What’s holding back electric vehicle adoption in Australia?

Australians lag behind quite a few nations in the developed world when it comes to electric vehicle adoption rates in the mainstream market.

In 2016, Australians bought only 1,369 electric vehicles. Compare that to 12,000 hybrid vehicles and 1,131,000 diesel and petrol-powered cars bought.

Sales of electric cars barely show up in a graph of Aussies’ 2016 car purchases.

Graph by Drive Zero. Copyright © 2018. All rights reserved.

Worldwide, though, it’s a different story. Even back in 2016, there were more than two million electric vehicles on the world’s roads, with China leading the way.

Jack Perkowski, writing in Forbes, states that in the same year, 2016, in which Australians didn’t even crack the 1,400 milestone in new electric vehicles purchased, enthusiastic Chinese customers bought 507,000 of them.

This isn’t a new development. In 2015, out of all the new cars Australians purchased, electric cars were only 0.1 percent. The same year, 1.2 percent of Europeans who bought new cars went electric, as the Guardian’s Christopher Knaus points out.

Compared to Norway, the gap is even larger. During 2015, 22.8 percent of Norwegians chose electric cars for their new ride.

Australia’s electric car purchases pale in comparison to the EU and Norway.

Graph by Drive Zero. Copyright © 2018. All rights reserved.

Clearly, carbon-powered cars are the vehicles of choice for most Australians. Why is this the case? Why isn’t the usually environmentally conscious Aussie public going green in their vehicle choice as well?

Let’s take a closer look.

1. Australians Demand More Choice in Electric Vehicles

As Sam West pointed out in Arena.gov.au, it’s not that Australians don’t want to buy electric cars. It’s just that they don’t have much choice in the matter.

Many middle-class people, let alone working-class people, can’t afford cars that cost anywhere from $45,000 to $100,000. That sets up what West calls a ‘chicken and egg situation’. If electric car sales aren’t strong, manufacturers aren’t likely to introduce their new electric models into the country.

ClimateWorks Australia agrees. In its paper, ‘The State of Electric Vehicles in Australia’, the organization states, ‘The decline…may be linked in part to the limited number of lower-priced models available’.

2. Lack of Governmental Incentives

Another key factor for Australians’ lack of enthusiasm about electric cars, says Knaus, is Australia’s lack of Governmental incentives.

Without the Government to step in with some assistance—either in the form of a stick or a carrot—consumers are not likely to step up to the plate.

A strong indication of this phenomenon shows in Energeia’s prediction that in 2026, when a strict greenhouse gas emissions statute takes effect, electric vehicle purchases will shoot up.

Graph by Drive Zero. Copyright © 2018. All rights reserved.

Purchases of electric vehicles will rise sharply in the period just before 2026, when Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions statute takes effect.

The gaps between Australia’s slow uptake of electric cars, as the Guardian points out, rest upon those countries’ governments aggressive use of perks to entice buyers to consider electric cars.

In Norway, for instance, electric cars may use taxi and bus lanes. Norwegian electric car drivers are exempt from parking fees, registration and VAT charges, and road tolls.

In France, electric car buyers earn a rebate for low carbon-emitting vehicles, but must pay an extra fee for a high-emitting car.

There are some signs of hope for Australian car enthusiasts, though.

Although there are no nationwide incentives here as there are in China and the US, Arena.gov.au—an – official government publication — does recognize the need for Australia to follow suit, if the country is to move ahead in adopting electric vehicles.

Even better, however, is the string of action from some Governmental and council bodies across the nation.

According to SolarQuotes.com.au, a late 2017 meeting in which seven Australian cities and states signed a MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) about the challenge, may offer some hope.

Not only do they plan to up their own regional Governments’ and councils’ use of electric vehicles, but they hope to follow one of the signatories’ leads to offer a Green Vehicles Stamp Duty Scheme.

The ACT has already enacted a plan that lowers the duty to as low as $0 for vehicles that meet emissions standards that meet their criteria.

State signatories include:

  • South Australia
  • Victoria
  • Australian Capital Territory
  • Adelaide
  • Hobard
  • Darwin

3. Unavailability

ClimateWorksAustralia.org points out, most of the charging an EV owner will do, will be at home or at their workplace. Car buyers still cling to the myth that electric car charging stations are few and far between.

While that’s true in remote locations, not so much when it comes to more populated regions. According to Climate Works Australia’s report, there are 476 public charging stations, mostly in larger cities.
The ACT, for instance, has 3.5 chargers for every 100,000 residents, though Victoria has more chargers overall.

ClimateWorks goes on to state that the network of charging stations is expanding. With increased demand spurred by tourism and business travelers, as well as a growing interest by governments and businesses, new charging stations are springing up every day.

Fast-charging highways, with quick-charge stations at key points along the roads, are making electric vehicles more tempting to Australian buyers.

4. Charging Cost

Except for the one-time setup cost for a home charger, higher charging cost is largely a myth.

The average cost to charge an electric vehicle to go 100 kilometres is only $4.50, compared to $16.65 for the same distance in a petrol car, according to Ergon.com.au. In a high-efficiency diesel car, you’ll need $7.50 to go 100 km.

Graph by Drive Zero. Copyright © 2018. All rights reserved.

As you can see, fuel costs for electric cars are much less than those powered by other fuel types.

To wire your home for charging circuits, you’ll need to shell out $1,750. Plus anywhere from $100 to $2,500 for the power point or charging unit itself, depending on the quality of the unit.

Once you’re past the initial spend for your home unit, you’re in the green versus that petrol guzzler that shares your garage. Charging costs are negligible, compared to petrol or diesel cars.

Furthermore, major energy provider AGL Energy, has introduced a program to lure its customers into purchasing electric cars.

Not only does it have a dollar-a-day ‘all you can eat’ service to charge its customers’ cars, but it also has rolled out a leasing bundle that includes a PHEV (plug-in electric hybrid vehicle), a special electric car plan, and a home charging solution.

Challenge 5: Limited Range

According to Clare Negus, writing in ABC.net.au, ‘range anxiety’, a fear of getting stranded with a dead battery without a charging station in sight, holds most Australians back from purchasing an electric car.

With the vast distances one needs to cover on many Australian roads, fears may be well-founded.

Though pioneering electric car enthusiasts Robin and Rob Dean’s 5,400-kilometre Perth-to-Broome round trip in their Tesla may prove otherwise, it does take some planning.

One needs to use caravan power points to make such a journey—which means some level of planning, before a long trip. Most Australians simply don’t have the time.

One has to have more than a few extra dollars to save up for the longer range electric car models. According to Negus, the reasonably priced ones have ranges from 170 to 200 km. To get one that can go even 350 km or over 600 km, one has to spend $100,000 or over.

Which takes us back to choice.

Solving Australia’s Electric Vehicle Adoption Challenges

When car manufacturers, car dealers, and Government offer Australians more choices at affordable prices, the other challenges pale in comparison. Many as we have shown, are myths.

If more long-range electric vehicles arrive on our shores—coupled with Norwegian-style Government incentives, Australians may well surpass the Norwegians in their embrace of electric-powered vehicles.

We are, after all, a people who love our environment.

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Keith enjoys nerding out about Electric Vehicles, owning a BMW i3, Tesla Model X and now, running Drive Zero .

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