Australia’s Turnbull government is facing mounting pressure to bring its electric vehicle policy into the 21st century, with the release of one major new report – and the leaking of another – confirming that policy support is critical to a shift to EVs.
The first report, published by ClimateWorks and the Electric Vehicle Council on Friday, says that Australia remains a global laggard on EV uptake, despite significant growth in sales in 2017.
As the report notes, that growth – a 67 per cent increase on 2016 EV sales – looks impressive, but comes off an embarrassingly low base.
According to ClimateWorks, there were 2,284 electric vehicles sold in Australia in 2017, compared to just 1,369 the previous year – which was a good 400 less than the 1,771 plug-ins sold in 2015 (see chart below).
The report notes that the small bounce-back in electric vehicle sales in 2017 was most likely linked with an increase in models available for sale of 44 per cent from 2016 to 2017 – again, coming from a very low base.
As we reported here, Australia currently has just five pure electric vehicles available to consumers, more than half of which – including the Tesla Model S and X – are priced in the prestige car range.
That is improving – slowly. According to the ClimateWorks report, another nine new plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicle models are expected to be introduced in the Australian market over the next 18 months – five of which should be priced at $60,000 or less.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, major automakers in China, the US and and Europe are weekly announcing new electric car models, with more than a few, like Volvo, setting targets to phase out the manufacture of internal combustion engine cars entirely.
And many more governments are setting similar targets, pushing for all sales of new vehicles in their countries to be plug-in cars by 2025 and 2040, and rolling out strong policy settings and incentives to support this shift.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance has projected that a cumulative total of 530 million electric cars will be sold by 2040, and the International Energy Agency has more than doubled its previous estimates on global EV sales, the report notes.
Even the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has increased its forecast for EV sales by 500 per cent compared to last year; while oil majors Exxon, BP and Statoil are all now expecting at least 100 million EVs on the world’s roads between 2030 and 2035.
Behind all this lies the increasingly pressing need for the world to take decisive actions to meet the Paris climate target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.
Next to energy, transport is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and switching to renewables powered electric vehicles is one of the most direct ways to cut man-made carbon emissions.
Currently, Australia stands virtually alone in the world for having no standard for light vehicle emissions, and no other federal government incentives to encourage consumers to buy cleaner cars.
The introduction of a standard of 105g/km to apply to all new vehicles sold in 2025 was last year aired by the Turnbull government, but has done little but provoke hysteria among car industry lobby groups and in the Coalition’s own far-right ranks.
“The slight growth in the Australian electric vehicle market demonstrates the need for urgent policy support by government,” said EV Council CEO Behyad Jafari in comments on Frday.
Jafari said that it was business that was currently any growth in EV sales in Australia, accounting for 63 per cent of sales in 2017, primarily made up of manufacturer fleets and dealer demonstrators.
Private buyers also made up a substantial portion of the market, he said, accounting for 34 per cent of sales – while EV sales in government fleets remained limited at only 3 per cent; a “missed opportunity,” Jafari said.
“Encouraging investment through lower priced electric vehicles and charging infrastructure requires certainty by governments that they’re serious about supporting the transition to electric vehicles,” he said.
“Australia has much to gain through improved public health, energy security and increased economic investment from the electric vehicle industry. While this has been recognised by developed countries around the world, Australia continues to fall behind.”
Backing this view are the findings of a leaked federal government report, which – according to Fairfax Media – also found that policy settings in Australia, particularly federally, lagged “well behind leading international jurisdictions”.
That report points to Norway as an example, which leads the world on EV uptake, thanks to a federal policy of requiring all new cars to be fully electric starting in 2025.
In its review of that market, the ARENA-CEFC reportedly found that financial incentives had the biggest influence on uptake, with other incentives like the use of transit lanes or reduced vehicle registration costs played a supporting role.
“Any increase in direct Australian financial incentives” for plug-in vehicle adoption would improve the range of models available and drive consumer demand, it said according to The Sydney Morning Herald, adding that policy settings in Australia, particularly federally, lagged “well behind leading international jurisdictions”.
The Australian Greens, who have been highly critical of the Coalition’s “absolutely pathetic” vision for EVs, said on Friday that the ClimateWorks report offers a fresh opportunity for Turnbull to listen to the evidence, and get the nation back on track.
“It’s staggering that the Turnbull government is burying its head in the sand while the rest of the world zips past us in their electric vehicles,” said Greens transport spokesperson, Janet Rice, on Friday.
“We know from other countries that the best way to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles is through government action, including financial incentives.
Earlier this year, the Greens laid out their own plan to kick-start the EV revolution, including a commitment to cut upfront costs by removing a number of taxes, levies and charges for zero emission vehicles.
“We have also pushed for the introduction of strong light vehicle emissions standards, an electric vehicle sales requirement for manufacturers selling vehicles in Australia and investment to boost to public fast charging infrastructure,” Rice said.
“Unless the Turnbull Government acts fast and introduces financial incentives for electric vehicles and legislates strong vehicle emissions standards, Australia will continue to be the global dumping ground for inefficient, polluting gas guzzlers while the rest of the world drives clean, efficient electric vehicles.”
Federal Labor, meanwhile, is said to be working on its own major policy on EVs heading into the coming federal election, although Labor climate spokesperson Mark Butler told Giles Parkinson this week that the party had yet to come to a landing point.
“I struggle to explain the reaction that some from the hard right in the Coalition give to developments in transport …. They tend … to grasp on to technology developments and see as them some sort of Leftist conspiracy,” Butler told RE.
“We’ve made it clear that we want an ambitious transport policy to take to the next federal election that recognises that the car industry has shifted … we want to make sure that consumers in Australia have access to new models.”