Is the electric car finally viable?

Electric car sales have taken off overseas, but not as much in Australia. There have been some good reasons for that, but it’s all about to change.

 7 minutes

Electric cars are beginning to rule the roads in Europe and the US, but not so much in Australia. Buyers like the idea of petrol-free driving, and there are some real advantages in terms of costs, but there have also been some speed bumps on that road. However, all that is about to change.

Some perceived shortcomings of electric include lack of options, a belief that they don’t have the range of petrol cars, and a lack of charging stations. According to a Herald-Sun report from January this year, only 219 electric cars were sold across Australia in 2016. That’s 0.0018 per cent of the total market (although that figure didn’t take into account almost 600 Teslas purchased by Australian owners in 2016).

By contrast, in Norway, the electric vehicle (EV) capital of the world, almost one in every three new cars registered is an EV. In fact, the Norwegian government has announced plans to phase out all fossil-fuelled cars by 2025.


What has held electric cars back?

Dr Chris Jones, National Secretary of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association, says a piece of legislation passed in 1989 to protect the now non-existent Australian automobile manufacturing industry prohibits the direct importation of various makes and models of cars. This limited the choice for any low-volume type of vehicle, including EVs.

Many national governments offer incentives for EV manufacturers to sell their vehicles, but the Australian government does not, Dr Jones says.

“I see this improving,” Dr Jones says. “Next year the legislation is under review, the Tesla 3 will be available, as will the Hyundai Ioniq. Nissan has also confirmed they will be bringing in the new Leaf in 2018.”


Did you know? Fuel is free in an electric car if you use one of the increasing number of free fast-charge points around Australia and car maintenance costs virtually disappear.


Can electric cars last longer?

Perth-based professional Ant Day currently owns a Nissan Leaf, a 100 per cent electric vehicle. Prior to that he owned a Mitsubishi i-MiEV, also fully electric, but the Leaf offers greater internal space, has a longer range and boasts a more luxurious driving experience, Day says.

‘Longer range’ is relative. While an average petrol car would typically run for 400 to 600 kilometres between fills, the Leaf runs out of puff at around 120 kilometres. That’s the logic that has kept some from buying an electric vehicle, but their logic is flawed.

On a typical day, depending on whose numbers you believe, the average driver will cover 38 to 80 kilometres. So an electric vehicle is a perfect solution for the average driver, and the news only gets better.

Day owns the 2012 model of the Leaf. The technology in his car is five years old. “The more recent EVs have a range of 300 kilometres upwards,” Day says.


The top-of-the-range EV

Many of the recent global advances in EV technology and popularity are down to the Tesla brand, which has simultaneously made electric cars sexy, desirable and deliciously technological.

A visit to the Tesla site shows the Model S (soon to be accompanied by the more affordable model 3) achieving a range of 372 to 572 kilometres, depending on the version. This brings electric vehicles very much onto the same playing field as their petrol brethren.

The only issue now is that Tesla cars are as expensive as they are beautiful—the current model costs from $108,700 to $209,800.

However, Brett Robinson of BOQ Specialist does not see this as a barrier, “We’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of Teslas being financed over the past four years, with many of our medical, dental and veterinary clients realising not only the time saving benefits of being able to charge your Tesla car at home, but also the fact that they are continuously improving their vehicles via software updates. So, unlike a petrol car, your Tesla will get better over time.”

Best range (as advertised)

Benefits of electric car ownership

There are still a lot of positives of EV ownership, Day says. One is cost of maintenance.

His service centre originally quoted $260 for the annual service. “I asked what that was for,” Day says. “They said they would change the oil filter and I said there is no oil filter. They said they would replace the air filter and I told them there is no air filter. The list went on. They finally did their research, then told me they would charge $106 for the service.

“With an electric car there is almost nothing to service. The brakes hardly wear because you’re using regenerative breaking. The tyres wear like any other car but there is almost nothing else. There are something like 2700 moving parts in your average petrol car and only about nine in an electric car, so maintenance costs virtually disappear.”

Plus, fuel is free if you have solar panels on your home and charge during the day, or at one of an increasing number of free fast-charge points around Australia (EV drivers use the app ‘PlugShare’ to find their closest charging point). Even if you charge in your garage at night, the cost is about 25 per cent of petrol for the equivalent vehicle, Day says.


Living full-time with an EV

The driving experience is extraordinary, with unmatched acceleration and a peaceful cabin, Day says. A 20-minute charge at a fast-charge point typically brings the battery back up to around 80 per cent.

In the meantime, thanks to increasing numbers of charging points it is becoming more possible to live full-time with an electric vehicle. Day has even taken his camping.

 “Charging added about 90 minutes to our trip,” Day says, “but that was a 420-kilometre journey. If I had a Tesla model S I would have only had to stop once. And at the caravan park I could charge the car for nothing, so we did all of our sightseeing for free.”

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