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Electric vehicles in Australia – can we just get on with it please!

Just when I thought I had witnessed the total eclipse of our automobile industry, it seems that electric vehicles may help Australia stay in the vehicle manufacturing business after all.

Last July, the first Australian-made electric truck rolled off the lines at Melbourne’s SEA electric vehicle plant. With a range of 180 kilometres, and load of 10 tonnes, the EV10 is the first electric commercial vehicle to be wholly designed and manufactured in Australia,.

Well-known Melbourne freight company, Kings Transport, took delivery of the first vehicle and has committed to acquire eight more units as they roll out.

The SEA Automotive electric truck program was assisted last year by a $517,000 grant from the Victorian Government’s New Energy Jobs Fund to develop Australia’s first commercial electric vehicle manufacturing plant.

“Today we are seeing the result of a fantastic initiative, made possible thanks to our New Energy Jobs Fund,” said Victorian Energy Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, “We are helping businesses right across the state develop a diverse range of new energy technology projects to help support this vital sector”.

SEA intends to produce two other commercial vehicle types – the E4V, which is a delivery van, a 12-seater minibus, and the EV14, a 14-ton GVM cab chassis.

Is the Australian transport industry really interested in electric vehicles?

It does seem as if Australia’s transport industry is keen on the potential of electric vehicles to reduce their massive operating costs, and although the SEA electric truck is the first to be manufactured in Australia, it was not the first to be introduced to our transport industry.

tollBack in 2013, transport and storage giant TOLL launched its first all electric truck in Australia – a US manufactured 10 ton Smith EV, and in 2015, Queensland company Bustech launched Australia’s first electric bus.

Other Australian companies are already following the lead of SEA Automotive.

AvassMelbourne based EV manufacturer AVSS recently announced that it plans to manufacture a large range of electric vehicles under the brand of AVA, including all electric buses, cars, vans, trucks and motorcycles.

Allen Salyav, former CEO of electric bus manufacturer Birghsun believes that AVA will soon become a household name when it comes to Australian EVs.

Another Australian startup, A2emCo, aims to produce Australia’s first completely autonomous EV, and is designing 6 prototypes, which CEO Michael Molitor, hopes to have on the road by 2020.

A2emCo has also announced bold plans to build an Australian version of the Tesla gigafactory to manufacture batteries for the growing EV industry.

Interest in personal electric vehicles is increasingrecharge-electric

A recent Queensland Household Energy Survey showed that 50 per cent of Queenslanders would consider an electric vehicle, plug-in hybrid or regenerative braking hybrid, when purchasing a new car in the next two years.

Similar results have been obtained in Victorian surveys, with respondents in both states indicating that improvements to public fast-charging infrastructure would tempt them into purchasing an electric or hybrid vehicle in the future.

Unfortunately without more federal support for clean transport this interest will not translate into increased annual sales of EVs. It has become a Catch-22 situation, and dealerships are reluctant to import EVs into a market which is not supported by progressive goverment policy.

By now there should be not be any doubt that electric vehicles can do the job, so what else is holding back their uptake?

Part of the problem of course still lies in the misconception that we all travel vast distances in our daily lives. Reality check…most of us don’t. Our average daily travel is within urban areas, and at less than 50 kilometres a day it is well within the range of an electric vehicle.

Another factor killing EV sales at the moment is that competition from petrol and diesel vehicles is heavily discounted. Internal combustion engine vehicles are the cheapest they have been for a long time, and unfortunately, according to ClimateWorks Australia, the fastest sales growth is occurring in the dirtiest sector ie: diesel powered vehicles – depressing news indeed.

Should we incentivise the electric vehicle industry for a cleaner future? Hell yeah!

Countries that are successfully introducing EVs to their national fleets, have programs and incentives in place to encourage the use of green vehicles and clean up the environment.

Finland, the UK, progressive state governments in the US, and a couple of states in Australia, for example, are not relying on the market to do the job, and have implemented a range of incentives from purchase rebates to public charging infrastructure.

Unfortunately there is a lack of federal support for electric vehicles in Australia. Even worse, there is an ideological hostility to cleaner forms of transport.

Opponents claim that the federal government should not be involved in subsidising the introduction of EVs, while conveniently forgetting that the fossil fuel sector is still waving its battered tin cup under the government subsidy faucet.

It is also forgotten that our late, and dearly beloved car industry relied heavily on government subsidy and was even capable of green innovation.  With a bit of federal help, EV development could have bailed out the Australian car industry and led us to a cleaner transport solution.

The Holden Volt for example, was a completely Australian-designed electric vehicle with good range and performance. The vehicle appeared a couple of years ago, strutting and fretting on the Sydney Car Show stage, only to disappear when GM decided that without support from the government it would not generate enough demand to justify expansion.

Chevrolet-boltRecently, the vehicle surfaced again in the US market as the reasonably priced Chevrolet Bolt which is now a legitimate competitor to the excellent Tesla Model 3 (the ‘affordable Tesla’).

The Bolt has over 300 kms range, and would easily get you from Bungendore to Sydney in silence and comfort for little more than the cost of a Macca’s meal at Sutton Forest.

Frustratingly, although GM respectfully acknowledges the vehicle’s Ocker heritage, the Bolt remains unavailable in Australia – the same country that originally designed it! Go figure.

So are government incentives to industry good or bad? I guess a lot depends on what sector gets the incentives, and when.

Meanwhile, in our local region?

In the Canberra/Queanbeyan region there are over 250 electric vehicles and the number is increasing slowly in response to initiatives from the ACT Government.

In fact, the map on my somewhat range-challenged Nissan Leaf shows that there are now 14 charging stations within the ACT. When I bought the vehicle two years ago there were only three.

It would be great if our local Queanbeyan Palerang Council could follow suit and encourage zero emissions commuting and touring by providing public charging infrastructure around the region. Ultimately it would benefit both EV drivers and local businesses.

Locating chargers adjacent to local tourist destinations, restaurants, and coffee shops for example would encourage patronage from the EV community and bring in business from growing numbers of owners and their families keen to explore the region using more sustainable forms of transport.

Oh, and while I am drawing up my Christmas list, it would be even better if QPRC joined the Cities Power Partnership program and collaborated with other jurisdictions to ‘electrify’ the Kings Highway all the way to the coast.

Do we want clean air now, later…or never?

Relying on the market will ultimately work, but ‘the market’ (mum, dad, you, me, Malcolm Turnbull and his flying monkeys) is always reluctant to move until the last coin has been sucked from whatever makes the most money.

Unfortunately, at the moment, that is still fossil-powered, Fred Flintstone cars.

Yadda-dooYabba dabba doo.

Perhaps I am just getting old and cranky; good stuff is coming, but not fast enough. Time is running out, and our federal government needs to take its foot from the throat of the Australian electric vehicle industry.

Let’s just get on with it!

Check out the links below for more information:

Electric truck

Electric bus

Australian EVs and gigafactory

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