If you are in the market for a new car, you may have noticed that there is a lot of talk right now about electric vehicles.
- Electric vehicles represent less than 1 percent of total sales in Australia
- But overseas trends suggest that could change sooner than expected
- Motoring groups say governments need to do more to support take-up
Car maker Volvo has joined other manufacturers, including General Motors and Jaguar Land Rover, by putting a deadline on its production of petrol-powered cars.
Volvo says that by 2030, it will only sell electric.
On top of that, it is now not just the left of politics spruiking the electric car dream.
Australia’s longest electric highway of chargers has been promised by the WA Liberals, with similar pledges by Labor and the Greens, as part of the state election campaign ahead of this Saturday’s poll.
So, with this kind of signalling by industry and politics, should your next car be electric?
That depends on who you ask.
‘Change happens fast’
At an electric vehicle expo in suburban Perth on the weekend, early adopters, including Chris Jones, were keen to explain why it was the right time to make the switch to electric now, if you could afford it.
“Not only because they’ve got significantly lower running costs and they are better for the environment,” he said.
“But also because petrol vehicles will basically become more and more scarce over the coming decade.
“Companies will stop making them, businesses will stop selling them and you’ll get increasingly fewer opportunities for parts and service.
“That will take a decade or so to run through, but in our experience with new technology, change happens fast.
“It happens really fast.”
Mr Jones bought one of the more affordable EVs available in Australia, the Hyundai Ioniq, for $50,000 in May last year, and said the price of the model had since dropped.
Currently the cheapest pure electric car on the market in Australia costs close to $44,000, but EVs range in price up to an eye-watering $200,000.
Mr Jones said prices would become cheaper if the federal government committed to minimum vehicle emission standards that would “open the floodgates to EVs”.
But he stressed the current high upfront costs were partly offset by savings.
“500 kilometres a week in an efficient petrol car would cost me $50 a week in fuel alone,” he said.
“But even at the A1 tariff, it would be $12 worth of electricity a week.
“Service is about $165 a year, and it’s mostly to keep the roadside assistance.”
In comparison, the RAC recently calculated the servicing cost of a Hyundai Venue SUV at $29.83 a month, which works out to be $358 a year.
Modest growth in EV sales
Mr Jones heads up WA’s Electric Vehicle Association and owns one of around 20,000 plug-in vehicles on the road nationwide, a figure that includes hybrids.
Figures released this week showed only modest growth in sales of EVs in Australia during 2020, despite sales tripling in 2019.
They still make up less than 1 per cent of total sales, compared to the EU and the UK where plug-in electric vehicles, including hybrids, now make up over 10 per cent of car sales.
Motor Trade Association of WA (MTA WA) group CEO Steve Moir said Australia was about 10 years behind Europe.
The MTA WA represents car dealers and mechanics, among others in the automotive industry.
“I think we’ve still got a good 10 or more years of petrol and diesel-powered vehicles,” Mr Moir said.
The Association does not support calls for the federal government to set stronger emissions standards or introduce incentives to encourage the take-up of EVs, nor does it think state governments should be building EV infrastructure, such as that promised in the WA election campaign.
“It’s got to be market-driven,” Mr Moir said.
“I don’t think government should be manipulating markets or trying to influence markets necessarily.
“There’s no doubt that the uptake of electric vehicles will significantly contribute to reducing greenhouse emissions. However, we need to tie that to power generation, and we have 21 coal-fired power stations operating in Australia.
Asked if Australians should be opting for electric in the coming years, Mr Moir said all-electric vehicles were still out of reach for the average family, who could get a large SUV for less money.
He said hybrids seemed to be the “safe ground right now”, while the future of electric continued to be weighed up against the potential of hydrogen fuel cell.
“Some manufacturers aren’t even looking at electric models, they are looking at hybrid and then looking further down the chain at hydrogen fuel cell,” he said.
Motoring lobby backs electric
But the RAC in WA is backing electric vehicles and said Australia could be left behind other countries if it did not better support their uptake.
The federal government is expected to release a final strategy to support the shift to electric vehicles by mid-year.
It is not expected to include financial help for people to buy electric cars or minimum fuel emissions standards.
But RAC WA general manager corporate affairs Will Golsby said both should be introduced.
He said there needed to be national leadership on the issue to make EVs more affordable and give certainty to prospective buyers.
“When people are making those decisions, they want certainty about the future of the vehicle they are buying, and that’s really critical,” he said.
Mr Golsby said the RAC was opposed to the road user charges for EV drivers being planned in South Australia and Victoria.
“We need consistency across all the states and jurisdictions,” he said.
“There is a risk we will run behind the rest of the world on this.
“Our members want consistency and certainty. They want to understand where we are going on the electric vehicle journey.”
In the meantime, second-hand EVs are being snapped up now for over $15,000 according to Perth man Ant Day, who bought his second-hand Nissan Leaf electric six years ago for $27,000.
He said he used the car for driving his family around in the city and had saved about $6,000 so far in fuel and maintenance costs.