Why Aussie Buyers Aren’t Switching to EVs and Hybrids

Government support and incentives are the key to the realisation of electric vehicle success in Australia.

In a recent article on themotorreport.com.au, the managing director of Nissan Australia, Mr. Richard Emery lamented on the lack of government support for electric vehicles (EVs), saying that whilst manufacturers were ‘doing their bit’ in developing low-emission cars, Australian governments were not.

Since 1996 countries like Japan, Austria, France, Germany, United Kingdom, United States, Spain, and Greece (to mention a few) have provided infrastructure and financial incentives for low emission cars.
However arguably, the necessity to create infrastructure for EVs in these nations has been more pressing than in Australia.

If Australian cities were as polluted as some of those in the USA and India, where the various governments have had to cut pollution for the health of their citizens, perhaps EVs would be more in demand here.

But even despite our comparatively unpolluted cities, why aren’t we seeing more EVs and hybrids on Aussie roads? Surely now, as more people become aware of climate change and the impact humans are having on the Earth, we should be seeing more eco-conscious cars in Aussie driveways?

Yet sales figures tell a different story. In 2013, only 304 EVs were sold.

Hybrids didn’t fare much better with total sales of only 11,949 units in 2013 – with over 60 per cent being purchased by fleets.

So why are Australians sticking with oil burners?

Price is one of the key reasons.

In California for example, if you buy an electric vehicle you can apply for a Clean Vehicle Rebate of up to $5,000 as long as you own the vehicle for 36 months.

If you purchase a Tesla for private use in Los Angles you’re entitled to an additional $7,500 Federal Tax Credit Rebate.

Also, if you display a Clean Air Vehicle sticker, you can drive in any High Occupancy Vehicle lane without meeting the occupancy restrictions and take advantage of many local incentives, such as free downtown parking.

This is why California leads other American states in plug-in electric vehicles sales, with some 3,000 new registrations every month.

So let’s look at what’s available…

As of September 2014 there were 29 zero emission vehicles available worldwide, including motorcycles, and one low-speed neighbourhood electric vehicle (NEV) which is legally limited to roads with speed limits up to 70 km/h.
Currently there are five EVs Australian buyers can choose from including the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi iMiEV (available by direct order from Japan), Holden Volt, Renault Fluence ZE and the Tesla Roadster.

If you’re serious about a hybrid there’s the new Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Toyota Prius range, Honda Jazz and Civic, Lexus RX400H, GS450H and the LS600H as well as the soon-to-be launched Porsche Panamera SE-Hybrid. Buyers can also register their interest in the Audi A3 e-tron and the BMW i3 and the i8 supercar.

But the price disparity between electric and non-electric cars sold here is huge.

For example, a Holden Volt costs slightly more than $66,000, while a similarly-sized four door sedan, such as the Holden Cruze powered by a conventional petrol engine has a price tag of just under $21,000.

Other reasons why private buyers are turned-off hybrids and EVs is their poor resale value and the cost of replacing a battery, which can set you back anywhere between $7,000 and $10,000 depending on the kilometres travelled.

Then there’s ‘range anxiety’ which was a major discussion point at the Australasian Fleet Managers Association Convention held in Melbourne recently.

While some manufacturers claim their vehicles will do 160 kilometres per battery charge, John Mellor, publisher of GoAuto.com.au said at the same conference that this depended on how many people are in the car and the prevailing weather conditions.

On top of that, today’s petrol engines – especially those fitted with auto stop-and-go, deliver pretty impressive fuel economy, and if that doesn’t satisfy, there are plenty of diesel-powered options on the market.

Despite Mr. Emery’s valid points, sadly I can’t see any way that the current Federal Government will start supporting EVs. Especially after recently cutting support to our local automotive manufacturing industry.

Besides, the government is doing very nicely from the new petrol tax. According to the Australian Automobile Association’s modeling estimates; it will raise $339 million in the first year and surge to $1.6 billion a year within four years. In all, the increase would raise an estimated $3.7 billion over four years.

But oil is running out after all and people’s attitude towards the environment is changing.

Is Australia at risk of being left behind more progressive countries?

In many cases it would seem so, especially in light of the Federal Government’s attitude towards the Renewable Energy Target Scheme arrangements, which has caused a number of large-scale renewable energy projects to be put on hold, threatening future investment and jobs in the industry.

In 2013 Australia ranked at number 11 in the world for its financing of large scale-renewable energy programs, today we’ve dropped behind Algeria and Myanmar.

So as far as providing infrastructure to support electric cars, it seems certain that this will not see the light of day in the foreseeable future.

Should the Government do more to give Australians incentive to purchase electric cars? Write to editor@automotivedealer.com.au and share your thoughts.

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