Can an Australian Tesla emerge from wreckage of car industry?

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A local version of the Tesla, or any EV, could address issues in local manufacturing, jobs, emissions and fuel bills. And it might just save the Australian utilities business, which may be why they are pushing EVs so heavily.

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A year or two before its demise, Holden was offered the opportunity to throw in a small amount of money to try and help the development of an electric Commodore. The sum requested was minor, but refused.

In retrospect, the request was possibly a little like suggesting Kodak should go digital, or a coal-fired generator go green. Incumbents find it difficult to look beyond their own business model and the quarterly report to shareholders.  And then they fall flat on their face.

tesla electric vehicle
Image courtesy of ShutterStock

The question about an EV manufacturing industry in Australia is an interesting one. There will be huge debate about whether an Australian EV maker could compete on the international market, in the same way that the local subsidiaries of Holden, Ford and Toyota struggled.

But there is one key element that may be overlooked – over and above the obvious technical talent and infrastructure that Australia deploys in its car manufacturing sector. And that is latent demand, and the potential support of the huge electricity utility industry, who could throw their considerable weight behind EV deployment to address their own weaknesses in their business model.

As RenewEconomy noted last year, the utilities industry has been looking for some time to EVs, and its infrastructure of storage and charging stations, as an antidote to declining demand and the threat of the death spiral. It’s about the only way they can see themselves being able to buy into the new distributed energy model.

It is remarkable to see how vocal those interests have become. The major utilities are now actively pushing EV adoption in their submissions to the Energy White Paper and other reviews. Could their involvement lead to the development of a “clean car” industry in Australia. There is an awful lot at stake, and an awful lot of reasons why it could.

The Australian Electric Vehicle Association says the departure of Mitsubishi, Holden, Ford and Toyota  – owing to their “uncompetitive business models”, presents Australia with a unique chance to foster its own auto-manufacturing capacity.

“Whether it is foreign investment from a large automaker or a locally conceived EV, Australia is well placed to design, build and market EVs to the world,” it says in its submission to the energy white paper.  “The AEVA strongly supports any effort to redirect funds away from petrol-burning carmakers, and towards producers of plug-in hybrids and pure EVs here in Australia.”

It notes that the exits of the big carmakers mean Australia will have three production lines available, excellent auto design skills (Australia is one of the few in the world to be able to design and build a motor vehicle from concept to delivery, and expertise gained in the construction of the hybrid Camry. The success of Tesla showed how EVs could appeal to the market.

It also notes that the high penetration of domestic solar in Australia is a natural fit to charge EVs at home, and 140,000 households who cashed in on the NSW solar bonus scheme will be looking for something to do with their excess capacity when those tariffs finish at the end of 2016.

Such ideas are likely to gain support from the utilities industry – retailers, generators, and network operators, to address the significant over-capitalisation of the network, and to arrest declining demand that are affecting other areas.

Origin Energy, for instance,  is promoting the deployment of electric vehicles as one area of abatement that should be encouraged through the Direct Action process. “When bundled with a renewable energy product such as GreenPower, EVs can provide a zero emissions solution,” it writes in its submission to the Senate inquiry on Direct Action.

“They also provide other benefits, such as by shifting demand to off-peak times, thereby reducing costs on the electricity network.”

This theme has been taken up by AGL Energy, which says in its submission to the energy white paper that EVs could reduce the Australian economy’s reliance on imported liquid fuels by substituting domestically-generated electricity.

“This represents a significant opportunity to improve Australia’s structural trade position and energy security,” it says. Further, EVs have zero tailpipe emissions, and therefore do not contribute to air pollution or ‘‘smog.’’ Over time, high EV uptake could significantly improve air quality in urban areas.

AGL Energy argues that charging EVs, even in Australia’s current fossil-fuel dominated generation mix, would produce around 18kg of CO2e per 100 km of driving, about 35 per cent lower than an average petrol car, although roughly equivalent to a new midsize petrol sedan or hatch. And it says the electricity fleet will likely clean itself up much quicker than the petrol fleet. EVs charged using accredited GreenPower (as at 2010) would produce 2 kg CO2e per 100kms.

AGL Energy says that with the right price signals – such as time of use pricing it has been promoting for years, would enhance the utilisation rate of existing electricity grid infrastructure, and reduce unit pricing for all consumers. It suggests that Australia should consider government targets or mandates for electric vehicle uptake.

As the AEVA suggests: Electric vehicles present a major electricity storage option for the grid, as vehicle-to-grid energy flow would allow more intermittent sources of electricity such as that from solar and wind, to be utilised as the need arises. We believe that further investment into the development of “smart” electricity distribution networks is essential, and would deliver considerable efficiencies if executed properly. A high price should be offered to households who re-supply electricity from fully charged EVs, as this represents a premium reserve which can be accessed rapidly.

In short, an Australia EV manufacturing industry is a potential answer to so many issues – an Australian manufacturing base, employment, electricity bills, network death spirals, and emissions reduction – it could encourage the uptake of solar and other renewables. Bit of a no brainer really.

Update: This week, an EV battery charging facility powered by dual-axis solar trackers was installed at Kangaroo Island’s airport. The system will provide more than 100MWh of electricity, enough to offset the consumption of the local airport, and combined with 14kW rooftop solar PV system on Council Chambers, will support the charging of three Nissan LEAF electric vehicles.



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  1. Keith 6 years ago
  2. Nick Sharp 6 years ago

    Good one Giles, spot on. Here are a few suggestions:

    1 To Ford/GM/Toyota re factories and machines

    “You have been paid heaps more than these are worth in government hand outs over the years (see today’s comments from George Christensen LNP MP). Don’t even think of stripping them and selling the buildings (onto a very depressed market for car assembly lines in Australia you would think).

    Legislation needed to ‘acquire’ them for the nation. Bit like UK Tory PM Ted Heath nationalising Rolls Royce?

    2 What to make

    EVs with optional serial hybrid (same concept as BMW i3 only heaps cheaper).
    A what? Serial hybrid means a fuel engine (petrol, diesel, lpg, don’t matter much) which ONLY runs a generator and ONLY runs when the battery is getting low. Good trick: briefly run the generator backwards as the starter motor.

    The fuel engine always runs at its optimum speed, and the generator feeds power to the EV side, plus puts a bit back into the battery if there’s some to spare.

    There is no standard link (clutch>gearbox>transmission) from the fuel engine to the car wheels, so the vehicle is much simpler.

    Could have two or four motors (one per driven wheel or one per wheel for 4wd) so no differential, perhaps even avoid the constant velocity joint. Not my skill area so perhaps nonsense!

    3 Where to charge

    Get work place charge points, so that solar power, whether on building or from the grid, goes directly into the batteries. Also ability to charge at night at home of course.

    4 $64M Q!
    So who might do this? I have no idea, but surely it’s the way ahead for cars, here and around the world. Cheaper, less maintenance (you could even leave the fuel engine with the garage and keep going on just EV if your trips allow!), lower fuel use, more environmental as electricity goes solar/wind.

    Time for the world’s biggest crowd funding exercise??!!

    Must talk to AEVA!

    • Terry J Wall 6 years ago

      Crowd funding,, great idea.

  3. tsport100 6 years ago

    Five years ago the Labor government put over $5 Billion in grants on the table to encourage the local auto makers to develop EVs. The the only one to take any legit funding was Toyota to make the Camry hybrid (all Hybrid parts were imported) both Ford and Holden declined.

    For any EV industry to rise from the ashes it will have to be locally owned, not a transnational.

    There is a local firm developing In-Wheel motors for EVs who have attracted interest from overseas manufacturers.

  4. Alen 6 years ago

    With the amount of rooftop PV solar now installed in homes and the amount predicted to be installed in the future, presents a great potential for EVs or PHEVs in the Australian market. Focusing advertisements on the fact that if you can charge (refill) your vehicle while the sun is shing, your fuel is mostly free and you will get a lot of very interested customers. That AGL, Origin and other retailers as well as miners will benifit (increased electricity demand) only shows how suited this technology is for Australia. And theres already promising research and sucess at Universities over here (Wooloongong university and university of technology sydney)
    Divert the money allocated for the (pointless) LNP Direct Action plan to making Australia the new global EV capital and you will have a happy mining, generation, distribution, manufacturing, renewable..etc. industry

  5. Terry J Wall 6 years ago

    Can you imagine it:
    Huge fit for purpose workshops (Just have to add EV Conversion Plant next to the existing signage; Holden, Ford etc) : One by one gas guzzlers drive in one end have their engines and fuel tanks removed, replaced by electric motor (s) batteries and controllers (two moving parts) and drive out the other end, silently. Owners can have a cup of coffee while the conversion is done. There is a hell of a waiting list.

    The big ones go home carrying many more batteries and become the means by which retirees homes go “off grid” or get a amenity payment from the power company for buffering renewable energy. The smaller ones go home to working families where they are used most every day, recharged on the grid by the big bangers batteries and of course renewable energy.

    Everyone wins: No need to melt the whole car and start again, saves energy. Encourages renewable energy as that is the fuel of the day.
    Humans win because air quality improves. No need to knock down a “fit for purpose” building with roads and car parking etc. Work force with spanner skills already there. Unions replaced by workers taking ownership of the company..
    Sound a bit too radical?

    • Giles 6 years ago

      Love it!

    • Ursula Theinert 6 years ago

      The idea that the Vehicle’s batteries become the home storage system is absolutely brilliant, perfect with a two car Family! They even have an all electric motorcycle available in Australia right now!

      • Terry J Wall 6 years ago

        Thanks: forgot to remind readers that the great big battery filled car has a very respectable range, enough to visit the grandchildren and get recharged in payment for babysitting. Back at the olds house there is no one home so the minimoke batteries keep the fridge ticking over in the evening,, 🙂

  6. Coaltopia 6 years ago

    Not without an enormous amount of assistance and should’ve been done decades ago, or even when Rudd provided the last lot of assistance – what did we get for that anyway?

    Nevertheless, getting off oil has many, many, benefits that are worth investing in.

    • Malcolm Scott 6 years ago

      What did we get? The Holden Cruze previously manufactured in Korea assembled in Oz to improve the utilisation of the Elizabeth factory, a few more years of Ford 6 cyl engine production by investing in emissions improvements where Ford was going to use the overseas produced V6, and the Toyota hybrid Camry that was already being built in Thailand. The highly efficient turbo four ecoboost Falcon integration that made a very good car which the public chose not to buy in quantity, the integration of the diesel engine in the Territory to extend the life of that vehicle are probably also the result of the Green Car fund and other co-investments.

      The slashing of the Green Car fund was undertaken to bankroll the failure of the Queenland Govt under Anna Bligh to mitigate against the economic risks of a cyclone.
      After the near collapse of Holden during the North Atlantic GFC, gov’t co-investments have probably produced the VF Holden and kept a national capability in R&D, global supply chain integration and optimisation, and production line manufacturing expertise, including robotics.

  7. Peter Davies 6 years ago

    Lovely idea, why not ask an Australian manufacturer of EV’s what they think?

    You can also Google Blade EV

    Ross Blades experience of how innovation and genuine local competition is stifled by Government support of big car industry (you know the one that’s leaving) is worth a story in its own right Giles.

  8. Philip Woodgate 6 years ago

    I love electric cars, Im installing a 10 KW PV system, 5 or 6 for the home, worked out that 4 kw system would charge an electric car, , I estimated that over the life of a petrol powered car of 200000 kms, it would cost approximately 25000 dollars to fuel, so I can see no reason not to buy an electric car, other than battery concerns. But I don’t think Austria would manufacture these, people who are positive about change are few and far between in this country

  9. Geoff Henderson 6 years ago

    I was inspired by this YouTube clip about Tesla Motors in the US: . Please watch it.
    Tesla starts with rolls of aluminium. We mine bauxite in Oz and iron ore. We don’t produce iron, but we do produce aluminium. Not a bad start IMHO, the base material is already here.

    We do have some of the technology used to make the Tesla, certainly enough to ramp up to a more sophisticated level.
    We have a desire and some would say a need to make auto’s here – I share that view.

    And we have all the ingredients actually; materials, labour, skills, science and even the money.

    SO what might stop us? Firstly, have we got the will? Second, can some mid ground be found between labor costs and viability? Thirdly, will government let it happen either by keeping out of the way, and/or facilitating the desired outcome by playing some kind of helpful role?

    I think there should be an opportunity here for the government to “transition” into the new job paradigm expressed my McFarlane of Napthine or O’Farrell. A good chance too for the unions to show they can move into a new world order. Maybe even Shorten can get behind it all.

  10. Malcolm Scott 6 years ago

    As a past aeronautical engineer, with manufacturing and supply chain certifications and experience, and one who had a lead role in solutioning for IT service based contracts that include the automotive sector, I share a possibility vision that you Giles have given here and others have in the comments. I visited Better Place
    in Melbourne a little over a year ago, I’ve been a passenger in the EV
    Commodore, and I’ve driven the Holden Volt. I’m saddened about what could have been if the previous shadow minister for Science and Industry had not been so pathetic in policy development.

    However, a phoenix is unlikely from the electricity industry for car manufacturing in Australia. EVs sales yes, but not EV manufacturing in Australia.

    From an initial wild arse calculation, a fleet of 100,000 EVs, commuting 50 km per day, at 8 km/kwh, and a tariff of $0.20 for electricity, this gives a total electricity company revenue of $45m. With 2kW charging, this gives a min charge duration of 3.125 hrs, and max network demand of 200 MW. Per EV annual revenue is $456. If the tariff is $0.15, which I have for overnight, the revenue is $34m and $342/EV

    So how much of this annual revenue in marginal profit can electricity companies offer to EV buyers? Let’s say 1/3 can be shared as a customer incentive – $114 – 150. How much of this could be shared with a local EV manufacturer?

    The answer is probably not much, and certainly nowhere near the incentives and co-investment available in the US at manufacture, sales, tax rebates and state incentives (and still they have good but still modest sales for a population of well over 300 million).

    Renewables might provide more than fossil fuel sources owing a larger
    marginal profit available (fuel costs = zero and operating costs not much).

    If the size of the incentives in the US, UK and Europe are a guide (more like $5-10k per EV), you can see way the electricity companies are groping to the government so that someone else can pay for the incentives necessary to make a difference at this time.

    Nevertheless, a fleet of EVs that grow to 1,000,000 vehicles do however generate revenues of $340-456 m, and 2,000 MW demand over the charging period. The revenue pa looks good, except this this only a fraction of the QLD govt subsidy for east coast fossil fuel electricity sold in Western QLD.

    PS, hope my spreadsheet is correct – welcome any critical analysis/corrections

    • Chris Fraser 6 years ago

      No criticism needed at all there. Although we have a fleet of 10M cars … we could probably aspire for more EVs out of that. We should plan for both the cars and the clean energy. Where has that forward thinking government gone … ?

  11. wideEyedPupil 6 years ago

    Here you go again, Giles with the Kofak missed the digital boat meme. It’s totally wrong. They invented the digital CCD and were market leaders for many years selling CCDs to other major camera brands for many years. They also were the biggest selling brand of consumer grade digital camera in Australia for a good 5-10 years. Sure, the rivers of gold in print dried up. But it’s not like didn’t see that coming before anyone else. They also have a decent share in digital press technology market even today.

    What stuffed Kodak was internal politics and fiefdoms and that meant they failed to stay ahead. Once Willy Sire who creates he digital division left they lost their way quickly. They promoted a guy to head digital who’s qualifications were he came from HP where his claim to fame was he watered down the inks and Pit the RRP up at the same time. Total idiot in other words. The rest is history, as we say they say.

  12. Clive Dobson 6 years ago

    Australia holds the World Solar Challenge, and the car ‘eVe’ did well perform as the fastest two seater Solar Power Car, the development of this and Solar Power to recharge EV’s is the best option. Sunswift designed the ‘eVe’. Solar Team Eindhoven won the race with a 4 seater car called Stella, Stella is an energy positive car which produces more electricity than it uses on the average commute in cities. Stella has a range of 860 km’s on one charge. WE CAN CHANGE THE WAY WE LIVE ! 😉

  13. Quiet Rush 6 years ago

    A good read, thanks Giles. Bear in mind that if you look beyond the scale of large car manufacturers, it doesn’t take too much searching to find examples of smaller manufacturers who are already doing this and holding their own on the world stage. For example, Stealth Electric bikes (disclosure: I sell and support their bikes at are a niche manufacturer of rugged electric bikes, with most of their market in the USA and Europe. Whilst based in Melbourne, they have a strong market in the USA, but we see smaller scale stories like theirs passed over. Electrifying a Car does nothing to address inactive populations and vehicle congestion – you’re still dealing with the same vehicle size. Smaller scale makes more sense in terms of scaling impact.

    Gizmags profiling of the new diesel-electric Hero 2WD moped seems much closer to the mark if you take into account the impact of car proliferation in developing nations: But yes, treating an EV as a potential energy buffer and store is a great theme for distributed energy autonomy. You just won’t find many fans of it within the energy generators, even though they’re still part of the intermediate solution. One visit to CSIRO SmartGrid Research centre in Newcastle will help turn a lot of lights on in peoples minds.

    • Roger Brown 6 years ago

      Saw that Hero 2wd bike , looks like a great idea . They said that a turbo model for other markets (AU /Europe/USA ? ), other than the Indian and Asian markets . Gizmags have some good articles, I get emails from them .

  14. Ronald Brakels 6 years ago

    While it would be great to see Australia making green cars, it doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon to me. Electric cars made in Australia would have the advantage of being suited to Australian conditions and Australian current and this would eliminate the need for a special charging station to be installed in the garage of the average driver. And since our current is basically the same as in Europe we’d be all prepared to export electric cars to that market. But Australia’s interest rates average higher than in other developed countries making the cost of building or modifying a car production line here higher than in other developed countries. We could change this by increasing our forced savings rate to bring down the cost of money here, but our current government specifically rejected a step in that direction, so we are unlikely to see much in the way of new manufacturing in Australia in the near term, which is a bit of a pity, as this would be a great place to develop new things such as agricultural drones and agricultural robots. But while Australians may come up with neat developments in these areas, the actual manufacturing is likely to all be done overseas because the cost of money is higher here.

  15. Rob 6 years ago

    It would be fantastic if Australia could manufacture its own 100% electric vehicle. How exciting would that be! I’d love to work at the factory and I’d love to own and drive one. I would be overcome with E-motion! Maybe we could call it the Oz-E? Come on Australia, pull your finger out and do something worthwhile and exciting for a change!!!

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