May 2021

The cover story in this edition of Motor Trader concerns the 2021 Shanghai Auto show and some of the vehicles and news that came out of that event. If you have read that feature – or any of the many articles, videos and reports on the show from media outlets across the world – then you’ll know that the show seemed to be dominated by electrified vehicles and it might be hard to escape the notion that electrification is everything and internal combustion is ancient history.

That’s not quite true, but with a theme of ‘Embracing Change’; all those New Energy Vehicles (NEV) – which includes battery-electric, hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles – on display; and some big announcements from some of the industry’s big players, one takeaway from Shanghai was that, in China especially, if you’re not embracing electrification, then you are old news.

China is, of course, the world’s biggest market for EVs (more than 500,000 electrified vehicles were sold there last year), and the government has spent a lot of time – and offered generous subsidies and incentives to EV carmakers and consumers over the years – in an effort to ignite the industry. The effort, as highlighted in Shanghai, is paying off.

Almost every OEM present at the show unveiled new electrified vehicles – some specific to the China market – and amongst them were a slew of names that are likely little-known outside of China.

There were the recognisable players present such as VW, Audi, Ford, Polestar, and so on but there was also NIO, Li Auto, XPeng, Zeekr, Hozon, Ora, Arcfox, HiPhi, Geometry and a host of other Chinese brands showing some very impressive, competitive, products. Some of those names are sub-brands of bigger firms (Zeekr, for example, is owned by Geely) and can be considered as much more than just another hopeful start-up.

And along with the carmakers, China’s tech companies were there too, with players such as Huawei (known for its phones) and DJi (known for its drone technology) displaying intelligent driving solutions.

What does this all indicate? Well, while Tesla has made all the early running (and rightly deserves the recognition of kickstarting the EV revolution) and the ‘legacy’ carmakers – like GM, Ford and VW – pour billions into playing catch-up, it does feel like China and its EV industry has weight and momentum on its side. In a future destined to be powered by electrified vehicles, China and its carmakers will, at the very least, play a major role in the direction that future takes.

Which brings us back home and the disheartening state of the EV market/industry here in Australia.

Most recently, the media has focused on the Victorian government and, in part, its proposed electric vehicle tax – a 2.5 cents per km charge for battery-electric vehicles and 2 cents per km for plug-in hybrids.

Coming out in opposition to the tax is a coalition of 25 companies and organisations – including Hyundai, UBER, Jet Charge, Tritium, and the Electric Vehicle Council – which published an ‘open letter’ in April arguing against the tax move.

The group notes that the Victorian tax would be ‘the only stand-alone electric vehicle tax in the world’, and that the tax ‘means the world’s manufacturers are far less likely to send Victorians their best, most affordable, zero emissions vehicles’.

Interestingly, a few days after this news, the Victorian government announced it was to introduce a $100 million Zero Emissions Vehicles (ZEV) investment package. This would include, according to the a media release, ‘. . . a $3,000 subsidy for new Zero Emissions Vehicles (ZEV) as a part of our comprehensive plan to meet our target of net zero emissions by 2050 and support new jobs’.

The subsidy will be available for more than 20,000 new ZEV purchases and will be delivered in stages. The government also said it would introduce a 2030 target that will see half of all new car sales be ZEVs, and invest in charging infrastructure and adding ZEVs to its fleet.

While this is good news, what hasn’t changed is the tax, which is to be introduced, the government said. Other states are pondering such a move.

While the argument of how much EV owners should pay for infrastructure maintenance (and how that should be accomplished and what form it should take) is one that should be had, it is astounding to see that while other nations fully embrace the possibilities that the EV mobility revolution offers, Australia – and its various governments – are barely dipping a toe into the pool of possible incentives and subsidies for consumers, manufacturers, technology developers and so on.

This is the opportunity that comes along maybe once in a lifetime – maybe once a century. A whole new industry is being born and beginning to bloom right before our eyes, but it is doing so somewhere else.

Australia could, and should, be in the thick of it, using the tremendous natural and human resources at its disposal to be designing, building, and exporting not only
ideas and tech but, perhaps, vehicles too.

Why not? It is not all that long ago that we had a robust automotive manufacturing industry here employing thousands of skilled workers. With the right support, and in this fast-moving automotive landscape, anything is possible, isn’t it?

Apart from Victoria proposed new investment, there is other investment out there, of course. For example, the federal government’s $74.5 million Future Fuels Fund is set to invest in fast-charging infrastructure and proposes to help business fleets transition to battery-electric vehicles. However, compare that to the U.S. Government’s recently announced American Jobs Plan, which aims to invest in the country’s infrastructure and proposes to drop a staggering $174 billion ($AU224 billion) into the EV industry.According to a statement on the White House website the EV part of the Plan includes the aim to ‘enable automakers to spur domestic supply chains from raw materials to parts, retool factories to compete globally, and support American workers to make batteries and EVs. It will give consumers point of sale rebates and tax incentives to buy American-made EVs, while ensuring that these vehicles are affordable for all families and manufactured by workers with good jobs. It will establish grant and incentive programs for state and local governments and the private sector to build a national network of 500,000 EV chargers by 2030 . . .’

We know the U.S. has deep pockets, but that is a whopper of a plan, and it can be frustrating sitting here in Australia watching others aim high while we seem to be letting the opportunities drift by.

Source: Motor Trader e-Magazine (May 2021)

5 May 2021

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