Julia Pannett

Car Insurance

23 Dec 2015

Is Australia ready for the electric car?

Electric vehicles are not a new invention, in fact they date back to the 1880s and were even widely used in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Like many trends that make a comeback there is still some doubt as to whether the electric vehicle is gaining widespread popularity, which begs the question – is Australia ready for electric cars?

According to the 2011 census data, the most widely used method of transportation to work was the car at 60.2%, with an additional 5.3% travelling as a passenger in a car for a total of 65.5% of Australians using a car to get to work. In addition to this, 88% of people “used a passenger vehicle to get to places other than work in 2012.” When deciding on purchasing a vehicle, 58% of drivers considered cost the most important factor, while 46% considered fuel and maintenance costs important.

Understanding electric cars

From this we can understand a few things. Firstly, the passenger vehicle market is huge in Australia. In fact, in 2013 the number of registered passenger vehicles was 13 million. Second, cost appears to be a large consideration and, although petrol savings can add up, it might be hard to convince someone they can afford the $100,000 it takes to buy a Tesla electric car or the $64,000 for the BMW i3 electric vehicle. Perhaps that is why only 321 electric vehicles were bought in Australia in 2014. Other countries have encouraged the purchase of electric vehicles with tax incentives but so far this has not happened in Australia

Infrastructure needed to keep electric cars on the road

Next, let us consider the infrastructure needed to conveniently keep electric cars on the road. At the moment there are two supercharger stations; one in Melbourne and the other in Sydney. The time needed to fully charge an electric car can vary from 50 to 70 minutes. The other limitation is that many Australian homes only have a 10 amp power point which makes charging an electric car at home quite time consuming. You can also rack up a bit of an electricity bill while doing it. While it is possible to drive shorter distances, longer commutes, especially in areas without the charging stations, can make driving an electric vehicle inconvenient.

There is another option.  The plug in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) allows a driver to use a rechargeable battery with an electric motor but the vehicle also contains an internal combustion engine. Models like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt fall into this category.  The Nissan Leaf costs around $40,000 but just 173 were sold in 2014.The Chevrolet Volt is the best-selling PHEV globally but while it was made available in Australia as the Holden Volt, it too sold just 246 cars over 3 years.

Electric vehicles are better for the environment

Electric vehicles are better for the environment as they don’t release carbon emissions or rely on fossil fuels. Unfortunately, without local production the vehicles need to be flown or shipped to Australia, so transporting the electric vehicles for sale contributes to carbon emissions and relies on fossil fuels. Having a local production would eliminate this but until that happens the transport impact on the environment is still a concern. Electric cars also consume electricity that is generated from coal mines, natural gas production plants and hydro – electric plants.

So what does this all mean for Australia? Without added incentives, a better charging infrastructure and local production it seems as though there is no current driving force for Australians to adopt electric vehicles or even PHEVs. It would appear that the electric vehicle trend just isn’t practical enough to be back in style just yet, but it is exciting to see what the future will bring.