Australia’s electric vehicle market virtually stood still in 2020, and continues to do so in 2021, new figures show, prompting new calls for federal and state governments to drop hostile policies that are propping up old, carbon heavy internal combustion engine technology.
EV sales in Australia grew by just 2.7 per cent, to 6,900. That was just 182 more EVs than were sold in 2019, according the Electric Vehicle Council’s figures. EVs accounted for just 0.7 per cent of total Australian car sales.
The insipid growth compares starkly with countries and jurisdictions that have aggressive EV policies, such as the UK, the EU, China and California.
In the European Union, for example, more than 10 per cent of new cars sold in 2020 were EVs, up from 3.8 per cent in 2019. It was a similar story in the UK, where EV sales accounted for 10.7 per cent of sales, up from 3.1 per cent. California hit 8.1 per cent, while world leader Norway hit 75 per cent.
China’s EV market, the biggest in the world by number of units sold, grew 8 per cent in 2020, prompting HSBC analysts to predict EV penetration in China could hit almost 60 per cent by 2030.
The poor sales data contines into 2021, with new data for February from VFACTS showing the share of pure electric cars (not including Tesla) remaining at a tiny fraction of total sales, and still just 0.6 per cent when including plug in hybrids.
Electric Vehicle Council chief executive Behyad Jafari said he believed that, with the right incentives, Australian drivers were “ready to join the exciting global electric car transition”, but said politicians were “yanking the handbrake”.
“There’s simply no sugarcoating it at this point – Australia has marked itself out as a uniquely hostile market to electric vehicles,” he said.
“We have no targets, no significant incentives, no fuel efficiency standards – and in Victoria we even have a new tax on non-emitting vehicles.
“Our governments are apparently doing everything possible to ensure Australia is stalled with its hazards on while the rest of the world zooms into the horizon.”
He said it would only take a “handful of small changes” from government to nudge a booming EV market in Australia.
Last month the federal government released an EV discussion paper, which it called its “Future Fuels Strategy”. The strategy rejected aggressive policies, emphasising the benefits of “choice” and promoting plug-in hybrid cars as having lower emissions costs than pure battery EVs – a claim The Driven debunked here.
Meanwhile, South Australia and Victoria have announced policies that would tax EV owners in lieu of fuel excise. New South Wales has signalled it may do something similar. Combined with the absence of federal policy, that means EV ownership is actively discouraged in those states.
The Greens are trying to counter these state polices at the federal lever, with draft legislation that would reduce federal funding to states that have EV taxes. The policy will be examined by the Senate economics committee over the next two months.
Jafari was scathing of the Victorian government’s proposed tax, which is due to come into force in July.
“Victoria is now doing what no other jurisdiction on earth does by discouraging people from buying electric vehicles by slugging them with a special tax,” he said.
“When this policy idea gets pushed by the oil lobby around the world, they typically get laughed out of the room. [Victorian Treasurer] Tim Pallas cut them a key to his office.”
James Fernyhough is a reporter at RenewEconomy and The Driven. He has worked at The Australian Financial Review and the Financial Times, and is interested in all things related to climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy.