Electric vehicles are racing overseas, so why isn’t it happening in Australia?
Industry experts say Australia’s position as a laggard in the global race for electric cars is unlikely to change despite the election of a Labor government more supportive of clean transport.
- Experts say the lack of fuel efficiency standards is the biggest barrier to the adoption of electric vehicles in Australia
- Apart from Russia, Australia is the only developed economy without minimum energy efficiency standards.
- Federal Labor has promised to cut benefits and import taxes while spending more money on charging stations
The election of Anthony Albanese’s government last month raised expectations that the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) in Australia would accelerate with more generous subsidies and fewer disincentives.
Labor pledged to cut social benefits and import taxes for electric vehicles, while promising to double the amount spent on charging infrastructure to $500 million.
He also pledged to end the culture wars over electric vehicles, which the former coalition government said would “end the weekend”, as part of an ambition to increase the share of technology in new car sales to nearly 90% within a decade.
Will Edmonds of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, an analytics firm, said Labor’s rise to power would likely boost demand from motorists to buy an electric model.
But Mr Edmonds said additional demand would not necessarily do much to boost supply.
He said there was already strong demand for electric vehicles in Australia, but automakers were avoiding it as a market due to the country’s lack of fuel efficiency standards.
Supply, not demand, the problem
These standards, which are in place in most developed countries, require automakers to ensure that the models they sell over a year – on average – meet minimum standards of quality and efficiency.
To address this, Edmonds said, automakers have typically tried to sell low- or zero-emission models such as electric vehicles to offset the sale of any polluting line.
He said if automakers fail to meet the targets, they face potentially steep fines.
“Automakers are facing their supply constraints, but they are able to prioritize their electric vehicles for other markets,” Edmonds said.
“Other markets – such as the EU, China and the US – have fuel emission standards that automakers must meet.
“That means for every big, polluting vehicle they sell, they have to sell a smaller, more efficient, ideally electric vehicle to balance that out and meet that emissions target.
“It also means they have little incentive to send their scarce supply of electric vehicles here.”
Automakers call for better fuel
The car lobby is adding to calls for a tougher set of fuel efficiency standards in Australia.
Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries chief executive Tony Weber said consumers as well as the environment were made worse by Australia’s lack of quality controls.
Mr Weber said part of the solution was to upgrade the country’s two remaining fuel refineries to ensure they could produce higher quality stocks.
But he warned Australia will remain a global laggard unless it overhauls its fuel standards.
“Australia has the lowest quality petrol in the OECD,” Mr Weber said.
Ahead of the 2019 federal election, the Labor Party has pledged to introduce an energy efficiency standard as well as a target for 50% of all new cars sold in Australia to be electric by 2030.
However, the party abandoned those policies following the 2019 election defeat, adopting a simplified set of policies for the May poll this year.
Mr Weber said the auto industry did not support a mandatory sales target for electric vehicles.
Australia could be ‘further behind’
On the contrary, Weber said, fuel efficiency standards would be a better way to achieve the same result by allowing automakers to choose the models they supply while improving the performance and emissions of the 20 million cars already on Australian roads.
“There are many technologies on the market that will give you low-emission results,” he said.
“What the government should be doing is not mandating that we have electric vehicles or a percentage of hydrogen fuel cells, or any other type of technology.
“What we should do is develop a goal and say to brands, ‘You have to achieve this goal and you have to achieve it with any tech mix.’
Mr Edmonds said the lack of fuel standards would act as a handbrake on Australia’s transition to cleaner transport which would only get worse the longer it lasted.
“We are already feeling the effects of not having a fuel emissions standard now,” he said.
“Wait times for the Tesla Model 3, which is Australia’s most popular electric vehicle…in 2022, have exploded to 12 months.
“And then when it comes to other automakers, they start canceling existing models here.
“So Europe, China, the United States… their fuel emission standards are going up over time, which means there’s increasing pressure on automakers to send vehicles there. .
“If Australia doesn’t have that fuel emissions standard, it risks falling even further behind.”
“The technology is there”
James and Nina Hope say anything that could help encourage the adoption of electric vehicles in Australia makes sense.
The couple, who operate an agricultural and livestock farm in Kojonup, around 300km south-east of Perth, decided to buy an electric vehicle last year.
Ms Hope said the decision was philosophical as much as anything else.
But she added that a big plus has also been a sharp drop in fuel and maintenance costs since buying the vehicle.
“I used to spend a lot of time driving to Albany [150km away] to get the car serviced…and it got difficult,” she said.
“We just thought it was the right thing to do at the right time.”
Mr Hope was also convinced, saying the savings in operating costs made the vehicles an attractive option.
But, he said, increasing their autonomy would be key to encouraging “country owners” to buy them.
“That’s…in real life just over 500km range,” he said.
“For me, the range for country owners is going to be key.”
Mr Hope said the country’s federal energy policy had been “shocking over the last three election cycles”.
“We just have to catch up with the rest of the world and be where we need to be,” he said.
“The technology is there…this car is fantastic.”
Job , updated