EV World Road Trip Reveals an Australian Market in the Slow Lane | Ambient

When the recent electric vehicle summit began, Dr. Jake Whitehead was sitting on a plane somewhere over the Indian Ocean.

The conference was intended as a reset to overcome nearly a decade of Australia’s policy inertia on electric vehicles and road transport under the previous coalition government, but Whitehead, head of policy at the Electric Vehicle Council, was on vacation.

It had been a dream trip for a longtime electric vehicle researcher: three separate stints over thousands of miles in three different countries with his partner, all in electric or hybrid vehicles.

As his colleagues shook hands and listened to keynote speeches, Whitehead was getting first-hand insight into what the rest of the world had been up to on the electric vehicle front during the two years that Australia closed its borders with the rest of the world. of the world.

“You can read all you want online, but it’s not until you’re there and you can do the comparison that you can see what’s really going on here in Australia,” he says.

“It’s amazing to see how far these countries have come.”

The electric journey began with a two-day layover in Los Angeles, where the pair checked out the new Ford F-150 Lightning and Rivian R1T electric vehicles not yet available in Australia.

They then headed north for a 2,500km drive through the Canadian wilderness to Banff in a Tesla Model Y. From there, they moved on to Iceland, where they rented a plug-in hybrid 4×4 when the Fagradalsfjall volcano began to enter rash. For the final leg they flew to Sweden, where Whitehead’s wife rented a luxurious Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo for her birthday.

Along the way, Whitehead says he couldn’t help but make mental notes: In the US, Volkswagen’s charging subsidiary Electrify America was building a vast charging network in easily accessible places like Ikea and Starbucks parking lots. . In Vancouver, car sharing schemes allowed people to temporarily use cars, including electric vehicles. In Europe, Tesla had opened its charging network to the public, meaning anyone could use it.

A silver Porsche EV charges at a Tesla charging station
In Europe, Tesla has opened up its network of charging stations to the public, meaning anyone could use it. Cinematography: Jessica Whitehead

“I lived in Europe for six years but hadn’t been back for five years and the change has been huge,” says Whitehead. “Wherever you go, you see electric vehicles. You go to the supermarket, there are electric vehicles there. Go to the beach, there are electric vehicles. Driving down the highway? electric vehicles

But it was in Sweden that he noticed the biggest changes. There were electric cars at the airport and when Whitehead went to visit his friends, they couldn’t understand his interest in his vehicles.

“He would show up and say, ‘Oh, you have an electric vehicle,’” he says.

“They were like, ‘Yeah, so what?’”

It’s an experience about to be shared by many Australians: Over the past decade, the country’s politicians may have dragged electric cars into culture wars, but in the two years Australia spent in lockdown during the pandemic, the world has changed.

And as futures outlined in government planning documents reveal, other countries have begun to reshape urban landscapes in remarkable ways, hinting at what may come at home.

The EV road ahead

In 2012, only 120,000 electric vehicles were sold worldwide; today, that issue sells out every week.

According to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2022, electric cars accounted for more than 8% of the global new car market, or about 6.5 million cars in 2021.

Australia represents only a fraction of these. In 2021, 20,065 electric cars were sold, which is a threefold increase from the 6,900 cars sold in 2020, but is still a rounding error compared to figures reported abroad.

The way the rest of the world kept moving while Australia fell into a time warp is largely due to good foreign policy.

In 2021, the International Energy Agency, a deeply conservative institution created to monitor global oil supplies, released a report that found the world needed more than two-thirds of all new car sales globally to be electric by 2030. , and more than 3 billion electric cars on track by 2050 to reach net zero.

Despite Australia’s political leadership continuing to tiptoe around a potential ban or planned phase-out of internal combustion engines, several countries, states, cities and companies have announced a deadline for an end to gasoline and diesel cars. .

Among the most ambitious is Norway, which will ban the sale of gasoline cars from 2025. Others, such as the EU member states, the United Kingdom, Canada and the US state of California, have chosen to ban new vehicles with combustion engine by 2035. Even China has its own plan.

Such jurisdictions are helping people go electric. Until recently, the UK government offered grants for low-emission passenger vehicles, among other incentives for EV drivers, such as zero vehicle excise duties.

Although the ambition of such policies could be debated, the resulting uptake of EVs in the UK is a stark contrast to the lagging Australian market: as of July 2022, 127,492 UK-registered cars were battery electric vehicles, vs. to 85,032 cars in the UK. same time in 2021.

As sales grew, the government’s attention turned to infrastructure.

There is better bike infrastructure in the middle of the Dutch countryside than anywhere else in this country.

By far the fastest progress has been made in the Scandinavian countries. In Norway, the transition began in 1990 when the A-ha gang engaged in civil disobedience by driving around the country in a homemade electric vehicle refusing to pay tolls and parking tickets. Since then, the country has introduced a set of policies that cut VAT rates, offer free parking and charging, and other incentives that have also been introduced in neighboring countries.

In January this year, sales of electric vehicles accounted for 83.7% of all new vehicles registered in Norway, in July it was 70.7%.

Jake Whitehead sits in a red Rivian electric UTE with the driver's door open
Jake Whitehead on a Rivian R1T electric ute in Los Angeles during his recent EV world road trip. Cinematography: Jessica Whitehead

While Australia debated whether electric vehicles were feasible, widespread adoption in places like Norway and Sweden has made them part of the process, though some countries have gone even further.

On a trip to the Netherlands in May, Tom Swann, a climate advocate for Project Sunrise, said he was “stunned” at how the country had “put cars in their place”.

“I got off the train at Amsterdam Centraal and felt like I had landed in a cycling utopia,” said Swann. “More bikes than humans. Barges on the river, full of racks that will be used to store even more bikes.”

“There is better bike infrastructure in the middle of the Dutch countryside than anywhere else in this country.”

Catch up with the rest of the world

“When you go back to Australia, you always have the feeling that you’re going back in time,” says Whitehead.

When he landed in Brisbane, Whitehead says the “first and biggest contrast” he noticed was that there was no option for an electric taxi at the airport.

Outside the terminal, the pistons of waiting cars were shooting out expensive imported oil, and the smell of exhaust wafted through the air.

“You can hear it. You can smell it,” she says. “For me, the most important thing is actually the impact on the air around me. I am aware that I am breathing these fossil fuels that have been burned in an engine.”

“But then I don’t have an alternative. What I am going to do? Walk home?”

Dr Whitehead says the recent EV summit has raised hopes that Australia might now be getting their act together, but it would still take “three or four years” to see real change.

“If nothing changes, we won’t reach Sweden’s current level in 20 years,” he says. “It’s not like the rest of the world is sitting around and waiting for us to catch up.”

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