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Some surprising facts about electric cars

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How many Australians bought electric cars last year? In the 12 months to January 2021, sales of electrified vehicles (hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric) increased by half, from 3,681 to 5,701. But an electrified vehicle is not the same as an electric vehicle. Here are some surprising facts about electric cars.

We’re buying hybrids not pure electric

Australians are mostly buying hybrids, not pure electrics. While Tesla does not supply figures, year to January 2021 sales of pure electric cars rose 2.5 times from 120 to 296. At the same time, sales of hybrid cars rose by half, from 3,473 to 5,247.

A hybrid vehicle draws off two power sources – battery power and internal combustion. (Fully electric cars use only battery power.) In Australia, we are most familiar with regular hybrids where the motor is the main source of power. That means a hybrid, while electrified, mostly runs on regular fuel. The most popular passenger car last year was the hybrid version of the Toyota RAV4 SUV.

The 2019 KPMG international survey of auto makers and consumers in 30 countries stated executives thought engines would outsell electric “for a very long time”. Even in 20 years’ time, they expected nearly half of vehicles to have a combustion engine and half of these would be regular hybrids. Manufacturers in North and South America, India and ASEAN said in 2019 they were focusing on regular hybrids rather than pure electric.

Charging stations might not be necessary

One reason why people like hybrids is because they reduce range anxiety, particularly when travelling in regional areas. This is why people always talk about the need for more charging stations. But for the majority of electric car owners, charging stations won’t even be necessary.

Commuters in towns will be able to charge at home or at work, or even in retail centres while they are doing their shopping. They wouldn’t need service stations unless they wanted to go on a long trip.

Meanwhile, there is pressure on service stations to install charging points. Some private companies are keen to install charging points but they don’t want to pay rent for the space. This doesn’t mean fuel companies are not interested. Shell, for example, has doubled the number of charging points at its stations in the UK.

Charging is different from refuelling

Charging a pure electric car is more complex than refuelling a petrol car. For example, the charging time is not fixed. It depends on the type of charger, car model, and how full the battery currently is.

There are also three levels of charger type found at different locations and with a specific purpose (eg, full charge or top up). So you need to know the location you are in has the type of charger with the purpose you need. This is one of the reasons why people might be put off buying a pure electric car. But this is the same with any new technology – we soon get used to it.

Electric thinking is different from petrol thinking

Petrol thinking says you wait until the fuel tank is starting to empty, then find a service station and fill it up again. With a pure electric then, you wait until you are low on charge, and then fast charge the battery to 100%.

This is wrong. The default charge is always set at 80%. This is because it takes much longer to charge the final 20% than it does the first 80%. In fact, the official charging rates apply only at the start of the charging session. Once the battery is half full, or earlier, the rate of charge always drops to protect the battery.

Electric thinking is different. 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 going for an extended shopping spree. It means charging becomes a secondary task and it can be fairly slow too. In this way, it’s not unlike charging a mobile phone.

EVs may stabilise the grid

The Future Fuels discussion paper just released by the federal government says it will be asking energy agencies to consider ways to handle potential congestion on the grid. This implies that if too many drive a pure electric, there won’t be enough electricity to deal with it.

However, this is not the whole picture. Pure electrics have bi-directional charging – you can plug the battery into the grid to take energy or to add it back. Pure electrics could stabilise the grid as well as making it cheaper overall to run the vehicle

A NZ study by their energy provider stated that even if they did spend to expand the grid, the costs were more than outweighed by owners of pure electrics contributing back to the grid.

Our favourite cars are not electric

The biggest surprise would be if we started to prefer pure electrics.

We still love our Utes and SUVs. Four Utes were in the top 10 sales last year: Toyota Hilux first, Ford Ranger second and Mitsubishi Triton and Isuzu D-Max seventh and eighth. The top 10 also included Mazda CX-5 SUV and Toyota Rav4 SUV.

Registrations of hybrids and pure electrics are still small:

  At 31 December 2020 At 31 December 2019
Total registered vehicles 6,858,554 6,707,984
Hybrid and pure electric 68,871 (1%) 47,389 (0.7%)

Government ministers recently said they were supporting “a natural uptake” of electric cars rather than trying to “force” Australians out of the “cars they love”.

The government is not going to help you buy one

While the government’s Net Zero policy is supposed to encourage people to buy pure electrics, the Future Fuels strategy has no direct encouragement to do so. There are no plans to introduce:

  • Direct financial help for motorists to buy them
  • Targets for electric car sales (even though governments typically use targets)
  • Minimum fuel emissions standards (See Mixed messages about fuel emissions).

Yet lots of other countries use subsidies and incentives. For example, in Germany, you are offered $14,000 to buy pure electrics for under $62,800 and some manufacturers lease them for less than $100 per month. SUVs are taxed at higher rates.

Here in Australia, according to the Energy Minister, we can still choose which type of car we drive and the government is continuing to support us in this decision. This suggests there is currently full support for Utes and SUVs.

CTP insurance costs the same for a pure electric

You might expect CTP to be cheaper for a pure electric, but it is not. Part of the reason is there is insufficient information about the risks of these vehicles and their drivers on Australian roads.

However, your CTP greenslip is cheaper if you have a new, safe vehicle and you maintain a good driving history. So driving a new pure electric could make your CTP cheaper, if you usually drive an older petrol car.

Corrina Baird

Writer and expert greenslips.com.au

Corrina used to lend her car to her kids and discovered first hand what Ls, Ps and demerits mean for greenslips. After 20 years of writing and research in financial services, she’s an expert in the NSW CTP scheme. Read more about Corrina

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