Huge problem with Australia’s electric car prices
AUSTRALIA has slowly but surely fallen behind the rest of the world on electric cars and risks becoming "a first world country with a third world fleet", the NRMA has warned.
The motoring body was speaking in response to Labor's new suite of climate change policies, which includes a target for half of all new car sales to be electric vehicles by 2030, and a requirement for new vehicles to send fewer carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
"The NRMA has been saying for some time now that we need to get in front of this," spokesman Peter Khoury said.
"If we don't take steps now we will fall even further behind, our community will suffer, our economy will suffer and our environment will suffer."
Mr Khoury said the issue was not about climate change but "the reality of the industry" moving forward.
"Whether Australia likes it or not, the countries that build the cars we love are going to stop building petrol cars," he said.
"If we don't do what we need to do to catch up, Australia will be a first world country with a third world fleet."
Australia's uptake of electric vehicles has been significantly slower than most of the developed world. News Corp Australia's online motoring editor David McCowen reports that, of the 1.15 million cars sold in Australia last year, about 1350 were electric.
Compare that to, for example, the United Kingdom, where electric vehicle sales accounted for 3.8 per cent of the market.
There are a few reasons for the gaping discrepancy.
First, the selection of electric cars on offer in Australia is smaller than elsewhere in the world, and the cars we do have access to are rarely affordable.
This has been a problem since the initial flurry of excitement around electric cars at the start of the decade. There were some predictions that up to a fifth of new vehicles could be battery powered by 2020, but Australia's first electric cars failed to live up to the hype.
The Mitsubishi iMiev arrived in 2010, with a range of just 150km and a hefty price tag of $49,000. The Nissan Leaf was about three times as expensive as a comparable petrol-powered car. The Holden Volt cost $60,000. Only the super-rich could hope to afford the more glamorous Tesla Roadster at more than $200,000.
Electric Vehicle Council chief executive Behyad Jafari told news.com.au the lack of affordable options was due to investors' uncertainty.
"The rest of the world has developed policies to support the transition to electric vehicles. Australia hasn't," Mr Jafari said.
"That lack of policy has created uncertainty for investment. We've had less deployment of particularly lower price electric vehicles.
"There hasn't been a comfort that this industry will be supported in Australia as it has been elsewhere."
The second key problem is that Australia does not have enough infrastructure.
Think of facilities like high-speed charging stations. The lack of them exacerbates drivers' worries that electric vehicles won't have the range to carry them the vast distances between Australia's cities.
"We absolutely need more investment in things like charging infrastructure," Mr Jafari said.
"Then if you do need to go on those longer drives, you can make a pit stop, have a sandwich, recharge, then off you go again.
"It certainly is a challenge, but I think there's a misconception that a challenge is an excuse not to do something, as opposed to coming up with a solution.
"The answers to these problems do exist."
He said the reality was that most owners of electric cars charged their vehicles at home overnight while they slept.
Last week the government indicated it would release its national electric vehicle strategy midway through next year. Mr Jafari said that was an unacceptable delay.
"We're already 10 years behind the rest of the world," he said.
"They have no policy. What they have done in the past is expressed their fondness for the economic opportunities electric vehicles bring.
"While they've said that they understand that, they actually haven't done anything about it."
The government responded to Labor's announcement today by expressing concern about its new emission requirements, which would restrict all light vehicles to 105 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.
When the Climate Change Authority (CCA) released its analysis of light vehicle emissions standards in 2014, it found the average light vehicle was emitting 192 grams per kilometre. Last year the National Transport Commission said the average had fallen to 182 grams.
So it is clear that Labor is asking manufacturers for a huge reduction.
"There are not many Australians driving a car under 105g a kilometre," Energy Minister Angus Taylor said this afternoon.
"The most popular car in Australia, the HiLux, is between 202-250. I do not know what tradies will do under the Labor policies. There is no car that can do what they need to do they can drive."
Labor has stressed its policy will only apply to new vehicles, not those already on the road.
Opponents of the emissions measures worry that reducing the requirement to 105 grams would significantly raise the cost of those new cars.
The CCA's analysis found it would indeed add $1500 to the price, but that additional cost would be "more than offset" by savings on fuel within a year.
The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) has called for both sides of politics to "clearly articulate" their vehicle emissions targets before the election. While broadly supportive of developing cleaner cars, it wanted them to find a "balanced" policy.
"A poorly designed (emissions) standard will drive up the cost of cars, the cost of petrol and significantly curtail the availability of popular vehicle makes and classes," it said.
A small but significant group of countries, including China, France, Britain, Germany, India, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway and Scotland, have already enacted laws to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars.
It should be said, however, that most of those bans don't come into effect for years. Britain, China and France are not prohibiting new petrol cars until 2040.
Labor's target for half of new cars to be electric by 2030 is obviously more modest. And the emissions requirement it has outlined is commonplace a number of other countries, including the United States.
Still, the opposition hopes its proposed changes will help Australia compete globally, and draw more affordable electric cars into the our market.
"We have the lowest uptake of electric vehicles in the OECD and we're the only OECD nation that doesn't have mandatory fuel standards," shadow climate change and energy minister Mark Butler told ABC radio this morning.
"Our petrol and diesel cars are the dirtiest in the developed world.
"We're not really participating in what is really an extraordinary shift that is occurring to electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles."
Mr Butler compared the market in Britain, where there are 20 models of "affordable" electric vehicles (a price tag lower than $50,000), to Australia, where there are just four.
"The seven best-selling affordable electric vehicles around the world are not sold here in Austraila," he said.
"You need to create the critical mass, the size of the market which means that car companies actually send their good, affordable electric vehicles here to Australia. To do that, you've got to have good government policy.
"There is no company in the world that is putting research and development into petrol and diesel cars. All of the research and development is going into electric vehicles because that is the way of the future."
There are some reasons for optimism.
One of the government's most influential members, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, wrote enthusiastically about electric cars when he was energy minister.
"The lack of take-up is not because of a lack of consumer interest. Australian surveys show that about half the people in the market for a new car are prepared to consider purchasing an electric vehicle, with many investigating it," Mr Frydenberg said.
"What holds them back are issues relating to price, range and infrastructure.
"A global revolution in electric vehicles is under way and with the right preparation, planning and policies, Australian consumers are set to be the big beneficiaries."
And there are more options on the way for Australian customers in the near future, including a new Nissan Leaf, Mercedes-Benz EQC and Audi E-tron.
In the meantime, however, even the cheapest of Australia's electric cars, such as the Hyundai IONIQ and Renault Zoe, cost nearly $50,000.