The Australian Capital Territory made the bombshell announcement this week it would ban the sale of new petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles from the middle of next decade.
Yes, you’ll still be able to drive your current petrol car past 2035, and buy a used vehicle powered by fossil fuels in the ACT – but you won’t be able to buy a new one.
The ACT is the first Australian jurisdiction to implement such a mandate – matching Europe, where the same 2035 end-date was recently locked in for new internal combustion-engined (ICE) cars (albeit with concessions for synthetic fuels).
The capital state’s new policy seems, at first glance, to appeal to what carmakers say is one of the golden tickets to growing the quantity of electric vehicles (EVs) in Australian showrooms: emissions targets or, alternatively, an end date for new ‘ICE’ cars.
As Kia, Hyundai, Ford and Volkswagen can attest, the electric cars that roll off the production line are sent to markets with strict regulations on vehicle CO2 emissions, which if not met incur heavy fines.
It’s the reason you still can’t buy a Volkswagen ID.3 or Ford Mustang Mach-E in Australia, struggle to get a hold of a Kia EV6 in a timely manner, and have a hard time buying a Hyundai Ioniq 5… Without a fast internet connection, at least.
The ACT’s EV strategy is a good first step when it comes to solving Australia’s electric car dilemmas. But, unfortunately, much more needs to be done.
As pointed out by both sides of the industry – both supporters and critics of zero-emissions vehicles – for a strategy like the ACT’s to work, it needs to be a national measure, not limited to one state.
It’s unlikely to be a coincidence that the first state to announce a ban on petrol and diesel car sales is Australia’s second-least populous – and one where the overwhelming majority (think 99 per cent) of the population lives in the same greater urban area.
By comparison, 65 per cent of Australia’s most-populous state, New South Wales, lives in Greater Sydney (5.2 of 8.0 million, from the 2021 census) – while in the majority of NSW’s land area, less than 200,000 people reside.
Figures obtained by Drive suggest only about four per cent of electric vehicles sold head for customers in the ACT – compared to about a third of full EV sales in NSW.
If every new car sold in the ACT so far in 2022 were electric, it would only boost full battery-electric vehicles to an overall market share of 3.2 per cent.
That’s nearly double what EVs currently account for (1.8 per cent), mind you – but a drop in the ocean in the eyes of a product planner in Wolfsburg, Dearborn or Seoul.
At the same time as the ACT eyes zero emissions, the country’s second-most populous jurisdiction – Victoria – has introduced a road user tax to charge drivers of electric cars (and double for plug-in hybrids), with NSW and South Australia to follow from 2027, just three years before the ACT wants 80 to 90 per cent of new-car sales to be electric or hydrogen.
So to the outside world, Australia presents a mixed message. One state with a date to ban petrol and diesel new-car sales, some with a few buyer incentives and tax cuts, and others with newly introduced taxes to ‘penalise’ EV drivers.
A national emissions strategy, however, would go some way to fixing that. Either CO2 emissions targets for different sectors of the market – backed by fines for not meeting them – or staggered dates for the phase-out of internal combustion-engined vehicles in some categories… As long as it’s a national program.
I’m not saying electric vehicles will be suited to everyone – for the immediate future, they won’t.
The ACT is able to make its internal combustion engine ban thanks to its geography and demographics: a small region comprised of a few hundred thousand people, packed into a metro area with easy access to power, and room for charging stations.
But in Broken Hill or Broome, things are different – rather than predominantly urban trips (as in Canberra, Sydney or Melbourne), distances are longer, and there are fewer charging stations (and people) over a given area.
Advances in battery technology – solid-state, in particular – should, in time, close the capability gap between petrol and electric cars for buyers outside of big cities, with longer driving ranges, faster charging and lower prices, backed by a more comprehensive charging network.
But to get these advanced electric vehicles into Australian showrooms, we need manufacturers to notice us, and keep us near the start of the production queue – not the back, slugged with less efficient powertrains that comply with our less stringent emissions rules (and lower-quality fuel, though this will soon be fixed).
And the best way we can do that is with a policy that’s national – not limited to one of Australia’s smallest states and territories.
Alex Misoyannis has been writing about cars since 2017, when he started his own website, Redline. He contributed for Drive in 2018, before joining CarAdvice in 2019, becoming a regular contributing journalist within the news team in 2020. Cars have played a central role throughout Alex’s life, from flicking through car magazines as a young age, to growing up around performance vehicles in a car-loving family.