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But with the onset of electric and hydrogen propulsion that is all starting to rapidly change. In general electric vehicles are currently more expensive to purchase than their petrol -powered peers — particularly in Australia — but as technology improves it brings the tipping point towards the new electric-powered future ever closer.
The automotive industry is predicted to reach this nexus in less than a decade, according to a recent report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Traditional car makers would see profits decline “sharply” from 2021
Bloomberg forecasts that electric powered vehicles will be cheaper to buy than their internal combustion engine counterparts by 2025. This is due to improvements in lithium ion battery costs, which Bloomberg says account for about half the total cost of an electric car. Battery manufacturing capacity is tipped to triple within four years, turning the petrol-heavy auto industry on its head and throwing oil-exporting countries into danger.
Bloomberg predicts that by 2040 there will be 530 million electric vehicles on earth, comprising about one third of the fleet, which will displace roughly eight million barrels of oil production per day.
Research released last month by Morgan Stanley is a bit more optimistic, predicting there will be more than one billion electric vehicles on the road by 2050.
The investment bank believes electric vehicles will reach 80 per cent of global sales by 2050, spurning a dramatic surge in the chemicals and manufacturing sectors responsible for creating cathode materials for batteries and semiconductors.
Morgan Stanley’s On The Charge report last week compared the battery technology road map with “the path of solar panels”, whose cost fell 90 per cent in less than 20 years.
David Higgins, from shares and commodities app Stockhead, says traditional car makers would see profits decline “sharply” from 2021 before plunging into the red from 2028.
He adds: “The value of platinum, used in catalytic converters, will decline as battery sales grow and the demand for cobalt, used in batteries, will grow eightfold by 2025.”
Countries and car companies have already begun advocating for increasing electric vehicle production for both environmental and financial reasons.
Back in July Swedish carmaker Volvo said all new cars launched by the brand would be partially battery powered from 2019, and from 2019 to 2021 the firm is planning to introduce five new electric-only cars.
It’s important to note that hybrid vehicles still use an internal combustion engine so carmakers will continue manufacturing them as long as hybrids remain popular.
This video from Tesla explains how its large-scale energy storage works.
Tesla’s giant lithium-ion battery technology
French president Emmanuel Macron recently announced that France will end sales of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 as part of a government plan to meet its Paris climate accord emissions targets.
Norway, which has the most electric vehicles per capita on the planet, has set a much more ambitious target of only allowing sales of electric or hybrid cars by 2025.
But in Australia our government has no such target in a market where electric vehicle sales are hindered by price and the tyranny of distance between charging stations.
Electric Vehicle Council of Australia chief executive Behyad Jarfari says there are just 5000 electric cars on the road in Australia, with 1300 sold last year.
“Around the world there are already about two million vehicles on the road and importantly the projection for sales is another one million this year, so it demonstrates that this is a market which is growing exponentially,” he said.
Mr Jarfari said one of the major roadblocks stopping the growth of electric and hybrid vehicles in Australia is a lack of subsidies or incentives from the government encouraging people to drive them.
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“For a range of reasons governments have sought to intervene to kickstart this market and to provide a short term cost incentive to bring down the premium which exists at the moment between electric vehicles and their petrol alternatives,” he said.
One example is Norway, where all electric cars and vans are exempt from purchase taxes, annual road taxes, public parking fees, toll payments, and the cars have the ability to travel in bus lanes.
These incentives mean that in June electric cars in Norway comprised 42 per cent of the total amount of new vehicles being registered that month.
Chairman of the Nissan Renault Alliance Carlos Ghosn visited Australia in June and called on the government to do more to promote electric vehicle sales.
He said the Nissan Leaf had only clocked up 600 sales in Australia since it launched five years ago — a minnow when compared to the 1.15 million vehicles sold annually in Australia.
“We need government subsidies to make sure you can jump start the sales,” Mr Ghosn said.
“Usually electric cars take off when there is a country policy about supporting zero emission transportation.”
The cost of electric vehicles in Australia is also driving consumers away, with small Nissan Leaf hatchbacks fetching around $50,000 and the more prestigious luxury Teslas fetching more than $100,000.
Online car retailer Carsales’ Editor-in-Chief Mike Sinclair said there hasn’t been any significant change in the number of electric and hybrid vehicles for sale on his website for 15 years.
“There has been a very slight reduction in average price from 2001 through to now, but we are talking an extremely small number of models, and almost exclusively hybrid rather than electric,” he said.
But he said there were a couple of cars arriving in Australia next year which could change the electric vehicle landscape, including the newly launched Nissan Leaf and the much hyped Tesla Model 3.
“The new version of the Nissan Leaf is much more conventionally styled than the previous model and will be available in a version in our marketplace with a 400km range,” Mr Sinclair said.
The small city-runabout car has a 40 kilowatt hour lithium ion battery and will take 16 hours to fully charge up when plugged into a standard power point. Using a fast-charging system Nissan claims the battery can replenish to 80 per cent within 40 minutes.
“There is also a lot being said about the Tesla Model 3 — which is their first so called mass market model — but I have concerns about the timeline for that coming here and the huge order bank,” Mr Sinclair said.
The new Tesla’s battery ranges from about 50 kilowatts to 75 kilowatts for the long range version, and can travel up to 500km on a single charge when using the larger battery.
Using a Tesla supercharging station the car can be refuelled to 80 per cent capacity in less than half an hour. But the issue in Australia is there are only 12 supercharger stations in the country, with them all based on the east coast.
Tesla owner club member Richard McNeall is on a mission to build awareness of this issue and recently drove his Tesla to Uluru to prove that it is possible to take electric cars to some of the most isolated places on earth.
“There’s a move to establish a charging route for electric vehicles right around Australia and up the middle … with a maximum spacing of 300 kilometres between places where you can charge,” he said.
Mr McNeall said Tesla’s can be charged overnight in caravan parks or for a much quicker charge, use industrial power outlets to replenish the batteries in about five hours.
He said hotels in NSW and Victoria often let you recharge your vehicle for free if you stay the night or buy a meal, and caravan parks will often accept a bottle of wine as payment.
But in other parts of Australia it’s a different story.
“In the middle of the Nullarbor, they will charge you a $50 flat rate — the logic is it’s just like filling the car with diesel but through a different pump, because they use diesel generators out there to create power,” Mr McNeall said.
He will be speaking at the upcoming EV Expo at Macquarie University on September 17. The event will showcase a range of factory made and custom converted electric vehicles along with charging stations.