EV ambivalence could be starting to thaw
Earlier this year, Infrastructure Australia recommended a national vehicle fast-charging network for the first time as a high-priority initiative.
With this endorsement, Australia now stands a better chance of making up ground after years of lagging in electric vehicle adoption.
According to the statutory advisory body’s Infrastructure Priority List, which recommends the nationally significant infrastructure investments Australia needs, around two-thirds of motorists identify lack of access to charging stations as a key barrier to buying an EV.
With EVs projected to account for 70 percent of new vehicle sales and 30 percent of the vehicle fleet in Australia by 2040, the country has to quickly increase on the fewer than 800 charging stations nationwide.
Energy consultancy Energeia recently found that investment in public charging infrastructure correlates with high levels of EV uptake globally. Its research reveals that Norway and the Netherlands, the world’s leaders in the availability of charging with over 1,500 public plug points per million people, are both seeing an EV market share of around a third of vehicles. Australia’s paltry provisions and uptake don’t even feature on Energeia’s graph, with the country lagging far behind all the other countries surveyed.
“The infrastructure is not comparable with what you have in other countries in Europe and North America,” said Carola Jonas, chief executive of Everty, an online EV charger search service that gives electric vehicle owners a platform to rent out their home chargers to fellow EV drivers.
Though more investment has been coming online with state governments spending increasing sums on building chargepoint infrastructure, the perceived shortage of ports can be solved with help from individuals offering their own plugs for hire, she said.
“What you have this classic chicken and egg situation: are you building infrastructure in the hope people will buy electric cars, or are you waiting for them to buy electric cars before you put it in.”
This means manufacturers need to get more prospective buyers to test-drive electric cars as the number of charging points grows correspondingly. To do so, they must continue to increase the number of models they export to Australia, Jonas believes.
“For a very long time there has only been a limited choice of models available, but this is all changing now,” she said.
“I think in 2017 there were only three models available, this year there will be 12. Consumers are getting more choice and exposure to EVs and the technology behind them, and they will probably adapt to it quite quickly.”
There is often the perception that Australians are too glued to their utes, SUVs and V8s to be enthusiastic about moving over to battery cars, though this is not the reality, says Dave Budge, co-founder of a business which aims to up-cycle the thousands of four wheel drives sitting on farms and in back sheds into EVs.
His startup, Jaunt, also hires out EV Land Rovers for road trips through wine regions or in the bush.
“What opportunities have Australians had to really drive an electric vehicle? It’s easy not to know how many charge points there are around the country. It’s easy to be quick to decide about how electric vehicles could never do all the things that diesel vehicles can do,” Budge told The Motor Report.
“But having more vehicles that would fit into this mould will help people get over those presumptions and stereotypes about electric vehicles, rather than make excuses not to transition to them."
By delivering more EV formats, making the change would not be so tough for motorists, especially when a buyer tries battery power out for the first time.
“When you look at what vehicles sell in Australia, it’s so predominantly utes and SUVs. And then you look at the EVs that are available in Australia, there’s luxury performance sedans, there’s futuristic hatchbacks, there’s very little crossover with the vehicles Australians actually buy,” Budge added.
Currently ranked last in an international survey by GoCompare for its charging infrastructure, Australia still has a distance to go before EVs become mainstream. It doesn’t help that the government has held off on releasing a national EV strategy until midway through next year.
But market research suggests that Australians are getting more intrigued by battery cars, but are waiting for prices to fall before making the transition. According to research firm Roy Morgan, the number of car buyers are now considering EVs has grown to just under 10 percent, though their elevated price and the relative delay in getting more models on the Australian market have been prompting many consumers to hold off on buying them for now.
“Most manufacturers are ramping up their development in areas such as electric vehicles and driverless cars but it will ultimately be the consumer that will determine who the winners are,” said Roy Morgan spokesman Norman Morris.