One big problem with Anthony Albanese’s electric vehicles push
Labor’s new masterplan to turn Australia’s roads green is set to fill showrooms with cars that no-one really wants – while ignoring our biggest-selling vehicles, the humble tradie’s ute.
The National Electric Vehicle Strategy, announced last week, will set fuel emission limits on all new vehicles. Car makers will be allowed to average those out across their entire range, with low-emission EVs compensating for gas-guzzling SUVs.
Energy minister Chris Bowen believes the strategy will give manufacturers an incentive to flood the market with cheaper electric cars to spark a revolution on Australia’s roads.
But the nation’s most popular vehicles are fuel-smoking utes – with the Toyota HiLux consistently topping Australia’s vehicle sales charts since 2016 and the Ford Ranger ute close behind.
Even motor dealers warn Australia’s unique market will struggle to convince car manufacturers to bring electric utes – and many other EV models – Down Under.
Just one electric ute is currently on the market in Australia, and despite the potential popularity, they are still set to be niche sales in a niche market for car manufacturers.
Labor’s National Electric Vehicle Strategy (or NEVS) ignores the fact that Australia’s biggest sellers are utes – and there are barely any EV utes on the market worldwide, never mind in Australia
NEVS will set fuel emission limits on new vehicles – and is set to let car makers average those out across their entire range, with low-emission EVs compensating for gas-guzzling SUVs
Energy minister Chris Bowen believes the move will give manufacturers an incentive to flood the market with cheaper electric cars
‘We’re not top of their list,’ said Geoff Gwilym, CEO of the Motor Trades Association of Australia. ‘We’re not even one per cent of vehicle sales in the global market.
‘If you’re making left-hand drive utes in the US, there are lots of markets you can put them in before you even think about a small right-hand-drive market like ours.’
The government proposal – which has been put out to the industry for discussion – comes as vehicles belch out 10 per cent of the Australia’s CO2 pollution every year.
Australia lags far behind the UK, Europe and even the USA for EV take-up, although local EV sales boomed in the first quarter of 2023, up 90 percent from Q4 2022.
Medium-sized EVs outsold their petrol or diesel-powered rivals for the first time, sales data from the Australian Automobile Association reveals.
But utes remain the first choice for Australian vehicle buyers, with more than one in five of every new vehicle sold in the country last year being a tradie’s workhorse.
‘It’s all very well giving buyers more choice – but if buyers want a ute, it doesn’t matter many electric sedans and SUVs there are to choose from,’ said one industry insider.
Australian company ACE has been developing its Yewt ute (pictured) for several years but it has limited capabilities and is more suited to light deliveries than heavy-duty tradie work
Elon Musk’s much-hyped Tesla Cybertruck (pictured) still hasn’t launched in the USA, years after it was first revealed in 2019, and may not meet Australian safety standards when it does
UTES DOMINATE VEHICLE SALES
Three utes topped the list of best-selling vehicles in Australia last month, with a fourth sneaking in to round out the top ten, as they continued to dominate the market.
The total sales of the top three utes – the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger and Isuzu D-Max – were more than the next six vehicles combined, with sales up massively year on year.
But for the second month in a row, the next best-selling vehicle after utes or SUVs was a Tesla, with the Model Y coming fifth in March, after the Model 3 took third spot in February behind the Ranger and HiLux.
Not a single traditional sedan made it into the top 10 for March, ending Australia’s love affair with saloon cars for long-haul drives across the country.
MARCH 2023 TOP TEN SALES
1. Toyota Hi-Lux (4583)
2. Ford Ranger (4508)
3. Isuzu Ute D-Max (2789)
4. Mitsubishi Outlander (2169)
5. Tesla Model Y (1938)
6. Mazda CX-5 (1917)
7. Subaru Forester (1881)
8. MG ZS (1844)
9. Toyota RAV4 (1778)
10. Isuzu Ute MU-X (1745)
NO CHOICE FOR BUYERS
There is currently just one electric ute on the market in Australia, the LDV eT60, and little prospect of others launching soon.
Even Tesla’s much-hyped Cybertruck still hasn’t launched in the USA, years after it was first revealed in 2019, and it may not meet Australian safety standards when it does.
Toyota has teased the possibility of launching low-emission hybrid SUVs and utes within the next two years but so far they have largely avoided the battery EV market.
Battery technology currently limits the load and range capabilities of utes which is restricting any potential take-up. While EVs have power to spare, their range can drop dramatically when heavily loaded.
Costs are also still high in the early-adopter phase of the EV revolution, with vehicles often costing up to double their conventionally-powered equivalent.
Australian company ACE has been developing its Yewt ute for several years and is now taking orders, but admits it has limited capabilities and is more suited to light deliveries than heavy-duty tradie work.
Its range is said to be under 200km with just a partial load. It takes seven seconds to reach 50km/h, with a maximum speed of 100km/h, and a max load of 500kg.
Chinese firm Rivian also has a right-hand drive ute in the works – but the left-hand version on sale in the USA has a hefty $104,000 price tag. An Australian model will probably be even more expensive.
MTAA’s CEO told Daily Mail Australia he had stressed to Mr Bowen that Australia’s motor industry was unique and needed a uniquely Australian solution.
‘Australia isn’t Europe. We’re not America. We’re not even similar to much of Canada,’ Mr Gwilym said after meeting the minister in Canberra for the strategy’s launch.
‘What we can’t afford to do is to pick up a fuel emission standard from another country and assume it’ll just fit neatly in Australia.
‘The single biggest sector of vehicles that we buy are four wheel drives and SUVs We’re relatively unique, we’re certainly nothing like Europe.
‘That means that when you set standards – and people want to drive those sorts of cars – you have to make sure that people don’t have to squeeze themselves out of a big SUV or four-wheel drive drive into a very small Euro four-seater that you can’t get a box of cherries into.’
FUEL EFFICIENCY ‘DOESN’T MATTER’
Even the lure of electric vehicles’ cheaper running costs and near-zero servicing fees has been dismissed as any temptation for ute owners, a recent study found.
While the HiLux and Ranger are the biggest-sellers in Australia, other utes – also fuelled by petrol or diesel – are much cheaper to run, but less popular.
The Ute Beauty study found ute drivers could collectively cut 436,600 tonnes of carbon emissions and save $210 million in fuel costs across five years if they swapped their current utes for the most fuel-efficient model on the market.
The Chinese-made LDV eT60 is currently the only EV ute on the market in Australia and featured in a recent photoshoot with Labor energy minister Chris Bowen (pictured)
The trusty tradie’s workhorse, the Toyota HiLux (pictured), has been Australia biggest-selling vehicle since 2016
The Ford Ranger (pictured) is close behind the Toyota HiLux and was the nation’s biggest-seller in March
The report named the 2022 Mazda BT-50 Dual Cab and the 2015 Nissan Navara D23 as the most efficient utes in Australia, with the Mazda spewing out 20 per cent less pollution than its equivalent from Mitsubishi.
HOW TAX BREAKS BOOSTED UTE SALES
For years, Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons vied for top spot in Australian car sales, but the end of local manufacturing coincided with a seachange in public buying habits.
From 2010, the Toyota Camry and Mazda 3 briefly replaced them until car buyers opted for SUVs and utes instead. Since 2016 the Toyota HiLux has dominated the sales charts.
The HiLux, and utes in general, were given a huge boost in 2020 when the Coalition government brought in a tax break which allowed tradies to buy a new ute and offset up to $59,136 of its purchase price against their tax in a single financial year, instead of depreciating it over eight.
The temporary tax break – now worth up to $64,741 – has remained on the books ever since, helping to bump up sales and keep utes topping the sales charts – but is set to end this year, unless Labor extend it in next month’s budget.
‘This research shows there are more efficient options available, which means lower household petrol bills and also lower emissions,’ said Dr Jennifer Rayner of the Climate Council.
‘But the popularity of really big, really expensive-to-run utes like the HiLux suggests Australians aren’t always putting petrol or emissions front-of-mind when they’re buying new vehicles.’
OPENING THE EV MARKET
New car buyers are currently limited to about eight models of electric vehicle in Australia – with Tesla easily dominating the market.
But overseas buyers have a much wider variety of EVs currently available to them with models from VW, Ford, Honda and others yet to be seen Down Under.
‘The cheapest EV here is about $42,000, so that also has to change,’ NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury told Daily Mail Australia.
‘The new government policy is about ensuring manufacturers open the Australian market up to the same low emission and EV options the rest of the world is getting.’
Australia is one of only four countries which does not already have fuel emission standards set down in law, alongside Russia, Indonesia and Japan.
The proposed new standards are also expected to deliver improved fuel efficiency in conventional petrol and diesel cars.
New cars in Australia currently use 40 per cent more fuel than the European Union, 20 per cent more than the United States, and 15 per cent more than New Zealand.
The government stresses that the legislation will only apply to new cars and not be applied retrospectively to existing vehicles.
The new proposals were launched in Canberra on Wednesday and Mr Bowen stressed: ‘Transport is the third largest source of emissions in Australia.
Australia is one of only four countries which does not already have fuel emission standards set down in law, alongside Russia, Indonesia and Japan.
‘This strategy will help cut our emissions by at least 3 million tonnes of carbon by 2030, and over 10 million tonnes to 2035.
‘Australian governments, car makers, motoring clubs, climate groups, businesses and unions were all on board with getting cleaner and cheaper cars to Australia.’
But the strategy was branded a ‘feel-good cash splash’ by the Australian Taxpayers Alliance who said it ignores the diesel-powered trucks and buses which create most pollution.
‘It is a plan to subsidise the purchase of electric vehicles for wealthy Australians, at the expense of everyday taxpayers,’ said a spokesman.
‘The government plan will have little effect on the price of electric vehicles, and there is little evidence that it will do much to reduce carbon emissions.’
But Mr Bowen insisted: ‘This strategy delivers on our commitment to provide greater choice for Australians to drive cars that are cleaner and cheaper to run.
‘This strategy provides the coordination and leadership to drive down costs and improve infrastructure so that we get more affordable and accessible electric vehicles on the market.’
‘LONG WAY TO GO’
The NRMA welcomed the new policy plan and stressed Australia is just at the start of the EV revolution, and it will take years for the country to catch up with the rest of the developed world.
‘We’re nowhere near where we need to be,’ said Mr Khoury. ‘As a nation, we’ve only really started ramping up the EV network in recent years.
‘We’ve got a long way to go, particularly in regional areas.
‘We’re not even close to giving people the sense of certainty and assurance that they want if they’re going to go out and buy an electric vehicle.
‘We need to keep investing in charging infrastructure to give people confidence that they’re not going to be left stranded.’
THE EV UTES AUSTRALIA MAY SEE
The Japanese giant has steadfastly avoided bringing pure electric cars to the market up to now and focused on hybrids instead. That is set to change in the next two years with some battery electric cars now in the pipeline, but the workhorse HiLux is unlikely to go full electric any time soon. However, Sean Hanley, Toyota Australia’s vice-president of sales, recently admitted a potential hybrid HiLux was ‘quite conceivable’.
The sharp-angled Cybertruck may struggle to meet Australian safety standards – if Elon Musk ever gets round to actually putting it into production. It’s been in the pipeline since 2019 and is in danger of being branded vaporware unless it comes to market soon. Pre-order options have been removed from the Australian Tesla website, but there is speculation a smaller redesigned version may – one day – be available outside the US.
The sharp-angled Tesla Cybertruck (pictured) may struggle to meet Australian safety standards – if it ever goes into production
Already on sale and featured in a recent photo opportunity with energy minister Chris Bowen but yet to make any impact with most ute buyers. Its $92,260 sticker price – twice the price of its Chinese-made diesel-powered T60 stablemate – belies the fact it is rear-wheel drive only, lacking the four-wheel option most ute buyers look for. But it does have a range of up to 350km and is capable of carrying 980kg.
FORD F150 LIGHTNING
The massive F150 has been transformed into an all-electric behemoth in the US, but is unlikely to be converted to right-hand drive and shipped over here, say insiders. It’s only just gone on sale outside of the USA for the first time, in left-hand drive Norway where EV take-up is the highest in the world and 80 per cent of all new vehicles are electric. Incredibly though, despite its huge size – 2.5m wide, 2m high and almost 6m long – the Lightning can only carry a 1050kg payload.
The massive Ford F150 Lightning – 2.5m wide, 2m high and almost 6m long – is unlikely to be converted to right-hand drive and shipped over here, say insiders
GWM HAVAL EV UTE CANNON
The EV version of the Chinese ute is still in development after it was first touted at the 2019 Shanghai Motor Show. Once it finally goes into production, with a promised 500km range from the two-wheel drive variant, GWM has vowed to bring it to Australia as part of its brand-building drive.
GMC HUMMER EV
Huge EV, huge cost – with a $160,000 sticker price in the US for the top of the range, three-motor version which can catapult well-heeled tradies up to 100km/h in three seconds, with exceptional off-road capabilities. But that price tag means the market for it is small – and probably far too niche to make it worthwhile to convert to a right hand drive for Australia.
The GMC Hummer EV comes with a $160,000 sticker price in the US for the top of the range model with a 0-100km/h time of just three seconds, close to Formula One pace
The quaintly-initialised Chinese-made Build Your Dreams brand has promised to develop an EV ute for the Australian market and flagged it will be ready to go on sale next year – but so far they are keeping all details under wraps. Like their current range of EV cars though, it is likely to be keenly-priced.
Most likely to be seen soon on Australian roads, this joint venture backed by Ford and Amazon already has a right-hand drive version and is tipped to arrive Down Under in 2024. It boasts impressive stats, capable of towing almost 5000kg and smashing 0-100km/h in just 3.3 seconds. It’s also set to have a hefty price tag though, with its price in the US currently a shade off $100,000.
The Rivian R1T is a joint venture from Ford and Amazon and already has a right hand drive version with a model expected to hit Australia in 2024 – but at a high price