Australian commercial fleets are charging ahead with electrification, according to the latest Vfacts figures released today by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI).
Sales of both passenger cars and SUVs in the non-private sector increased by five-fold from a low base in February compared to the same month in 2019, even amid an economic downturn punctuated by catastrophic fires, flood and drought.
Or it could be, because of it? If nothing else, the national mood – and the lacklustre response of the Morrison-led Coalition government – these past months has placed the focus of Australians firmly on what must be done to curb carbon emissions.
For fleets and businesses, it would seem that the answer is in switching to zero or low emissions transport, or holding off on a new purchase until a suitable electric vehicle is available – a trend that has been noted by market analysis firm Roy Morgan on multiple occasions.
Of course, the lower maintenance costs of electric vehicles, and escape from fluctuating fuel costs, is also a selling point for the commercial sector – although clearly not for the federal government, whose Comcar fleet, as we reported, passed on electric options including Tesla Model S and Xs in favour of diesel BMWs and hybrid Toyota Camrys.
While the rest of the automotive industry continues on a now 23 months-long sales slump, private passenger, and commercial electric and plug-in hybrid sales are going up.
In fact, private passenger sales also likely delivered the biggest increase, as Tesla – which saw a massive tripling of electric car sales in 2019 following the introduction of the Model 3 – does not report local sales figures.
The Driven can reveal, however, that on the first of February there were more than 660 Tesla vehicles destined to Australia, according to sources familiar with the matter.
While we cannot ascertain yet how many of those have been delivered (and therefore count as a sale), or how many more were placed on other ships throughout the month, these figures indicate an increase in private passenger sales of well over 1,000% YoY and almost the same year-to-date compared to 2019.
Hybrid sales (of the “self-charging” variety) saw a huge increase in the SUV sector, both private and non-private, an indication of Australia’s openness to plug-in electric versions in the much-loved segment, but for a lack of available options.
While Hyundai introduced the compact Kona Electric in 2019 and Mitsubishi has for several years now sold the plug-in electric Outlander, these are few and far between. We noted last year also the surprise popularity of the Toyota Rav4 hybrid over its petrol counterpart.
By contrast, petrol and diesel sales continue to fall in all segments with the exception of a small rise in the private SUV sector.
FCAI chief executive Tony Weber has gone as far as calling the disinterest in new petrol and diesel cars a recession, but failed – again – to note the increasing position electrified vehicles are claiming in the industry.
“The Australian new vehicle market has now seen a downturn each month for the past 23 months. In economic terms, a recession is declared after two quarters of negative growth – and this industry has now seen seven consecutive quarters of negative growth,” Weber said.
The slump in petrol and diesel sales was no doubt a factor in General Motor’s decision to announce a shutdown of the iconic Holden brand, and though broadly this a result of the cost of electrification on a global market, we can’t help but think Holden understood it may struggle to convince fans to accept the brand in electric format.
“There is no doubt that this is an extraordinarily difficult time for the automotive industry – a situation sadly underlined by the recent announcement of Holden’s withdrawal from the Australian market,” Weber said in a statement.
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.