Australian drivers have slipped behind the wheel of almost 57,000 new electric vehicles this year, with most made by just one company.
US automaker Tesla dominates low-emission transport in Australia, with more than 57 per cent of the market.
But a growing number of auto brands are emerging to challenge Tesla’s lead, most of which are new names to Australian buyers and only produce electric cars.
Experts say the companies are not only helping to popularise more environmentally friendly vehicles but are helping to expand choices, lower prices and encourage legacy car brands to move before policies change.
BYD is among the most aggressive of the new car brands, this week opening the first of three planned “megastores” in Australia that show off its electric vehicle range and the technology behind it.
The brand will also attempt to set a record for the “world’s biggest EV test drive” in Australia on September 23.
Luke Todd, chief executive of EVDirect that represents BYD, says the brand has received criticism for its aggressive campaigns and “maverick” attitude but the approach is paying off.
“We cop a lot of flack but we’ll stand strong and we’ll push forwards,” he said.
“There are a lot of people who don’t want things to change.”
BYD launched its first electric vehicle, the Atto 3, in Australia last August and this year claimed the title of the country’s second most popular electric car brand, with more than 8000 models sold during 2023.
The company recently launched the sub-$40,000 Dolphin electric hatchback in Australia and, Mr Todd says, would add more cars to its line-up in 2024.
“We’ve got five models that will be on the market by the end of next year,” he says.
“We believe we will be in a very prominent position and continually challenging … the automotive space.”
Another new brand, LDV, this week revealed plans to bring bigger battery-powered vehicles to Australia, including a more powerful electric ute with a 600km range and an electric van called the eDeliver 7.
The new vehicles could compete with an electric sports car from MG and the first electric SUV from Swedish firm Polestar, both of which are due to launch in 2024.
Australian Electric Vehicle Association national president Chris Jones says it is no coincidence many of the new brands are from China, the world’s largest car market, where they could experiment with vehicle concepts and export those that work best.
The emerging brands also do not need to fund legacy internal combustion engine manufacturing, he says, or wait for Australia to introduce laws to encourage them to deliver electric cars.
“They are right to fill the vacuum for alternative car brands in Australia – they’re not waiting for policies to change,” Dr Jones said.
“The head of Volkswagen famously said he’d sell EVs into the Australian market only if there were policy changes.”
Dr Jones says many of the first electric vehicles launched in Australia were SUVs and emerging brands had a huge opportunity to broaden the types of cars available to local drivers.
“We want to see more electric vans, utes and hatchbacks,” he said.
“We’re already seeing a plethora of (Toyota) HiLux ute conversions so if LDV can come up with some good quality electric vans and utes, they’ll kick it out of the park.”
Swinburne University future urban mobility professor Hussein Dia says the emergence of fresh automakers in the local market is also putting pressure on the entry price of electric vehicles.
Most early electric cars launched in Australia, he says, fit the luxury price bracket.
“Our hope is that these new competitors compete in lower priced segments,” he said.
“Teslas are still priced beyond the reach of some people.”
The cost of the company’s entry level car, the Model 3, recently rose to $61,900.
Prof Dia says Tesla will likely retain an early advantage in Australia but a fuel-efficiency standard, promised as part of the federal government’s National Electric Vehicle Strategy, would help well-known car makers justify bringing more electric models Down Under.
The standard would set an emission cap on a company’s vehicle fleet and fine those who exceeded it.
“Some brands consider the Australian market too small and will send their electric vehicles elsewhere until there are constraints in the local market,” Prof Dia said.
“With a fuel-efficiency standard in place, companies will send more variety and more inventory.”
Some of the electric car brands on the rise in Australia
BYD: This Chinese firm became Australia’s second biggest electric vehicle brand after the release of its Atto 3 SUV and will target more of the market with a smaller vehicle, the Dolphin, and the upcoming release of a sporty Sedan, the Seal
LDV: The automaker became the first to release an electric ute in Australia last year and has announced more commercial vehicles will follow, including the eDeliver 7 electric van and a more powerful ute, the Maxus, in 2024
MG Motor: The popular Chinese brand attracted plenty of attention for the release of its sub-$40,000 MG4 this year and is expected to release an electric sports car, the Cyberster, in 2024
Polestar: This Swedish brand with ties to Volvo released a more advanced version of its Polestar 2 electric sedan in Australia this year and will follow its release with the Polestar 3 SUV in 2024
Cupra: Currently the 10th biggest electric car maker in Australia, this Spanish brand that is part of the Volkswagen Group, caught attention with its fully electric Cupra Born hatchback this year