Jaguar I-Pace charging
Credit: Bridie Schmidt

A report from market research firm Nielsen Australia says driver education on electric vehicles is key if Australia is to embrace a transition to electric vehicles (EVs). Best they not listen to Coalition ministers then.

Australians now rate environmental concerns as more important than other social issues such as mental health, education, and obesity, but electric vehicles (which can play an important role in reducing Australia’s transport-related carbon emissions) are still a mystery to most.

Only 16% of Australians believe they know enough about electric vehicles to make a decision on their purchase, and  many were confused about which car makers produced EVs, and which didn’t, according to a new survey by Nielsen Australia.

Just 16% of those surveyed could name Tesla – which has upturned the car industry overseas with pioneering models such as the Model S and Model X,  and further led the transition to zero emissions transport with the best-selling Model 3 (available in Australia since August).

A further 11% cited Toyota as an EV maker – but it only sells hybrids that charge off a petrol engine, as opposed to plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or full battery electric vehicles (BEV) which can be recharged by plugging in.

Only 5% named Hyundai or Nissan – which both sell electric vehicles in Australia – and another 12% said that there are no car maker sell electric vehicles in Australia.

The Nielsen report, aptly entitled “Caught in the Slow Lane“, surveyed 1,000 car owners over the age of 18 as well as senior automotive marketers.

The results are astonishing, and an indictment on the Australian federal government whose job it should be to implement a driver education initiative, but is in fact sitting on its hands and in the last election campaign was involved in a whole bunch of myth-making about EVs, particularly its lament that it would mean the end of the Aussie weekend.

The Nielsen report outlines the need for a wider range of electric vehicles in Australia, and the role car marketers play in convincing people to buy cars, namely that “marketers and engineers spend their lives helping to give car brands ‘soul’.”

“This helps the car transcend the purely functional (getting people from point A to B) and become an expression of people’s identity: 37% of Australians agree that a car allows them to express their personality and character,” the report says.

“However, this appears to be a hard task at present given the limited range of electric vehicles to choose from.”

It also found that with pricing a key consideration for drivers when purchasing a car, higher priced electric cars compared to similar internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles are perceived as too expensive.

One in two of those surveyed said they would only pay $20,000-30,000 when purchasing a vehicle, while the cheapest new electric vehicle in Australia, currentl, the all-electric 2019 Hyundai Ioniq, starts from just under $45,000 and is as much as double the price of its petrol equivalent.

Many drivers, however, do not appreciate the lower maintenance and running costs – and in another report released last week Origin Energy cited savings in fuel costs are a key reason to go electric.

But it found that a quarter of Australians believed keeping an electric car charged can cost up to $500 a month, when in fact the answer is probably closer to one tenth of that cost.

Knowledge about the range of electric vehicles was also identified by the Nielsen report as an area where more education is needed, with half of those surveyed saying they believe electric cars can only drive 100-300km at a time.

The driving range of electric vehicles is now more commonly in excess of 400km range, with only the least expensive such as the 2019 Nissan Leaf and 2019 Hyundai Ioniq coming in an under 300km range.

(Note: the Hyundai Ioniq will also soon exceed 300km range when the 2020 model is released in coming weeks.)

The corollary to understanding electric vehicle range is of course, charging infrastucture.

Despite the fact even the shortest range EVs could service normal daily driving needs as most Australians drive under 80km on a daily basis and can easily top this up overnight at home, the relative lack of charging infrastructure in Australia is still a major deterrent for one in eight drivers to switch to an electric car.

So what can be done?

According to Nielsen, the survey underlines a clear need for education and investment in charging infrastructure, and that the uptake of EVs in Australia will accelerate if a financial incentives to help drivers with the higher price of electric cars were available.

“Electric vehicle sales will increase, but further education and awareness around the features, performance, safety and technology need to be addressed. Additionally, Government investment in infrastructure is also urgently required,” the report says.

“Levels of intention, consideration and purchase will likely rise significantly when incentives are provided to install public and private charging stations, and some form of subsidy or tax credit is offered to reduce purchase cost.”

Electricity providers can also help, for example providing lower power rates and other deals for charging electric vehicles (and some already are – such as Origin, AGL and Powershop).

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