The ACT Government this week did a big favour to its citizens, and probably Australians in generally, by announcing that it would not permit the sale of fossil-fuel cars and small trucks after 2035.
Presumably, that means that no new ones bought interstate after that date would be able to be registered in the ACT.
The favour is to deliver some of the soundest consumer-protection regulation in the nation’s history. Cars are a major family purchase. By making the announcement now it will make everyone thinking of buying a new car to consider a fully electric one and nearly always come to the conclusion that should have been obvious a year or more ago: you would have to be very stupid or ignorant, or both, to buy a new internal-combustion-engine car.
The ACT Government cannot cure stupidity but it has gone a long way to remove ignorance.
Moreover, it has sent a message to the automotive industry that there is a big emerging market in Australia for EVs because usually when one state or territory enacts a good idea, the others follow. It sends a message that Australia is no longer a dumping ground for dirty, low-standard vehicles that are still being produced to pay off the capital cost of the motor company’s plants that make them.
As it happens, the ACT decision comes after a study published in Australian Geographer found that EV policies are weighted to urban areas, leaving remote communities condemned to fossil vehicles. Yet, the study points out the problems should not be insurmountable in remote communities and the benefits even greater.
Public transport is almost hopeless in remote communities. Private-car transport is almost mandatory for people to shop and get access to medical and other services.
Why should they miss out on cheaper and more efficient transport? For a long time remote communities were powered in diesel generators. That is slowly changing to solar, skipping the poles-and-wires stage. With a bit of effort and investment these communities could be freed of the cost of fossil fuels for transport by using the two things they have a lot of: sun and land will little or no agricultural or other use.
The ACT’s decision will have immediate effects and indirectly even help these remote communities. You have to start now to reach the target. It has created an immediate and growing demand for public and private charging stations as well as EVs. That will create economies of scale which will flow through to other places.
But the motoring populace, especially outside major cities, seems wary of EVs.
We have had an electric EV in Far North Queensland for six months. We have done 6000kms and every electron for the car came from our solar panels (except for the one occasions I went to a public charging station just to make sure I knew how they worked). Our home smart charger only puts charge into the car when surplus power is coming from the roof after providing enough power to run all the house appliances.
You can override that and charge from the grid if you to charge the car in a hurry. We have never had to do that.
I have taken lots of people for test runs. They all say “wow” and then ask: “Aren’t you scared of running out of charge and being stranded? What is the range? How long does it take to fill? How much did it cost?”
No, I am not scared of being stranded. It is no more difficult than keeping your phone charged. And EVs are more reliable, so you are more likely to be stranded in a fossil car, ironically often with flat batteries and running out of fuel, as well as malfunctions in all those other things that cannot go wrong with an EV: radiators, gearboxes, clutches, spark plugs, and any number of the 2000 moving parts in a fossil engine. EVs have only about 20 moving parts in the drive chain.
Our range is 420kms. It can be lengthened if you use the brakes sparingly and let the engine brake the car and return the kinetic energy as electrical energy to the battery. With a fossil car the braking energy is lost. It cannot be converted back to petrol.
It also means that brake pads last twice or three times as long on an EV.
As to cost, it was no more than the same model in petrol or diesel. That tells you it is not a Tesla. We thought that Tesla might well produce the best battery technology, but does not have the decades of automotive experience of Mercedes, Volvo, BMW and Toyota which enable them to produce the best steering, suspension, interiors, and so on.
My guess is that the ACT’s action will be a self-fulfilling mandate that will be reached well before 2035. As more people get EVs and rave about them, more people will lose their fear of being “stranded” and start considering the savings in fuel, the environment, the way emissions affect people’s health, servicing costs, and little things like no oil drops on the driveway or garage floor.
Word of mouth is the best form of advertising.
Filling time and filling places also concern people. Just as people do not run their petrol car to empty, you fill well before empty with an EV. A public DC super charger will put 200kms worth of power into a car in 12 minutes. And you should take a break every two hours anyway.
Soon finding a charge station will be easier than finding a fuel service station. Australia has just over 3000 EV public charging stations and rising and literally millions of ordinary power points you can charge from in an emergency. Whereas Australia has just over 6000 service stations and falling. Australia had 20,000 of them in 1970.
Thank the ACT Government for warning everyone not to buy a new fossil-fuel car. Put yourself down for an EV – asap.
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 19 July 2022.