Australia’s position as a laggard in the global electric car race is unlikely to change despite the election of a Labor government more friendly towards clean transport, according to industry experts.

The election of Anthony Albanese’s government last month has raised expectations that uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) in Australia would accelerate as a result of more generous subsidies and fewer disincentives.

Labor has pledged to cut fringe benefit and import taxes for EVs, while promising to double the amount of money spent on charging infrastructure to $500 million.

It has also vowed to end the culture wars on EVs, which the former coalition government claimed would “end the weekend”, as part of an ambition to increase the technology’s share of new car sales to almost 90 per cent within a decade.

Will Edmonds from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, an analysis firm, said Labor’s ascension to power would likely spur demand from motorists keen to buy an electric model.

But Mr Edmonds said extra demand would not necessarily do much to boost supply.

He said there was already plenty of demand for EVs in Australia, but automakers were shunning it as a market because of the country’s lack of fuel efficiency standards.


Sales of electric vehicles in Australia are accelerating, but from a low base.(ABC News: Daniel Mercer)

Supply, not demand, the problem

Such standards, which are in place across most of the developed world, require car makers to ensure the models they sell over a year – on average – meet minimum quality and efficiency benchmarks.

To meet them, Mr Edmonds said, automakers typically tried to sell low or zero-emitting models such as EVs to offset the sale of any polluting lines.

He said if car makers failed to meet the targets, they faced potentially steep fines.

“Automakers do face their supply constraints but they are able to prioritise their EVs for other markets,” Mr Edmonds said.

“Other markets — like the EU, China and the US — have fuel emissions standards which automakers need to hit.

“This means that for every big polluting vehicle they sell, they need to sell a smaller, more efficient, ideally electric vehicle to balance this out and hit that emission target.

“It also means they have little incentive to send their scarce supply of electric vehicles here.”

Automakers call for better fuel

Adding to the calls for a tougher set of fuel efficiency standards in Australia is the car lobby.

Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries chief executive Tony Weber said consumers as well as the environment were being left worse off by Australia’s lack of quality controls.

Mr Weber said part of the solution involved upgrading the nation’s remaining two fuel refineries to ensure they could produce better quality stocks.

But he warned that Australia would remain a global laggard unless it overhauled its fuel standards.


The auto industry wants better fuel standards for the 20 million cars already on Australia’s roads.(ABC News: Andrew O’Connor)

“Australia has the lowest quality petrol in the OECD,” Mr Weber said.

In the run-up to the 2019 federal election, Labor vowed to introduce a fuel efficiency standard along with a target for 50 per cent of all new cars sold in Australia to be electric by 2030.

However, the party junked those policies in the wake the 2019 election defeat, taking a pared-back set of policies to this year’s May poll.

Mr Weber said the car industry did not support a mandatory EV sales target.

Australia could fall ‘further behind’

Rather, Mr Weber reasoned, fuel efficiency standards would be a better way of achieving the same outcome by allowing automakers to choose the models they supplied while improving the performance of and emissions from the 20 million cars already on Australian roads.

“There are numerous technologies out there in the marketplace that will give you low-emission outcomes,” he said.

“What the government should do is not mandate that we should have electric vehicles or a percentage of hydrogen fuel cells, or any other type of technology.

“What we should do is develop a target and say to the brands, ‘You need to meet that target and you need to meet that with any technology mix’.

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