Australia’s electric vehicle take-up is slow but showing signs of life

As we celebrate World EV Day 2021, how is Australia fairing in its pursuit towards sustainable transport and electric vehicle adoption?

ABB’s new sustainability strategy is all about helping people reduce their carbon footprint by 100 megatons by 2030. Sustainable transport solutions, like electric vehicles, are key to achieving that goal. In the passenger vehicle space, it’s also a step people can actively take as part of their personal contribution to a healthier world.

On a global stage, electric vehicles are making positive headway. Forecasts by BloombergNEF’s Electric Vehicle Outlook 2021[1] suggest that, by 2040, global sales of zero-emission cars rising from 4% of the market in 2020 to 70% by 2040, with the equivalent for buses sees their zero-emission sales rise to 83% by 2040.

Governments around the world are setting bold minimum targets – not only as part of climate change strategies but also in support of the significant economic and community benefits resulting from the increased uptake of EVs such as increased job opportunities, improved health outcomes and increased fuel security. Businesses are increasingly looking at how they can adapt their operating models to realise those same savings, create new revenue streams and tap into broader sustainability benefits.

Australia tells a different story. Where electric vehicle sales are 2.5-5% of all new vehicle sales in developed countries, Australia is still at a mere 0.7% of all new sales[2]. Nevertheless, according to the EV Council, electric vehicle sales in 2019 tripled from 2,216 to 6,718, and 2020 figures were strong, at 6,900, despite COVID-19 impacts. The first half of 2021 shows the continuation of this accelerated growth with the new car sales of EV’s equally that of the whole of 2020.

Even with the accelerated growth of 2021, the figures show electric cars accounting for a mere 1.4 per cent of total Australian car sales versus the likes of electric vehicles in the EU increasing their market share from 3.8 per cent in 2019 to 10.2 per cent in 2020.

Fortunately, there are signs of momentum. In Australia, people are increasingly seeing electric vehicles as a real option. The State of Electric Vehicles 2020 report features results from a consumer survey in which 56% of Australian respondents said they would consider purchasing an electric vehicle next – up from 48% in 2018 and 53% in 2019. The fact that consideration is part of the thinking process for more people is a big step forward.

Range remains a consumer concern

That consideration will evolve as the availability of charging infrastructure improves and as more models come on the market.

Electric vehicle range has been a longstanding concern among consumers – and rightly so in the early days of the vehicle and battery technology. The consumer survey mentioned earlier showed that driving range per charge, compared to a fuel tank, was in the top four factors discouraging the purchase of an electric vehicle. Here, education can really move the dial in reversing misperceptions like range. For example, one of the top three reasons to encourage an electric vehicle purchase is their perceived great performance. Yet, when respondents were asked about the expected range of a battery electric vehicle, around 80% cited less than 400km per charge. Australia’s array of passenger vehicles actually averages around 400km per charge – from 260km to 650km. Greater promotion of the real range of electric vehicles will only improve those already positive views about great performance.

Changing mindsets about recharging

What is not spoken about enough is the way people recharge electric vehicles versus traditional refuelling. There’s a common view that we need charging stations all over cities and country communities. However, the vast majority of electric vehicle owners will recharge at home overnight, not on a Saturday morning at a charging station. This mindset change around electric vehicle charging is key. Range figures also tell a different story between electric vehicles and internal combustion engine vehicles largely because of this critical difference between charging and refuelling. In comparison to dedicated trips to petrol stations, electric vehicles are all about convenience via overnight charging or during other ‘passive’ time, such as at work or while shopping. The more we can help people understand the significant difference in behaviour, the more we can help them get over outdated range anxiety.

Increasing charging infrastructure

If we turn to country driving, holiday driving and other longer-range trips, yes, we need enough public charging infrastructure on our highways and regional roads. Australia’s public charging stations – at just over 2,300[3] – need to see dramatic growth. The Future Fuels Fund, announced by ARENA (Australian Renewable Energy Agency) in February, is one positive step forward[4]. The Australian Government is investing just over $70 million in solutions to address barriers to new vehicle technologies. This includes $16.5 million in initial grant funding to increase fast charging stations across eight regions, including each Australian capital city and large regional centres.

The private sector is also doing us proud, with more than 40% growth in fast public charging stations in the last 12 months, up to 2020. As that accessibility grows, coupled with the continued development of smart building technologies, such as home battery and solar solutions, the issue of range will become non-existent.

Offering more models in Australia

Car batteries themselves are also evolving at a rapid rate. Technologies are being developed to improve battery performance and reduce battery degradation, which directly contribute to greater range. BMW’s i3 is one example. Available in Australia since 2014, it then offered a range of around 130km, where today’s driving range for the small hatchback is around 300km. Nissan’s Leaf – a more accessible model – came with a starting range of around 120km in the early 2010s, where today’s model is around 270km. The latest Leaf e+, with its 62kWh battery, promises up to 384km on a single charge.

Manufacturers active in the Australian market, such as Audi, Hyundai, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and Volvo, are all producing cars ranging beyond 400km – some well beyond. In a few years, we believe those high ranges will be standard in more affordable electric cars. Furthermore, considering passenger vehicles travel an average of less than 35km daily[5], and opportunity and overnight charging provide daily top-up support, the ranges available today are more than adequate for most uses…and are only set to improve. That being said, we need significant effort at a federal level to reverse our damaging global reputation with leading manufacturers for our lack of incentives. We have become a low priority country by some, seen in Volkswagen’s recent statement that our “regulatory backwardness” makes the business case for prioritising Australia nearly impossible[6].

Electric vehicle range is a real advantage and can become a powerful platform for the industry to build greater momentum and demand for electric vehicles. ABB welcomes promoting electric vehicles as an important contributor to the shift toward a zero-emission future.

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[1] https://about.bnef.com/electric-vehicle-outlook/

[2] https://www.carexpert.com.au/car-news/electric-car-sales-start-strong-in-2021

[3] State of Electric Vehicles 2020 report

[4] https://arena.gov.au/news/future-fuels-fund-off-and-racing/

[5] https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/industry/tourism-and-transport/survey-motor-vehicle-use-australia/latest-release

[6] https://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/the-world-s-electric-cars-are-leaving-australia-for-dust-20210324-p57dk4.html?btis

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About the author

David Sullivan

David Sullivan is the Head of Electrification business for ABB in Australia. He leads a technology portfolio that covers the full electrical value chain from substation to the point of consumption, enabling safer and more reliable power. He also oversees ABB Australia’s Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure and is a former Board Member of the Electrical Vehicle Council of Australia. David was appointed Head of Electrification in 2016 after leading the Medium Voltage business for three years and, prior to this, managing national sales and account management for the Power divisions. David has more than 20 years’ experience, both locally and internationally, in the electrical supply industry as it relates to Utilities, Process Industries and Minerals. He holds an Electrical Engineering Degree from University of NSW and a Masters of Business Administration from Open University UK.
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