The French government this week got caught up in the excitement around the release of the Tesla Model 3 electric vehicle, and the massive numbers of orders it received, and invited Tesla founder Elon Musk to establish a manufacturing plant in France, in a soon-to-be-disused nuclear facility.
“Who dares, wins,” said French energy minister Segolene Royal, as she announced an offer to Musk to build an Tesla production plant on the site of the Fessenheim nuclear facility that is due for closure next year, and as she spoke about the need to attract the jobs of the future.
It raises an interesting question. Should Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian prime minister who wants to make “innovation” and “disruptive technology” his hallmark, and is already a huge fan of the Tesla Model S, extend a similar invitation to Musk and invite him to help meet soaring demand with a production plant in Australia?
Turnbull last year visited the Tesla EV production line in Fremont, California (pictured above), and took a test drive of the Model S. Turnbull declared himself to be a fan of the “world’s fastest and coolest” car, and of the fact that Tesla had taken over an “old industrial relic”, a former General Motors factory, and turned it into a modern manufacturing plant.
“Walking through the highly automated assembly lines was inspiring, but nothing matched taking a test drive in the latest Tesla S model,” Turnbull enthused. You can read more here.
There are a bunch of reasons why Turnbull would want to extend an invitation to Musk. One is the fact that the electric vehicle will, soon enough, make the internal combustion engine redundant, be it in 10 years as some suggest, or a few decades.
Australia, too, has plenty of old industrial relics to be repurposed. Its car manufacturing industry is about to die with the imminent closure of the last players. South Australia, in particular, is losing industry. Its steel works are under threat, and premier Jay Weatherill has pledged to make his state a centre of the decarbonised economy.
There are probably a few good reasons why Australia is not a great place for electric vehicle manufacturing. One is the question of scale, even if some niche players are trying to make a go of it.
At the very least, Australia should be making more effort to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles, and to establish niche industries and manufacturing that can build and service parts of the global EV industry, if not build the whole vehicle.
That’s the view of a consortium of companies that spans energy network operators (Transgrid, Ergon), energy retailers (AGL Energy), EV makers (Tesla and Renault), EV service and charging companies (Jet Charge, Tritium, ChargePoint), three city councils (Adelaide, Sydney and Moreland) and advocacy and research groups such as Swinburne University, ClimateWorks and the Electric Vehicle Council.
A new report released on Thursday calls on the Turnbull government to provide a range of incentives to encourage the uptake of EVs, including emissions standards (Australia doesn’t have any), tax changes and fleet mandates, among others.
It says transport emissions in Australia have grown by nearly half since 1990, accounting for 17 per cent of the country’s total emissions and projected to rise by a further 6 per cent.
Australia, however, has one of the smallest take-ups of EVs in the developed world. In 2014 (before the arrival of the Tesla Model S) just 948 EVs were sold, out of a total market of more than one million.
Nissan has not even bothered to release its second generation Leaf into the Australian market. The Renault Zoe and the Chevy Bolt will also not be available.
But the consortium argues that EVs can deliver lower costs to consumers, and cut emissions, as well as delivering much needed industrial, jobs, and health benefits. (You can read more here, in Six reasons why Australia should accelerate EV ownership)
On emissions, the study says that, on average, the National Electricity Market would deliver transport fuels to electric vehicles at lower emissions than liquid fuels – the exception being Victoria, with its huge reliance on brown coal. But more renewable energy could address that.
And there is an interest in fuel security. Australia imports 90 per cent of its transport fuel needs. It has a buffer of less than three weeks for its supplies. And as Australia would save on making less imports, consumers would save by spending less on fuel. But their is a “chicken and egg” situation on EV costs, revolving around demand and supply and economies of scale.
To address this, the consortium wants the government to introduce a range of measure to encourage manufacturers to make EV models available across the market.
It wants to provide incentives for EV infrastructure, fuel consumption labelling, fleet purchasing policies, exemptions from luxury car and fringe benefit tax, and a national EV roadmap.
“These measures are aimed at supporting the greater uptake of EVs in Australia, in particular at early stages in order to increase model choice and supporting infrastructure,” the report says.
“International evidence suggests a strong correlation between sales and the number of vehicle models offered. The lack of vehicle choice in Australia sits alongside the relatively high price of electric vehicles, where internationally a range of financial and non-financial consumer incentives boost both supply and demand.
“The lack of a national policy framework in Australia has led to limited overall support and incentives in comparison to our global peers, which has contributed to our poor ranking among major OECD countries for the energy efficiency of our transport sector.”
You’d think that Turnbull and state leaders like Weatherill would be falling over each other trying to show leadership on this issue. Australia seems to be a long way from the rest of the world sometimes.