Australia’s push-me pull-you approach to electric vehicle adoption is again on display, after claims that the federal government was proposing nation-wide emissions standards for new cars sparked a furious reaction from industry and the press.
In the same week that Elon Musk claimed the first Model 3 “mass market” electric vehicle to come off the new Tesla production line, and when he unveiled what will be the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery storage array, the push back from incumbent industries in Australia was in full flight.
Various members of the mainstream media quickly dubbed a belated proposal to implement vehicle emissions standards as a “carbon tax” on cars – re-booting a term well known to be toxic to policy ambition, and ignoring the fact that Australia’s stands alone with no controls and has become a dumping ground for inefficient cars, at a huge cost to consumers having to put more fuel in the car than they need.
No matter, the mooted vehicle emissions standard was front page news on Wednesday’s edition of the Murdoch-owned Daily Telegraph, which claimed to have obtained a government proposal outlining the emissions penalties, in which new cars would be “slapped” with a $100 surcharge for every gram of carbon per km they emitted over a target figure and failed to offset.
Within hours of the first news report being published, the federal energy minister and PM Malcolm Turnbull (all the way from London) were busy hosing it down.
“Certainly no decisions have been made in that regard at all,” Turnbull told reporters in London; while Frydenberg told the ABC “there is as much chance of a carbon tax on cars as Elvis making a comeback”.
But the rapid-fire government disclaimers – themselves indicative of the Coalition’s reluctance to challenge the status quo in any industry – were not quick enough to stop knee-jerk responses from auto industry bodies.
Australian Automobile Association chief executive Michael Bradley said: “This would be one of the most extreme efficiency standards in the world and will lead to car prices going up and motorists having fewer cars to choose from.”
And acting chief executive of the industry body the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, Tony McDonald, said it would add “thousands of dollars in emissions penalties” to the current price of a car.
Put together, the government and industry reactions to the mere hint of carbon restrictions on cars paint a worrying picture for a country already lagging far behind the rest of the world on both EV uptake and vehicle emissions standards and reductions.
As Frydenberg himself put it – while, to his credit, slamming the car carbon tax reports as “beat-ups” – consultations on fuel efficiency standards have been ongoing since October 2015 with no final decision yet made.
Meanwhile, in the US, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk is set to start delivering the first batch of his mass market EV, the Model 3, images of which he Tweeted over the weekend.
First Production Model 3 pic.twitter.com/TCa2NSUNI3
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 9, 2017
Just last week, Musk was in Australia, praising it – or, at least, the South Australian government – for backing development of the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery storage facility and setting an example for the world of the new energy future.
The same could not be said for Australia’s car market, however. As we reported here in May, the glaring lack of emissions standards for vehicles, and the lack of incentives for consumers to buy EVs, combined with narrow product choice, have put Australia well behind the pace.
Last year, a total of just 219 fully electric cars were reported as sold throughout Australia, compared to 12,000 hybrid vehicles, 363,000-plus diesel vehicles and more than 768,000 petrol fuelled cars.
In the rest of the world, by comparison, almost one million electric vehicles are projected to be sold over the next 12 months, with more than $50 billion invested in the industry over the last 10 years. And the release of Musk’s rather sleek looking, but accessibly priced, Model 3, are expected to speed up proceedings.
According to the Washington Post, analysts believe Musk’s new car could help jump-start the spread of pure-electric vehicles in the US, if the company can keep up with demand. Pre-orders alone stand at more than 370,000.
At this stage, it is expected to be delivered to the first 30 people on the wait list later this month. And Musk has predicted that by December, Tesla will be rolling out Model 3s at a rate of 20,000 per month.
Back in Australia, though, something has got to give – perhaps starting with the pulling of effective policy levers, whether they be carrot or stick, or both.
As ClimateWorks Australia Head of Implementation, Scott Ferraro, points out, the introduction of light vehicle emission standards would provide a net savings to consumers, by ensuring that Australians have access to the latest vehicle technologies, while substantially reducing emissions from the transport sector.
“Currently, the uptake of electric and other low emission vehicles in Australia is slow and the industry are saying this is in large part due to a lack of standards and other incentives,” Ferraro said in comments on Wednesday.
“Last year the improvement in fuel efficiency of new cars in Australia dropped to its lowest rate over the last 10 years. We are now well behind the European Union in terms of performance, and set to fall behind the US market, which is at a similar level of improvement being proposed by the government.
“The claim that these standards, which are in place in over 80 per cent of global automotive markets, are akin to carbon tax is incredibly misleading. The government has called out this scaremongering, which runs counter to positive actions we can take to improve fuel efficiency and provide cost savings to motorists.”