The federal Labor Opposition is under attack from all sides of the political spectrum over its newly unveiled electric vehicle policy, with the Australian Greens accusing the party on Thursday of writing it “on the back of a serviette to dump the day before the budget.”

The new criticism follows the ALP’s rapid backflip on part of its ”cleaner transport” policy that would have required car dealers in Australia to meet an emissions quota, to restrict the sale of heavy polluting vehicles and boost sales of zero emissions EVs.

As might be expected, the the push-back from the car industry lobby was instant and intense, with complaints that the policy was “unenforceable and ill-considered,” and “attacking the wrong end of the distribution chain.”

“This is trying to administer a policy setting in the wrong way. Even if you utilise all the weapons of the digital age, I don’t know how you monitor it,” said Australian Automotive Dealer Association chief David Blackhall in comments to the Australian Financial Review.

“As noble as it is, it’s unenforceable and ill-considered and there would need to be some form of compensatory mechanism,” said Motor Trade Association of Western Australia CEO Stephen Moir, also in the AFR. “With all the uncertainty what it might do is stall people’s decision making.”

In response, Labor – within 48 hours – agreed to change that detail in its policy, with energy and climate minister Mark Butler promising to “consult with industry on the best model for Australia, to minimise administrative costs and maximise benefits for motorists.”

In turn, the Greens – who have a 100 per cent by 2030 target for electric vehicles – appear to have sided with the car industry lobby, describing the backflip as evidence that Labor wrote its vehicle emissions policy “on the run.”

“Putting the onus on car dealers rather than manufacturers was clearly unworkable and just demonstrates that Labor has cooked up this dog’s breakfast of a policy on the run,” said Senator Janet Rice, Australian Greens transport spokesperson.

“Every other country in the world with emissions standards regulates this through manufacturers, not dealers. This is also what the experts, including the Climate Change Authority, have always recommended.

“So far this week Labor has announced a weak 50 per cent by 2030 EV target, but with no mechanisms or policies to achieve it. They also announced a light vehicle emissions standard, but wouldn’t commit to an implementation schedule. And now this backflip.”

“It’s becoming crystal clear that Labor’s electric vehicle and emissions standards policies are just announcements without any substance. There are no timelines for implementation or measures to achieve the targets. The whole thing looks to have been written down on the back of a serviette to dump the day before the budget.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political spectrum, the federal Coalition has boldly declared it will not even consider anything even slightly resembling an electric vehicle policy until mid-way through next year. And it slammed that same “weak” EV target of Labor’s as extreme and fanciful.

This theme was enthusiastically embraced by conservative media, as Giles Parkinson reported here, which went into overdrive with a tirade against electric vehicles informed mainly by ignorance and hostility.

As for Australia’s car industry lobby, this is not the first time it has kicked up – and got its way – over the mere threat of vehicle emissions standards. Currently, Australia has none, making it unique in the western world.

Last May, just months before Malcolm Turnbull would be ousted from leadership of the federal Coalition, dire warnings were issued by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries that an emissions standard being “actively considered” by the Turnbull government would take some of the nation’s highest selling cars out of the market.

This push-back was supported from within the Coalition’s own ranks, with Nationals senator John Williams publicly vowing to resist any new standard that stopped rural and regional Australians from buying their vehicle of choice.

Whether or not putting restrictions on the emissions of cars sold by retailers is the right approach, some incentive – carrot or stick – for dealerships to push electric vehicle sales will undoubtedly be needed in Australia.

As we reported here, US studies have shown that car dealers have consistently been caught out putting as little effort as possible into selling electric cars.

And a Danish “mystery shopping” study from just under a year ago, published in Nature Journal, found sales personnel to be dismissive of electric vehicles, misinforming consumers about them, and encouraging the purchase of petrol and diesel vehicles instead.

In some cases, they found, EVs were omitted from sales pitches entirely, despite the fact that the vast majority of all major global auto makers now offer multiple electric vehicle options.

The team also interviewed 30 different industry experts, who corroborated the study’s findings, describing EVs as both harder to sell and less incentivised, in that they were expected to produce lower profits for the dealerships.

“While an added benefit of EV technology for the user is a substantial reduction in routine maintenance and repairs, this also represents a further disincentive for the dealer to promote EV technology because they rely heavily on income from repairs and maintenance as part of their revenue model,” the report says.

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