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by Tim Beissmann

Nissan’s global product planning chief says government support is the key to the successful introduction of electric vehicles and admits the take-up of cars like the Nissan Leaf in Australia will be hampered without any significant state or federal contribution.

Nissan global general manager of product strategy, advanced and exploratory planning Francois Bancon told journalists at the Australian launch of Nissan’s first electric car, the Leaf, that EVs could not succeed without governments buying into the technology.

“Yeah, [government support] is the key,” Bancon said. “This technology is expensive, the car is expensive.

“Where we sell the best is where the governments offer their support … which is not only the incentive for the direct purchase, but also they are investing in the infrastructure.”

Australia’s federal government offers no incentives or support for EV buyers, which means Leaf customers will be forced to fork out $51,500 before on-road costs for the Mazda3-sized five-door hatchback. Some states provide minor financial support, with the ACT offering free stamp duty and Victoria shaving $100 off EV registration.

The US is one of the leaders in green car support, offering incentives for owners at a federal, state and local level. As a result, more than 11,000 Leafs have been sold in the US since December 2010, accounting for 40 per cent of total global sales.

With a manufacturer’s list price of US$35,200 ($34,800) already well below that charged in Australia, Leaf customers are eligible for an income tax credit of up to US$7500 from the federal government, slashing the price to $US27,700 ($27,400) – roughly the same price as the top-spec Nissan Altima medium sedan.

A number of states provide cash rebates on top of the federal contribution further reducing the initial outlay, while many councils offer discounted electricity rates for EV owners, give drivers access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes and allow EVs to park for free, including at airports.

Nissan Australia CEO and managing director Bill Peffer confirmed the company has held a number of discussions with the federal government about EV support in the past and plans to continue those talks to reduce the financial burden for EV buyers.

Other EV manufacturers are also hurting without support. Despite being publicly available in Australia since August 2011, just 12 Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric cars have been purchased by private buyers according to the industry’s VFACTS sales data, with that car’s $48,800 starting price proving a major stumbling block.

Nissan Australia executive general manager marketing Peter Clissold said it was also important for governments to show leadership in terms of developing adequate infrastructure to support EVs.

“None of us thinks twice about our tax dollars going towards maintaining the highways and off ramps and the street lights,” Clissold said.

“What it is really going to require I think is expanding our horizons in that regard and viewing charging stations as today’s version of an off ramp or a highway. I think when the public puts pressure on officials in that regard we’ll see some things change.”

Private companies are so far leading the way in developing Australia’s electric vehicle infrastructure. In 2008, American-Israeli group Better Place announced it was aiming to raise $1 billion to begin the deployment of an EV network in Australia, and has so far installed 94 charge points across the country.

Clissold likened the current situation to a chicken and egg battle, but remains hopeful the government will come on board with additional support.

“We’re entering into a new phase of personal transportation,” he said. “In this case the privateers are out in front of the public entities. Our hope is that the public entities will catch up as they have in other countries.”