The Australian auto market saw a record month for sales in April, continuing the rebound after more than two years of declining sales and a bigger dip during the local height of the Coronavirus pandemic.
But while electrics bucked the slumping sales trend throughout 2020, and are at first glance doing better than ever before in Australia, the numbers released on Wednesday by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) unerlines a sobering truth.
Year-to-date, 84,000 more vehicles have been sold in Australia, the majority of them petrol, and most of them SUVs – the segment that has been steadily absorbing any gains in carbon reductions thanks to better fuel efficiencies.
While electric car sales have increased five-fold since the same time in 2020, plug-in hybrids tripled, and hybrids nearly doubled, the numbers fall far short of being able to make up for the increases in fossil-fuelled vehicle sales.
To date in 2021, there have been 1,255 all-electric vehicles sold in Australia – perhaps three times that when taking into account Tesla, which does not report local sales figures to the FCAI. Just 877 plug-in hybrids have been sold in the past four months.
A fraction of the increase in new car sales can be attributed to hybrids, which are selling at a pace (nearly 24,000 so far this year) but which, it must be noted, cannot be driven without burning fuel, albeit less than non-hybrid vehicles.
Numbers are still coming in on particular EV model sales (those which share the same name as their petrol equivalents are bundled together by Vfacts), but we can reveal that out of the manufacturers that do share sales figures, it is the MG ZS EV that is the winner of the pack.
The MG ZS EV is of particular interest because it is currently the cheapest electric vehicle on the market and it doesn’t look like losing that title any time soon. Upcoming electric vehicles such as the Kia e-Niro are not going to undercut this practical and unassuming company electric SUV.
MG tells The Driven that it has sold 434 electrics so far in 2021, a particularly encouraging number because in April 2020, the leader (apart from the Tesla Model 3 which beats all other models hands down, having sold more than 2,000 in Australia to date in 2021) was the Kona EV with 157 sales.
All well and good, but the fact remains that Australia’s EV sales lag well behind the rest of the world.
For as long as auto sales are increasing in numbers far above that of increases in EV sales, Australia’s EV market share – just 0.3% in April for battery electric – will keep drifting further from the global average which now sits at nearly 6%.
The responsibility for this has been placed fairly and squarely on the laps of state and federal governments that have been slow in introducing policy to accelerate adoption of EVs, at odds with developed countries around the globe.
Victoria is going so far as to introduce a tax on EVs, although it is also now offering a $3,000 subsidy to 20,000 adopters in what it claims is a “holistic approach”, but for others is a confusing message.
This “balanced approach” has been welcomed by the FCAI, although it urges governments to focus on “technologies not targets”, apparently missing the point that targets play in ensuring carmakers place priority on selling low and zero-emissions vehicles.
NSW is now flagging a range of measures to encourage EV adoption including a possible ban of petrol and diesel car sales in the future, a move that has been praised by industry stakeholders.
Bridie Schmidt is associate editor 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.