Driving range, price, and limited knowledge of the available choices are three major impediments to improving battery-electric vehicle (EV) take-up in Australia.
That’s the quick and unsurprising summary of a market survey from analytics firm Nielsen, called Caught in the Slow Lane, Australian Adoption of Electric Vehicles.
As the name suggests, market penetration of electric vehicles in Australia is far lower than most equivalent markets across Europe, Asia and the USA.
While data is hard to source given Tesla’s reticence to divulge local sales, combined market share of EV and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) is well under 1.0 per cent.
That’s despite 24 per cent of respondents to this survey saying they currently intended to purchase an EV.
For context, in 2018 there were 1.2 million EVs/PHEVs sold in China (thanks to government 'carrots and sticks'), 360,000 in the US, and even 3682 in New Zealand – a far higher penetration than over this side of the Tasman.
That belies the figuratively fertile soil in Australia, where data shows people consider the environment a “more important social issue than mental health, education, the ageing population, interest rates and obesity”, according to the firm’s surveys.
“While there is a strong desire among Australians to ‘do their part’ to improve the environment and reduce their carbon footprint, their willingness to change habits and buy electric vehicles is stalled,” the report claims.
The survey of 1000 car owners and 10 “senior automotive marketers” found that only 16 per cent of people considered themselves “adequately informed” about electric vehicles, and 60 per cent thought they were not informed.
When it comes to awareness of brands offering electric cars, 16 per cent correctly identified Tesla, and 5.0 per cent BMW, Nissan and Hyundai. About 11 per cent said market leader Toyota, which won’t offer any EVs or PHEVs (only mild hybrids) until 2025 at the earliest.
Moreover, 23 per cent of respondents apparently identified brands who don’t yet produce electric vehicles, while 12 per cent said that none of the brands listed sell these types of cars in Australia at all.
Another impediment to rolling EVs out is price. The cheapest pure electric cars on sale, the Hyundai Ioniq and Nissan Leaf, are around $50,000 before on-road costs, since lithium-ion batteries are so pricey to source and fit. Yet 50 per cent of respondents said they would only pay up to $30,000.
As supply increases, prices will fall. But Australia does not yet offer temporary tax breaks or subsidies like many other regions to speed this process up. Irrespective, some brands like Nissan expect internal-combustion and electric vehicles to reach price parity by 2025 or so.
The next big hurdles are perceptions around range and infrastructure. About 47 per cent of people believe EVs can only travel 100-300 kilometres before recharging, which is true for some, though the $60,000 Hyundai Kona Electric can go well over 400km.
While most people claim to drive less than 80km a day, “the dangers of running out of charge on long road trips is a major deterrent to purchase", according to the survey report.
More than 75 per cent said lack of public infrastructure is another key deterrent, which is something the local industry largely agrees on.
“Australia is currently in a catch 22. The lack of recharging stations and infrastructure discourages electric vehicle buyers. Without consumers’ intention to purchase, the government will not prioritise to build what’s needed,” Nielsen contends.
This view does, however, neglect to mention that service stations/petrol stations across Europe, Asia and the US are also rolling out charging points, and car manufacturers across Europe are co-funding fast-charge networks that benefit them all.
A claimed 69 per cent have concerns around after sales, and 54 per cent are worried about resale value (with some justification while the car parc remains small).
Interestingly, only 54 per cent claim to be concerned about performance, though some EV makers – most notably Tesla and Porsche – use the lighting-fast, instantaneous pace of electric motors as selling points.