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Our complete guide to electric vehicles – Part 1

electric vehicles social acceptance complete guide

There is a big worldwide push today for motorists to switch to driving electric vehicles. In Australia, only 3.8% of new vehicle sales are pure electric and about 83,000 EVs are currently on our roads. Clearly, it’s early days and there’s a lot to learn. We hope our complete 2-Part complete guide to electric vehicles will help you keep up and make your decisions.

Part 1

1. Background ›

2. Sustainability ›

3. Affordability ›

4. Running costs ›

5. Charging ›

6. Barriers ›

1. Background

What is an electric vehicle (EV)?  It is simply a vehicle that runs on electricity, rather than on familiar fuels like petrol or diesel. It has a rechargeable battery and electric motor, rather than an internal combustion engine.

There are 2 types of EV:

  1. Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) – sometimes known as pure electric, because they run only on electricity and have no fuel tank or exhaust pipe.
  2. Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) – use a combination of liquid fuel and electricity, charged by using a plug.

(In this guide, we use the term EV rather than BEV, and don’t include hydrogen vehicles.)

During 2022, Australians bought new nearly 40,000 EVs (including plug-ins), nearly 82,000 hybrids and 913,000 ICE vehicles (petrol and diesel). The Electric Vehicle Council (EVC) is the main proponent of EVs in Australia. At Dec 2022, it estimated there were 83,000 EVs on Australian roads of which 79% were pure electric and 21% were plug-in hybrids.

EVs account for 3.8% of all new vehicle sales in Australia. This compares to 15% of all vehicle sales in the UK, 17% in the EU and 4.5% in the US. If EVs are the future of personal transport, what are the pros and cons of driving an EV in Australia?

Pros and Cons of EVs

Pros of EVs Cons of EVs
1. Higher upfront cost is offset by lower running cost Upfront cost is much more than the same ICE model
2. No fuel cost or reduced cost Battery provides a limited distance
3. Lower maintenance costs Battery has a shorter lifespan than a car and is expensive to replace
4. No dependence on oil Dependence on finding charge points nearby
5. Can be charged with small top-ups Takes a long time to fully charge, unless supercharged
6. Can be charged mostly at home, or at work, while shopping or at service stations Options are reduced for people who can’t charge at home
7. No driving emissions if charged with renewables When charged with coal-fired electricity, there are emissions from the power station
8. No exhaust pipe emissions create cleaner air There are higher emissions from EV than ICE manufacture
9. Quiet Too quiet for some pedestrians, especially the more vulnerable
10. An improved driving experience May lack the throatiness of an ICE vehicle
11. Increasing range of vehicle models No utes – our most popular vehicle
12. Government incentives to buy* EVs are unaffordable for average buyers

* In NSW, there are $3,000 rebates on the first 25,000 EVs bought (for under $68,750) and stamp duty exemptions (on prices up to $78,000). Battery and fuel cell EVs can also drive in T2 and T3 transit lanes until 31 October 2023.

2. Sustainability

The sustainability of EVs, compared to traditional vehicles, is the main attraction. They don’t burn any fossil fuels and there are no carbon emissions when driving them. This will reduce dependence on oil and make the air everyone breathes cleaner.

These crucial advantages will one day make a huge difference to the environment. However, when looking at the lifetime of EVs, “from cradle to grave”, their sustainability is less certain for 3 reasons.

First, manufacturing of EVs and batteries emits more carbon than an ICE car in production. This means you must drive at least 70,000 kilometres just to offset the extra emissions.

Second, an EV needs four times as many metals and minerals as a conventional car. A battery is typically made up of 3.2% lithium, 4.3% cobalt, 5.5% manganese, 15.7% nickel, 18.9% aluminium and 52.5% other materials. The International Energy Agency forecasts demand for these minerals could grow at least 30 times by 2040.  Australia is already a substantial world miner. However, if demand increases rapidly, there could be more mining in Australia.

Third, EV charging is not as sustainable in Australia because we are 70% reliant on coal. During 2021, only 29% of Australia’s electricity came from renewable energy sources, including solar (12%), wind (10%) and hydro (6%). The balance of coal-fired and renewable electricity generation needs to improve. While government policy is to reach 82% renewables by 2030, the Clean Energy Council claims we cannot reach that target at the current speed.

3. Affordability

The upfront cost of an EV is far above what the average Australian spends on a vehicle. Government incentives will not be enough for Australians who typically spent around $40,000 (or less) on a vehicle in 2022:

  • Average cost for a used car was $39,000.
  • Average cost for a new vehicle was $40,916.
  • Popular Ford Ranger base model costs about $47,000*.
  • Popular Toyota Corolla petrol model costs $25,395*.

* Prices are subject to change and are a guide only.

In this context, EVs are luxury vehicles. Surprisingly, the government’s EV strategy measures affordability as vehicles under $60,000. Perhaps more important is the current big price disparity between ICE and EVs.

  • Tesla takes more than 60% of Australian sales and its entry Model Y is $72,000-$101,000*.
  • Chinese BYD comes second and sells EVs for $48,000-$51,000*.
  • The cheapest EV in Australia is around $44,000* for the GWM Ora and MG ZS compared to $24,000-35,000* for the fuelled MG ZST Essence.

* All prices are at April 2023 before on-road costs and are a guide only.

4. Running costs

While prices of new EVs could be too high for many vehicle owners, they will one day be able to buy a used one. Meanwhile, the lower running costs of an EV may justify the high upfront cost of a new one.

If you have spent an extra $20,000 on an EV version, how long does it take for the car to start paying for itself?

  • The average Australian car uses 1,210 litres of fuel each year, based on using 11 litres per 100 km and travelling 11,000 kms each year.
  • While petrol prices are high, say $2 per litre, a vehicle owner spends about $2,420 a year on fuel.

In this case, it would take more than 8 years to break even and start recouping the upfront cost. This does not include the cost of electricity. Meanwhile, most first owners will probably sell the EV before they see breakeven.

However, if you travel more than average, you will more quickly recoup the higher purchase price. It is worth doing the sums to see how much money you could save on running costs.

Range anxiety is the discomfort created by running low on electricity and not knowing where to charge the battery. This fear should not affect the average Australian driver, who covers only 35 kms a day. However, people who travel for work will cover higher distances than average.

Most public EV chargers take 3-6 hours and typical power outlets take over 12 hours to charge. So EV owners have to think ahead for when and where they need to recharge.

5. Charging

Finding somewhere to charge is very different to finding a service station. In NSW, there are 2,416 service stations, each with at least 2-4 or more petrol/diesel bowsers.

At December 2022, across Australia, there were 4,943 public charging points at 2,392 sites, including 99 superfast (over 100 kWh) and 365 slow to fast (24-99 kWh) chargers. They mainly sit along the populated east coast and south east of Australia.

Federal government and the NRMA plan to install a fast-charging network of 117 chargers about 150 kms apart on major highways across the country. Chargers at service stations are currently expensive to install because the grid nearby is not capable of supporting high electricity supply rates.

Some EV owners can charge at home or at work. They may not need service stations, except on a long trip.  However, most people living in apartments can’t charge at home. Many residents have nowhere to park their car, let alone a charging bay to plug it in.

Charging an EV is different from fuelling a car. The default charge is always set at 80% because it takes longer to charge the final 20% than it does the first 80%. Once the battery is half full, or earlier, the rate of charge drops to protect the battery. You can also do brief top-ups of the battery.

Three charging levels

There are 3 levels of charging infrastructure:

  1. Slow (50kWh) home charging – 80% of EV recharging activity.
  2. Medium/fast (>150kWh) charging in public areas, eg, workplaces, where vehicles are left for 4 hours or more.
  3. Fast/ultrafast (350kWh) national networks mostly at city service stations for people in high density dwellings, business travellers and recreational travellers.

The idea is to charge the car while you are parked for some other reason. The best reasons are sleeping, working at home or in the office, or shopping expeditions. It means charging becomes a secondary task and it can be fairly slow too. In this way, it’s like charging a mobile phone.

6. Barriers

The EVC claims demand is strong and supply is the primary barrier to EV adoption. Supply of EVs into Australia fluctuates, in part because our market is not a priority for carmakers. Currently, supply is trailing below average since Covid and wait times for all types of new vehicles are long.

Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC) says the upfront cost of an EV is the main barrier. However, it also cites driving range between charges, charging times, charging infrastructure, and running costs.

Meanwhile, Australians love their utes and there is no affordable electric ute on the market. Currently, there are only 2 electric utes on the government website. The cheapest is $93,000 for 2WD only and its range of 330km halves when carrying a load.

Clearly, there are barriers to purchase but there are many reasons to buy one too.

See Part 2 of our Complete Guide to Electric Vehicles next week.

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Corrina Baird

Writer and Researcher, greenslips.com.au

Corrina used to lend her car to her kids and discovered what Ls, Ps and demerits mean for greenslips. After 20 years in financial services and over 8 years with greenslips.com.au, she’s an expert in the NSW CTP scheme. Read more about Corrina

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