Perhaps 2019 could go down as the year when the transition to electric vehicles started to take shape in Australia.
Like the rooftop solar industry a decade earlier, sales of electric and hybrid vehicles remain low – but there is a definite trend here and every reason to believe that the uptake of EVs will be quicker over the next decade than even that of rooftop solar over the last 10 years.
Official data for calendar 2019 released by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries tells what is becoming a familiar story: Sales of petrol and diesel cars are plunging, down 7.8 per cent from the previous year to the lowest level since 2011.
The story that goes with it is the same: the FCAI blames everything from slower wages growth, tight lending, exchange rate movements and even “the extreme environmental factors our country is experiencing.”
What it doesn’t highlight, but what is clear from its data, is the strength of the electric and hybrid markets, the only two sectors that have enjoyed substantial sales growth over the past year, a story that is likely to be repeated until fossil fuel vehicles becomes a rare offering in the new car market.
According to the FCAI data, sales of new light vehicles fell 7.8 per cent to 1.06 million in 2019, with the passenger car market particularly badly affected with a 16.5 per cent slump. Even SUV’s, now the most popular market segment, fell by 2.4 per cent.
The sales of plug-in vehicles – both fully electric and plug in hybrids, and totalled around 3,000 for the year, doubling their sales from the previous years.
The number of electric and plug in passenger cars jumped by two third from 646 to 1066, while the numbers of new SUV plug-ins and electric sales nearly trebled to 1837 from 690.
These sales of passenger and plug-in electrics do not include Tesla, and the total sales of new electrics and plug ins would be more than double the FCAI number if they were.
It is thought that Tesla likely sold about 2,000 new vehicles throughout the year, mostly from the Model 3 sedan that arrived in late August.
Of the other fully electric offerings itemised by the FCAI data, the new Nissan Leaf sold 408 vehicles, the Jaguar i-Pace lifted sales to 155 from 39, while the sales of the older models such as the BMW i3 fell from 115 to 96, while sales of the Renault Zoe fell from 48 to 5.
Hyundai told The Driven that it sold 500 electric Kona SUVs in 2019, and 546 Ioniq – of which 352 were fully electric, 123 were plug in hybrids and just 71 hybrids. That’s an interesting result from the only model that has a choice of three different options.
Mitsubishi also told The Driven that sales of the Outlander plug in hybrid nearly doubled in 2019, from 370 in 2018 to 700 last year, while overall sales of Outlanders increased around 11 per cent to 15,573. Again, an interesting trend.
The straight hybrid market (not plug ins) was dominated by Toyota, with sales in 2019 led by Corolla (10,597), Camry (8,696) and RAV4 (7,411).
As The Driven has reported on many occasions over the past year, and has been highlighted by a growing number of surveys – it’s not just the new car sales which point to the trend, it is the decision by many car buyers to hang on to their petrol and diesel cars for longer while they await an EV they like and can afford.
The choice to date has been limited and pricey. The number of offerings will more than double in 2020, albeit from a small base and remain a fraction of the choice that can be found in Europe.
But with eight new models arriving some time this year, and more to follow as the big car manufacturers deliver on their commitment to switch to fully electric vehicles in coming years, it seems certain that the sale of electrics will at least match those of fossil fuel vehicles by the end of the decade.
Hopefully, the federal government, and state authorities, can begin to frame policies that at least allow for that transition to occur, and possibly to hasten it.
The federal Coalition has promised to release its EV strategy in 2020. Until now, it has been highly critical of Labor’s policy to aim for a 50 per cent share of new car sales by 2030, declaring it to be the end of the weekend.
It said something similar about labor’s 50 per cent renewable energy target, and has now quietly assumed the same ratio in its emission reduction plans. Technology will drag it into the future.
This story has been updated to include data from Hyundai and Mitsubishi was was supplied after initial publication.