It is probably the most recognisable vehicle fleet in Australia, but the federal government’s COMCAR fleet, used to ferry politicians, senior bureaucrats and senior federal judges around Canberra and other capital cities, still won’t feature any all-electric vehicle models.
The COMCAR fleet, which has long consisted of a fleet of white V8-engined Holden Caprice sedans, will transition to a mix of diesel-fuelled BMW’s and a hybrid Toyota Camry model, after a Department of Finance led assessment snubbed the all-electric options, which included two models of Teslas.
With the decline of Holden’s manufacturing activities in Australia, the Department of Finance opened up the tender for fleet providers to a wide range of overseas manufacturers.
The Department undertook an initial “desktop” assessment of 18 vehicles, which included models from Kia, BMW, Nissan, Hyundai, Tesla, Mercedes and Toyota, with several models of all-electric vehicles evaluated.
The Department told The Driven that the vehicles reviewed included the Tesla S and Tesla X all-electric vehicles.
However, no all-electric vehicles made the final shortlist of seven vehicles that were selected by the Department to be trialled as part of the COMCAR fleet in early 2019 (and before the release in Australia of the Model 3).
That list of seven included vehicles from Hyundai, BMW, Toyota and Mercedes, but included just one hybrid vehicle from Toyota.
It is unclear why the Tesla’s were ultimately excluded after the desktop assessment, but a response provided by the Department of Finance suggested it may relate to vehicle size, rather than any issue that related to performance or the need for new charging infrastructure.
“COMCAR undertook a preliminary assessment of a wide range of vehicles, including a number of all-electric vehicles, which were not considered fit-for-purpose for COMCAR’s operations, due to their size and capacity,” a department spokesperson told The Driven.
It is also unclear whether the Tesla models were test-driven as part of the assessment, with the Department indicating the initial “desktop” assessment included “visual inspections” of some models, and suggested that not all of the vehicles were driven.
“The preliminary assessment involved a desktop evaluation, to consider a range of possible future fleet vehicles for COMCAR’s use, including a number of electric vehicles that were available in Australia,” the Department spokesperson said.
“COMCAR then worked closely with sgFleet, the Australian Government fleet provider, to assess the suitability of 18 vehicles against the Australian Government Fleet Vehicle Selection Policy. This included both visual inspecting and test driving some vehicles, including the two Tesla models.”
It is also not clear if the assessment included idling time. Drivers are often stuck waiting outside parliament and other venues for lengthy periods with the engines idling to keep the aircon/heat on. EVs, of course, can power air con units with the battery.
The Driven understands that concerns had been raised within the Department of Finance about the purchase price of the Tesla vehicles, which for the two models assessed exceed well over $100,000 – despite the lower ongoing operating costs of all-electric vehicles.
All of the vehicles were assessed against the government’s “Fleet Vehicle Selection Policy”, which requires some consideration of the environmental performance of the vehicles as part of the assessment criteria.
The Department ultimately settled on the diesel BMW 6 series GT sedan to serve as the bulk of the new COMCAR fleet, with the Toyota Camry hybrid sedan also joining the fleet.
The BMW 6 Series GT sedan (620d TD) starts at $102,900, before on-road costs. However, the successful vehicles chosen to supply COMCAR will be exempt from the federal government’s Luxury Car Tax.
Both vehicles are able to achieve better fuel efficiency than the previous fleet of Holden Caprice sedans, and the Department of Finance estimates the operating cost of the COMCAR fleet, including fuel and maintenance costs, are expected to be reduced by as much as $100,000 per year.
There is some irony around the Australian government’s decision to choose a German manufactured diesel vehicle, following the recent decision of e German government to add a Tesla model to a list of vehicles approved for use by government officials.
The federal government’s own Clean Energy Finance Corporation hosted a series of electric vehicle ‘track days’, including one held in Sydney, in an attempt to encourage fleet managers and providers to include all-electric vehicles in their vehicle fleets.
The Prime Minister’s armoured limousine was replaced by a BMW 7 series sedan in 2014. In New Zealand, prime minister Jacinda Ardern drives a Hyundai Ioniq electric car.
Several state governments have already begun incorporating electric vehicles into their fleets, with each of the NSW, QLD, SA and ACT government’s setting targets for adding electric vehicles to their government fleets.
The South Australian government has well exceeded a target of using 30 per cent zero-emissions vehicles in its fleets by 2019.
The NSW government has also established a target for 10 per cent of new government fleet vehicles to be electric or hybrid models by 2020/21, and has begun trialling the use of electric buses, with an ultimate goal of transitioning the entire 8,000 bus fleet to electric models.
The ACT government has also led a push amongst State and Territory governments to transition government vehicle fleets to zero-emissions models, and itself has set targets to ensure at least 50 per cent of all new ACT Government fleet passenger vehicles are be zero emissions vehicles during 2019-20, and 100 per cent for newly leased vehicles from 2020-21.
Internationally, many major logistics corporates are making significant moves into electrifying their fleets, including Amazon, UPS, IKEA and DHL.
Michael Mazengarb is a journalist with RenewEconomy, based in Sydney. Before joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in the renewable energy sector for more than a decade.