Would You Buy An Electric Car?

Electric Cars Australia – In Australia, the land is big, beautiful and brown and that means big cars. Holden’s Commodore and Ford’s Falcon model have been the dominant players in new vehicle sales for decades. Even still, despite the brand shut down they are still strong brands in the minds of Australians and strong sellers, even for resales. All 5 of Australia’s most popular selling cars are petrol powered. There seems an uphill battle therefore to win the hearts, minds and pockets of Australian buyers to switch to alternative powered vehicles like electric powered plugin vhicles. At the moment electric cars in Australia are only a fraction of annual sales but the sales of these vehicles is growing rapidly as manufacturers offer inducements to convert people. There are still problems however and range anxiety is one of those issues that manufacturers will have to overcome. Falling oil prices translating into cheaper petrol at the pump will not help the shift.

This weeks article looks into electric cars in Australia and the momentum that is building for electric powered motor vehicles. There was an interesting article on electric vehicles or EV as its also referred in the Sydney Morning Herald recently. The particular article that I saw was about the Tesla motor vehicle company (which is a US outfit but building a presence in Australia) bringing into play a number of electric charging stations between Melbourne and Brisbane. The company is somewhat of a pioneer in both the US and now Australia and this is definitely 5 to 10 years ahead of its time. What these charging stations will allow is an electric vehicle to drive between Melbourne and Brisbane. For Tesla car owners the recharging is free. The cars being referred a the 100% electric type of car.

Charging stations for EV vehicles is nothing new. They have been around for a number of years which we will get into in a moment. Macadamia Castle is a stop area on the New South Wales north coast between Ballina and Byron bay and there has been a 180 solar grid panel system built for recharging electric cars. By September 2013 there were around 30 charging stations (7 kW AC) in Perth and Melbourne with smaller numbers of outlets in other cities.

The Tesla Motors proposal plans 16 charging stations by 2016. 10 stations are targetted for completion by the end of 2015. Once completed these stations will allow Tesla car owners the ability to drive between Melbourne and Brisbane without paying a cent in “fuel” or recharging charges. The company has a strong track record and brand in the US for electric motor vehicles and over 120 charging stations in the US at present.

Tesla are creating partnerships with businesses to incorporate supercharging stations. For example, Tesla have partnered in new hotel development and already have a charging station at the Darling Hotel in Sydney and the Marriot hotel in Melbourne.

At the Macadamia Castle outlet a 20 minute charge will give a plugin vehicle a range of around 250 kilometers (perhaps they were using Tesla vehicles as a casing example and is model dependent) and a full charge of the motor vehicle batteries takes around 1 hour.

Why go to an electric powered vehicle?

Ignoring the fact that the oil prices have been in decline, there are environmental benefits of electric vehicles that cannot be overstated. After the vehicle has rolled off the production line (which has consumed energy to produce) there is virtually no ongoing cost to the environment from running the vehicle compared with running a petrol, diesel or LPG powered car. There are some issues with the coal fired power stations that produce the electricity that is used to recharge though. There is also another logistical question in respect of a lot of lithium batteries out there and the question of mining. These are all different forms of argument that would need a whole new article to be written. The argument for getting energy from the grid is that its easier to improve the efficiencies of the coal fired power stations in Australia which are fewer in number than the number of vehicles on the road in Australia. Buying electric vehicles for the environment does make some sense.

Hybrid and electric cars in Australia.

I don’t profess to being an expert on fuel cell technology or electric powered motor vehicles. But for those interested in buying or looking into your next vehicle as a non petrol powered option then my aim was to present a list of brands that are currently available in Australia in 2015 and a backgrounder into electric vehicles in Australia.

There are two types of vehicles that use fuel cell technology:

Hybrid Vehicles – “A hybrid vehicle is a vehicle that uses two or more distinct power sources to move the vehicle. The term most commonly refers to hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), which combine an internal combustion engine and one or more electric motors. However, other mechanisms to capture and use energy are included” reference – 1

Electric Vehicles – “An electric car is an automobile that is propelled by one or more electric motors, using electrical energy stored in batteries or another energy storage device.” reference – 2

Many readers may be surprised to know that the first commercial all-electric vehicles started production in Australia 7 years ago, in 2008. The first electric car produced was called an Electron and was based on a Hyundai Getz chassis. Most people wouldn’t have heard of the Electron im sure. Another interesting fact for Australian EV vehicles is that charging bays for electric motor vehicles have already been operating in Australia since 2008. Sydney and Brisbane to be exact had EV recharging stations. The Tesla plan aims to take things to a bigger (and faster recharging) scale.

Rollouts of recharging stations have largely been constrained in Australia by infrastructure. There are more constraints which we will detail below.

A number of manufacturers have rolled out EV vehicles and some have been buying time with loss making models such as Nissan’s Leaf. EV suppliers know that there will be a change in fortunes so its not “if” but when things will change for the electric car industry in Australia.

Electric powered vehicle sales in Australia at the moment seems minimal.  Last year there were only 1015 electric cars sold nationally in a market where total new car sales exceeded 1.1 million vehicles.

Models of EV vehicles come from all around the globe. There are Japanese, Korean, French, German, Australian of course and American models of electric cars on the market (or to be rolled out in Australia in the coming months). Back in 2012 Renault was supposed to have launched an electric vehicle and this was to be called the Renault Fluence Z.E. Since mid 2009 there have been releases of vehicles that are plug-in electric vehicles from makers such as Mitsubishi, Toyota with its Prius PHEVs and Nissans Leaf model. In terms of sales volumes for electric cars in Australia in 2011, nineteen Nissan Leafs were registered. By 2012 there had been 77 Nissan Leaf units sold. Holden had also a hybrid vehicle model in 2012 with it’s car known as a Volt of which 80 units were delivered.   The number of plug-in electric cars as they were referred sold in 2012 totalled 258. This is still a fraction of the overall sales volume for motor vehicles sold in Australia.

I checked Wikipedias list and it seemed incomplete. Yes, there were some vehicles missing on the link here – Wikipedia As they mentioned the electric vehicle brands on the market in Australia numbered about six including – Mitsubishi (Outlander – PHEV and I-MIEV – BEV), Nissan (LEAF – BEV), Holden (Volt – PHEV), Porsche (Panamera – PHEV and Cayenne – PHEV), BMW (i3 – BEV or Rex and i8 – PHEV) and the Tesla (Model S).

Of all the electric vehicles on sale in Australia, the top selling model for 2014 was the Mitsubishi Outlander P-HEV with 895 units sold. Overall sales of plug-in electric vehicles increased 288% from the 2013 figures largely as a result of the Mitsubishi Outlander sales volume which made a huge impact on previous years EV sales stats.

The following is some extra vehicles that were uncovered (that weren’t on the Wikipedia list) for elaboration that are currently on sale in Australia or planned to arrive in 2015 – 2016;

P=Price and R=Range and Klm = Kilometers.

  1. Tesla Model S Electric Car –Tesla motors Australia.
  2. BMW i3 – P-$63,990 R-190 Klm. More information on BMW’s “i” range of vehicles.
  3. Holden Volt P-$59,990 R-600 Km. The Holden Volt is a plugin hybrid electric vehicle or shortened to PHEV. See resources section I put at the bottom of this article which has secondhand Holden Volt prices and electric cars for sale online.
  4. Mitsubishi i-MiEV – A very popular vehicle outselling all of the other electric plugin cars in Australia. Theres a 49kW motor and a 16 kWh battery pack made for the CBD environs of Sydney and Melbourne.  The electric Mitsubishi can reach a top speed of around 130 kilometers an hour and seats 4 adults travelling 7 to 14 hours when charged. Recharging is variable depending on the type of charging station used. The vehicle was reportedly released in 2009 in Japan to fleet consumers.   It takes 30 minutes to charge to 80%. You can read a Mitsubishi i-MiEV review here
  5. Renault Fluence Z.E – The arrival date TBA from what I could see but expected price is – $41,483.
  6. Renault Zoe – French branded vehicle with R-150 Km and P-$32,120.
  7. Nissan Leaf Electric Car – This model has been on the road for some years and has a range of 135 Km. P-$40,000. The Leaf is an all electric vehicle, no oil pan, no fuel tank but a 24 kWh battery pack and front mounted 80kW electric motor. The next generation Leafs should handle 300 kilometers on a single charge.  But does anyone want this sort of car? Nissan claims to be not making money out of it and building its hope in a surge in new electric vehicle sales in Australia in the coming years.
  8. Honda Fit Electric Car – P-$40,000 and R-130 Kms.
  9. Kia Soul EV Australia Electric Car.   The Kia Soul EV Electric Car has R-160 Km.  P-$40,000.00
  10. VW e-up Australia Electric Car2014 – VW e-Up! Electric Car R-160 Km and P-$39,614.00
  11. Ford Focus – R-122 Klm and P-$37,665
  12. Volkswagen VW – eGolf electric car – P-$37,542 and R-145 Km.
  13. Chevy Spark – P-$27,000 price tag and R-131 Km.
  14. Nissan e-NV200 Electric Van – A van that has a price tag that we couldn’t find and a driving range of 135 Km.
  15. Mahindra e2oR-100 Klm and P-$10,721.00. But is it safe to drive on crash safety tests?
  16. Toyota Prius PHV – P-$37,542 and R-145 Km and a Camry hybrid
  17. Lexus (?)  seems to be staying away from plug-in vehicles if anything here is to go by. “Lexus has no intention of adopting plug-in battery recharging, declaring it is more about manufacturers showing off technology capabilities than meeting real consumer demand“.

What is the future of electric powered cars in Australia.

A lot of the issues I have thought about before getting this list together and i’m sure you have too. The biggest one off the top of my head (and i’m sure yours) has been range issue of the vehicles – also known in the industry as range anxiety. “What if we drove somewhere and we couldn’t get back” those sort of questions.  This is where the “build it and they will come” approach that Tesla Australia is taking to roll out charging stations is trying to overcome those issues but we are still talking SIXTEEN recharging stations over the next two years compared with the abundance of traditional petrol service stations that are located within easy find. With a little bit of a lifestyle change i’m sure that it will become normal to plan out a long journey than make that last minute decision to pull into a service station for petrol and having GPS in the vehicle or on a smart phone will make finding the recharging stations extremely easy. High entry prices is another issue. The cost of vehicle purchase is putting a lot of people off buying these cars. Charging at home is another perceived barrier and the time taken to charge such as at those moments when you want to go out and the battery in the car is flat. Some models will have to be charged overnight but will give a 500 kilometer range. I guess the more expensive the vehicle, the quicker the recharging time will be before your back on the road. The range for example on a A$25 charge for a A$91,400 (plus on roads) cost for a Tesla vehicle will give a range of 390 kilometers. As I have listed above some of the vehicles don’t have the range required for Australian driving conditions such as the Nissan Leaf (circa A$40,000) have a driving range of 170 kilometers on a single charge. Not good for country drivers.

It seems that free charging will be one strategy manufacturers will use to win the hearts and pockets of electric vehicle buyers in Australia.

The main powerhouse of the electric vehicle is the batteries themselves and a lot of dealers like Nissan on their Leaf models are offering battery warranties of eight years. Like i mentioned above in the opening of the article Tesla are adopting a build it and they will come approach and will be offering free recharging services to the Tesla motor car buyers. Eventually battery technology will get faster and faster to recharge plugin-in electric vehicles. Batteries for the vehicles will also come down in price through production and technological efficiencies. LIke mobile phone batteries have improved phenomenally over the years the batteries on the vehicles will make a much more rapid improvement in order to generate the sales and overcome the range anxiety buyers presently have.

… and of the future of electric vehicles?

Electric vs Hydrogen vehicles? Compared with the other options out there such as the development of hydrogen powered vehicles Dr Peter Pudney of the University of South Australia says that electric vehicles will most likely succeed over eg. hydrogen vehicles in the long term.   “There are some significant problems to be overcome with hydrogen. Firstly, generating and storing the hydrogen is difficult, and the overall efficiency of generating hydrogen and then converting it back to electricity and into motion is pretty inefficient. So my view is that electric cars really are the future.”Dr Pudney said in an ABC interview.

There are issues with electricity provisions when you start getting a lot of people plugging into charge their vehicles. The amount of energy you get out of a given weight of a battery has rapidly improved so this will improve vehicle efficiencies especially with vehicle weights and travelling range efficiency.

What are electric powered cars like to drive?

Heres a review and test drive of a 2013 model Tesla car that is on youtube. Its an American review.

What government incentives are there to buy electric vehicles in Australia?

In Australia the Federal Government charges a luxury car tax over a certain threshold which is AU$60,136 at the time of writing. At the time of writing it was based on a vehicle over $61,000. For fuel efficient vehicles that consume under 7 litres of fuel per 100,000 kilometers then threshold is over $75,375. Technically a plugin electric vehicle will fall into the later category of vehicle by definition. Electric vehicles registered in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) are exempt from vehicle stamp duties which as Tesla noted on their website saves over A$6,770 (for a Tesla Model S). Electric vehicles registered in Victoria receive a A$100 reduction in vehicle registration fees with VicRoads per year. In my books the government incentives for people to pay a premium to buy an electric vehicle and make the shift from a traditional petrol powered vehicle appear to be quite stingy especially compared with the many other “handouts” they provide for other programs and industries.

This is a piece from an extremely good article that appeared online at John Mellor’s GoAuto website, you can read up more in an article about “more buyers looking at hybrids” and the the quotation below is sourced from John’s site.

VFACTS defines ‘electric’ asvehicles that have electric power as the primary fuel type and petrol or diesel as the secondary fuel type, which means plug-in hybrid models such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Holden Volt and BMW i3 REX are all classed as electric vehicles.

Models that have petrol, or diesel as their primary fuel type and electric as secondary are considered ‘hybrid’ vehicles, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries that collects and distributes VFACTS data. This includes vehicles such as the Toyota Camry Hybrid, Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid and the Mercedes-Benz C300 BlueTEC Hybrid. [source: GoAuto-.au]

Reader resources:

Heres a bunch of resources that might also be of interest to check out:

Got any comments about electric vehicles or would you buy a vehicle that is 100% battery powered? tell us what you think below.

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