Taxpayers should not help fund discounts on electric cars, but government help is needed with recharge points.
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Japanese carmaker Mazda has joined Korean rival Kia arguing against taxpayer-funded discounts on electric cars – saying customers should drive demand.

However, Mazda says government assistance is crucial when it comes to the roll out of recharging networks, especially those powered by renewal energy.

As it stands, electric cars are no better for the environment than petrol or diesel cars when recharged solely by coal-fired power. However, when recharged using mostly renewable energy, electric cars have a fraction of the emissions of a petrol or diesel car.

But Australia is being urged to increase the take-up of electric vehicles and match the massive incentives being offered in Europe and China.

A number of carmakers including Hyundai, BMW and Nissan, have called for government incentives to drive adoption of electric vehicles, based on the success of big subsidies for electric car buyers in markets such as Norway.

"Why should taxpayer money be thrown to entice someone to buy, when [the government] really haven't addressed the hard piece – which is having renewables, and having the capacity," said Mazda Australia managing director Vinesh Bhindi.

Mr Bhindi said that responsibility falls on energy companies and government, not car companies, and "needs to happen first".

There's also a risk big cash incentives for electric vehicles will create "distortion in the market – and ultimately that distortion needs to be fixed at some point", said Mazda Australia marketing director, Alastair Doak.

"So we're saying 'have a plan, have some investment in infrastructure so customers can make the choice'... Australia compared to the rest of the world, or many developed countries in the world, the choice isn't really there," said Mr Doak.

Australian electricity is overwhelmingly (81.1 per cent) generated from coal, with Federal Government figures showing just 18.9 per cent of our energy supply came from renewables such as solar, wind and wave power in 2018.

Tasmania has the lowest reliance on fossil fuels, with more than 95 per cent of its power coming from renewables such as hydroelectricity.

Charge infrastructure in Australia

There are a number of private- and publicly-funded projects underway to develop charge networks in Australia.

Chargefox plans to have 22 fast-charge sites open before the end of 2019, linking Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide as part of its Australian Renewable Energy Agency-backed network.

The NRMA has 15 fast charge sites across New South Wales and Canberra, while Queensland has an electric-car charging network linking Coolangatta with Cairns through 17 stations.

Tesla has 33 of its own 'Supercharger' stations around Australia, but they're only usable by Tesla Model S, Model X and Model 3 vehicles.

A proposal from Australian-based Evie Networks would see 42 ultra-fast charge stations installed between major capital cities, too.

The conversation about incentives

Financial incentives to encourage buyers into EVs been incredibly successful in markets such as China and Norway.

The latter is often used to highlight how effective subsidies can be, and has no purchase or import taxes on electric cars, exempts buyers from 25 per cent VAT at purchase, offers half-price ferry, toll and parking fares, access to bus lanes, and provides a 40 per cent reduction in company car tax for EV buyers.

With all the perks of buying an electric car considered, a Volkswagen e-Golf is slightly cheaper to buy than the equivalent internal-combustion model.

A recent study from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) used the Norwegian example to argue financial incentives have the strongest influence on plug-in electric vehicle adoption than any other measure.

That position is backed by the CEO of the Australian EV Council, Behyad Jafari, who argues subsidies send "a signal to the marketplace to say that we are getting ready to support electrification".

However the peak body for carmakers in Australia, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), has previously shied away from chasing government support for EVs, instead calling for a "holistic approach" to their rollout.

The FCAI isn't alone: Volvo earlier this year said Australia's electric vehicle rollout shouldn't depend on subsidies, a position also backed by Kia.

Electric vehicles account for just 0.2 per cent of the new car market in Australia. The cheapest EV currently offered is the Hyundai Ioniq, priced from $48,490 before on-road costs, slightly undercutting the Nissan Leaf and Hyundai Kona Electric.

The top end of the market is getting busier, with vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz EQC and Audi e-tron arriving to challenge the Tesla Model X and Jaguar I-Pace.