Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model 3

Consumer awareness of electric vehicles in Australia has reached a tipping point, with the number of people currently researching the electric vehicle market in Australia with an intention of buying an electric vehicle tripling.

The Electric Vehicle Council’s (EVC) latest report, State of Electric Vehicles, reveals a shift that is rapidly gaining momentum, most tellingly illustrated by an increase in significant indicators such as buying intention and researching to buy.

According to surveys used to gather data for the report and conducted by the NRMA, RACV and RACQ on behalf of the EVC, 100% of drivers are now aware of the relatively new form of transport that offers lower running and maintenance costs, health benefits and naturally, a lesser contribution to carbon emissions, even when powered off a coal-fired grid.

The report shows that the number of people currently researching EVs with an intention to buy now has more than tripled, jumping from 1.8% in the 2018 report to 6% this year, while over double the number of Australians said they had spent time researching EVs at some point compared to 2017.

Attitudes towards EV ownership. Source: EVC State of Electric Vehicles report 2019.
Attitudes towards EV ownership. Source: EVC State of Electric Vehicles report 2019.

Though the higher price of electric vehicles (due largely to the high lithium-ion batteries) compared to fossil fuel equivalents is cited in the report as one key barrier to purchase (“range anxiety” being the other), almost half of Australians say they will now consider buying an electric vehicle in the current market.

Notably, this number jumps 70 per cent who say they will consider buying an EV when the purchase price is the same as for ICE.

Willingness to purchase an EV. Source: EVC State of Electric Vehicles report 2019.
Source: EVC State of Electric Vehicles report 2019.

However, this is dependent on at least one of two things happening: falling battery costs (which could be faster than previously through should an apparent lithium glut push prices down and assuming battery makers and carmakers pass that on to consumers), and government policy.

Electric Vehicle Policy

As noted in the report, there is “international evidence that government policy can have an impact on consumer decision-making”, yet in Australia there is still a distinct lack of such support.

The current Coalition federal government, which held its place last federal election amidst a farcical campaign against electric vehicles, despite its own carbon abatement policy accounting for a 25-50% shift to EV sales by 2030, has firmly said it has no intention of releasing an electric vehicle strategy until mid-2020.

This is in stark contrast to the Senate Select Committee on Electric Vehicles report, and chaired by Senator Tim Storer, released in January 2019 which recommended the government implement a strategy with specific targets and incentives aimed at accelerating EV uptake in Australia.

Interestingly, 40 per cent of the above group say they would consider paying more for an EV if there were policy support from government.

Despite the lack of police, electric vehicles are increasing, even as petrol and diesel car sales fall sharply, and the number of people prepared to pay more for an EV is up from 4% in 2018 to 7% in 2019 even without incentives in place.

State-side, the picture is a little more hopeful, though not in terms of financial incentives or targets.

Asked what sort of support they want from government, the majority of respondents said public charging infrastructure (important for those living in medium-high density housing and no access to to charge at home), subsidies to help with the higher cost of EVs (as have been successful in the USA, UK, Canada and China) and help with the cost of installing charging infrastructure at home.

Source: EVC State of Electric Vehicles report 2019.
Source: EVC State of Electric Vehicles report 2019.

Of these requests, states have been supportive of investment of public charging networks (such as the Queensland Electric Superhighway, and the ARENA-backed Chargefox and Evie networks).

This support has seen infrastructure increase 140% from 2018 and 400% from 2017, with the national total network now numbering 1,930 stations – a dramatic upwards trend compared to the 24% increase globally from 2017 to 2018.

Source: EVC State of Electric Vehicles report 2019.
Source: EVC State of Electric Vehicles report 2019.
Held against EV sales from state-to-state, the ACT and South Austalia’s wider range of EV uptake policiesare reflected in those states’ greater EV sales per 10,000 cars sold.
Electric vehicle sales from state to state. Source: EVC State of Electric Vehicles report 2019.
Electric vehicle sales from state to state. Source: EVC State of Electric Vehicles report 2019.

Model Availability

Of course, the availability of models that suit the lifestyle of drivers is a key factor in the uptake of electric vehicles.

The last 12 months has seen Australia’s laggard status in EV uptake, where just 2,216 EVs, discounting Tesla, were sold in 2018 compared with 2.1 million globally.

With electric vehicle choice on the increase in Australia as carmakers begin to import more models, this will continue says the Electric Vehicle Council, as choice continues to widen from 22 all-electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) currently available now to 31 by the end of 2020.

The increasing vehicle choice saw electric vehicle sales in H1 2019 push 90% higher than entire number sold in 2018, and recent data from the FCAI shows this is continuing to increase – even more so now that Tesla Model 3, which has been driving EV uptake in Europe and the US, is now available.

Electric vehicle sales are on the rise. Source: EVC State of Electric Vehicles report 2019
Electric vehicle sales are on the rise. Source: EVC State of Electric Vehicles report 2019

But they are still relatively small numbers compared to uptake overseas.

There is of course, potential for fleets – which account for 52% of new vehicle sales in Australia – to further increase this uptake.

As pointed out by Climate Analytics CEO Anna Skarbek at The Driven’s inaugural Electric Vehicle Transition Conference last Monday, the adoption of electric vehicles by fleets would cost no more and in some cases even less when taking into account the total cost of ownership.

As the EVC report notes, “the low level of government uptake is particularly concerning given the poor performance of vehicle fuel efficiency in government fleets compared to private and business vehicles”.

“Government electric vehicle fleet targets – such as the 10% target in NSW – should result in growth in this segment in future years,” the report notes.

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