Why is Australia lagging on electric vehicles and when will we catch up?
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Sometimes it seems like there are more Telsa launches than there are cars on the road — in Australia, that could almost be true.
There is much hype but electric passenger vehicles make a minority of road traffic globally.
In the US, they are only 2 per cent of car sales. In Europe they make up 3 per cent and in China, 5 per cent.
No doubt, electric vehicles have progressed significantly in the last decade. There are five million on the road globally and two years ago there were only two million.
And slowly but surely battery pack prices are falling. On a dollar per kilowatt hour basis they have fallen 85 per cent in eight years from $1,160 to $176.
But Australia is a laggard in the global market. EV sales only made up 0.2 per cent of total vehicle sales and there were little over 2000 sold last year.
In fact Australia has fewer electric vehicles on the road than New Zealand, even though we have seven times as many cars.
One obvious problem is Australia drives on the left — thus having right hand drive vehicles, said Bloomberg’s lead analyst for electric vehicles Ali Asghar, at the company’s Electric Vehicle Outlook presentation this week.
About 90 per cent of the world’s traffic drives on the right, although this hasn’t stopped the UK from being one of the world’s largest markets.
It’s also a problem for the growth of hydrogen-fuelled cars in Australia.
A lack of government incentives are a significant challenge. For example, before the federal election, the Liberal government delayed taking any action on accelerating the uptake of electric vehicles until “early 2020”.
And little action is being taken on road transport emissions, which make up 16 per cent of Australia’s emissions.
Asghar predicted electric vehicles could help the country cut emissions 26 per cent by 2030 from 563Mt to 448Mt — thus meeting our Paris obligations.
Ultimately, it’ll be up to consumers.
Electric vehicles are usually priced higher than ordinary cars and as Asghar bluntly put it: “Consumers are not used to spending that sort of money.”
Bloomberg analyst Ali Izadi-Najafabadi predicted by 2023 EVs would be 4 per cent of vehicle sales in Australia, rising quickly to 60 per cent by 2040, with pricing to follow suit.
Izadi-Najafabadi predicted battery pack prices in real terms will halve in the next five years to $94 per kwh and then fall further to $62 by 2030. Around this point it is expected the costs of traditional cars and electric vehicles will inflect.
But he also declared the government had a part to play too.
“The government needs to show direction and the industry will follow suit,” he said.
One uncertain issue is access to charging stations, especially for those who live in apartments. While a study last year showed most inner-city apartment residents are in favour of charging stations, there are logistical challenges and a vocal minority who oppose them.
Even when there is harmonious acceptance, how it would work logistically is a tough question to answer.
Everyone thinks of lithium when they hear the words “battery metals”. It is also pondered that those based closest to EV makers will be better than those who are not.
In which case, those miners close to Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada are uniquely placed, such as Caeneus Minerals (ASX: CAD) and Ioneer (ASX: INR).
But while they are advantaged, it’s not a case of others need not apply. While it is not ideal for electric car makers to have batteries manufactured far away, they are less fussy about where the raw material is found.
Asghar said the challenges were finding established supply chains and support in local regulators. He named Bolivia as a country with potential to become a big player (like its southern cousins Chile and Argentina) but noted the government has been unreasonably pushing them to build batteries there.
A common question for lithium miners is brine or rock? While brine is cheaper there are concerns about the impact on the water ecosystem. But as Asghar noted lithium has less environmental concerns and issues than cobalt and copper.
There have been a handful of stocks that have gained returns such as Liontown Resources (ASX: LTR). Yet the broader industry overall is in a lull at present – Stockhead’s list of battery metals stocks is down 5.4 per cent this year.
But over the last three years stocks that have stayed the course have gained 20 per cent, and over five years, 89 per cent.
In many ways this performance sums up the broader state of the EV industry in that it is a marathon not a sprint, but one where gains will mainly be seen in the long term.