Features Australia

Virtue-signalling to the left in your new EV

Electric vehicles are on the road to nowhere

24 April 2021

9:00 AM

24 April 2021

9:00 AM

Picture the scene. It’s during one of the pre-polling weeks prior to the 2019 federal election. The electorate covers both regional areas and city suburbs and the local Liberal member is handing out how-to-vote cards.

A large bloke wearing a fluoro vest parks his Toyota HiLux (Australia’s highest selling vehicle). He quickly approaches the local member. The local member wonders whether this encounter will go well.

‘You’ve got my vote, mate. Have you seen that crap from Labor about electric vehicles? Someone needs to tell Shorten he’s dreamin’.’

Recall that one of the numerous election promises made by Labor during that campaign was that 50 per cent of all new vehicle purchases in 2030 would be EVs. We never learnt how that was going to be achieved, but given that less than 1 per cent of new car sales in Australia in 2020 were EVs, it really was a completely impossible (and insane) dream.

Bear in mind, even in the UK and Europe, where EVs receive obscene levels of subsidies, only 10 per cent of new car sales last year were EVs. And dopey Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the UK, still thinks he can have all car sales in the UK EVs by 2035.

In the US, the home of Tesla, only 2 per cent of car sales are EVs, and this is in the context of up to $US10,000 of federal support for their purchase as well as subsidies for the construction and running of charging stations.

Picture another scene then. It’s one of the carparks of the largest shopping centres in Melbourne. In a prime position, there’s an entire row devoted to electric cars with charging stations available should the batteries run a tad low.

But here’s the thing: I’ve never seen a car parked there since the glitzy Tesla showroom located in the shopping centre closed down. There had been a few demo models occupying these bays but these have been moved on to who knows where.

Those Tesla salespersons might have tried to sell the dream – save the planet, economise on maintenance costs, impress your friends – but at a minimum price of $67,000 for the base Model 3, the pitch clearly fell on plenty of deaf ears.

And let’s face it, if you are trying to impress your friends, the base model probably won’t do. You need to go for the high-end Model S priced at $190,000, plus on-costs.

While the EV companies haven’t done a very good job in Australia of getting consumers to actually part with their cash to buy an overpriced automobile with range anxiety an added feature, they have been much more successful working their PR magic with motoring journalists.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking: motoring journalists are about as low as you can go on the journalistic totem pole – well, apart from Jeremy Clarkson.

But the strategy of the companies is to reel in these journalists with all sorts of contestible guff about tons of carbon emissions saved, improving charging times and distances, lower prices in the future and the need for government incentives (read big fat subsidies for rich EV owners as well as government-funded charging stations).

They write lovingly about companies such as Volkswagen and General Motors committing exclusively to EVs in the future. (We will see.) They write glowingly about Norway, which is the size of a handkerchief compared with Australia, and the massive subsidies that have been handed out to EV owners – think zero registration, zero road tolls, access to bus lanes and multiple free charging stations.

It’s now costing the Norwegian government close to $US1 billion in foregone revenue, so it’s not surprising that some rethinking is going on. The overseas experience is clear on this point: any cuts to EV subsidies quickly lead to a significant drop-off in the demand for EVs.

Let’s mention here that these subsidies are highly regressive – it is overwhelmingly high-income owners who purchase EVs, often as second cars. (When a long trip is planned, it is the petrol/diesel car that’s used – the owners aren’t that stupid.)

Somewhat amazingly, the Victorian government has actually shown some common sense when it comes to EVs, suggesting that these vehicles should be taxed on a per kilometre basis to provide some equivalence for the fuel excise that other car owners pay to use the roads.

Needless to say, this move by the Victorian government induced an avalanche of objections from the usual suspects, including Trent Zimmerman (don’t even go there). But weirdly, the Australian Industry Group publicly stated that it didn’t like the imposition of tax-neutrality for EVs. (OK, that’s not really weird. AiG, along with all the other business groups, are almost invariably woeful, woke advocates for bad public policy.)

Its chief executive, Innes Willox, claimed that the tax was ‘putting the cart before the horse and should not be implemented until clean vehicles are better established. Our slow uptake of clean vehicles is holding back national progress towards emissions targets – and increasing the pressure on every other part of the economy to deliver cuts.’

In these few sentences, he demonstrates his pig-ignorance of the issues at hand. Let’s be clear, subsiding EVs on the basis of lower emissions is an extraordinarily inefficient and expensive thing to do. At most, EVs will save between 6 and 10 tons of emissions, after the construction of the vehicle is taken into account.

And note here that most batteries are produced in China using coal as the energy source. This means that one quarter of the typical emissions of a petrol/diesel-powered car are generated at this point for EVs with China-sourced batteries.

Taking the average subsidies to EVs, it turns out that the cost of abatement for EVs can be up to 120 times higher than what can be achieved in the electricity sector. As Faith Birol, head of the International Energy Agency (and no climate sceptic) has stated: ‘If you think you can save the climate with electric cars, you’re completely wrong.’

The bottom line is that EVs are a road to nowhere at this point of time.  They may give their high-income owners a sense of smug satisfaction that they are doing right by the planet, but it’s just a grift by another name.

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