The Climate Council of Australia has compiled a “List of Shame” listing Australia’s cleanest to dirtiest car brands, showing just how hard the government needs to push to tighten standards and lower the cost of electric cars in Australia.
Polestar and Telsa are the cleanest car manufacturers in Australia and only sell battery electric vehicles here. At the bottom is Isuzu, which has no target for EV sales in Australia, and Toyota, which has a target of 33 per cent of its vehicles for sale being electric.
“Right now, the cheapest electric vehicle available in Europe is just A$18,000, compared to almost A$50,000 for the cheapest back home. With more manufacturers transitioning their fleets and the right policies put in place, we can get more Aussies behind the wheel of cheaper, cleaner new cars,” suggests the Climate Council’s Race to Zero analysis.
New standards needed across the board
All new standards must specify exactly what and which vehicles they apply to, as not all electric vehicles are created equal, the Climate Council notes.
All-electric differs from plug-in hybrids (a plug-in powered battery vehicle that also uses gasoline), which differ from hybrids (an all-gasoline vehicle). The Climate Council advocates only including pure electric cars in government policy in the future.
“In short, fuel efficiency standards incentivize vehicle manufacturers to deliver low- and zero-emission vehicles by penalizing them financially if they fail to do so,” the report says.
“The agreed allowable CO2 limit (fuel efficiency standard) can be progressively lowered over time, forcing vehicle manufacturers to produce more and more efficient vehicles and/or increase the proportion of zero-emission vehicles they produce.
“In international markets where fuel efficiency standards have already been introduced, this has resulted in a dramatic increase in the supply of electric vehicles while at the same time reducing their price.”
But fuel efficiency standards also need to be well designed. They must be at least as high as in the EU and US, leaving little room or loopholes that risk Australia continuing to be a dumping ground for high-emission vehicles unsaleable in other markets.
The used car market is key to an electric vehicle explosion in Australia, but it’s up to the government and big companies to start it.
Climate Councilor Greg Bourne says there should be no exemptions for passenger cars and paraphernalia in particular. He says instead of speaking out against loopholes, however, they are pushing for proper carbon emissions standards and are working to ban sulphurous fuels from the transport ecosystem as quickly as possible.
The Climate Council is also pushing for an exit from fuel tax credits, which are estimated to cost the federal government more than $7 billion in 2022-23 alone.
She also wants the government to start looking at ways to decarbonize the entire transportation industry, from supporting zero-emission buses to offering transition pathways for parts of the sector where electrification is not appropriate, such as aviation, shipping, Heavy goods traffic and long-distance traffic.
Bourne also says developing a buoyant used-car market is important, and government fleet purchases have been a good way to boost used-car markets because the resulting mass sales later help drive down prices.
“Tesla has set the bar high, which is fine, but others have to start at a lower level. In the end, the most important thing is that we see a group of companies that are absolutely striving for the rise of electric vehicles,” he told RenewEconomy.
“Usually you end up with the top-end companies in any area and you end up having some cheap and nasty things at the end but not much in the middle and then that middle part fills up. The middle is what we need.”
Consumer fears remain
What the filing didn’t cover was consumers’ rather nebulous fear when it comes to batteries: both where and how to source the materials, as well as the cost of replacing a lithium-based battery when buying a used electric vehicle.
The problem of battery life can be solved through recycling and rental, says Greg McGarvie, managing director at ACE-Electric Vehicles and president of Electric Mobility Manufacturers of Australia.
He says lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries come with a 10-year or 100,000-mile warranty that extends to subsequent owners, but new electric car owners need to change their mindset about batteries from owning to renting and getting used to the idea replace the batteries Battery – trade in – when it is nearing the end of its useful life.
Those who are really concerned about how lithium-ion battery parts are sourced need to consider where their cars come from, Bourne says, just as they might with their coffee beans or their chocolate.
“The origin of the car will be decisive. Tesla intentionally buys metals from Australia because it knows where they come from,” he told RenewEconomy.
German research suggests that even accounting for battery manufacturing, pure electric vehicles still have much lower lifetime emissions than fossil fuel and hybrid vehicles.
Rachel Williamson is a science and business journalist focusing on health and environmental issues related to climate change.