According to surveys, Australians want to purchase electric vehicles (EVs), but they account for less than 1% of new car sales. What really is going on?
The response is complicated, and it leads us down a winding road of carbon targets, “mega credits,” and other issues that most people outside the auto industry are unaware of.
However, at the end of this road is an apparent fact: EVs that sell well in Europe, the United States, and the United Kingdom are literally unavailable in Australia.
Volkswagen, on track to become the world’s largest EV manufacturer, delivered 212,000 electric vehicles globally in 2020.
None of them happened to be in Australia.
The Volkswagen ID.3, Europe’s best-selling electric car in 2020, will not be available in Australia until at least 2023, according to its manufacturer.
Automobile manufacturers have stopped releasing new models in Australia, and some have publicly stated that the country is becoming a “Third World dumping ground” for obsolete petrol-engine technology.
Meanwhile, according to the Climate Council’s latest report, 75 percent of new car purchases by 2030 must be electric in order for Australia to reach net zero emissions by 2035.
So, why are electric vehicle manufacturers avoiding Australia, and what else is causing low EV sales?
Australians are Interested in EVs … but Aren’t Buying Them
Consumer interest in electric vehicles isn’t new. It’s been strong for a long time.
According to annual surveys conducted by the Electric Vehicle Council, the proportion of Australians who will consider purchasing an electric vehicle as their next car has remained about 50% since 2018.
However, this enthusiasm isn’t translating into more electric vehicles on the road, with just 6,900 sold in Australia by 2020. This equates to around 0.7% of all new car sales.
EVs have a similar degree of interest in the UK, according to polls, but they account for a much higher proportion of new car sales — around 10%.
Hybrids, which combine gasoline engines and electric motors, are absorbing some of this demand.
In 2020, almost twice as many hybrids were sold as the previous year, according to Australian Automotive Dealers Association (AADA) chief executive officer James Voortman.
“We are seeing changing attitudes towards low emissions cars,” Mr Voortman said.
Hybrids, on the other hand, have been selling well alongside electric vehicles in other countries. In Australia, hybrids outsell electric vehicles by a factor of ten.
What’s more perplexing is that Australia has the highest per-capita rooftop solar adoption rate in the world.
According to Ezra Beeman, managing director of Energeia, a consulting company that has modelled Australia’s electric vehicle market for government agencies, people who invest in rooftop solar are more likely to purchase an EV.
“You’d think the number-one market for rooftop solar PV would be good for EVs as well,” he said.
Instead, among developing countries, Australia has the lowest rate of electric car ownership.
According to Scott Nargar, a senior executive at Hyundai Australia, “something has put the brakes on EV car sales.”
Hyundai’s own research consistently showed “very, very strong” intent to buy an EV within the next five years, he said.
“It’s much higher than 50 per cent. There’s a great market there,” he said.
“But there is something that’s holding back Australia.”
So, why Didn’t Volkswagen Sell a Single EV in Australia in 2020?
Because there were none for sale.
Volkswagen didn’t ship any EVs to Australia in 2020, despite many Australians asking to buy them, said Michael Bartsch, general manager of Volkswagen Group Australia.
“There isn’t a day go by where we’re not answering a query on when we’ll be able to supply an electric vehicle in Australia,” he said.