As Australia strives to meet its net zero targets, electric vehicles (EV) are a key driver behind the transport sector’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.

Transport’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels has made it Australia’s third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Transport was responsible for 19% of Australia’s total emissions in 2020, according to the government’s Climate Change Authority, and this is predicted to rise to 25% by 2030.

Australia’s EV take-up currently lags behind many countries, but is beginning to accelerate as:

  • government policies change;
  • carmakers pay more attention to Australia;
  • EVs become more affordable;
  • more charging infrastructure rolls out across the country; and
  • more people are looking seriously at making a switch to an EV

What are electric vehicles?

EVs are passenger cars and other vehicles which are powered by an electric motor rather than a traditional internal combustible engine (ICE).

The predominant public and government discussions and shifts to electric vehicles are taking place in the automotive sector, but change is also afoot in micromobility, rail, marine vehicles, and aircraft.

Tesla Model 3 electric car white - side view

Tesla Model 3 electric car – side view

What are the different types of electric vehicles?

EVs vary in the energy sources they can run on how they store that energy to power the electric motor.

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), also known as all-electric vehicles, are fully electric vehicles which rely on an onboard battery to power an electric motor. The battery is charged by plugging the car into the electricity grid, such as an AC wall socket or a dedicated EV charge station.

Many BEVs can also charge the battery via regenerative braking, an energy recovery technique which captures the kinetic energy that would have been wasted when the vehicle decelerates.

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) feature both a battery-powered electric motor and a fuel-powered internal combustion engine or generator. When the battery runs flat, petrol is used both to power the motor and charge the battery.

Vehicles rely on a “drivetrain”, a group of components which deliver mechanical power from the motor to the wheels. Hybrids which rely on a “series” drivetrain only receive mechanical power from the electric motor, which is run by either a battery or a fuel-powered generator. In hybrids with “parallel” drivetrains, the electric motor and internal combustion engine can provide mechanical power simultaneously.

It is also possible to combine the two, such as with the Toyota Prius. With a series/parallel drivetrain, the engine can drive the wheels directly (as with a parallel drivetrain). The engine can also be effectively disconnected, with only the electric motor providing power (as with a series drivetrain).

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) feature both a battery-powered electric motor and an internal combustion engine. When the battery runs flat, it can be recharged from an external power supply.

Some HEVs can’t be plugged in to recharge, instead only rely on the motor and regenerative braking to recharge the battery.

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) are also fully electric vehicles but, rather than relying on an onboard battery to power the electric motor, they rely on chemical energy produced from a fuel such as hydrogen. Like BEVs, FCEVs which run on hydrogen fuel cells are zero-emission vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz eEconic electric waste truck

The Mercedes-Benz eEconic electric waste truck, trialled in Australia in early 2023.

Which electric vehicles are available in Australia?

Australia’s home-grown Blade Electron was the first EV on the roads back in 2008, but they didn’t start to gain traction until the fully electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV arrived in 2011 followed by the hybrid Toyota Prius C in 2012.

A wide range of HEVs, PHEVs and BEVs were released in Australia over the next decade. In 2022, HEVs which don’t plug in to charge (relying on the motor and/or regenerative charging) still dominated, accounting for 67% of all Australian EV sales, according to CarExpert.com.au. BEVs accounted for 27%, while PHEVs were at 5%. FCEVs were merely a blip, with only 15 sold across the country.

More than two dozen HEV models are currently on sale in Australia, with Toyota dominating. Popular options including the:

  • Toyota RAV4
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Toyota Kluger
  • Toyota Yaris Cross
  • Toyota Camry
  • Toyota C-HR
  • Lexus NX
  • GWM Haval H6
  • Kia Niro
  • Subaru Forester

Similarly, more than two dozen PHEVs models are currently on sale in Australia, with popular options including the:

  • MG HS
  • Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
  • Volvo XC60
  • Volvo XC90
  • Mercedes-Benz GLC-class wagon
  • BMW X3
  • Lexus NX
  • Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Mini Countryman
  • Ford Escape
CUPRA Born Aurora electric car blue

The CUPRA Born electric car is new to Australia, first going on sale in April 2023. It has a 511 kilometre range, with a maximum power of 170 kW. CUPRA is a Spanish brand, a subsidiary of Volkswagen.

Meanwhile, Tesla dominates in the BEV space, accounting for more than 80% of sales. More than two dozen BEV models are currently available in Australia, with popular options including the:

  • Tesla Model 3
  • Tesla Model Y
  • BYD Atto 3
  • Polestar 2
  • MG ZS
  • Hyundai Kona
  • Volvo CX40
  • Hyundai Ioniq 5
  • Mercedes-Benz EQA
  • BMW X3

The handful of FCEV sales were divided between the:

  • Toyota Mirai
  • Hyundai Nexo

Australia’s first electric car: The Blade Electron

The Blade Electron was an Australian electric car produced in Victoria between 2008 and 2014. Based on a Hyundai Getz, powered by a 55kW electric motor, with an approximate range of 120 kilometres. Approximately 50 of the Electrons were built, and they retailed for $52,000.

Despite the claim in this video’s title, the Bade Electron was not the first Australian EV. See below the video telling the story of Roy Doring’s electric battery-powered 1959 Ford Prefect.

How does Australia’s electric vehicle market compare to the rest of the world?

Australia has been a slow adopter when it comes to EVs, but things are set to accelerate.

Global EV sales increased more than 50% from 2021 to 2022, making up a total of 14% of all new cars sold worldwide, according to the International Energy Agency. China accounted for the lion’s share of the sales, which includes both BEVs and PHEVs, and has already exceeded its 2025 take-up target.

Norway leads the world, with 65% of all vehicles sold in 2021 electric. The country went from 1% to 65% EV penetration in a decade, largely due to aggressive government subsidies. Elsewhere in Europe, Germany sits at 26%t and the UK at 19%.

In Australia, EVs only accounted for around 3.8% of all new vehicle sales in 2021. This is similar to the United States’ 4%, a country which is similar to Australia in its large land mass, vast distances between cities and strong car-centric culture.

President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act aspires to see 50% of all vehicle sales in the US being electric by 2030. Changing government policy is also set to increase EV take-up in Australia, to be driven by the new National Electric Vehicle Strategy. There is also a push for Australia to match tightened US vehicle emissions standards to avoid Australia becoming a dumping ground for petrol and diesel vehicles.

Carmakers are also turning their attention to Australia, and not just with the introduction of more models at a greater range of price points. Volvo has declared that it won’t sell petrol versions of its vehicles in Australia by 2026, which is four years ahead of its global stance of ending petrol vehicle sales by 2030.

What are the benefits of electric vehicles?

The primary benefit of EVs to Australia is reducing transport emissions in the push to reach Net Zero carbon emissions. Transport’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels has made it the country’s third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Reducing transport emissions helps combat climate change by reducing the flow of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Climate change is taking a heavy toll on Australia in a range of ways, including increased frequency and/or severity of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and heatwaves, according to the Climate Council.

Moving away from internal combustion engines to electric motors offers other environmental benefits, such as improved air quality and reduced noise pollution.

Annual vehicle emissions in Australia may cause 11,105 premature adult deaths, which is ten times the annual road toll from accidents, according to research conducted by Melbourne Climate Futures (MCF). It found that vehicle emissions may also responsible for:

  • 12,210 cardiovascular hospitalisations
  • 6,840 respiratory hospitalisations
  • 66,000 active asthma cases

The health-related consequences of air pollution are far-reaching. Unborn babies and children are particularly vulnerable to the effects, as are the elderly and those with underlying chronic diseases, such as heart and lung issues. Disadvantaged populations – especially those who live near major roads, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – are also particularly vulnerable.

Reducing Australia’s reliance on fossil fuels can also reduce fuel costs and improve the nation’s energy security. Australia uses more than 34 billion litres of petrol and diesel per year, and more than 90% of it is imported – leaving the country vulnerable to shortages, according to a report from the Australia Institute. Factors threatening supply include international market fluctuations and shortages due to war, sanctions, and environmental disasters.

More than half (54%) of Australia’s liquid fuel is consumed by road transport. If all passenger vehicles in Australia were fully electric vehicles, a third of imported oil could be replaced with domestic electricity.

What are the associated costs of electric vehicles?

The high upfront cost is the number one reason stopping more Australians purchasing an EV, according to the Consumer Policy Research Centre. Cost was cited by 49% of Australians who identified one or more barriers to purchasing an EV. The situation will improve thanks to growing competition and the economies of scale, with the first EVs under $40,000 coming to Australia in 2023.

High price tags are partly related to the cost of manufacturing batteries. EVs favour lithium-ion batteries due to their high power-to-weight ratio and energy efficiency. They also offer good high-temperature performance, as well as a low self-discharge rate.

When it comes to making EV batteries, lithium and cobalt are the most difficult minerals to source and shortages are expected over the next few years. Their production can also have a significant environmental impact, as can the disposal of used batteries.

While Lithium ore is common, mostly found in South America and Australia, it requires a lot of refinement before it can be used in a battery. More than 60% of the world’s lithium ore processing capacity is in China.

Almost three quarters of the world’s cobalt comes from mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, while two thirds of cobalt refining occurs in China.

Thankfully, EV batteries don’t rely on “rare earth” materials like neodymium and samarium, although they are sometimes used in the magnets found in electric motors.

Reduced running costs, due to higher efficiency and lower maintenance requirements, are another benefit of EVs.

The maintenance needs for HEVs and PHEVs are similar to those of traditional vehicles because they still feature internal combustion engines, but all-electric BEVs require less maintenance. Their electrical system typically requires minimal scheduled maintenance, as it features fewer moving parts and relies on fewer fluids such as engine oil. Brake systems also generally last longer due to regenerative braking.

What are the challenges of electric vehicles?

While the take-up of EVs offers Australia a wide range of advantages, there are still a number of challenges to be overcome before they can achieve widespread adoption and fully deliver on their potential.

Along with upfront cost, range anxiety – the fear of a BEV’s battery running flat while out on the road – has hampered adoption. Range anxiety was cited by 34% of Australians who identified barriers to purchasing an EV in the Consumer Policy Research Centre’s survey.

Increased public education will help combat this, with Australian drivers travelling on average around 33 km per day, while the average EV range has increased to 348 km.

Australian EV take-up is also hampered by the demand for charging infrastructure, competing charger standards and the time required to recharge vehicles.

The nation has a number of charge station networks including Tesla Superchargers, Chargefox, Evie Networks and Jolt, but charging stations are still mostly located on the eastern seaboard. They offer a range of charging speeds and a mix of connectors such as CCS and CHAdeMO.

Teslas rely on a proprietary charging plug, but Tesla has made a small number of its 150 kW Superchargers available to other EV owners, supporting the CCS charging standard used by most EVs sold in Australia. Initially, only five Australian Supercharger locations support non-Tesla EV charging, but the goal is to “eventually welcome both Tesla and non-Tesla drivers at every Supercharger worldwide”.

The environmental impact of charging EVs must also be considered. While EVs produce zero direct emissions, one challenge is ensuring the production of the electricity they consume is also environmentally friendly. Renewable energy only accounted for 35.9% of Australia’s total electricity generation in 2022, meaning that many EVs are still charged by coal-fired power stations.

FACTS: A Framework for an Australian Clean Transport Strategy

low-zero emission transport strategy

iMOVE Australia’s Developing a low/zero emission transport strategy for Australia project was timely, and important, and the comprehensive final report, FACTS: Framework for an Australian Clean Transport Strategy, is available for download.

Currently, Australia’s transport system is responsible for approximately 19% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. And growing! If Australia is to meet its overall obligations to Net Zero 2050, it is patently obvious that transport must shift, and must shift quickly, to decarbonise. In order to do so absolutely requires sustained government and industry action.

The product of the iMOVE project is an important, broad sweep of a document, FACTS: Framework for an Australian Clean Transport Strategy. It is the result of an assembly of a large group of Australian scientific experts, providing evidence-based guidance to local, state/territory and federal governments on how they can support transport decarbonisation in a timeframe congruent with global climate targets

Electric vehicles – careers

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in this area of transport, our interview series Meet Smart Mobility Experts could help guide you.

In this series we interview a number of researchers, practitioners, department of transport executives and more. Amongst other things we cover their academic background, research activity, career progression, and more.

Electric vehicle resources

Here’s a selection of Australian strategy and project documents on the topic of electric vehicles.

Electric vehicles: 2023 sales statistics

2023 WORLDWIDE SALES STATISTICS

  • Electric car sales rose by 49% during the first six months of 2023, a total of 6.2 million sales worldwide.
  • Sales of EVs in China comprise 55% of global sales, a total of 3.4 million cars in the year to date. In second place is Europe with 24% of global sales, and the USA in third place with 13%.
  • Tesla retains the title of biggest EV seller at 435,059 in the third-quarter of 2023, but Chinese EV maker BYD is closing in, with sales of 431,603 in the same quarter.

2023 AUSTRALIAN SALES STATISTICS

In the year to date:

  • October 2023: 65,000 electric vehicles have been sold in Australia.
  • Electric vehicles comprise 8% of new car sales, a jump of 21% on the same period last year.
  • The sales figure for the Tesla Mode Y this year is 23,457, making it the most sold passenger car, beating all petrol and battery competitors. In fact, only the  Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux utes beat the Tesla Model Y sales figure in the year to date.

MORE EV-RELATED SALES STATISTICS

  • In June 2023 electric vehicles comprised 1.1% of all new car sales in Australia. In June 2023 that figure rose to 8.8%.
  • 18 of the world’s top 20 vehicle manufacturers (which represent around 90% of new car registrations in 2020) are planning to rapidly increase production of EVs prior to 2030.
  • Australia has a vehicle ownership rate of 769 per 1000 inhabitants, compared to the EU at 569 per 1000 inhabitants

Electric vehicles: History, and facts and figures

AUSTRALIAN EV HISTORY

  • 1968: See the video below, an ABC interview with Roy Doring about his 1959 Ford Prefect, re-configured as an electric vehicle. Roy had been building and driving electric cars since 1941. Roy’s son Bill donated the Ford Prefect to the now defunct Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, and it is now a part of the collection of the Powerhouse Museum.
  • 2008: Between this year and 2014 saw the production of the Blade Electron. Production was in Victoria, and approximately 50 of the vehicles – built upon the body of a Hyundai Getz – were made.
  • 2011: The Nissan Leaf, a plug-in hybrid vehicle goes on sale. Its RRP was $51,500, and had a range of approximately 140 kilometres on a full charge.
  • 2012:The Holden Volt is released, a plug-in hybrid car based on the Chevrolet Cruze. It had a 1.4 litre petrol engine that powered the battery (not the wheels!) as the car moved. A fully-charged battery alone provided a range of 80 kilometres, but with the petrol engine working in tandem with the battery the range was 300 kilometres. The Holden Volt retailed for $59,990. It was discontinued in Australia in 2015, having only sold somewhere in the region of 250.
  • 2017: The launch of the Queensland Electric Super Highway, with a first phase of 18 fast-charging stations. More at: Queensland Electric Super Highway announced
  • 2021: Canberra begins a trial of 20 Fuel Cell Electric Hyundai Nexo SUVs. The cars have a range of 666 kilometres (WLTP), and will fully refuel in a time of three to five minutes. More at: Hyundai registers hydrogen-powered cars for Australian roads
  • 2022: ACE, a Queensland company, makes available a range of electric, light commercial vehicles and cars made for tradespeople and city living. Models include the V1 Transformer (little delivery van), Cargo (littler delivery van), Yewt (yes, a ute!), and Urban (small SUV).

WORLD EV HISTORY

  • 1828: Hungarian inventor and engineer Ányos Jedlik demonstrates the first electric motor, a device he called an electromagnetic self-rotor. The motor is on display at the Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest, and still works.
  • 1859: French physicist Gaston Planté made the first electric battery, a lead-acid battery. In that same year he published a book, The Storage of Electrical Energy.
  • 1884: Thomas Parker built several prototypes of an electric “horseless carriage”.
  • 1888: Andreas Flocken builds the Flocken Elektrowagen, powered by a 0.9kW electric motor.
  • 1898: Dr. Ferdinand Porsche makes the one-off Egger-Lohner C.2 Phaeton, which had a top speed of 22 mile per hour. His son would go on to found Porsche.
  • 1902: Manufactuer Studebaker enters the car business. its first effort an electric car.
  • 1907: The Detroit Electric company is established, building electric cars.
  • 1908: The Ford Model T, a petrol-engined car went on sale, at about half the price of its contemporaty electric car competitors.
  • 1932: Britain began to use electric-powered milk floats, as milk delivery vehicles. The continued to be used there for that purpose up to the 1990s.
  • 1959: The Henney Kilowatt began production, intially with a top speed of 40 miles per hour.
  • 1964: General Motors release the Electrovair, a Corvair with an electric motor. In advertising at the time its range was  at the time was 64 to 129 kilomteres (40 to 80 miles). GM went on to make the Electrovair II in 1966, based on a Chevrolet Corvair Monza. Soon after the safety of the parent car of the EV version, the Corvair, was called into question by Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe at any speed.
  • 1979: Mankind puts an EV on the Moon. Four of the vehicles for the Apollo 15 and 17 moon missions were made by Boeing, at a cost of USD38 million.
  • 2003: Tesla founded by entrepreneurs Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning.
  • 2006: The film Who killed the electric car? is released, specifically pointing the finger at GM specifically, plus other car manfacturers and the oil industry for stymying development and sales of electric vehicles. The film also provided a history of EVs.
  • 2008: Tesla releases its first car, the Roadster. It had a 394 kilometre (245 miles) range. Its retail price was USD109,000.
  • 2012: Tesla begins its rollout of Superchargers in the USA and Europe. It also released the Model S electric car.
  • 2015: Tesla releases the Model X, an SUV.
  • 2017: Tesla releases the Model 3.
  • 2020: Tesla releases the Model Y, another SUV.
  • 2022: Lawyer and consumer advocate Ralph Nader asks the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to ban Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) technology, saying that it, “… is one of the most dangerous and irresponsible actions by a car company in decades. Tesla should never have put this technology in its vehicles.”

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iMOVE and electric vehicles

The R&D work of iMOVE and its partners is taking place across Australia. Some work is specifically State- or city-based, other work has a national focus. It’s investigating issues and opportunities on Australian roads, rail, sea, and air.

Additionally, we’re readying Australia’s next generations of experts and practitioners to help make Australian roads safer for vulnerable road users via our Undergraduate Student Industry and Industry PhD programs. For  look at iMOVE project work in the area, see the section below, iMOVE electric vehicle projects.

Additionally, iMOVE, the Centre for New Energy Technologies (C4NET), and RMIT University are running The Conductor Series, a program dedicated to looking at the electrification of transportation and how it will impact both the electricity and transportation sectors in significant ways.

The series explores the foundations of each sector, from revenue generation and business models to, risk management and tolerance, while identifying areas of opportunity, innovation and potential roadblocks to enabling an electrified future for transportation. The purpose of this is to ensure a cross industry baseline of understanding.

Contact iMOVE

There’s still a lot of work to be done to make Australian transport systems safer. If you’d like to talk to us about any R&D work in the area of electric vehicles, or charging infrastructure, please get in touch with us to start a discussion.

iMOVE electric vehicle projects

iMOVE, along with its partners, is active in carrying out R&D to shift to electric vehicles and charging infrastructure on Australian roads.

Please find below the three latest electric vehicles projects. Or click to view all iMOVE’s electric vehicles projects.

VIEW ALL PROJECTS

iMOVE electric vehicle PhD projects

In addition to iMOVE and its partners’ electric vehicles projects listed above, as part of our Industry PhD Program businesses, universities and PhD students work on an agreed topic over a three-year period.

These are the most recent PhD projects that have been undertaken on the topic of electric vehicles. Click to view all iMOVE’s electric vehicle PhD projects.

VIEW ALL PROJECTS

iMOVE electric vehicle articles

In addition to projects, iMOVE also publishes articles, thoughtpieces, case studies, etc. that cover the many issues and solutions around electric vehicles.

Below are the three most recent articles. Or click to view all iMOVE’s electric vehicle articles.

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