Kia Australia was hoping to go electric for the 2020 Australian Tennis Open – with a fleet of electric vehicles to shuttle sports stars and support screws during the event before the cars arrived in local showrooms.
However, those plans were scuttled by strong demand overseas, pushing Australia down the queue for Kia's electric-car rollout.
"We did want an (electric car) rollout to coincide with the Australian Open," said Kia Chief Operating Officer, Damien Meredith. "We wanted to tell a sustainable technology story at this event. We thought it was a great story for the brand in Australia, but we couldn’t get supply of those vehicles."
It's understandable that a market as small as Australia – by global standards – would have to wait for new vehicle technology, but with the slow uptake of electric vehicles in Australia is also seen as a barrier to their local introduction.
"(Electric vehicles) for Western Europe and North America take so much supply that we weren’t able to get enough for Australia," Meredith said. "We still think it would be a great story to run a complete (electric vehicle) program for the Australian Open, but it would be fair to say that supply goes to the markets that have legislation in place to ensure there is a lower CO2 output than Australia."
Kia has already announced that it will have 11 dedicated electric vehicles on sale globally by 2026 as part of its aim to have 25 percent of sales to have some form of electric power within the next five years. "We’re hoping production increases significantly so we can be a bigger part of the (electric car) push globally," said Meredith.
Beyond a supply issue right now, the bigger question for a broad, population-sparse country like Australia is whether enough buyers will embrace electric cars in large numbers. There's also the question of whether incentives, infrastructure and subsidies will make any difference to sales - or is it simply a pricing issue?
"I think the thought that we might drive from Sydney to Melbourne or Sydney to the Gold Coast – even if that is only once a year – plays a big part in the mentality of the electric vehicle buyer," said Meredith. "What has to drive sales is infrastructure and legislation. There’s no doubt that every manufacturer has invested heavily in (electric vehicles), and legislation needs to catch up."
When you speak to new car buyers in Australia, pricing is still the biggest issue, but it's followed very closely by the 'how am I going to charge it easily?' question. As such, while Meredith is circumspect on who should build the infrastructure and who should pay for it, he is aware that getting the price down will have an impact.
Lower pricing will help increase sales, Meredith said, "but infrastructure and legislation are key as well".