Global electric vehicle road trip reveals Australian market in slow lane | Environment
At the start of the recent Electric Vehicle Summit, Dr. Jake Whitehead was sitting in a plane somewhere over the Indian Ocean.
The conference was meant to be a reset to overcome nearly a decade of Australian policy inertia over electric vehicles and road transport under the former coalition government – but Whitehead, head of policy at the Electric Vehicle Council, was on vacation .
It was a dream trip for a long-time electric vehicle researcher: three separate trips over thousands of miles to three different countries with his partner, all in electric or hybrid vehicles.
As his colleagues shook hands and listened to the keynote speeches, Whitehead received a first-hand education on what the rest of the world had done on the electric vehicle front during the two years Australia closed its borders to the world. .
“You can read all you want online, but it’s only when you’re out there and able to compare that you can see what’s really going on here in Australia,” he says.
“It’s amazing how far these countries have come.”
The electric journey began with a two-day stopover in Los Angeles where the couple discovered the new Ford F-150 Lightning and Rivian R1T electric vans not yet available in Australia.
Then they headed north for a 2,500km drive through the Canadian wilderness to Banff in a Tesla Model Y. From there they hopped to Iceland where they rented a plug-in hybrid 4×4 when the Fagradalsfjall volcano has started to erupt. For the final leg, they flew to Sweden where Whitehead’s wife rented a luxurious Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo for her birthday.
Along the way, Whitehead says he couldn’t help but take mental notes: In the United States, Volkswagen’s charging subsidiary, Electrify America, was building an extensive charging network in easily accessible locations. such as Ikea and Starbucks parking lots. In Vancouver, car-sharing programs allowed people to temporarily use cars, including electric vehicles. In Europe, Tesla had opened its charging network to the public, meaning anyone could use it.
“I lived in Europe for six years, but I hadn’t been back for five years and the change has been huge,” says Whitehead. “Everywhere you go, you see electric vehicles. You go to the supermarket, there are EVs there. Go to the beach, there are electric vehicles. Driving along the highway? EV.
But it was in Sweden that he noticed the biggest changes. There were electric cars at the airport and when Whitehead went to visit friends they couldn’t understand his interest in their vehicles.
“I would show up and say, ‘Oh, you have an electric vehicle,'” he says.
“They would say, ‘Yeah, so what? “”
It’s an experience about to be shared by many Australians: Over the past decade the country’s politicians may have dragged electric cars into culture wars, but in the two years that the Australia has gone closed during the pandemic, the world has changed.
And as futures sketched in government planning documents reveal, other countries have begun to reshape streetscapes in noticeable ways, giving a taste of what might come at home.
The road of electric vehicles in front of you
In 2012, only 120,000 electric vehicles were sold worldwide – today that number is sold every week.
According to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2022, electric cars accounted for more than 8% of the global new car market, or around 6.5 million cars in 2021.
Australia is only a fraction of that. In 2021, 20,065 electric cars were sold, a threefold increase from the 6,900 cars sold in 2020, but still a rounding error compared to figures reported overseas.
The way the rest of the world kept moving as Australia fell into a time warp is largely down to good overseas policy.
In 2021, the International Energy Agency, a deeply conservative institution created to monitor global oil supplies, released a report that the world needed more than two-thirds of all new car sales in the world. world will be electric by 2030, and more than 3 billion electric cars on the road by 2050 to reach net zero.
Even as Australia’s political leaders continue to tiptoe around a possible ban or planned phase-out of internal combustion engines, several countries, states, cities and businesses have announced a deadline for the end petrol and diesel cars.
Among the most ambitious is Norway, which will ban the sale of petrol cars from 2025. Others, such as EU member states, the UK, Canada and the US state of California have opted for a ban on new combustion engine vehicles by 2035. Even China has its own plan.
These jurisdictions help people go electric. Until recently, the UK government offered subsidies for low-emission passenger vehicles, among other incentives for electric vehicle drivers, such as no vehicle excise duty.
While the ambition of such policies is debatable, the resulting uptake of electric vehicles in the UK stands in stark contrast to the lagging Australian market: in July 2022, 127,492 cars registered in the UK were EVs. battery-powered cars, compared to 85,032 cars at the time. same time in 2021.
As sales increased, the government’s attention turned to infrastructure.
There is better cycling infrastructure in the middle of the Dutch countryside than anywhere in this country
By far the fastest progress has been made in the Scandinavian countries. In Norway, the transition began in 1990 when the A-ha group engaged in an act of civil disobedience by driving across the country in a homemade electric vehicle refusing to pay tolls and parking fines. Since then, the country has introduced a series of policies reducing VAT charges, offering free parking and charging and other incentives which have also been introduced in neighboring countries.
In January this year, sales of electric vehicles accounted for 83.7% of all new vehicles registered in Norway, up from 70.7% in July.
While Australia debated the feasibility of electric vehicles, widespread adoption in places like Norway and Sweden made them part of the woodwork – although some countries went even further.
During a trip to the Netherlands in May, Tom Swann, a climate advocate with the Sunrise Project, said he was “stunned” by the way the country had “put cars in their place”.
“I got off the train at Amsterdam Centraal and felt like I had landed in a bicycle utopia,” Swann said. “More bikes than people. Barges in the river, full of lockers that will be used to store even more bikes.
“There is better cycling infrastructure in the middle of the Dutch countryside than anywhere in this country.”
Catch up with the rest of the world
“Coming back to Australia always feels like stepping back in time,” says Whitehead.
When he landed in Brisbane, Whitehead said the “first and biggest contrast” he noticed was that there was no option for an electric taxi at the airport.
Outside the terminal, the pistons of waiting cars were shooting expensive imported oil and the smell of exhaust fumes wafted through the air.
“You can hear it. You can feel it,” he says. “For me, the biggest thing is actually the impact on the air around me. I’m aware that I’m breathing in these fossil fuels that have been burned in an engine.
“But then I have no alternative. What am I going to do? Walk home?”
Dr Whitehead said the recent EV summit had raised hopes that Australia could now pull itself together, but it would still take “three to four years” to see real change.
“If nothing changes, we won’t catch up to Sweden’s current situation for 20 years,” he says. “It’s not like the rest of the world is sitting around and waiting for us to catch up.”