Australia car sales are up for the first time in 31 months, but it’s not a time for celebration. According to V-facts figures released on Thursday by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, there were 10,497 more vehicles sold in November 2020 than in 2019.
That may be good news for the auto industry, particularly as it emerges post Covid-19, but the problem is that in November, which seared with record spring temperatures, sales of diesel SUVs and commercial vehicls have surged while sales of plug-in electrics (not counting Tesla) have slumped to a miserably small portion of less than 0.1 per cent.
This goes against the trend elsewhere in the world. Even in the US, electric car sales increased their share to 1.8 per cent, up from 1.5 per cent, while the UK is banning sales of diesel and petrol cars from 2030, and Norway (where pure EVs account for 60 per cent of new car sales) is doing so by 2025.
So, while “optimism” and “consumer confidence” have been credited with Australia’s sales results, it also seems that Australians consumers are clearly not getting the memo that diesel and their particulates and Nox and Co2 emissions are bad, for health and the environment.
“Why are we seeing an improvement now? We believe there are a few contributing factors, including rising optimism from the Australian public as COVID-19 restrictions ease,” said FCAI boss Tony Weber in a statement.
“This increase in consumer confidence is backed by government support programs during the pandemic, the easing of lending restrictions, and the current competitive automotive market.”
The greatest gains in auto sales in November were in SUVs – one of the greatest contributors to carbon emissions. And, half of those 10,000 extra sales were diesel vehicles as Australians are being encouraged to travel around the countryside this summer in their new diesel SUVs.
“We also believe that, given our inability to travel internationally, many Australians are choosing to purchase a new vehicle and holiday at home this year – and we fully expect to see a notable increase in family driving trips over the Christmas season,” Weber said.
It’s a frustratingly dismal situation. As Ketan Joshi writes, here and here, Australia’s federal governmnt is likely to deliver an underwhelming transport and EV plan, even as most countries are looking to Norway for inspiration.
Carbon emissions in Australia – to which transport contributes around 20% – are barely falling and there is still no clear federal strategy on a transition to clean transport on the horizon, other than something that refers to “future fuels”.
Some states – Victoria, South Australia and NSW in particular – are even looking to dissuade, rather than encourage electric vehices by introducing a road user tax that has been labelled as premature at best.
One bright spot in the latest data is that one quarter of the increase in overall sales were hybrid SUVs, most likely Toyota RAV4s. While they do use less petrol than their pure petrol counterparts, they use it nonetheless as they cannot be plugged in, and they too will be banned soon in the UK and Norway and other countries.
Despite the slump in the month of November, over the last 12 months sales of pure electrics and plug-in hybrids are up (10.9% and 11.6% respectively), with a number of new models introduced in 2020 such as the Mini Cooper SE, the Audi e-Tron, and most recently the MG ZS EV, now the most affordable electric car on the market at $43,990 driveaway.
If we include estimated Tesla deliveries (because the Californian car maker does not report local sales figures to the FCAI), electric car sales in Australia are nearly double that of 2019 year-to-date.
Tesla is, of course, the lead for the Australian EV market by a big margin, with some 2,500 Model 3 sales in 2020 based on shipping data.
The Kona Electric remains firmly in second place, followed by the Nissan Leaf, and the all-electric Hyundai Ioniq.
Rising up the ladder are the Mercedes-Benz EQC, now with 142 units sold under its belt, while the electric Mini Cooper SE has rapidly surpassing the Renault Zoe.
Update: This article has been updated with exact Mini Cooper SE sales numbers.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model 3 and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.