Australians’ Plea For Government Support Of Electric Cars Falls On Deaf Ears

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Let’s get a few things straight right up front. I am not an Australia basher. I have family who live Down Under, I have visited this incredibly beautiful country on several occasions, and I believe living a full life requires attending at least one concert at the Sydney Opera House. What is mystifying to me, however, is the propensity of the citizens of Australia to elect know-nothing buffoons to represent their interests at the state and federal level.

Of course, my own proud county has a similar tradition, but I always thought Aussies were one step higher on the evolutionary ladder after witnessing how they cheered Dennis Connor when Stars & Stripes swept the America’s Cup series in 1987.

We write a lot about the EV revolution here at CleanTechnica. We cover EV incentives in China and Norway, rising EV sales in Europe and Zimbabwe, and electric pickup trucks coming to the United States. Europe is making plans to ban cars with gasoline and diesel engines by 2030. Cadillac says it may sell only electric cars by then. But we seldom report on the EV market in Australia, primarily because there really isn’t one. Charging infrastructure lags behind Belarus and Latvia, there are hardly any electric cars manufactured there, and EV incentives are sadly lacking.

The latest insult to the EV revolution comes from the state of Victoria, home to Melbourne, the country’s second largest city. Its government is proposing to impose a tax of 2.5 cents per kilometer on cars powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells and 2 cents per kilometer for plug-in hybrids. Assuming an EV owner drives 15,000 km a year, the tax would add $375 to the annual cost of ownership.

Now to be fair, the Australian Board of Statistics says the average fuel economy for passenger cars is 11.1 liters per 100 km. So a conventional car traveling 15,000 km a year will use about 1165 liters of fuel. The fuel tax in Australia is 0.427 per liter, which means that typical driver will pay $711 in tax annually — roughly double the charge Victoria intends to impose on zero and low emission drivers. [Note: I am notoriously bad at math as my regular readers know by now. If there are errors in those calculations, a.) I’m not surprised and b.) deal with it.]

So what’s the big deal with the proposed tax? Shouldn’t EV drivers pay their fair share to maintain roads, bridges and tunnels? While that’s a fair point, consider this. The fuel tax in Australia is a national tax. Victoria collects nothing from drivers of conventional cars when they buy gasoline or diesel.

ABC News Australia reports a group of 25 organizations and corporations including Uber, Volkswagen, and Environment Victoria have called on the members of the Victoria parliament not to support the proposal. “Every other state and territory in Australia has ruled out or delayed plans for a premature new tax on electric vehicles,” the open letter said. “Going it alone will mean Victoria has the worst electric vehicle policy in the world. This new tax means the world’s manufacturers are far less likely to send Victorians their best, most affordable, zero-emissions vehicles. This makes things much harder for Victorian families who want to buy and drive electric.” It adds that no other jurisdiction has introduced such a targeted tax on electric vehicles without significant incentives to balance it out.

Behyad Jafari of the Electric Vehicle Council tells ABC News that Victoria should be trying to encourage more people to use electric cars before introducing new taxes. “The concern is that it is just too premature to be adding new charges on electric vehicles. The priority today is to encourage the shift from petrol and diesel and fossil fuel burning vehicles towards zero emissions ones.”

Michael Bartsch, managing director of Volkswagen Australia, acknowledges that while it was fair to look at how electric car users should pay for using roads, it was too early to be introducing a tax. “I think it’s the only policy in the world that taxes electric vehicles before they even hit the road. At some point, the roads need to be paid for, there’s no argument with that, but it’s totally and utterly premature.”

Bah, Humbug!

Jaala Pulford, innovation minister for Victoria, is having none of it. “For roads to be in good condition, there needs to be a continual effort to maintain them, and that is the cost of all road users to bear, and that’s what this reform is about,” he says. “So we will be proceeding as planned, and that reform will make its way through Parliament in due course. Of course with any charge, with any tax, there’s always those who would prefer not to pay it, but people will continue to choose an electric vehicle, and manufacturers will continue to respond to consumer demand.”

Adrian Dwyer, the chief executive of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, an industry think-tank that has argued for electric vehicles user charges, said Victoria’s proposal would help address a long term problem in the way roads are paid for, but fails to mention drivers of conventional cars pay nothing to maintain Victoria’s roads.

An EV Mini Boom

While all this is swirling around, Australia is experiencing a mini boom in EV sales. According to the National Roads and Motorists’ Association, in March, Australians purchased 411 all-electric new cars [woo hoo!], up 151.2% year on year from 248 in 2020. Overall, the new-car market averaged growth of 22.4% (100,005 sales, up from 81,690).

“Although a small volume, these numbers denote a positive trend in Australia’s adoption of electrified vehicles,” NRMA says. “More importantly, they signify the electric car has survived COVID-19, as more Australians demonstrate trust in the technology in the wake of unparalleled social and economic uncertainty.” Tesla does not report vehicle sales by country, so its numbers are not included in the above totals.

The Porsche Taycan was the best selling premium car sold in Australia last month with 161 sold versus 31 BMW 5 Series cars and 155 Mercedes E Class sedans. Where those Taycan owners plan to plug them in when away from home is a mystery, since charging infrastructure in Australia is rudimentary at best. “We don’t have supply to sustain sales numbers [of the Taycan] at the level seen in March,” Porsche Australia told the NRMA. “Interest and demand has been very strong.” The Audi e-tron and Mercedes EQC each found attracted 14 new buyers in March and 4 Australians bought a Jaguar I-Pace.

Juice Media Weighs In

The fun folks at Juice Media have used the situation in Victoria to heap scorn on local and national politicians. If you aren’t familiar with Juice Media, it regularly lampoons the absurdity and stupidity of officials who refuse to take responsibility for Australia’s carbon emissions. Short of re-watching all 5 seasons of Rake, the most satirical sendups of Australian politics are to be found on Juice Media. But be warned. The language is not workplace- or kid-friendly. So if anyone who watches with you is offended, don’t say we didn’t warn you. Enjoy!


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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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