The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email.
Secondhand cars listed for tens of thousands more dollars than new cars. Batches of vehicles selling out in minutes. Monthslong wait times.
Welcome to Australia’s electric vehicle market.
“With the fuel prices, everything’s gone crazy,” said William McVicar, a retiree in Brisbane. He and his wife started thinking about buying an electric vehicle last year but put it on the back burner, thinking they would have plenty of time to get around to it.
“We realized we made a terrible mistake. We should have done it then,” he said. Now, everyone they know is talking about getting one, wait lists for new cars have shot up and waiting times have blown out by months.
With soaring oil prices and supply chain constraints, getting your hands on an electric vehicle right now is a challenge in many countries. But the shortage is particularly severe in Australia, where these pressures are compounded by what experts and industry advocates say is a lack of incentives for manufacturers to increase supply to Australia.
“EV producers don’t tend to prioritize Australia because Australia hasn’t prioritized EV adoption and doesn’t have a strong set of incentives like other countries,” said Paul Burke, Head of the Arndt-Corden Department of Economics at the Australian National University.
Australia’s electric vehicle market is still small but growing. Last year, 20,000 of them were sold here, triple that of 2020, and representing about 2 percent of the new-vehicle market share, according to the Electric Vehicle Council of Australia.
In the past few years, the price of such cars has fallen, their range distance has increased, charging stations have become more common across Australia, and people are generally more aware of electric vehicles, according to experts and industry advocates, although price remains a significant barrier.
Carmakers and sellers say demand has skyrocketed in the past few months.
On a recent Saturday, Rob Ogilvie had people lining up at the electric vehicle showroom he runs in Canberra. “People are queuing up to talk about EVs,” he said. “That’s the level it’s got to.”
It’s a marked change from when he opened his showroom, Ion DNA in 2018, the first one in Australia dedicated to electric vehicles. Back then, it was “pretty lonely,” he said.
These days, he said, “Even my most, dare I say it, V8-driving, VB-drinking mates all believe in climate change now, and they’re saying ‘What can we do?’”
Anthony Broese van Groenou, co-founder of Good Car Co, a social enterprise which buys secondhand EVs in bulk to resell, says that after a natural disaster like a wildfire or flood, he usually sees a huge influx of inquiries. Adding surging fuel prices to the mix means he has seen inquiries increase fivefold, he said.
“We’re totally over capacity, and need to employ more staff to service demands,” he said.
Good Car Co has partnerships with manufacturers to sell their vehicles, he said, but no new vehicles are flowing in right now because manufacturers are not allocating any additional stock to Australia.
The government has said that the coronavirus pandemic has created global supply chain problems affecting the supply of cars worldwide, both electric and gasoline powered. A representative for Angus Taylor, the energy minister, said that the government’s manufacturing strategy “is actively looking to overcome these global constraints and strengthen local production,” noting that the government had committed $2 billion to its fuels and vehicles strategy to make it easier for Australians to switch to electric cars.
But industry advocates and experts say that supply will not improve without a change in government policy.
“Unlike other countries, we don’t have mandatory fuel efficiency standards, we don’t have an adoption target for EVs,” said Professor Burke, the ANU expert.
Without such measures, there is little incentive for manufacturers to send more cars to Australia rather than to countries where they face requirements to meet fuel efficiency standards or, in places like the EU, to avoid penalties imposed on manufacturers whose car fleet exceed specific emission targets in a given year.
Without a policy change, said Mr. Broese van Groenou, Australia will become “the dumping ground of polluting vehicles. Because they’re not going to be sold anywhere but to those suckers at the end of the world.”
Now for this week’s stories.