Companies Call On Australian Government To Step Up On Electric Cars

Following the announcement of the much-anticipated Tesla Model 3 — with many Australians having pre-ordered the car sight-unseen — a coalition of stakeholders has released a report calling on the Federal Government to act on electric vehicles.

Increased uptake of low and zero-emission cars in Australia could be the key to meeting our climate, energy production and air quality goals, with regular vehicles making up Australia's fastest growing source of emissions.

While Australians have been keen adopters of innovative green technology such as rooftop solar generation and household batteries, our uptake of electric vehicles is woeful compared to that of similar countries worldwide. In recent years, market share of EVs has reached as high as 0.75% in the US, 0.58% in Japan, and up to 1.1% in the UK — while they make up only a paltry 0.01% of the Australian market.

Although it may seem like Aussies just aren't interested, it's not simply a matter of consumer choice. Increased adoption can only come from programs that incentivise EV owners and make sure the infrastructure is in place to support electric vehicles. EV purchases in Australia actually tend to be disincentivised by the Luxury Car Tax that comes into play for any EV with a value of over $75,375. In other countries with a much higher market share, EVs have been incentivised through programs offering purchase rebates, access to car-pooling lanes, reduced registration fees, or any combination thereof.

In Australia, EV manufacturer Tesla Motors is actually doing a far better job of providing incentives and infrastucture than the government is — with both its network of Superchargers extending along the east coast and a number of exclusive benefits available to Tesla owners.

The submission to the Federal Government, 'The Path Forward For Electric Vehicles In Australia', is headed by ClimateWorks Australia, but includes a number of other major stakeholders such as the NRMA, Tesla, Jet Charge, AGL Energy, Adelaide City Council and the City of Sydney. The report recommends a series of measures to increase demand, supply and support for EVs in Australia, with the short-term goal of kickstarting our electric revolution.

The State Of Electric Vehicles In Australia

There are a number of factors that contribute to Australia's low uptake of electric vehicles, but chief among them is the fact that such a limited number of full electric and even plug-in hybrid cars are available here. Again and again, international studies have shown a strong correlation between the number of electric vehicles sold and the range of vehicle models on offer, but manufacturers just aren't given reason to make their models available in Australia.

While Nissan's fully electric LEAF is available in Australia, the improved Gen 2 version now available in other markets will not be making its way to our shores. Nissan Australia's CEO Richard Emery has spoken about the barriers in place for adoption of EVs in our country, saying that the manufacturers will need "government help, the same kind of assistance that governments in Europe, the USA and Japan provide" in order to be able to feasibly increase model availability.

With only 14 different plug-in vehicles available in a market with over 400 options — and an even smaller portion of that 14 being solely battery-operated — electric vehicles simply aren't available, at least not in a form and price range that is accessible to the vast majority of Australian consumers. Models in low-cost segments of the market, for one, are almost non-existent.

Tesla's Model X sits around the $200,000 mark in Australia

On top of the general lack of range in electric vehicles, there are very few provisions for them actually existing in legislation. Take the Luxury Car Tax — while it has a somewhat higher price threshold (around $75,000 compared to around $63,00 for standard vehicles) for vehicles deemed 'fuel efficient', it carries no provisions for low and zero emission vehicles. The report suggests providing a full exemption for fully electric cars, while creating another, higher threshold for plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs).

Best Practice Going Forward

So what else can the government do to get more electric vehicles onto Australian roads?

There have been a number of minor incentives and tokens of support for electric vehicles enacted at state levels in Australia, but they are piecemeal and generally paltry compared to the significant initial cost of purchasing an EV.

The report first and foremost recommends encouraging the sale and increased availability of EVs through the introduction of light vehicle CO2 emission standards — with Australia being one of the few developed countries not to already have such standards in place. The way these emission standards are set generally requires that manufacturers must meet an average level of CO2 emissions across their entire fleet, thereby incentivising manufacturers to put more of a focus on low and zero-emission vehicles.

With the lack of set CO2 emission standards, the report claims that Australia even "runs the risk of becoming the dumping ground for low-specification models and falling further behind international peers, resulting in relatively higher fuel costs for motorists and businesses."

While a CO2 emission standard would set the incentives for manufacturers to prioritise EVs, however, something would still need to be done to encourage consumer demand for these vehicles.

In many countries where electric vehicle adoption is the highest, buyers are given direct incentives to invest in an electric vehicle — in China, direct subsidies to the equivalent of $US12,000 are offered, while The Netherlands grants a full exemption to the 25% Value Added Tax (VAT) for all battery electric vehicles.

The report acknowledges that incentives such as these are a temporary solution at best, but increased adoption through such programs will eventually give rise to further infrastructure and support for a growing base of electric vehicle owners. In Australia, similar incentivisation schemes have seen great success within the solar industry — such as the NSW Solar Bonus Scheme that caused the state's solar uptake to be doubled.

Purchase incentives are recommended by their report for the sake of enhancing short-term uptake, though not all the incentives recommended are monetary. Others include things like providing parking allowances for EVs, allowing them to use carpool lanes and even waiving toll charges, along with continuing the same registration rebates that some states have in place already.

The University of Queensland's free Veefil charging station

With increased adoption of EVs would come increased strain on the infrastructure, however, and the report accordingly calls for a national deployment strategy to make sure these needs will be met met — not only by developing public infrastructure in places like commuter parking lots but also by incentivising businesses and CBD parking facilities to provide charging spots for EVs.

As it is, Australia is lacking in almost all the areas needed to put more EVs on the road — save perhaps for interest, as the Tesla Model 3 launch showed last week. With more choice in EVs, better incentives to invest in the technology, and proper infrastructure to keep them all running, Australia could soon begin to catch up with its global peers — but it can't be done unless the Federal Government steps up and realises how important this technology is.

Would more choice in make and model be enough to convince you to buy an electric vehicle, or would it take a government rebate for you to make that investment? Tell us in the comments! [ClimateWorks]

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