Range anxiety” is holding West Australians back from embracing electric vehicles, according to WA’s motoring lobby, with the uptake of the technology lagging other states.

Range anxiety is the fear of running out of battery charge before you can find a charging station to recharge, similar to running out of fuel before you reach a petrol station, and the WA government believes it is to blame for the slow take-up of electric vehicles.

“Uptake of EVs has been relatively low compared to the rest of the country and the world — that is essentially because Western Australia is a very vast state and people are concerned about running out of charge while driving around regional WA,” Environment Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said.

WA Environment Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson.
WA Environment Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson says WA is a special case because of its vastness.(ABC Perth: Emma Wynne)

In 2021, electric vehicles accounted for 1.57 per cent of car sales nationally, but in WA they made up just 0.8 per cent. That means fewer than 2,000 West Australians own an electric vehicle.

Long EV trips need foresight

Dr Kylie Sterry is one of those EV owners.

Dr Sterry lives in Kalgoorlie and said she bought her EV primarily to do shorter trips, but said she regularly drove her EV to Esperance and Perth and had also driven it up the coast from Perth to Carnarvon.

“I do lots of very short trips around town, like lots of country people do, and I hated knowing that every time I got in my car I was burning fossil fuels and contributing to pollution in the environment,” Dr Sterry says.

But when she drives from Kalgoorlie to Perth, she needs to stop somewhere to recharge.

An electric vehicle ultra rapid charging station.
It takes between 15 and 45 minutes to charge an EV at these fast-charge stations.(ABC News: Greg Pollock)

And taking a longer trip is something she needs to think about beforehand.

“You do have to plan for the car to be charged when you’re going to leave, you can’t just suddenly decide, ‘today I’m going to have a trip to Perth’, and you have to plan for how long you’re going to stop for and where you’re going to stop and whether there’s going to be food available or whether you take food with you,” she said.

Bumps in the road

Rhys Heron from the RAC said a recent survey of members found nearly half of respondents would consider purchasing an EV or hybrid vehicle as their next car, but that more EV charging stations would be critical to addressing their concerns.

There are about 400 public charging stations in WA.

Transperth bus with electric highway ad
The RAC has already invested in EV chargers and the state government will now chip in $21 million to build 90 more.(ABC News: Bill Lawrie)

“Right now, we do see a lot of charging points between Perth and the South West and the Great Southern and that’s really great,” he said.

While the appetite for EVs is there, Mr Heron said there was an opportunity for the government and private companies to step up and focus on vehicle charging infrastructure.

The WA government is putting forward $21 million to build Australia’s longest EV charging network by 2024.

A car parked next
Electric vehicles can drive up to 500km when fully charged.(ABC News: Greg Pollock)

It will have 90 fast-charging stations at 45 locations from Kununurra in the north, to Esperance in the south and east to Kalgoorlie.

Electric vehicles can drive between 260km to 500km when fully charged.

These new charging stations will be built about 168km apart — close enough for a fully charged EV to drive between them.

When announcing the new charging network, Ms Sanderson said the stations would be located around regional towns so people could stop and have a coffee while they charged their cars.

“This will help relieve some, quite reasonable, range anxiety for Western Australia,” Ms Sanderson said.

It will take between 15 and 45 minutes to charge an EV at these fast-charge stations.

‘You get to stop and smell the roses’

At the moment, when Dr Sterry drives from Kalgoorlie to Perth, she has three options to stop — in Southern Cross, Merredin or Northam.

“The Merredin tourist centre has kindly put in a Tesla charger so we often stop there,” she said.

The recharge takes around 2 hours, but Dr Sterry said that was not a bad thing.

An electric vehicle charger attached to a car.
EVs can be charged by plugging into a regular power point, but it can take a couple of days to fully recharge.(ABC News: Greg Pollock)

“We have lunch or dinner, we walk around town, we spend money in the local community while we’re charging,” she said.

“Last time, we watched a movie on the Tesla screen in the car while we ate dinner like going to a drive-in cinema.

Dr Sterry said all of that would change when the new fast-charging stations were built and it would only take 15 minutes to recharge.

Other incentives needed to make EVs attractive

Besides the range anxiety, there are other hurdles standing in the way of EV uptake in WA.

The high upfront cost and limited range of electric vehicles on offer is a major one.

The RAC’s Rhys Heron said the state government could do more to encourage motorists to consider electric vehicles.

“We know that there’s investment in charging infrastructure, but there’s also opportunities for governments to look at around financial incentives, so things like reduced registration fees, or even direct subsidies for electric vehicles.”

He said this was already happening in other states and territories.

Dr Sterry agreed that financial incentives would help.

“Stamp duty in WA is so expensive — it’d be great to see the government offer some form of registration discount or something to help people,” she said.

electric charging station Forrest Highway
The South West of WA is better stocked with charging stations than the North West.(ABC News: Katrin Long)

“I think the initial upfront cost of electric vehicles is what puts a lot of people off, but the running costs are so much lower so if we could do stuff to reduce that upfront cost for people then I think that that would definitely increase the uptake of electric vehicles and get people over the line.”

She said the people who were most excited to see her car around Kalgoorlie were people aged 10 to 20.

“I think a lot of people in their … twenties would love to buy an electric vehicle, they are committed to the environment, they see the difference, they’re committed to the technology — but that’s an expensive first car.”

EV with charger attached
Long-range EVs are classed as a luxury vehicle and come with a hefty price tag.(ABC News: Greg Pollock)

She said the long-range model, like her car, was still classed as a luxury vehicle and therefore attracted the luxury vehicle tax.

She said she believed the federal government should waive that tax.

The RAC also suggested having free car parks for EVs.

Ms Sanderson said as the combustion engine was expected to be phased out by manufacturers over time, customers would increasingly choose to buy electric vehicles.

“Financial incentives are therefore not being actively considered at this time. Instead, we are preparing our electricity system to ensure we can integrate hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles over the coming decade,” she said.

The road ahead

Dr Sterry said for her family, the EV was particularly useful as a second car.

“I think that evidence shows the majority of people drive something like 30 kilometres a day,” she said.

A red car parked in front of a group of cactus
Kylie Sterry and her family have taken the car on trips as far away as Carnarvon.(Supplied: Kylie Sterry)

“The car you use to run around in to drop the kids at school, do the shopping [could be an EV], but for a while, people might need to keep their big family car or their SUV for their holiday,” she said.

She predominantly charges her car from the rooftop solar panels at her office.

But having a taste of the long drive to Carnarvon, she said the dream was to drive across the Nullarbor.

“But it takes about five days, I think, because of the slow chargers.”

Extracted in full from: WA motoring lobby says ‘range anxiety’ is to blame for slow take-up of electric vehicles – ABC News