Mike Stevens | Jun 30, 2010

Can the electric vehicle succeed without the benefit of government incentives and subsidies? With the Australian Government confirming in April that it would not offer incentives to EV buyers or carmakers, we may soon find out.

With companies such as Better Place Australia and Chargepoint in the process of building charging infrastructure around the country, the question will likely become one of purchase price rather than infrastructure.

In contrast to the Australian Government's position, US President Barack Obama earmarked US$6 billion in incentives for buyers and support for charging infrastructure - on top of an earlier US$2.5 billion commitment.

Thanks to investments like this, and similar incentives offered by other governments around the world, US motorists will look forward to subsidies as big as $7500 on new electric vehicles.

Manufacturers are hard-pressed to make a business case for bringing their electric vehicles and other low-emission models to Australia without the government getting involved.

Although the Australian Government's Green Car Innovation Fund saw $35 million invested in local production for the Toyota Hybrid Camry, there has been little to no positive action on making foreign models more accessible.

And, despite Nissan Australia's continuing claims that its Leaf electric vehicle will debut locally in 2012, global CEO Carlos Ghosn has said in recent weeks that Australia may be skipped all together if the Federal Government does not get on board.

"We think unless governments put incentives for consumers on the electric car it's going to be very difficult to make the electric car a factor," Mr Ghosn told Fairfax at the Geneva Motor Show this year.

Conversely, EV-friendly programs in Japan and the US have seen the Leaf blitzing pre-order sales.

Despite the absence of incentives to make the largely cost-prohibitive green cars more appealing to buyers, some manufacturers are pushing ahead with Australian launches; Mitsubishi's i MiEV is expected to be joined by Toyota's plug-in hybrid Prius in the near future.

Whether they will ever become more than a rare sight on local roads however... well, that remains to be seen.

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