Australia’s federal government has been given an F for “fail” for its policy efforts to support the uptake of electric vehicles, even as new data shows that more than half of the nation’s driving population is actively considering an EV for their next car.
According to the latest State of the Electric Vehicle report, published on Wednesday by the Electric Vehicle Council, enthusiasm for EVs is “rising markedly” in Australia, despite the stubborn persistence of myths about range, and the stubborn refusal of the federal government to do anything at all to drive the market.
The report also shows “plenty of room to improve” for state and territory governments when it comes to electric vehicles, with the ACT alone in scoring above a C, thanks to its EV tax incentives and a government fleet EV target.
In its first year of giving a letter grading to each state, territory, and federal jurisdiction, the EVC has given the ACT the top score of a B; NSW and Queensland both a C; Victoria and Tasmania a D; and Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and the federal government all Fs.
It’s a grim scorecard, but it is the federal government that should be judged most harshly, for presiding over a country that lags embarrassingly far behind the rest of the world – including Donald Trump’s US – on the inevitable shift to zero-emissions transport.
A comparatively meagre total of 3,226 EVs were sold to Australian consumers in the first half of 2020, according to available data – and excluding Tesla sales. And carmakers surveyed by the EVC broadly agreed that the lack of a federal government electric vehicle policy in Australia was restricting the supply to Australian shores.
Unsurprisingly, says the report, electric cars are instead being allocated to markets with supportive policy signals for the sale of low or zero-emission vehicles.
“The US and Europe have shown us what works, all Australian leaders have to do now is join the party,” said EVC CEO Behyad Jafari.
“The ACT is commendably leading the way, but we really need the larger jurisdictions to follow if we want the benefits EVs can deliver like cleaner and quieter cities, lower carbon emissions, and national fuel security.”
“Our report shows how much latent potential is just waiting to be unleashed in Australia. Australian drivers are ready to embrace electric vehicles and release the myriad benefits of that transition, but they’re still waiting to get a clear green light from government.”
The latent potential Jafari refers to is based on surveys conducted by the EVC that show a healthy 56% of surveyed consumers would now consider purchasing an electric vehicle as their next car – representing a steady increase from 48% in 2018 and 53% in 2019.
And this number would undoubtedly be greater, the research says, considering almost 80% of consumers have been found to underestimate electric vehicle range.
According to the survey, 45% of respondents in 2020 said vehicle driving range was a factor that discouraged them from buying an electric vehicle. But when asked how far they expected battery electric vehicles to drive per charge 79% indicated a range of less than 400km per charge.
This indicates a broad misconception of the range of electric vehicles currently available, the report says, considering EVs currently available in the Australian market average around 400km per charge (varying from 260km to 650km).
“This is a clear example of how a lack of consumer awareness can exacerbate barriers and suppress enthusiasm for electric vehicles.”
The price of electric vehicles, meanwhile, was found to be the other major factor discouraging EV uptake – and in this case, consumer concerns are pretty spot on.
But this is where policy could make a big difference, as the report notes, by helping EVs to reach a point of parity with petrol and diesel equivalents much sooner.
The EVC said consumers surveyed overwhelmingly backed policies to reduce the cost of electric vehicles, support the establishment of public fast-charging networks, and cut the costs of installing home charging.
“These three policies have been consistently identified by respondents as the top three priorities since 2018,” the report said.
For car makers, the policies considered to best drive growth of a broader electric vehicle market are fuel efficiency standards, consumer incentives and electric vehicle sales targets.
These measures have encouraged the sale of electric vehicles across Europe, China, the United States, New Zealand, and Canada, the report says.
Finally, the survey also asked respondents whether Covid-19 should mean holding off on new policies to drive EV uptake – and the answer was a resounding no.
The report shows 38% of respondents believe boosting government policies supporting EVs should be just as important during Covid-19, while almost a quarter (23%) thought such policies should become an even higher priority, to capitalise on the emissions and noise reduction achieved as a rare upside to the global pandemic.
Respondents also said they believed EV policies were important during the global economic downturn wrought by the Coronavirus, to reduce Australia’s heavy reliance on imported fuels and to stimulate economic activity around growing Australia’s electric vehicle sector.