Did you know we could be driving cleaner better vehicles?
When talking about electric vehicles it's important to know the facts.
Below are some common questions Australians have about EVs.
Driving the change to electric vehicles
We know that our climate is changing and that we need to act fast to ensure that we reduce our impact on the planet. Transport is the third largest (and fastest growing) source of emissions in Australia - with cars, buses and vans contributing 11% of total emissions - so making rapid cuts to emissions from the transport sector is crucial to achieving a zero emissions economy. Zero emissions electric vehicles are an essential part of this picture.
We also know that petrol prices and energy instability are rising, so shifting to an electric vehicle also makes economic as well as environmental sense. Without action from the Federal Government Australia has become the dumping ground for the world’s most polluting cars, meaning higher costs for both the environment and Australian hip pockets. On average EVs are shown to save motorists up to $8,500 over the life of the vehicle in fuel and maintenance costs, and each petrol vehicle on Australian roads equates to around $140 per year of healthcare cost to the Australian system.
Australia has become a dumping ground for all of the dirty cars that other countries just won’t accept. Because Australia has no fuel efficiency standards, car manufacturers have no incentive to send their cleaner vehicles here. 80% of the global car market has now introduced fuel efficiency standards, meaning that every low emissions vehicle sent to Australia instead of one of those markets can essentially incur costs for the manufacturer. Continuing to send the dirty ones to Australia becomes an economic no-brainer for manufacturers. Basically, Australia is at the back of the pack and getting left even further behind.
Adopting a fuel efficiency standard in line with those other major markets tells manufacturers that Australia is focussed on transitioning to EVs. This will give the companies the road map they need to get more electric vehicles to the country and to begin rapidly investing in the infrastructure needed to make EVs available and accessible for everyone.
Currently in Australia, demand for EVs outstrips supply, with months-long waiting lists and new EVs selling out within minutes. Last year only 2% of new vehicle sales were electric, while in other countries like the UK its 25% and in Norway a whopping 85%. How can that be? It’s because, simply put, it actually costs manufacturers to send zero emissions vehicles here, because the presence of fuel efficiency standards elsewhere mean that their cleaner cars need to be sent to other markets. The way we start to change this is by introducing a strong fuel efficiency standard in line with other major markets. This will require the manufacturers to send more EVs to Australia, which will increase the range of vehicles on offer (including models that are cheaper) and help drive rapid investment in electric vehicle infrastructure.
80% of the global car market now has fuel efficiency standards in place, and at least 17 jurisdictions around the world have set 100% electric vehicle uptake targets, or have committed to phasing out petrol vehicles, many by the early 2030s.
The UK has banned the sale of all petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, and the EU has said it will do the same in 2035.
On top of this we’ve also seen at least eight different car manufacturers commit to all-electric car production by 2040, with a number of companies moving earlier. For example Volvo will make only electric cars by 2030, and General Motors will phase out petrol production by 2035. See this great ABC article for a full rundown of the major car brands that are going all electric, and by when.
With governments and carmakers alike rapidly moving away from the sale of petrol vehicles, by the early 2030s it will be increasingly difficult to buy a new petrol powered vehicle. And when compared to the benefits of electric vehicles, why would anyone want to?!
Fuel efficiency standards are rules that require vehicle manufacturers to reduce the amount of pollution from the vehicles they sell. The standards put a limit on the total average emissions across all cars sold by each manufacturer, incentivising the development and sale of more efficient vehicles, to balance out the sale of more polluting vehicles. Manufacturers are then liable for fines and penalties if their vehicles don’t meet the required standards. The standards improve over time, eventually reaching a point where only zero emissions vehicles can be sold.
Currently Australia is one of the only OECD countries without a fuel efficiency standard - a move that is costing Australians money and is ensuring that the emissions being belched into our air from vehicles is dirtier than other nations who have adopted standards. Australia is now becoming a dumping ground for the dirtiest cars. Which is why it’s so urgent that Australia now adopts a strong fuel efficiency standard in line with other major markets.
The short answer is the introduction of new fuel efficiency standards. Right now, other countries with cleaner car standards are getting all the EVs, and Australia is being left behind. As car manufacturers in these countries are required to sell more low and zero emissions vehicles, the range of models - and prices! - available is wider, and consumers can purchase the car that they want and that suits their budget. As EVs become more widely used in Australia by individuals and businesses we’ll also see the crucial second-hand market expand, again giving more people access to the EV that suits their needs.
A fuel efficiency standard is the first step to opening up the Australian market to more EVs and ensuring that the demand for them can be met. We have already seen this scenario play out around the world, but here in Australia we are still being sent the most polluting vehicles that also cost more to run. By enacting fuel efficiency standards here we can get the cleaner cars we need to protect our environment. Coupling government subsidies and tax incentives with the impact of a fuel efficiency standard will help to lower the current cost of EVs in Australia.
In a word, no. A fuel efficiency standard will help to provide greater access to EVs for those that want them now, but will also ensure that soon EVs will be much more affordable for everyone. The point is that all Australians win from there being cleaner cars and more EVs on our roads, as our air gets cleaner with reduced emissions.
The charging network in Australia is sufficient to support the number of EVs on our roads right now. It is in the interest of the charging companies to ensure that their charging networks grow with the increased ownership of EVs. Increased public and private investment has set Australia well on the way to ensuring we have the infrastructure needed to electrify our transport.
What the charging companies want and need is assurances around the speed and scale of the transition from petrol and diesel vehicles to EVs. Once they have this they will be able to ensure that the charging network is always growing at the same pace as EV ownership.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific are prioritising this campaign around vehicle electrification and fuel efficiency standards as this is widely agreed to be a critical step to clean up pollution from cars in Australia. Cars, vans and utes currently make up a total of 11% of emissions in Australia - and these emissions have been rising fast, with no current plan to bring them down. Australia is one of the only major developing countries without emissions standards on cars, and if this doesn't change, these emissions will only continue to increase.
Is a fuel efficiency standard and more electric vehicles enough to cut transport emissions in Australia? No way! We also need to ensure that a switch to EVs is also part of a wider change that sees us get cars off the road, and a lot more people into affordable, accessible alternatives in public and active transport. Major investments are required in bikes and e-bikes, rail, tram and bus, and local walking and bike networks and infrastructure. Giving people accessible options that work for them and our environment, is essential to decarbonise our transport sector.
Is an electric vehicle for me?
If you lived in the countries where there is a fuel efficiency standard, there’s a good chance that the answer to this question would be right now. As car manufacturers in these countries are required to sell more low and zero emissions vehicles, the range of models - and prices! - available is wider. As of 2022, there are 24 different electric vehicle models available in Australia, compared to over 130 EV model options in the UK. This plays out in what we see in the market, with the cheapest EV in Europe available for less than $19,000. By comparison the cheapest EV on the Australian market comes in at just under $45,000.
Another important part of the puzzle will be second hand vehicles. As more EVs start to hit the Australian car market we will see an increase in the number of them available in an evolving second-hand market - especially as more companies notice the efficiency savings they can make around converting their fleets to EVs. All of this will make EVs cheaper for the Australians that want to make the switch from dirty petrol and diesel cars to an EV.
Some EVs now have a range of up to 600km and their technology has advanced rapidly and is continuing to improve. The average vehicle in Australia drove less than 40km per day in 2020, so for the majority of Australians the range of an EV will more than satisfy their daily needs. We are seeing significant investment from both the government and the private sector into charging stations, and a fuel efficiency standard would give those companies the assurances they need to continue with their investment in EV infrastructure.
It is possible to charge an EV up at home from a standard powerpoint and there are now over 1,600 charging stations around Australia. We are seeing both the public and private sector putting significant investment into charging stations, but the introduction of fuel efficiency standards would show the industry that Australia is ready and committed to EVs. This will send the right signals to companies to scale up their investment in EV infrastructure. A government managed transition to EVs will help the charging companies to make confident decisions around increasing their investment.
Australia has over 1,600 charging stations that are adequate for the number of EVs on our roads right now. As the number of EVs on our roads grows, so will the network of charging stations to support EV users. You’ll be able to charge or top-up your EV when you pop to the shops or head to the movies, and the increased range of EVs means that you’ll have to do it less frequently than you think. Recently we’ve also seen the news that any new apartments built from 2023 will need to be EV charger ready, which should make it even more feasible for people who live in apartments to own and charge an electric vehicle.
It's also worth noting that the average vehicle in Australia does less than 40km a day, and some EVs have a range of up to 600km. Improved battery technology and a charging network that grows with increased EV usage should allow all Australians to get the benefits of a transition away from petrol and diesel vehicles.
Right now some EVs have a range of up to 600km, which could get you from Wodonga to Melbourne, from Albury to Sydney or from Rockhampton to Brisbane on a single charge. The range of EVs is increasing as battery technology improves, meaning that EVs are becoming more suitable and a more realistic proposition for all Australians.
With the introduction of a fuel efficiency standard in line with other developed economies Australians will get greater access to a wider range of EVs that fit their needs and their budget. As EVs become more accessible and popular on our roads we will see the charging infrastructure grow with it, making EVs a much simpler and attractive proposition for everyone.
There are EVs available in the US that can tow up to 4.5 tonnes, with further vehicles in the pipeline that are projected to be able to tow twice as much. In fact an electric car just won a major Best Tow Car award in Europe! There are models available that can tow over 2 tonnes, but a wider range of vehicles isn’t yet available in Australia because we lack the fuel efficiency standards to incentivise manufacturers to increase supply and the range of EVs available.
With a fuel efficiency standard we will see the rise in the range of EVs available to Australians, meaning that EVs with a higher towing capacity will become more accessible to those who want or need them. We will also see the average cost of EVs reduced, as manufacturers have an incentive to send them here rather than just dumping their dirtiest petrol and diesel vehicles here like they are able to now.
A decade ago hybrid cars were at the cutting edge of transforming the environmental impact of transport. Today, the adoption of EVs is what is going to have the biggest positive impact on the environment, and this is before we even take into account the decarbonisation of our electricity grid. A hybrid vehicle has lower emissions than a petrol or diesel vehicle, but those emissions figures are trumped by the lower emissions of an EV - and EV emissions will only get lower as our electricity grid moves to more renewable energy sources. Hybrids have also been found to typically emit more Co2 than commonly rated.
The short answer is that you can, though it’s not as easy as you might hope. The rise in petrol prices is already leading some Australians to convert their petrol or diesel vehicles to electric, because driving an electric vehicle is cheaper. With petrol prices at around $2 a litre the economic case for driving an EV has never been greater. However, converting your current car is still quite expensive, and for most it would unfortunately just be cheaper just to buy a new petrol or diesel car, or even a new EV.
What we do know is that there are huge demands for people wanting to buy a new EV to replace their petrol or diesel vehicle. The issue they are facing is that demand is massively outstripping supply, with around 16,000 Australians on the waitlist for an EV. The way we change this is by incentivising manufacturers to send more EVs to Australia, and an important step in doing so is by enacting fuel efficiency standards that put Australia back in step with the rest of the world when it comes to EVs. We’ll also be watching developments in the conversion space closely!
It is estimated that driving an EV over a petrol or diesel car could save you up to 70% on fuel and 40% on maintenance. With petrol prices rising to around $2 per litre the difference in running costs is only becoming more pronounced. For the average motorist, switching to an EV could save you between $5,300 and $7,300 on fuel over the first 5 years. Considering that today’s EV batteries are projected to last as long as 15 years, it won’t only be the environment that gets a helping hand from driving an EV.
Right now electric utes are being sold around the world, including in New Zealand and the USA. In those countries the models have the power and towing capacity needed to make them completely suitable replacements to traditional petrol or diesel models. The issue we have right now is that the lack of a fuel efficiency standard here in Australia means that for the car companies it just isn’t economical for them to send them here. We can change this by encouraging the government to adopt a fuel efficiency standard that brings a greater range of EVs here.
How long it takes to charge your car all depends on the charger you use and the car itself, but bearing in mind that the average Australian vehicle travels less than 40km a day you’ll probably need to charge your electric vehicle less than you think.
Super fast DC chargers can have your car charged in 15-30 minutes, but more common models like those you might install at home will take a bit longer. Think of it like charging your phone when you go to bed. You can plug your car in when you get home and it will be ready and fully charged the following morning. As EV usage grows so will the charging infrastructure, meaning we’ll have more of the chargers that we need where we need them.
Electric vehicles and our environment
The move to EVs from petrol and diesel vehicles comes at a time when electricity generation in Australia is rapidly changing - fossil fuel power is becoming more expensive and unreliable, and Australia is fast moving to a renewable powered grid. Today’s grid is already 32% renewable but the Australian government has committed to 82% of the National Energy Market coming from renewables by 2030 and many experts think we will be out of coal entirely by 2032! This will see our electric vehicles running entirely on renewable power in the very near future!
Additionally we need to remember that most charging of electric vehicles will happen at home. Already 3 million households - a third of all the homes in Australia - have solar on their roof, with those numbers expected to continue rising rapidly. When EVs are combined with rooftop solar at homes and workplaces we can see EVs - running on sunshine - really do offer a better alternative to petrol and diesel!
It is estimated that the lifecycle emissions of EVs are about half of that of petrol and diesel cars, and getting smaller.
Image from Grattan Car Plan (2021)
As Australia’s energy grid rapidly transitions to one run on renewable energy (see previous question) the lifecycle emissions of an EV will continue to rapidly fall. In addition we need to contrast EVs with incredible environmental harm caused by the extraction and burning of oil each year. Recent research has shown that the weight of petrol or diesel burned is around 300-400 times that of the weight of raw metals lost in an electric vehicle's lifetime.
Finally, we know that our climate is changing and that we need to act fast to ensure that we reduce our impact on the planet. Transport is the third largest (and fastest growing) source of emissions in Australia - with cars, buses and vans contributing 11% of total emissions - so making rapid cuts to emissions from the transport sector is crucial to achieving a zero emissions economy.
The batteries in our electric vehicles generally have a longer warranty than the car itself, and it’s forecast that today’s batteries could last as long as 15 years. In addition, once batteries come to the end of their life for powering vehicles, they typically still retain 70-80% of their original capacity, meaning they are well suited to having a second life as storage for homes or business.
But as with everything we use, we need to ask what happens to that product after its life-span is over? The good news is that EV batteries are up to 97% recyclable, meaning that expensive resources such as cobalt, nickel and lithium can have a second life.
The need for large-scale battery recycling as we transition from dirty petrol vehicles to electric ones will increase significantly. While Australia does already have battery processing facilities, such facilities will need to be significantly scaled up. Just as we lag the rest of the world in putting limits on emissions from our vehicles, we also lag in regulating battery end of life. Greenpeace Australia Pacific is calling on the federal government to introduce strong measures to ensure manufacturers are responsible for end of life management of the EV batteries they produce.
The world has more than enough resources to fuel the energy transition, and indeed Australia already produces and has reserves for most of the minerals and metals needed to create batteries for electric vehicles. This means Australia has a significant opportunity to develop new industry, jobs and economic activity in the extraction and processing of these minerals, and potentially even the manufacture of electric vehicles themselves.
While mining and extraction of minerals - and therefore its environmental impact - will actually reduce overall in a renewable powered energy system when compared to our current based fossil fuel system, of course it is important that any extraction is carried out to the highest possible environmental and social standards.
Here in Australia it is crucial that all mining occurs with free prior and informed consent by Indigenous land owners, that benefits of any new mining are shared with workers and all Australians, and that high conservation value and carbon rich ecosystems are protected and preserved.
Global supply chains for a lithium-ion battery are complex, but we are seeing moves that are making it more difficult for human rights abuses and environmental damage to be hidden and rewarded. For example, the London Metal Exchange now requires producers working in high risk zones to prove that their products are responsibly sourced. And some companies and researchers are working to phase out the use of minerals like cobalt, which have been linked with human rights abuses. It is important that we as consumers continue to put pressure on car manufacturers to demand transparency from suppliers and only work with producers that follow the highest standards in battery production.
The role of recycled materials will also have an important role to play in reducing impacts of mining over time. While fossil fuels are burnt once, major battery inputs like lithium and copper can be recycled over and over again. Indeed, recycled materials have the potential to supply over half of the essential elements for new batteries by 2040 - even with a growth in electric vehicle uptake. Governments need to regulate the car manufacturing industry to ensure recycling and strong end of life systems are put in place and also fund research into new and more efficient battery technology that needs fewer mined minerals overall.