Fuel efficiency standards and consumer incentives are on the table as Australia looks to improve a poor level of electric vehicle uptake.

The government released its National Electric Vehicle Strategy discussion paper on Wednesday, but Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen wouldn’t put a timeline on when any changes would come into effect.

He also said no targets would be set on the uptake of EVs, which made up two per cent of new light vehicle sales in 2021 compared to nine per cent globally.

In releasing the paper, Mr Bowen said demand was there for electric but changes were needed to take the industry to the next level.

He said the former government’s policy settings had allowed the vehicles to remain the preserve of the wealthy.

“When a new electric vehicle comes on sale, it sells out very, very quickly, you’ve got to have your wits about you and get online very smartly to be able to get an electric vehicle in Australia,” he told reporters.

“For those who say we shouldn’t be encouraging electric vehicles in Australia, they’re really saying they want electric vehicles to continue to be a reserve of those who are well-off.”

The discussion paper notes “unique” challenges faced in the regions with limited access to charging and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.

“Investments in EV charging and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure networks are essential,” it reads.

“This will mean rural and regional Australians can share in benefits as technology and vehicle model options increase … infrastructure will also support industries in those areas, such as agriculture and mining.”

Transport Minister Catherine King said EVs had the potential to revolutionise Australia’s manufacturing sector, and welcomed global leader Tesla saying they’d be open to manufacturing in the country.

“It is incredibly disappointing we saw the previous government basically drive the car industry off our shores, and that actually had implications for the complex design, research and development because the car industry, in particular, was very sophisticated,” she told reporters.

“How can we get batteries, how can we get other components needed for electric vehicles (made) here?

“And if there is a company that wants to start manufacturing cars here, we’ll be supporting them every single day.”

Ms King confirmed fuel efficiency standards were on the cards, with nearly 20 per cent of Australia’s carbon emissions coming from the transport sector, making it the nation’s second-largest emitter.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific chief executive David Ritter said fuel efficiency standards were a “no-brainer”.

“Australia ranks alongside Russia as one of the only developed economies without fuel efficiency standards … this means big car manufacturers can keep dumping dirty cars the rest of the world rejects in the Australian market,” he said.

“Unlocking Australia’s supply of affordable, accessible electric cars through strong fuel efficiency standards will slam the brakes on Australia’s accelerating transport pollution, protecting our climate and the places we love.”

The government is accepting feedback on its consultation paper until the end of October.