No one's buying electric cars in Australia – so maybe we can let them drive in bus lanes

Tesla Model S’s travel charger plugged in. (Source: Tony Yoo)

Australia is lagging behind in electric vehicle ownership while some countries are streaking ahead, with a new report calling on more local incentives to convince car buyers to make the switch.

In China, sales of electric cars increased 80% in September compared to last year, reports the South China Morning Post, and that was after a 76% spike in August.

Meanwhile, in Norway electric vehicles are 23% of new car purchases, according to the Electric Vehicle Council, with France at 1.4% and even the USA seeing 0.7%.

But in Australia, just 0.1% of new car sales are electric – 1,108 out of the 1.1 million new vehicles sold in 2015.

“The electric vehicle industry is surging internationally. Australia simply needs to decide whether it wants to share in the benefits,” said Electric Vehicle Council chief executive Behyad Jafari.

A new report by the policy think tank the Australia Institute, points out cars currently emit 10% of Australia’s total carbon emissions, with each vehicle emitting more on average than in Europe.

Jafari said electric cars also free the country from a dependence on foreign fuel.

“At the moment, a major international crisis could see Australia’s road-based transport fleet seize up within weeks,” he said.

“Shifting to an electric vehicle fleet will bring savings to consumers and a healthier, cleaner environment.”

The Australia Institute’s If You Build It, They Will Charge report, released this week, blamed a lack of government incentives for the low take-up of electric vehicles.

“An electric vehicle purchaser in California could earn both a federal tax credit of US$7,500 and a US$2,500 bonus payment from the state. In Australia, no such bonus schemes exist,” the report read.

The Australia Institute recommended four ways Australia could accelerate adoption of electric cars:

Waive the luxury car tax

Currently the only concession electric and hybrid vehicles have in Australia is that the price threshold when the luxury car tax kicks in is slightly higher than for normal cars — $75,526 compared to $65,094. The report recommends all electric vehicles be exempt from the tax, to lower the upfront cost for buyers.

Unrestricted bus and transit lane use

Norway allows all electric vehicles to freely use high-occupancy lanes – road lanes dedicated to public transport or for cars with multiple passengers. Such a policy could be policed by giving electric cars a differently coloured number plate.

Norway also allows electric cars to drive on toll roads for free, pay no parking fees anywhere and avoid consumption tax and annual registration charges, although the report does not recommend this for Australia.

Boost charging station rollout

Australia’s long distances mean stranded without a means of fast-charging is a genuine concern for many car buyers. For example, Business Insider this year drove a Tesla from Sydney to Orange this year and had to leave it plugged in for two days to safely make the return journey.

But charging stations are expensive to build and maintain. The Australia Institute report recommends offering grants to companies willing to construct charging stations, citing the 75% rebate offered in the US state of New Hampshire as a guide.

Carbon pricing

A carbon pricing system would naturally reduce the cost of electric vehicles compared to conventional cars, making it more attractive for potential buyers. France has a scheme that subsidises green vehicles with revenue from higher emissions cars, although the report notes a balance needs to be achieved if such a system is to be self-funding.

NOW READ: I used Tesla Autopilot to drive from Sydney to Orange, and it was both terrifying and comforting


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