, like the Hyundai Ioniq 7, the Kia EV9, and the VW ID.Buzz.

Regardless of which models are on your shortlist, you’ll need to put in some real legwork to even snag a reservation, let alone a vehicle “in the metal”. It’ll take equal parts hustle and luck.

That is to say, it’s lot of work for an uncertain payoff. If the idea of spending many months hunting rare EVs does not appeal, it’s probably worth considering complementary tactics.

Tactic 2: Compromise

It is said that the best EVs are models built from scratch to be electric. These generally have flat floors, spacious interiors, and simple modern designs.

A pragmatist might argue otherwise: the best EV is, in fact, whatever one you can actually buy.

With this in mind, you might expand your search to consider gas vehicles that have been adapted to offer an EV variant. In terms of family-sized fare, today’s most compelling options are from Korea:

  • Hyundai Kona EV
  • Kia Niro EV
  • Kia Soul EV

America intends to join the chat shortly with EV versions of the Chevy Blazer, Chevy Equinox, and Ford Explorer, and other manufacturers have EV variants of their existing models on the way as well. Time will tell how compelling those offerings are.

However, you might ask yourself: if you’re going to take on some of the compromises of an SUV that was designed to also accommodate an internal combustion engine, why not just consider a plug-in hybrid (PHEV)? You know, a gas car that also has an electric drivetrain with enough battery power for around town? These are a bit more plentiful, albeit still not as easy to find as one would hope.

Depending on your perspective, a PHEV may represent the best of both worlds: electric drive most of the time, but without the range anxiety. Or it may seem like the worst of both worlds: most of the cost and supply chain headaches of trying to buy an EV, with the general downsides of a gas power train, and in many cases a small enough battery that you end up with a compromised electric driving experience.

There is one model that sticks out from the crowd here though, and that’s the Toyota RAV4 Prime. By most accounts it’s the best family plugin hybrid available today, outfitted with a powerful enough electric drive system that you get pretty close to the best of both worlds. Unfortunately – surprise, surprise – it is ridiculously difficult to actually get your hands on one. After hearing they were facing a three-year waiting list, friends of mine recently flew cross-country to get their hands on a RAV4 Prime, driving it all the way back to BC. If you set your sights on one, you’re definitely going to have some hustle in your future.

Mind you, the great success of the RAV4 Prime may cue other manufacturers to up their PHEV game and start delivering hybrids with more compelling battery driving experiences. A space worth watching, perhaps.

If PHEVs don’t appeal, another axis you may be able to compromise on is size. While electric SUVs and crossovers are just now showing up, there is more availability for smaller EVs, new and used. A Chevy Bolt EUV or Nissan Leaf might be enough for a family that packs lightly, for example.

Tactic 3: Overspending

Money doesn’t solve all problems – but it solves some. If you desperately need a family EV and have more money than sense, you can go ahead and buy a used Tesla Model X for somewhere in the $100-150k range. Problem solved! Plus you get some really wild doors.

Mind you, most people are not going to spend six figures on a used car.

In Canada, the most in-demand EVs are clustered around the $45k price range – partly because of battery costs, and partly because this was the most you could charge for an EV and still approve for that delicious government rebate. That program’s ceiling has just been increased to $55k, so demand for EVs in that $55k-and-under range is going to continue to be hot, hot hot.

If you have the wherewithal though, cranking up your budget outside that range will open up some options. I mean, you’re going to save a lot of money on gas, right? And you’ll never again need to maintain or replace an engine, spark plugs, motor oil, muffler, catalytic converter, fuel pump, alternator, oil filter, or transmission. Doesn’t that mean you can afford to spend tens of thousands of dollars more on a car? 🤔

A perennial favourite in the “pretty spendy” family EV space is the Tesla Model Y. While Tesla is run by a man-baby, the Model Y certainly fits the criteria and is thought to be a pretty good family car.

In a world where many car manufacturers have been selling their new EVs at competitive prices and letting their customers fight it out Hunger Games style for the right to actually buy one, Tesla has taken a different tack. As demand has continued to outstrip supply, they’ve continually cranked prices up and up, especially at the entry level.

This has led to record profits, and the continued ability of customers to order Teslas. Today one can simply put down a reservation for a Model Y, with an estimated delivery of Nov 2022 to Feb 2023. That is rather a long time, but compares favourably to competitors’ estimated delivery range of Oh man yeah, definitely not this year, we’re not sure when we’ll be able to file the existing pre-pre-orders for 2023 models into the system, after which point we might open up pre-pre-orders for 2024, I dunno man it’s a shitshow out there.

So maybe consider a Model Y if you can stomach paying $82k CAD, plus $10k of sales taxes. I mean, sure, for that price you could buy a RAV4, a CR-V, and a Niro. But none of those are “self driving”!

Now if you do have some budget to work with, but for whatever reason don’t want to give Elon Musk almost $100k, there are a lot of other luxury family EVs arriving on the market. The Audi Q4 e-tron and Volvo XC40 Recharge are intriguing starting points, and more are arriving on the regular, including the Rivian R1S, the Mercedes EQB, the Cadillac Lyriq, and the Polestar 3.

Even if you’re not willing to spend luxury-brand dollars, it’s worth noting that there’s a second way that you can spend your way into a family EV: bidding up the stock of more modest EVs. In the US, dealers have been known to tack on $10k or $20k of “market adjustment fees” and other unnecessary add-ons to in-demand vehicles like the Ioniq 5 and Ford Mach-E. Dealers in Canada aren’t supposed to do this, but the used market is another story.

There are so few used family EVs for sale that when you do find one, it may be going for as much as 20% over sticker price. On one hand this is a travesty, but on the other hand… I mean, you want an EV, they’re selling an EV. This is what might be thought of as the “grit your teeth and buy a PS5 on eBay” path to getting an EV.

Tactic 4: Patience

At this point, it may be worth zooming out a little and doing a reality check.

EVs are great, yes. They are the future. But trying to get one in 2022 means expending a lot of time, a lot of money, or both.

As deeply unsatisfying as it is, the most rational tactic for many will just be to wait another year or three. Over the next couple years, there are going to be more and more models debuting, with more and more supply of each as global chip shortages are finally worked out, and the supply of used EVs will start to, you know, exist.

A bit further out, once manufacturers can meet the demand for mid-priced EVs, we’ll start to see truly affordable options come onto the market. As volumes increase and charging infrastructure fills out, manufacturers will start offering high-volume EVs with modest batteries, and modest prices to match. It may take time, but it’s coming.

That may or may not be consolation. I know the frustration of living in a world where there is a really great car for you in theory, but you just can’t get your hands on one. But you just need patience.

Or maybe you need to embark on a long and arduous journey of hustling, compromising, and/or overspending.

Either way, when it works out, you’ll have a great car.

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