Negative Charge: Why Is Australia So Slow At Adopting Electric Cars?

Image: Tesla

In the race to adopt electric vehicles, Australia is sputtering along in the slow lane. Rather than growing, Australian sales of electric cars are actually in decline. In 2016 they represented just 0.02 per cent of new car sales – even lower than in 2013.

Contrast that with Norway, the country with the highest levels of electric car adoption. Almost 30 per cent of new cars sold there in 2016 were electric.

Read more: How electric cars can help save the grid

Why are Australian motorists rejecting electric cars while those in other advanced economies are embracing them? As the National Roads and Motorists’ Association (NRMA) has previously pointed out, high vehicle prices are an obvious barrier. But that is only part of the answer.

Our current research, in which we used online questionnaires to survey Australian motorists’ attitudes to electric vehicles, suggests that a comprehensive network of recharging stations, particularly on popular intercity routes, is essential to encourage drivers to go electric. This seems to be even more important than subsidising the cost of the cars themselves.

Rechargers on highways, in country towns and at service centres need to be fast and convenient, so that motorists aren’t unduly delayed. Without the right charging infrastructure, there is no foundation to allow Australian motorists to go electric with confidence.

The average Australian motorist drives 36km per day for all passenger vehicles (see table 8 here). This is well within the range of modern fully electric vehicles – more than 150km for the models on sale in Australia – and actually less than Norwegians, who drive more than 40km a day on average.

Norwegian drivers also enjoy the highest proportion of rechargers in the world. But on another criterion the world leader is Estonia. It’s credited as the first nation to build a country-wide network, with a recharging station every 50km on major roads, and one in every town with a population of at least 5,000.

Bumps in the road

Every country that has successfully adopted electric cars has done so by providing an effective recharging network. But we can learn from what has gone wrong in some of these places too.

Our research suggests that governments need to ensure that recharging stations work for motorists, rather than just for the network providers. Recharge points should have standardised fittings, easy payment options such as credit and debit card facilities, and prompt maintenance – all features of existing fuel stations.

Imagine if you could only fill up with petrol by pre-registering with a network, such as Caltex or Shell, and making sure you had paid in advance before taking a long trip. It sounds ridiculous, but that is the situation electric motorists face in some places.

Britain has multiple subscriber-only recharging networks, which frequently have chargers that are out of order. Recently, sales of fully electric vehicles have stagnated and it has only been a surge in sales of plug-in hybrids that boosted sales to 1.45% in 2016, up from 1.09% in 2015.

California has solved that problem by introducing legislation to ensure that motorists don’t have to join a network and can pay for the electricity by credit card. As a result of this and other measures, such as privileged lane access and support for workplace recharging, electric cars now represent 4.8% of Californian car sales, far outstripping the US average of 0.9% in 2016.

Another Californian law ensures that the 40% of Californians who live in rental properties can recharge their cars at home. As Australians are increasingly living in high-rise developments, ensuring car parks have the capacity to recharge cars overnight will be critical. The technology exists to enable separate billing for each car, so making sure strata management allows installation will be essential for people in units and flats to adopt this low-polluting technology.

Introducing such legislation will be a necessary first step. China recently announced that it is working towards a timetable to end production and sales of internal combustion engine vehicles. It’s a good example, which Australia would be wise to follow.

This will be critical if we are to reduce transport-related emissions, toxic air pollution and noise, and improve our fuel security in the face of increasingly unstable geopolitical circumstances and our growing dependence on imported fuel.

Read more: End of the road for traditional vehicles? Here are the facts

Without an adequate recharging network, Australian motorists risk being left in the rear-view mirror as the rest of the world’s drivers go electric. With electric cars forecast to reach price equivalency with petrol cars by 2025, we need to help Australians overcome their anxieties about running out of charge before they reach their destination.

Governments can do this by mandating a comprehensive open-access recharging network to speed the uptake of electric vehicles. We won’t be able to fix the problem overnight but we have to get started. There is no shortage of other countries to look to for ideas.

The ConversationThis article was coauthored by Gail Broadbent, a postgraduate researcher at UNSW’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Science.

Graciela Metternicht, Professor of Environmental Geography, School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW and Danielle Drozdzewski, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.



    * Cost
    * range
    * energy comes from coal fired power stations so you actually hurt the environment more by driving an electric car, unless u get solar panels at home and a home battery systems (more cost)
    *lack of models available
    *no ROI for many many many years, petrol still cheaper...

    the list goes on and on.. great idea.. decades from reality for most people.

      You beat me to it. When they remove the import taxes and create an electric charging network we might start buying. Having said that though, there is a promising new tech that will take the place of charging batteries. Hydrogen from Ammonia solves most of these issues and will create a true pollution free, environment-friendly system.

      I agree with you except for the point about energy. It's my understanding that producing electricity from coal is much more efficient than burning petrol in an internal combustion engine. The net result would be less overall emissions.

      Electric vehicles also have these advantages: no emissions, lower maintenance, reduced noise pollution

      A couple other ideas;

      Norway: 385,203 km²
      Australia: 7.692 million km²

      Population Density:
      Norway: 14.33 per km²
      Australia: 3.1 per km²

      And the population density figures become even worse if you actually look at a population density map. While Australia has a lot of people clustered in cities we also have quite a high "spread" along the coast (which is obviously huge). Norway if far more clustered into cities. And the cities are closer together.

    NSW RMS gives you a $30pa discount on rego!?!?! We need to protect our car ind..... is free to import a coal fired steam engine!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

    I wonder if the sheer cost has anything to do with it?
    I'm all for saving the environment, but im all for eating too.

      It's 100% down to the up front cost. EV's make the perfect 2nd/urban car but most people will not pay $40K for a run around even if you have solar on your roof and it's free to run.

        $40k for an all electric car? A Prius maybe.

    its not range, its called vested interests in the old model of car sales. thats its pure and simple.

    Because V8

      I'd agree nothing beats the roar of a V8, however this it stops short because the electric cars are much faster and quicker off the mark.

    We can't even run our air-conditioners during summer for fear of blackouts so how are they going to handle charging a few million electric vehicles. We need to fix our electricity woes before most people feel the need to get an EV.

      So much this!

      If anything is an indicator of how much this country hasn't got it's shit together, this is it.

      have never had that problem in canberra.

      For a city everyone likes to slag off, we sure do have it better than the rest of the country.

      ...and the NBN. Just perfect.

        I keep forgetting about Canberra and according to you everything is sweet. You bastard. ;)

    It's not the average daily 36km that's the problem, it's the weekend or holiday period when you want to several hundred km round trip from home into a national park etc that's the problem.

      Yeah I think that's it. Anyone I talk to doesn't cite their daily commute rather they talk about the trip from Melbourne/Sydney/Canberra all the way up to Brisbane as their benchmark. You ask them how often they'd make such a trip and often it'll be something like "once every 24 months", but that's enough to be seen as a huge turn off for the technology. The 15 or 30 minute quick charge also comes across as a hindrance and delay to the trip compared to the 60 seconds to refill a gas powered vehicle, even if it's likely such a stop would coincide with a 15 - 30 min pit/snack stop anyway.

      Cost aside, which I think is the number one factor, mindset truly is way up there and I think it'll prevail for some time following the improvement of any charging network. It's the sort of thing that'll likely be eased by people making such a trip in a vehicle themselves, however people are more likely to make that trip in their own car so there's a bit of a catch 22 scenario to solve.

      On the cost side we're quite a way away from it being feasible. Cars in the Model 3 range is a step in the right direction but I still think that it's about twice the price of where they need to be until electric vehicles begin to make some really big dents. To clarify I don't expect a Model 3 at that price point but rather the class including vehicles like the Fore Fiesta's, Hyundai i30's etc would introduce electric engines at close to current price points.

      In a few years we may also see the second hand market assisting with uptake assuming battery replacement costs for older vehicles don't prohibit the second hand market too much.

      Last edited 13/11/17 1:18 pm

      The ways that petrol cars are better in this is:
      a. refueling only takes a minute of two
      b. there are petrol stations everywhere
      c. if you do run out of petrol a jerry can can get you going again

      Not to mention where are the electric utes and electric 4WDs so I can take loads of stuff to the dump or go to Fraser Island for the weekend or tow the caravan?

        In just the same way, we didn't all stop riding horses or using them as labour (Some people still do) neither will stop using petrol. The most obvious cars to switch first are Urban cars that don't leave the city and only travel less than 100K per day. This is what's happening in Europe & China.

          I don't doubt that. And I also see electric cars (even in their current state) as having a place in the market. Just not the entire market. If you look at the Australian market it actually makes a great deal of sense why electric cars aren't having as much penetration.

          Top selling car of the year - Toyota Hilux. 4th was the Ford Ranger and 9th the Mitsubishi Triton. All three Utes (didn't say what the breakup was 2wd -v- 4wd).

          In addition out of roughly 1.178 million sales about 37% of which were SUV sales. Passenger car sales only make up about 40% of the market. Australians have a preference for vehicles, other than the standard passenger car. As I pointed out, a market the electric cars just aren't in yet.

          Again, these are just facts that the article seems to have missed.

            The question is if people are buying them as city cars in Europe why arn't we? Why aren't the 40% passenger car buyers converting, not the Hilux buyers. As the article says it's for a few reasons but mostly its down to a lack of leadership, vision and forward planning.

              One answer is in that "average kms" quote. It's not the average (even for urban dwellers) that is the issue, as mentioned above. it is the additional and unplanned kms. In Europe (mainly) yo may travel an extra 20kms to go somewhere unplanned after work or the weekend. Here the distance is very often significantly longer. When we have visitors from Europe they are often amazed that we think nothing of trotting a hundred or so kms for a day trip.

                That's why BMW put the range extender on the i3 . It's only rarely used but great for that surprise long trip. Just need prices to drop....

    I'll be getting one once ACT goes 100% renewable. The target is 2020 so I'm not far off.

    But then I've been keeping an eye on the market and just finding an electric car to buy is still a hassle. There's one I-Miev and one Nissan Leaf for sale on carsales.

    It might just be easier to make one myself.

    How many Australians NEVER drive more than 100Km in a day? If you are making a long trip, once a year, better to have a small car at home and hire something else for the holiday.

      While that sounds good in theory sometimes the cost proves to be exorbitant. My Dad tried to do this and it was ridiculous to rent something for a week. I don't remember exact costs but he'd have almost been better buying a crappy second hand car and selling it a week later.

        Really! - I was surprised how cheap a good car could be rented for. You can also try "The Car Next Door" If you are lucky....

          Depends on what you're trying to rent, where you're picking it up from, what the return rules are (ie: where you need to return it to) and so on. As soon as you go beyond the fairly standard mid size sedan prices tend to jump.

            Do check out "Car next door" I use a nice Corolla for $27 per day, parked on next street. As more people use the platform there will be more cars.

              See that's the problem, the Corolla is a small-mid car. It's always going to be cheap (or it should be). Try renting a largish ute though. Or as the OP suggested if you're planning a holiday a large four door sedan, or even worse something like a Land Cruiser. Prices are terrible :(

                I also occasionally rent a van too, for the same price and had a Hilux once. Yes you do pay more for a nice new one but I'm not fussy as long as it works.

    This comments section reveals why Australia is so slow at adopting electric cars. Because we're a bunch of old whingers who hate change. Not even the poms whinge as much as we do.

      Funny that your post itself is a whinge? Wouldn't it have been better to put up some real argument as to why buying a relatively expensive car that you could probably not use for a long trip into the country is a good thing (and not, why a battery powered car is a good thing) in Australia?

    Broken Hill to Sydney, 1147 kms then on to Adelaide for another 512 kms towing a 20ft Caravan will be a great trip with an electric car. The poor old Gray Nomads will be really ticked when they are told they have to get rid of their SUV's.

      ...when they are told they have to get rid of their SUVsTo misquote the NRA: They can have my fourby when they prise it from my cold dead hands.
      I'm all in favour of the move to EVs, but I have not seen any EV (even on the drawing boards) that will tow my 18' van to Darwin and back in any timely fashion. I'd even suggest that driving a Tesla Brisbane to Darwin and back might be a bit of an ask at the moment.

    Why? Because we're sensible, it seems.

    the problem is the 33% luxury car tax which was introduced to promote Australian production which no longer exists. #shady

    Its cost and nothing more, I live in Tasmania, perfect for electric cars but i am not prepared to drop tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands to get something that accommodate my needs when i can buy a fossil burner for 1/10 the cost.

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