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Why does Australia not have electric cars?

Ask the experts: what’s the future of Australia’s EV landscape?

Electric vehicles will become the norm in Australia, but when? Our panel of experts discusses what the future of driving looks like.

Consumers and car manufacturers worldwide are phasing out petrol vehicles at pace. Where do Australians stand in this global shift?

Australians are excited to get behind the EV wheel
Giles Parkinson, founder and editor — RenewEconomy and The Driven

I commonly hear that people have a petrol or diesel car and the next one they want to buy is electric. But they want one that suits them in price, utility and shape. The demand for electric is there — a lot of people want to switch.

There’s a lot to learn and a lot of misunderstandings about electric vehicles (EVs). Australia has trailed other countries in establishing charging infrastructure, but people are getting over that. Most people understand now that they can charge at home and that’s where up to 90% of charging is usually done. They are more comfortable with EVs. They see them around.

The fascinating thing about these new vehicles arriving on the market now is that they are so powerful. They’ve got big batteries; many can comfortably drive 450-500km. And they’ve got new features such as vehicle to load, so you can basically power any appliance that you want to take with you. People are starting to see these cars as more than just transport. They think about their car as a really interesting and useful asset.

If we can get all our ducks in a row, it will be quite a rapid transformation. Once the price of EVs comes down a bit further, as we get more supply and the cost of batteries comes down, it’s going to be a no-brainer for people to buy EVs. They are much more fun to drive, they’re cleaner, quieter and less expensive to run. And the other big factor, of course, is that most of the major car makers have vowed to stop making petrol and diesel cars.

Once you start driving an EV, I don’t think there’s any going back. The interest is there. It’s just huge. It’s all grown beyond our own expectations.

Hear more from Giles Parkinson:

Giles Parkinson, founder and editor — RenewEconomy and The Driven

EVs offer enormous opportunities to grow the economy
Mathew Nelson, Oceania chief sustainability officer — EY

What’s necessary for us to achieve net zero is a general push to electrification across our economy. Obviously, EVs are critical to that.

Any transformation creates disruption, which creates opportunity. EY has recently done some analysis that tells us that in order for us to decarbonise, we need to electrify as an economy. To do this across all of Australia, we would need an electricity sector that’s potentially five times bigger than it is today. If you think about what that means in terms of opportunity, it’s enormous.

Overall, in terms of the economic opportunity, there is a risk mitigation factor — our export market is significantly exposed to greenhouse gas emissions and countries across the world are transitioning to electrification. If we don’t look at ways to replace those more traditional industries, it is going to affect our economy on the downside. Decarbonising our own economy is more of an economic reason than an environmental one.

My argument as to why we should be pushing in a rollout is not necessarily environmental — it’s actually economic. If we don’t really think about how we play these things, and build these economies, then we will find ourselves losing on every front as this transformation occurs.

Hear more from Mathew Nelson:

Mathew Nelson: Oceania Chief Sustainability Officer – EY

EV uptake is inevitable but there is more to be done
Ingrid Burfurd, senior associate — Grattan Institute’s Transport and Cities Program

Australia has committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. I can’t see a path forward that doesn’t involve a transition to EVs. Despite early concerns, Australians are ready for this transition.

Driving an EV is better than the alternative. We would see, through time, a reduction in the carbon emissions that cars emit, and the airborne pollutants as well. We have to remember cars spit out nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, and that they’re very bad for people’s health, particularly in cities, where airborne pollution settles and aggregates and where there’s a high population of people who breathe it in. So we would also expect to see environmental and health benefits driven by a shift from internal combustion cars to EVs.

To meet the goal of net-zero by 2050 The Grattan Institute recommends a ‘carbon ceiling’, or emissions standard, for new vehicle sales. A ceiling requires manufacturers to meet emission targets across the mix of vehicles that they sell every year, measured in grams of carbon per kilometre. That annual target needs to be ratcheted down through time. Cars are on the road for about 15 years, which means that the cars that we sell in 2035 need to be almost exclusively zero-emission.

Australia is actually very well positioned to use EVs for day-to-day driving. About 90% of households that drive are in houses that are well set up to charge EVs. People are understandably worried about longer trips, but there’s good news there, too, because the network of publicly accessible chargers has expanded dramatically.

Consumer interest and enthusiasm is great, and it reflects the many advantages that EVs have. Every new survey demonstrates a higher level of interest in EVs and, at the same time, decreased resistance to the shift from internal combustion. Those two things are slightly different, but they move us in the same direction. We’re more ready than we’ve been at any other point for that transition.

Transitioning to electric vehicles in Australia: addressing key barriers

In a recent survey, 42 per cent of Australians said they would buy an electric vehicle (EV) next time they buy a car. The shift in consumer sentiment towards EVs from just five years ago indicates many more people are now willing to take action to reduce their road-transport carbon emissions. We must examine the market in depth to understand if consumer willingness can be translated into action, considering consumer taste, buyers’ financial capacity and availability of EVs, writes EV researcher Gail Broadbent.

Embedding EVs for a sustainable transport future

Economic and Policy Outlook 2023

In a recent survey, 42 per cent of Australians said they would buy an electric vehicle (EV) 1 next time they buy a car. The shift in consumer sentiment towards EVs from just five years ago indicates many more people are now willing to take action to reduce their road-transport carbon emissions. We must examine the market in depth to understand if consumer willingness can be translated into action, considering consumer taste, buyers’ financial capacity and availability of EVs.

About one million new light vehicles are sold in Australia each year. In 2022, only 33,000 plug-in EVs were sold 2 , accounting for about 3.1 per cent of the new car market. There is still a substantial number of new fossil-fuel powered cars being sold, and many of them will still be running in 20 years, as the average age of an Australian light vehicle is a bit over 10 years. Australia will need to halt the sale of new fossil-fuel vehicles by 2030 in order to achieve net-zero road-transport emissions by 2050.

To get from 33,000 to a million EVs by 2030, there needs to be a rapid escalation of the importation of EVs or a re-introduction of car manufacturing. The lack of a mandatory vehicle fuel-emission standard in Australia means the importers of any light-vehicle brand aren’t required to sell EVs. If the Federal Government does introduce such a standard, brands will have to import more EVs to help lower the average emissions per car, and there will have to be penalties for any brand that doesn’t meet the standard. Otherwise, given the current international EV shortage, manufacturers will prioritise markets in countries with a standard to avoid the fines. Because demand is outstripping supply, the shortage may last for quite a while, as it takes time for factories to gear up for producing EVs, including for right-hand drive options for countries like Australia. And because vehicle manufacturers make more money per fossil-fuel vehicle due to the scale of manufacturing, incentives may be needed for manufacturers to adjust their business model.

My research has shown that for Australians, like car buyers in other advanced markets, the price of EVs and the availability of a comprehensive, publicly accessible charger network are the two biggest considerations for an EV purchase. Until recently, manufacturers have focused on the upper, more expensive niches of the market. Until a supply of more modestly priced models comes onto the Australian market, many buyers will continue to purchase petrol and diesel cars.

Half of Australian buyers don’t buy new vehicles, so there also needs to be sufficient availability of second-hand EVs. This in turn relies on government and business expediting their fleet transition to EVs, with the consequent vehicle turn-over every three-to-five years or so. Government departments procuring EVs in large numbers could help increase the range of EV models importers are willing to bring to this country. New Zealand, which introduced EV policies in 2016, has priority over Australia for EV models because the market there is much more developed and there is a mandatory vehicle fuel-emission standard.

To ensure there is a nationwide charger network that continues to grow as the fleet expands, with stations that are repaired promptly if they break, are accessible 24/7 and have adequate lighting, governments will need to support private networks for the foreseeable future, until the EV market is well established. This will need to include support for remote locations, so that the fear of running out of charge is allayed. And in popular locations, such as on major transport routes, there will have to be an adequate number of chargers so that queue times are acceptable.

Governments have a key role to play in ensuring Australia gets an adequate supply of EVs and that we have a functioning charger network to support growing demand. We can only hope the necessary changes are made as soon as possible to accelerate our journey towards a more sustainable future.

1 In this article I use the term electric vehicle to mean plug-in vehicles rather than those termed hybrid electric vehicles, such as Toyota’s Prius, which only use fossil fuels and continue to produce emissions for every kilometre travelled for life, rather than plug-ins that reduce travel emissions in line with the electricity supply.

2 Including fully battery EVs – also called BEVs e.g. Tesla, and plug-in hybrids PHEVs, which use petrol some of the time as the battery only gives a limited range e.g. Mitsubishi’s Outlander.

Toyota aims to derail Australia’s EV strategy – they won’t have it


Toyota is at it again. The automaker’s Australian leader reiterated that Toyota would not be going all-electric despite the federal government’s recent initiatives to boost EV adoption, cut emissions from passenger vehicles, and improve the overall well-being of Australians.

Less than two weeks ago, Australia’s government introduced its new National Electric Vehicle Strategy, consisting of three main objectives.

  1. Increase the supply of affordable and accessible EVs.
  2. Establish the resources, systems, and infrastructure to enable rapid EV uptake.
  3. Encourage increased EV demand.

The government says despite Australian buyers’ demand for EVs, its lack of national policy has made them harder than they should be to access. EV sales accounted for only 3.8% of overall car sales last year.

With transportation in Australia on track to be the largest emitting sector by the end of the decade, the country is committed to becoming more competitive globally for EV supply.

New cars in Australia use 40% more fuel than in the EU and 20% more than in the US, making it urgent for government officials to adopt a Fuel Efficiency standard and accelerate its pace toward zero-emission electric vehicles.

Although Australia is planning to limit how much carbon emissions through its new strategy, as of right now, the country is next to Russia as one of the only advanced economies without a Fuel Efficiency Standard.

Australia’s new EV strategy includes discount legislation to enhance affordability, increased access to charging infrastructure, and battery recycling to promote adoption.

Despite Australia’s recent initiatives to increase EV adoption, one automaker is looking to derail the mission in the Land Down Under.


Toyota Australia leader speaks out against new EV strategy

According to the Australian newspaper, Canberra Times, Toyota’s sales boss in the country, Sean Hanley, continues to push for hybrid and fuel cell options.

Despite Hanley claiming he was “not against battery electric vehicle technology,” he says Toyota will lobby for a standard with a generous time frame that will cut pollution without cutting vehicle options. He added:

Through the (Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries), we’ve spoken to the government and I think we have represented the silent voices of hundreds of thousands of Australians consumers who use their cars for leisure, towing, and lots of other activities.

Meanwhile, Behyad Jafari, CEO of the Electric Vehicle Council, shut down these arguments, saying EVs have been proven in other countries and are already becoming popular in Australia with upgraded tech enabling longer range and power. Jafari added:

When we hear those arguments, what we need to pay close attention to is the economic interest of the car company.

As Australia’s largest automaker (and largest automaker globally), Jafari points out Toyota’s reluctance to go all in on EVs is already costing the automaker, saying:

Some businesses haven’t spent time developing electric vehicles and they don’t have a firm enough grasp on the issues.

Greenpeace campaigner Lindsay Soutar says Toyota’s Australians will not put up with Toyota’s call for weaker pollution standards or any delays, claiming:

Toyota has stalled on pure electric cars, opting to promote hybrid and fuel-cell technologies that will lock customers into paying for fossil fuels for decades to come. Pushing for petrol cars in 2023, in the middle of a climate and cost-of-living crisis, is laughable and Australians won’t be convinced.

Despite the comments from Hanley, Toyota is planning to launch its first EV in Australia, the bZ4X SUV, before the end of the year.

Electrek’s Take

Top comment by Steph Soltesz

Liked by 25 people

Is this the new Form of Hari-Kari ?

While Toyota furtles with itself, there are many other companies ready to outplace them in a hurry. Everything from Mini-EV «city cars» to Pickups & UTES are all out there just queuing up.

The old Holden Properties and more could easily be converted to EV factories or Final Assembly/Completion Facilities for imports. I’m sure that more than a few automakers could be courted, the opportunities are there.

For one, Hanley is blatantly wrong in suggesting EVs can’t be used for leisure, towing, and other activities. In fact, they are enabling more of these kinds of activities with more power and zero emissions.

The Australian government is saying Australians are ready to move to EVs – they just don’t have the supply needed. Perhaps if the most prominent automakers in the country accelerated EV production rather than fighting it, it would be a win-win for everyone.

As Jafari points out, Toyota is looking to protect its profits at this point. The automaker is already late to the EV party and wants more time to catch up before governments like Australia implement new laws to promote EV adoption and lower emissions in the transportation sector.

Australia, like the rest of the world, will not be convinced by Toyota’s lobbying. The auto industry is moving to a cleaner future, with or without Toyota.

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