Ahead of the upcoming Federal election, we’ve seen the usual political grandstanding that has become engrained into our expectations every three years. With that, it’s no wonder many struggle to believe any of the policies that come out of the process. In recent weeks however, one particular issue has caught the attention of the new car industry, which is a proposal put forward by the Labor government involving a target for half of all new car sales to be electric vehicles by 2030.
On the surface, it is certainly a noble if not aspirational cause. Sure, detail might be lacking, but converting people’s behaviour towards more sustainable practices like driving EVs – even if not fully electric – is a step in the right direction. But the question is, just how realistic is this target? Could we really see electric vehicles take such a command on our roads, yet alone in just over a decade?
The need for change
Various motoring and environmental bodies have been calling for change, with the likes of the NRMA even warning that Australia risks becoming “a first world country with a third world fleet”. Notwithstanding the rather overdramatised consequences pointed out, there is one truth to the matter, and that is a gradual adoption of the technology elsewhere.
But while the contention is that the countries which produce cars will phase out petrol and diesel in favour of electric, it’s worth noting that many of these specific countries are still using traditional fuel technology for the foreseeable future. Early adopters of EVs include ‘progressive’ countries like Norway, but that’s not where we import our cars. Neither are places proposing petrol car bans like Netherlands and India, while the likes of Germany and France have allowed decades for the switch.
We largely import from Japan, which itself has allowed til 2050 before all new passenger cars are electric. By then, who is to say we’ll still be favouring electric? Furthermore, plug-in electric sales even decreased in Japan last year to 1%. Elsewhere, EV presence is around half a percent of all cars on the road in the US, and 3.8% of sales in the UK, despite both representing a more advanced market and infrastructure. Let’s not forget either, the second largest source of our cars is Thailand, a developing country keen to retain every manufacturing opportunity it attains.
An affordability crisis?
The reality is, EVs here and abroad have been burdened with unrealistically high price-tags. In Australia, where we must import such vehicles, this problem is amplified. We end up with a smaller range of options, while paying a premium for them and not even having the public infrastructure to support their usage.
Time and time again, targets have been set locally (and abroad), only to be left hopelessly unfulfilled. Compared to similar petrol-powered cars, EVs have cost anywhere up to three times as much over the years. Hardly an incentive for most to justify the switch.
Not only is the prospect of few affordable EVs likely to make a 2030 target completely unrealistic, but turn our nation into a laughing stock. Policy and infrastructure, while both in need of updating and upgrading, are only a part of the problem. Sure it’s a good start, but only when managed with viable targets. Our affection and deep roots with petrol and diesel powered utes and SUVs is also another behavioural barrier, but one that will only start to be addressed once more affordable EVs begin to make their way down under.