A CURRENT AFFAIR: IS AUSTRALIA ABOUT TO EMBRACE ELECTRIC VEHICLES?

It has been a while in the offing, but it looks like the Electric Vehicle (EV) revolution is finally upon us here in Australia.

While the pickings have been slim thus far, over the next 18 months to two years the choice of EVs – that’s battery-powered vehicles, not hybrid – is about to go through a remarkable expansion. EVs from Hyundai, Nissan, Jaguar, Tesla, Mini, BMW, Kia, Audi, Mercedes, VW, Volvo and Porsche are all expected to be available here by 2020-21 with some – the Tesla Model S and Model X, Renault Zoe, Hyundai Ioniq and Jaguar I-PACE – already here or to launch this year.

Things are definitely looking up for consumers interested in being amongst the first to be a part of this titanic shift in the automotive landscape. And it will be a titanic shift. The willingness of the major manufacturers to get onboard the EV train ensures that battery-powered vehicles will be a major part of our transportation future.

We need only look overseas to see how far things have come and where things are headed.

According to the latest edition of the International Energy Agency’s (IAE) Global Electric Vehicles Outlook, more than 3 million electric (EV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) cars were cruising the roads of the world in 2017, a 54 per cent increase compared with 2016.

Furthermore, the report notes ‘the stock of electric buses rose to 370,000 from 345,000 in 2016, and electric two-wheelers reached 250 million’.

Nearly 580,000 EV/PHEVs were sold in China in 2017 (a 72 per cent increase over 2016) and 280,000 were sold in the U.S. (up from 160,000 in 2016). In Norway, 39 per cent of new car sales are EVs and in the UK more than 30,000 new EV/PHEV cars were registered in the first half of 2018 (up 26 per cent on 2017).

Similarly, impressive figures are being registered in many other countries and while these numbers may still be dwarfed by the sales of conventionally-powered vehicles – global sales reached 86 million in 2017 – the simple truth is that with the weight of manufacturers behind them, and the ever-increasing interest from consumers around the world, EVs and PHEVs can no longer be ignored.

In Australia, however, it would seem that, to this point, we have done our best to do so.

While EV/PHEV sales represent about 2 per cent of the global market, in Australia, the number was a risible 0.2 per cent in 2017, with just 2400 vehicles sold.

But with a wider choice of vehicles soon to become available, that will surely change, and the evidence is there that it will – in research conducted by the Roy Morgan market research company earlier this year, 51.6 per cent of Australian drivers agreed that they would seriously consider buying a hybrid vehicle, while 36.2 per cent would consider a fully electric vehicle. Those are encouraging figures for the EV sector.

Globally, EV growth has been driven, says the IAE, by ‘government policy, including public procurement programmes, financial incentives reducing the cost of purchase of EVs, tightened fuel-economy standards and regulations on the emission of local pollutants, low- and zero-emission vehicle mandates and a variety of local measures, such as restrictions on the circulation of vehicles based on their pollutant emission performances’.

While some of these incentives may not be available in Australia, one development that will likely have an impact on the purchasing considerations of Australian consumers is the dwindling concern of range anxiety thanks to improved battery performance – new model EVs with a range of more than 200km and up to 500km will be the norm – and the steady development of a nationwide charging network.

In fact, the development of a charging network has been so rapid that it is now possible, according to the Australian Electric Vehicle Association (AEVA), to circumnavigate the nation right now if you have one of the longer-range EVs (you can go to www.plugshare.com to view where these recharging points are located).

In Queensland, the government’s installation of fast charger points along the coast means that the Queensland Electric Super Highway – part of The Future is Electric: Queensland’s Electric Vehicle Strategy – can ensure a comfortable trip from Coolangatta to Cairns.

Australians interested in the possibilities and advantages of EV ownership will get the opportunity to find out a lot more in November when the AEVA holds its Electric Vehicle Expo at the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre on November 9 and 10.

A volunteer-run, not-for-profit organisation founded in 1973, AEVA’s aim is to raise awareness of and encourage the use of EVs, as well as help governments form appropriate policy around the technology.

The organisation is taking a departure from the norm with its 2018 gathering.

While it has held annual meetings for years, the 2018 event will be something a bit special said Graham Manietta, Chairman of the Queensland branch of the AEVA that is hosting the Expo and owner of EV conversion business OZ DIY and traditional mechanical workshop Suzi Auto Parts.

“In previous years, there were very few manufactured EV models available,” he said. “This year, however, many manufacturers are releasing new EVs worldwide and several are doing so in Australia. We have the likes of Mercedes, Porsche, Hyundai, Renault, Nissan, Tesla, as well as the locally manufactured ACE vehicle.

“There are so many models coming to the market towards the end of the year that it seemed obvious that what we really needed to do was to have a proper motor show.

“Manufacturers, businesses and government were all keen on the idea and I do think that this is a watershed moment for EVs in Australia. They are about to become mainstream.”

While it may seem that electric cars are a relatively new addition to the automotive mix, they actually have a long history and were, for a while at least around 1900, as popular as over petrol-powered transportation. At that time, about 30 per cent of cars on U.S. roads were battery powered, and even the official land speed record was held by an electric car – in 1899, Belgian racer Camille Jenatzy recorded 65.8mph (105.8km/h) in the torpedo-shaped vehicle called La Jamais Contente.

EVs were quiet and clean, while petrol-powered cars were noisy, polluting and required hand-cranking to start. For a time, it seemed EVs were on the ascendance and some innovative ideas were considered to capitalise on this early EV revolution, including the concept of an exchangeable battery service.

However, as road networks improved, as oil discoveries made petrol available and cheap, and as Henry Ford began to churn out thousands of the rugged and affordable Model T cars, the slow speed and relatively short range of the EVs, as well as a lack of infrastructure for them, became issues from which they could not recover.

And for nearly a century, the EV became something of a curiosity. They would appear as concept cars from time to time and, on very infrequent occasions, a manufacturer might test the waters with a production car (such as GM’s EV1 in the 1990s), but, on the whole, EVs were relegated to the labs of researchers and the workshops of enthusiasts.

In Australia, those enthusiasts got together in the early 1970s to form the AEVA.

“The AEVA began as a meeting point for people interested in electric cars,” said Graham. “We have a fair percentage of individuals who work in the industry – in charging, electronics and so on – a lot of members who work in other highly technical fields, and members who are backyard converters or who are owners of EVs such as a Tesla, a Nissan Leaf and so on.

“Membership has grown over the years, and so has the association’s charter, which is to promote the uptake of EVs – and that means not just cars, but boats, planes, scooters, motorcycles, right down to lawn care equipment – and to help develop policy.

“Governments have been talking about electric vehicle technology for a long time and the AEVA has become involved in policy with regards to safety issues, conversions and that sort of thing, and our branches are automatically invited to have representatives on most of the states’ Electric Vehicle councils.”

As a long-time member of the AEVA and the owner of a business, OZ DIY, that offers EV conversion services and EV components to those who wish to do the conversion themselves, Graham said he is impressed, so far, with the both federal and state governments’ efforts to make Australia accommodating to electric vehicles.

Of particular note, he said, was the electric vehicle superhighway.

“When you really look at it with an unbiased eye, they are doing a fine job,” he said. “It is not cheap to put in those super-charging points and the Queensland government went and did it. They’re trying to work out how to do things so that everybody is happy, which is probably never going to happen, but they are doing a pretty good job. Quite a few of our members have done the Coolangatta to Cairns trip and it was excellent and, of course, it cost them nothing to do it.”

The cost of electric vehicles – or rather the cost of running one – is part of the technology’s attraction. While they are not exactly cheap (the Renault Zoe will run you to about $50,000 while the Tesla Model S will put you back a fair chunk more than $100,000) it’s the savings post-purchase where an EV really comes into its own. And if you happen to be an environmentally-conscious driver, then there’s something to be said to owning a vehicle that creates no emissions at all.

Add the EV superhighway, the continuing development in battery technology that enables some truly tremendous performance (check out the Tesla Racing Channel on YouTube and you’ll see what we mean) and allows EVs to go farther on a single charge, then even the old argument of ‘range anxiety’ begins to look hard to defend.

But there are additional benefits too.

“Most people look at EVs as an option that will cut their running costs, with environmental issues as the second concern,” said Graham. “Since I built my conversion, I can say that I have had the ‘EV grin’ for about eight years. What’s the EV grin? It’s what every EV owner has when they drive past a petrol station!

“Of course, while you might not be spending money on that fuel, the energy has to come from somewhere, but you are probably looking at about one-tenth the cost per km when you compare electricity to petrol.

“Some people may argue that coal is being burnt to create that power. However, not all 240v power comes from coal, there is a green mix in there as well, and many people have solar systems. Personally, my cars are charged through solar, whether at home or at the workshop.

“Then, of course, there are the savings in maintenance,” he added. “In an EV, you don’t need engine oil, you don’t have fuel filters or air filters, there is no radiator coolant, no fan belts or radiator hoses, no exhaust system, no starter motor – that’s a whole bunch of stuff that you won’t have to worry about and don’t have to maintain. The only thing you need to worry about on EVs is gear box oil, brakes and tyres, and with regenerative braking you’re not even using the brakes that hard.”

With all that in mind, there will, inevitably, be significant disruption to the auto industry should EVs become a major part of Australia’s vehicle fleet. From mechanical workshops to fuel stations to training, there will be few areas that won’t feel the impact of the change. How businesses adapt will be crucial to minimising pain and maintaining a vibrant industry.

“There will continue to be petrol vehicles and diesel trucks around,” says Graham. “But in 10 years or so I believe a fair proportion of workshops will be struggling unless they embrace the changes.

“Personally, I am gearing up to be able to service electric vehicles and do repairs and maintenance. While EVs won’t need a lot of that, there will still be a need for that service. Conversions too, I think, will be a big part of the future.

“As for the fuel industry, in 10 years we’ll probably need half the fuel we need now, and fuel stations will have to adapt too, as they are already in Europe” says Graham. “Electricity is, when you think about it, just another fuel, so you can have petrol bowsers, diesel bowsers and add fast chargers to the mix – perhaps a parking bay of chargers where customers can pull in, plug in, grab a coffee and be on their way.

“While that recharge might take 15 or 20 minutes today with current technology, companies such as Tritium are already developing 350kw chargers that will bring that down to about five minutes. Soon, you’ll be able to recharge as quickly as it takes to refill a tank.

“Funnily enough, one result of all this is that, as Jay Leno said, EVs will be the saviour of muscle cars. More people using EVs means less demand for fuel, which means it will become cheaper!”

While the effect of a predominantly EV fleet on the mechanical and fuel sectors of the auto industry is pretty clear, there is also the training sector to consider – an area of particular interest to the MTA Institute, MTA Queensland’s Registered Training Organisation and the largest private provider of automotive industry training in Queensland.

Having recognised early that the industry was likely to face such disruption, the Institute has been offering courses on Hybrid vehicle technology for some years and has lobbied successfully to have relevant skills sets recognised on Queensland’s higher-level skills subsidies list, allowing potential learners to get access to training at a cost-effective rate.

“Over the coming decade, it is anticipated by many that the automotive industry will undergo a process of transitional change that is greater than anything it has ever experienced before,” said Paul Kulpa, General Manager, MTA Institute. “This change is expected to alter the structure, product and service delivery of the automotive industry, with few other industries forecast to encounter this level of disruption.

“The skill sets were identified as priority areas that will increase the technical skills and knowledge of the automotive workforce and enhance productivity and safety. The training provides advanced technical skills and enables reorientation into alternative and complementary sectors considered for growth in the automotive industry.”

Hybrid training, added Graham, is precisely what should be undertaken by technicians in preparation for the EV disruption, and though he is a qualified mechanic and auto electrician who specialises in EVs, he’s preparing to take them himself.

“I do think the best training we could see people doing is in plug-in hybrid technology,” he said. “It is common technology, it shares petrol and electric technology, and the electrical components are no different to a fully electric car – they both have controllers, both have chargers and while battery chemistry might be different, it is still electricity.

“For me, I’ll be doing the MTA Institute hybrid course and I’ll be taking my apprentice along too. Everyone is aware of what is coming in the industry and doing these courses to add electrical skills certainly couldn’t hurt.”

In November, the Electric Vehicle Expo will reveal just how far things have come. New EV models, soon to be available to buy, will be on show, and the conference agenda includes guest speakers from the heavy hitting end of town – representatives from government, cutting-edge technology firms and manufacturers. MTA Queensland will be represented too. Not only is the Association a sponsor of the event, both Mr Kulpa and MTA Institute trainer Paul Tugwell, an expert on hybrid and EV training, will be making presentations.

If the electric vehicle revolution is going to take off, then we could be looking back in a few years and recognising the 2018 Electric Vehicle Expo as the ground-zero event. And if public interest is anything to go by, that might well be what happens.

“We have thousands of people expressing interest in the Expo,” said Graham. “Our expectations at the moment are that we will have more than 12,000 visitors – the interest has been amazing. In Europe and America, it is already at the tipping point and the take-up has been very good. I really believe next year will be the year that we see EVs take off here at home.”

Source: https://www.mtaq.com.au/motor-trader-magazine/
06 Sep 2018