The biggest ever electric vehicle show to be held in Australia – the Fully Charged Live event held in Sydney this past weekend – was as notable for who was not there as much as it was for who was there.
Electric vehicle specialists Polestar and BYD were there, as were another of the top selling electric brands MG, launching the MG4, which is expected to be the lowest cost new electric car on Australia’s market, and the new longer range ZS EV.
Tesla the company was not there, but Tesla EVs were everywhere, thanks to the loyal groups of motoring clubs. There were EV network providers, converted vehicles and conversion specialists, electric motorbikes, bicycles, skateboards and boats, new electric delivery van options and a huge fleet of solar vehicles pushing the boundaries of efficiency and range.
There were some enterprising smart home specialists, eyeing the opportunity from the confluence of solar, storage and electric transport and – most interestingly – the utility giants like AGL and Origin who finally realise that their ability to engage with their consumers on these technologies will be the very key to their future.
Most importantly of all there were about 15,000 paying visitors – not frightened of “ruining their weekend” as per the Coalition rhetoric – either owners of EVs or more likely curious about the technology, and hungry for knowledge.
They were able to test drive different cars, along with electric motorbikes, bicycles and skateboards, sit in a whole lot more, and the panel discussions at two big stages and two smaller ones were packed.
It was the biggest launch event so far for what is emerging as the biggest celebration of EVs in the world, driven by the popularity of the Fully Charge YouTube show (four million views a month), and the huge interest in the switch to electric.
“I can say without any hesitation that this is the biggest and best first show we’ve ever done anywhere in the world,” said Robert Llewellyn, the. “We’ll definitely be back in 2024, which is fantastic.”
Fully Charged Live has been a phenomenal success since it was launched at the Silverstone race track in the UK five years ago, and despite an enforced Covid hiatus is planning eight shows across Australia, the US, Canada, Europe and the UK this year. The UK event now attracts 35,000 people.
As to who wasn’t there at the Sydney event, it was pretty obvious – any of the “big name” legacy car makers – some of whom actually make some half decent electric vehicles of their own, but whose business models are still inextricable tied in to the fossil fuel technology of the past.
The general view is that they’ve got about a decade to get their act together, and Australia may be one of their last redoubts in the western world. After viewing the response to Fully Charged Live, they may have to make other plans.
Llewellyn is pretty sure many of them will be at Fully Charged Live in Australia next week.
“It is, as you can tell, really hard for us to get the big car companies to commit to the first show,” he said.
“What I can tell you – and I’m not going to mention the names – but a lot of them have been here this weekend and they had a good look around, and they’ve all said ‘we’re coming next year’.”
That, is essence, is the beauty and power of this show. A total of 15,000 people may not sound like a lot or even a movement, but given that they had paid $60 each and most – judging by several shows of hands at the talks I chaired at the event – are in the market for an electric vehicle, as soon as they find one that fits their budget, and their lifestyle, it is significant.
Australia might lead the world in the uptake of rooftop solar, but in terms of electric vehicles it has been trailing well behind. That, however, is showing signs of a rapid shift. In recent months the share of EVs in new car sales has leaped above five per cent and in February was 6.8 per cent.
These is despite the fact that these are almost exclusively vehicles that cost more than $50,000 – many of them far north of that – and it’s interesting to note that in those categories, brands such as Tesla are wiping the floor with their fossil fuel rivals.
And it is also despite a chronic supply shortage of EVs in Australia, a result of the astonishing fact that Australia – with the exception of Russia – is the only western country that has no vehicle emissions standards.
That means that these car makers have to send EVs to those markets where the emissions standards count. According to Ross de Rango, the head of policy at the Electric Vehicle Council, the grim reality is that some car makers are sacrificing up to $20,000 in rebates and other incentives if they send an EV to Australia rather than another market.
That could be about to change if – as hoped and expected – the federal Labor government resists the pushback by the big Japanese car makers and includes a tight emissions standard when it releases its EV policy at the end of the month.
Half measures – or voluntary standards – would be pointless. A decent policy could tip the balance in the market and stop Australia from becoming the dumping ground of dirty and inefficient vehicles that is has become over the last decade.
At 7.8 per cent, the EV market is getting close to what some regard as the tipping point in the market. Even at 5 per cent, that is considered enough to prompt neighbours and friends to view the new purchases with envy and desire, and to seek their own EV.
One of the Fully Charged team, the China-based Elliott Richard, noted that big car makers like Toyota were even offering “two-for-one” cars to try and obtain sales.
Richards noted that while Tesla had recently announced price cuts of 5 to 10 per cent in China, the ICE car companies had to slash their prices by up to 50 per cent.
“That’s because no one is buying them,” he said.
“(In China) we’re at about 20% EV penetration rate. I think we’re going to reach about 25-30% this year. So it’s at that point that everything changes. So it can happen very quickly. And that’s good.”
Giles Parkinson is founder and editor of The Driven, and also edits and founded the Renew Economy and One Step Off The Grid web sites. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years, is a former business and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review, and owns a Tesla Model 3.