New sales numbers reveal Australia, which can no longer make its own cars, is falling out of step with the rest of the world.
New sales numbers reveal Australia, which can no longer make its own cars, is falling out of step with the rest of the world.

Electric cars going nowhere fast

On the question of whether Australia is falling behind on electric cars? The latest numbers suggest the answer is yes, no doubt about it.

Across the entire Australian car market the growth in electric cars sold last year was hopeless - it would not even fill a large car yard on your nearest highway.

The total increase in electric cars sold came to 182 - which means we now have electric cars at 0.7 per cent of total car sales.

To put the numbers in perspective, in the UK - where they have both a Conservative government and they also drive on the right hand side of the road - the equivalent share for electric cars is 10 per cent, which more than doubled from last year.

It is hardly a surprise in this context to hear the CEO of Nissan Australia, Stephen Lester, blast the government for its lack of incentive, guidance or even a framework for the future of the industry.

You might argue Nissan is talking up its own book. The Japanese automaker makes the popular Leaf model. But surely this is the point: The world's largest car companies such as Nissan all have plans to step up competition in this industry of the future which is currently dominated by Tesla.

In fact on the same day the new numbers was published, Volvo announced it would become an all electric car company by 2030. The announcements follows similar statements from the likes of Ford and General Motors that they will phase out petrol cars in a similar time frame. By the way, Volvo is owned these days by Geely of China.

There have been two ongoing arguments locally against electric cars: First, that they do not pay their fair share of tax because of the fuel excise duty being aimed at petrol cars. That is about to change. The states are rushing headlong to tax electric cars with plans at various stages of development in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Second, there is an argument that coal is still in the electricity grid, and so we are kidding ourselves driving electric cars in these conditions. But the national grid becomes cleaner each passing year so the argument weakens annually.

As we debate these finer points, the rest of the world moves ahead and Australians vote with their wallets by actively investing in electric cars, even if we don't actually drive them.

Tesla is the most commonly held overseas stock in our market, while the interest in lithium miners such as the Rinehart family-linked Vulcan Energy Resources group is growing dramatically.

Of course the EV sector is highly speculative just now, but the underlying reality is that the auto industry is moving in this direction over the next decade.

In many ways it is very similar to the dot.com era, where there was intense speculation on the promise of "the internet". Two decades later some of the greatest local stocks - Seek, REA (controlled by News Corp) and Carsales - emerged from that pioneering period.

Just now electric cars remain trophy items in our market but that is largely because only highly priced luxury cars have sufficient profit margins to make these imports feasible.

Where are the cheaper runrounds that are catching on in the UK? Or the everyday electric cars that underpin the 50 per cent figure of new car sales in Scandinavia?

"The car manufacturers are holding back from this market, that's why we don't have the range - we have perhaps four cars in this class to choose from while there are 35 different models to choose from in a market such as the UK," says Behyad Jafari of the Electric Vehicle Council;

He's got a point - every G7 nation is now kickstarting its electric car sector. Boris Johnson's government offers a £3500 subsidy per car to encourage the sector. At best we are ignoring it

Originally published as Electric cars going nowhere fast


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