The Nissan Leaf e+ with 62kWh battery and 360km driving range, as well as the Kia e-Niro, Kia e-Soul and a range of other electric vehicles will soon be available for import into Australia thanks to changes in federal vehicle “grey import” laws.
The new laws, which will now accommodate a new environmental category under the Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicle (SEV) scheme will allow a broader range of used electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles to be imported into Australia, as long as they aren’t already sold as new cars in this country.
The new laws also shorten the 18 month gap from when eligible vehicles can be added to the Register of Approved Vehicles (RAV) maintained under the laws to just three months.
That means that vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf e+ which was introduced to the Japanese market in July, and the Kia e-Niro, which sold out in the UK in early 2019, and is also available in New Zealand, can be added to the approved import list immediately.
This could fill a yawning gap in the Australian EV market, where auto makers have been slow to bring electric vehicles to market citing a lack of market demand due to the higher price of electric cars and a lack of charging infrastructure.
The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) says personal car imports put consumers at risk, but Australian Imported Motor Vehicle Industry Association (AIMVIA) representative Kristian Appelt says the real reason behind the laggard attitude by car makers is profits made from servicing of internal combustion vehicles.
“There has been a natural reluctance by both manufacturer and dealers to sells EVs here because of price but also certainly in the case of pure EVs they require less servicing,” syas Appelt.
“Dealers rely on ongoing maintenance as part of their overall mix so there’s no real incentive for them to promote electric vehicles .”
“What the [new] legislation does is a fairly simple change that says to the manufacturers, put up or shut up.
“If you don’t provide them to the market we will allow people to import these vehicles themselves – it’s really about choice.”
While Nissan introduced the 2019 Leaf with 40kWh battery and 270km range (WLTP) to Australia in July, it has no plans as yet to introduce the 62kWh version, which under the WLTP cycle has 384km range (360km above refers to the more accurate US-based EPA rating).
Kia on the other hand, has said that despite an earlier intention to introduce the e-Niro to Australia in early 2020, it will now not release it locally due to Australia’s lack of fuel emissions regulations.
Usually, the grey import laws allow for older models of vehicles that previously did not make it to Australia, such as early model Leafs, says owner of vehicle import business Prestige Motorsport Geoff Risbey.
“There will be a lot of early models that weren’t available here before,” he says. “Japan [for example] has a competitive car market, they have a lot more choice and features are generally higher than what we get in Australia.”
But the new laws also mean that newer models not yet introduced here with better specifications (in the case of electric vehicles this more often than not refers to range) will also be able to be imported as they may be eligible for the list before being introduced by carmakers, says Risbey.
“We can’t sell the 40kWh, but the earlier ones we can import, and now also the (newer) 62kWhLeaf,” he says.
The 40kWh Leaf bought new in Australia starts at $49,000 before on road costs – one of the first new electric vehicles to hit the Australian market under the $50,ooo mark.
Importing a Grade 5A used vehicle in as new condition by comparison could cost in the vicinity of $60,000 including compliance but before on road costs, according to Prestige Motors.
Other electric vehicles that could become available under the new grey import laws could include the new Toyota Rav4 plug-in hybrid, the Prius plug-in hybrid, the Renault Zoe, older BMW i3 models and the Audi e-tron.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.