Electric Cars

  • March 1, 2018

We live in a time where technological change is occurring at an incredible pace.

That change is disrupting old industries and services but also creating new opportunities for consumers, businesses and the community as a whole.

There will always be some who will try and hold on to the status quo. This is human nature. Some will look at technological change with trepidation, others with excitement and many more with a bit of both.

We see this dichotomy in many areas of public discussion and policy – be it the future of energy, the development of artificial intelligence or consumer services typified so often by Uber or Airbnb.

But I think for most Australians technological changes leave us in awe about the potential of the future and the ingenuity of our scientists and researchers.

One of those areas is the fast developing changes we are seeing in the transport sector.

Autonomous vehicles have captured the imagination of many and, as they develop, they will revolutionise mobility.

And similarly, electric vehicles will soon become within reach and the reality for commuters around the world.

Car manufacturers are investing tens of billions in their development and see the future in electric or hybrid vehicles.

For example, from 2019 every car manufactured by Volvo will be either electric or hybrid.

General Motors has 20 electric models in development which will reach the market over the next five years.

Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW are collectively investing $75 billion in the development of electric and battery technology and VW – the world’s largest car manufacturer – will move entirely to electric vehicle manufacturing by the end of the coming decade.

This has been matched by the decisions of government in markets large and small to provide regulatory impetus for their adoption.

The Minister for Environment and Energy was right to point to the electric future for our vehicle fleet in his comments earlier this year. And people like our Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, have long been advocates.

Electric cars offer Australia obvious advantages.

We are one of the biggest energy producers in the world yet most of our fuel for transport – around 90 per cent – is imported. Much of this comes via the South China Sea. Electric vehicles provide the opportunity for greater self-reliance in our vehicle energy sources with obvious national interest and security benefits.

And in a nation in which 15 per cent of household budgets are spent on transport, electric vehicles offer the opportunity for both cheaper running and maintenance costs.

Electric vehicles also offer the potential to reduce air pollution in our cities and reductions in carbon emissions. Debates such as those currently underway in my own electorate about the location of road tunnel stacks could become redundant.

In so many areas, Australians have been early adopters of new technology – be it in banking and payment products, the internet, smart phones or the use of home solar panels.

Yet there are only 4000 electric cars on Australia’s roads.

This reflects a number of factors. 13 of the 16 electric car models sold in Australia cost over $60,000. In our vast continent there is perhaps understandably hesitation about the range of electric vehicles. This is accentuated by the absence of recharging infrastructure.

Prices are coming down – parity is expected to be reached over the next five or so years.

And battery technology is quickly advancing. Ranges of 400 or 500 kilometres – more than most of us would travel on a regular basis – will become the norm. DC chargers can recharge a car battery in less than 30 minutes.

There is also more that governments can do at all three levels to encourage the uptake of electric cars and give motorists more choice.

The NRMA recently released an excellent report in conjunction with the Electric Vehicle Council titled The Future is Electric, which looked at some of these policies.

Perhaps most critically, government can play a role in supporting the expansion recharging infrastructure – particularly in regional areas.

At the local and state levels, our planning rules should look to ensuring new residential and major commercial buildings include recharging facilities or at least the infrastructure for them to retrofited.

This was something I pursued ten years ago as a North Sydney Councillor when I urged Council to amend our planning instruments to consider the future needs of an electric vehicle fleet.

And at the federal level there is a role for us to support the creation of curbside recharging infrastructure. Only 50 DC charging stations are currently available across Australia and this number needs to grow.

Mr Speaker, market and consumer forces are already driving the change to electric vehicles. With better coordination and some modest investment, Australian governments can ensure we are part of this future.