Fancy having your road tolls, parking charges and registration charges waived?
Head to Norway, where reducing your carbon footprint through the purchase of an electric vehicle will score you such benefits.
Why have electric cars hit a dead end in Australia? Photo: Pat Scala
Or stay in Australia, buy a clean-energy vehicle, and look forward to high import duties, stamp duty, a luxury car tax, and a dearth of charging stations putting you at risk of conking out mid-drive.
Australia has been labelled a “laggard” in the global move toward electric vehicles by progressive think-tank Australia Institute.
“Emissions from vehicles are on the rise and Australia currently has no serious policy measures to curb their growth,” said Matt Grudnoff, senior economist and author of a report released on Friday.
“Transport is the third largest sector contributing to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and there are currently no serious policies to curb these emissions.”
Despite their environmental benefits and cost savings in fuel, electric vehicles in Australia are more expensive than electric cars overseas, while the well-known Tesla cars are unaffordable for most.
Only 0.1 per cent of all cars sold in Australia were electric in 2015 (1108 of the 1.1 million new cars bought), compared with 23 per cent in Norway, 1.4 per cent in France and 0.7 per cent in the US.
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
Bold policies championed by governments overseas have led to a rise in electric car sales and lower car emissions.
Mr Grudnoff and co-author Dan Cass have put forward some ideas to help boost our electric vehicle uptake:
Idea 1: Bus lane access
It was introduced in Germany, the Netherlands, and several American states.
Giving electric vehicles access to bus lanes should be trialled in Australia, the report recommends. Electric cars would have special licence plates to distinguish them from other cars trying to take advantage of the new rule.
This incentive would be offered only while the product was still niche to avoid bus lanes becoming congested.
Idea 2: Charging station rebates
Australians suffer from “range anxiety”: the fear of being left stranded in a vehicle with a dead battery.
The absence of charging stations on roads and at petrol stations enhances anxiety for drivers of electric cars, which can travel between 172 kilometres and 377 kilometres on one charge.
A “visible densely distributed network” of public charging stations in areas with high traffic volumes is needed, the report states.
But setting up charging stations is costly. To avoid a monopoly, governments should offer a 75 per cent discount to companies setting up charging units in priority locations in a competitive tender process, the report states. This is what was done in New Hampshire.
Idea 3: Carbon pricing
Australia should adopt France’s ‘freebate’ policy, which subsidises clean vehicles and penalises the most polluting cars, the report suggests.
The scheme triggered a 317 per cent increase in energy-efficient vehicle purchases in France within a year. The average carbon emissions for a new passenger vehicle sold in 2014 were 114 grams per kilometre, down from 149 grams in 2007. (Australia’s average was 188 grams per kilometre in 2014.)
Idea 4: Luxury car tax exemption
Electric cars are subsidised more generously overseas.
Someone who buys an electric vehicle in California could earn both a federal tax credit of $A9583 and a $A3194 bonus payment from the state, but Australia has no comparable bonus scheme.
A luxury car tax exemption is available in Australia for clean energy vehicles costing up to $75,526 – higher than the $65,094 threshold for conventional cars.
Most hybrid vehicles don’t attract the tax because they are under the threshold, however, some fully electric vehicles, which are more expensive to build due to their larger battery size (the Tesla Model Scosts nearly $91,000) are not exempt, despite being more energy efficient.
The report says all electric vehicles should be exempt.
What the politicians said:
India is replacing all petrol and diesel cars with electric vehicles by 2030, the Netherlands is banning petrol and diesel cars from 2025 and Norway is looking to ensure that all new cars are electric by 2025.
But no such plan is in store for Australia.
A spokesman for federal Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher said the government backed a $100 million asset finance program to boost electric vehicle sales and was consulting widely on “possible reforms”.
Victorian Roads Minister Luke Donnellan said VicRoads “already offers a $100 annual discount on registration of hybrid and electric vehicles” and Victoria has the highest number of charging stations in Australia.
Shadow energy minister David Southwick said it was “inevitable” that electric vehicles would “one day make up the majority of cars on the road”. He said governments needed to cut red tape and reduce regulations, but did not specify how he would do this if the Coalition were in government.
Greens transport spokeswoman Samantha Dunn said her party supported an increase in the luxury car tax for conventional vehicles and boosting electric charging stations. She said allowing electric vehicles to access bus lanes would be “detrimental” to bus travel times.