The popularity of electric vehicles in Australia is increasing but any possible gains in lower vehicle emissions are being eroded by heavy SUV and ute purchases, a new report from the National Transport Commission (NTC) says.
The new report on Australia’s transport emissions published on Monday highlights a missed opportunity in Australia, which could have reduced its transport-related emissions from new cars sold by 63% if Australian drivers and fleet managers had made purchasing decisions based on emissions.
That would equate to a very encouraging 67 grams of carbon dioxide released per kilometre driven, half of the current average emissions intensity in the US and well below the 95 g/km stipulated in EU vehicle emissions reduction targets.
But with more Australian drivers choosing to buy heavier, emissions intense, vehicles such as SUVs and utes over the past decade, the emissions of new vehicles have instead flat-lined, falling by a miniscule 0.2%, and Australia has one of the dirtiest car fleets in the developed world.
Executive leader of sustainability for the National Transport Commission, Sandra McKay, says that the report seeks to assist fleet managers – including governments – to consider the collective impact of buying trends when choosing to purchase a new vehicle.
“One of the key findings in the report is that if we choose new vehicles based on emissions performance, we can have a significant impact,” said McKay in a statement.
“If everyone who purchased one of Australia’s top 10 selling cars or utes last year had chosen the best-in-class vehicle for emissions, Australia would have recorded a 63 per cent reduction in emissions intensity from the cars sold. Instead, Australia recorded a 0.2 per cent drop in emissions intensity.”
The NTC report notes that while electric vehicles are becoming more commonplace, the increase (cited as 149% from 2018 to 2019 with 5,895 EVs sold), the zero emissions form of transport is from a low base and still has some way to go to make an impact on Australian transport emissions.
The report’s publication comes shortly on the heels of the quiet delay of the national Electric Vehicle Strategy, previously expected for mid-2020, now put back by federal minister for energy and emissions reduction Angus Taylor until the end of 2020.
While the national EV strategy is expected to announce technology-focused projects such as increased EV charging infrastructure, any hopes that it would include incentives to purchase EVs as part of a national target have been dashed by Taylor.
McKay says that the NTC report seeks to assist fleet managers – including governments – to consider the collective impact of buying trends when choosing to purchase a new vehicle.
As shown in a chart published by the NTC, the opportunities to reduce emissions simply by putting emissions intensity at the top of the list when considering a new vehicle are significant.
As the chart below shows, the best-in-class alternative for every single vehicle in Australia’s top ten vehicles except for utes is either all-electric (such as the BMW i3 and Mini Cooper SE), or plug-in hybrid (Mitsubishi Outlander).
Digging deeper into the data, the NTC says that compared to overseas markets, Australia’s average emissions intensity per vehicle is 41% higher than in Europe.
With a stipulated vehicle emissions target for car makers that draws big fines if not met, the European Union has ensured that the average emissions intensity of vehicles in Europe is now 120.4 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre, compared with Australia’s 169.8 g/km.
Japan, where car purchasing trends towards smaller vehicles, is even lower, at 114.6 g/km and in the United States, where there are now nearly 1.5 million electric vehicles now registered, the average emissions intensity is 145.7 g/km.
If everyone who bought a new vehicle in 2019 had bought best-in-class vehicles in terms of emissions, Australia could have reduced its emissions intensity for 2019 to just 67 g/km, the report says.
The blame for Australia’s high emissions falls firmly on fleets and businesses, says the NTC. While emissions intensity for private buyers fell, for business buyers it increased.
“With consumers becoming more aware of their carbon footprint and with the slow but increasing popularity of electric vehicles we hope that our report will help anyone looking to purchase a new vehicle see how easily they can make a real difference,” McKay said.
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.