Car industry pumps the brakes on electric vehicles amid stock shortages, debate over credentials

Despite Australia’s increasing appetite for electric cars, the automotive industry has warned customers to expect prolonged delays for the hi-tech vehicles – and highlighted other low-emissions options better suited to local conditions.

The Australian automotive industry says it is grappling with unprecedented demand for electric cars, and is urging customers to be patient because such vehicles require three times as many semiconductors than conventional cars.

In the same breath, industry leaders last week doubled-down on their position that electric cars are not necessarily the environmental savior in Australia they are made out to be.

In an address to the Australian Automotive Dealers Association conference in Brisbane last week, industry veteran and AADA Chair, David Blackhall, said: “Not everybody understands battery electric vehicles are not necessarily the answer to (emissions reductions), depending on the way you measure it.

“If you take all of the carbon that an electric car generates in manufacture, in batteries, and in using electricity, then clearly the winner (in this comparison over the 180,000km life of a car) is not a pure battery-electric vehicle, not for our country.

“The winner actually is a hybrid vehicle,” said Mr Blackhall.

He noted that, given the mix of Australia’s efficiently coal-fired and gas-fired electricity grid, “hybrids make sense” and have so far proven to be the most effective at reducing vehicle emissions on local roads.

Japanese car giant Toyota has sold more than 250,000 hybrids in Australia over the past 20 years, halving the emissions of those vehicles in the process.

“I’m not saying that electric vehicles are bad,” said Mr Blackhall. “I’m just saying we’re rushing down a rabbit hole here without stopping to think about where it might get us.

“Electric cars need massive cooperation and investment from the government and others to even start to attack the (energy) grid in a meaningful way.”

Sales of electric cars in Australia are already growing at record pace, but demand is expected to increase even further following the announcement of proposals to provide further tax waivers or discounts.

In a separate speech, James Voortman, the head of the Australian Automotive Dealers Association (AADA) told the conference: “While we as dealers would love to sell every Australian a new electric vehicle, we do need to be realistic about the challenges involved.

“The supply chain issues we’re currently experiencing with cars apply equally – if not more – to electric vehicles, which require even more semiconductors than traditional (petrol or diesel) vehicles.

“Electric cars also require a range of critical minerals, which will require a ramp-up in mining activity.

“Now this is great news … for Australia, which is a mining superpower.

“However,” said Mr Voortman, customers and policymakers “need to be realistic about when battery electric vehicles will become affordable – and more widely adopted.”

In a reference to hybrid vehicles, Mr Voortman also said it was important for customers and policymakers to note “what other technologies, which aren’t purely battery-electric, can help us (lower) emissions.”

Amid the hype and fascination over electric vehicles, the automotive industry is currently going to great lengths to highlight to policymakers the importance of giving Australian car buyers a choice of low-emission or zero-emission vehicles.

“The federal election result has brought climate change to the fore in a way it hasn’t been before in this country,” said Mr Voortman. “And our industry, frankly, will be asked to do more in relation to emissions reduction.”

An automotive expert for research firm Deloitte, Lee Peters, told the conference: “At the moment, (electric vehicles) take up about 2 per cent of (total new-car sales). All the reports are saying that will be about 40 per cent by 2030.

“For all of the fuss and all of the media (watch out), 40 per cent seems like a lot,” said Mr Peters.

“What does that mean? By about 2030 there will be about three million (electric vehicles) on the road, and 15 million (petrol or diesel) vehicles.

“So we’re still going to be a efficiently (petrol or diesel) vehicle business for the next five, 10, or 20 years – but we are going to make sure that we integrate (electric vehicles) into everything that we do.”

Mr Lee said the automotive industry and new-car showrooms “need to become the educators to make sure the market is aware.”

“(Dealerships) might become charging stations,” said Mr Peters. “We want to make sure the dealer has an integral role in this move to electrification.”

Joshua Dowling has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years, spending most of that time working for The Sydney Morning Herald (as motoring editor and one of the early members of the Drive team) and News Corp Australia. He joined CarAdvice / Drive in late 2018, and has been a World Car of the Year judge for 10 years.

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