Climate concerns top reasons to buy an EV, but price and choice still roadblocks

Climate concerns top the list for those who want to buy an EV, according to the findings of a new survey, but price and limited choice are still proving roadblocks for those who want to make the switch.

The survey of more than 270 drivers living in eco-conscious northern NSW revealed that although 85% of those surveyed would like to make the switch to an electric car, 80% of that number are financially limited to an EV priced at under $40,000.

The survey, which covered five regional LGAs – the Tweed, Byron, Ballina, Lismore and Richmond shire and city councils – was conducted by climate activist organisation Zero Emissions Byron to help inform decision-makers on how to make the region more EV-ready.

“Strategies designed to roll out electric vehicles in cities, don’t necessarily work in our NSW Northern Rivers area,” said  Muriel Watt, leader of ZEB’s Electric Vehicle team.

The survey was distributed throughout the five LGAs “with the intent to advocate for residents of these areas to make EV ownership easier across our region,” she added.

The survey showed governments were focussing on the wrong areas, Watt said; rather than making electric cars more affordable for Australians by addressing taxes, the federal “Future Fuel Strategy” had focused on rolling out charging infrastructure. And even then, it had focused on equipping highways for long-distance EV travel, rather than in communities, where charging was needed on a day-to-day basis.

And, with little support for carmakers to bring in more EV models, there is limited choice on brands and prices.

“Governments need to be serious and think about more than the headline statement,” says Watt. “They need to look at what people are concerned about.”

Top of that list is climate change. Of those surveyed, 64% said that buying an EV was driven by the climate benefits they could bring.

Source: Zero Emissions Byron
Source: Zero Emissions Byron

The survey was also significant because of the limited public transport options in the region, meaning catching buses on a regular basis is not practical, and the issue of affordable EV options is compounded by rising real estate values that are seeing locals priced out of the housing market.

Asked what was their main barrier to purchase, 60% cited the price of EVs, with just 17% citing concerns about the driving range of electric cars.

barriers to EV purchase
Source: Zero Emissions Byron


Another 13.3% said that the lack of suitable models on the market was also a problem. Of those who wanted to buy an EV, 46% said they would only consider one priced under $30,000, with another 36% saying they would buy if it cost under $40,000.

price of EVs
Source: Zero Emissions Byron

There are no models, save for a small number of BYD EVs available for order through Australian EV import business EV Direct, available in Australia for that price. The MG ZS EV, priced in the low $40,000s, comes close and was recently chosen by ex-mayor of Byron Shire Simon Richardson for his personal zero-emissions ride.

Even new EV models priced under $80,000 that are arriving are few and far between, as carmakers struggle to import more than a few hundred at a time.

“There were lots of comments about needing SUVs and utes in this area – locals are looking for vehicles better suited to country living,” said Watt.

While there are few electric SUVs on the market, most are at premium prices, and there are no electric utes available yet.

“People are paying $2 a litres for fuel now, electric utes would be much cheaper to run,” Watt told The Driven. Electric vehicles have around 10% of the parts of a combustion engine and thus much lower maintenance costs.

“It’s difficult to make that comparison to upfront costs versus lifetime running costs,” she said. “These are the kind of issues people need to think about differently.”

Access to charging infrastructure – another factor that in past surveys has been cited as a barrier to uptake – was only a small concern for EV buyers: just 12% said they did not have easy access to charge points, 88% said they could charge at home.

But Watt said that survey responses on charging infrastructure also highlighted the need for better signage around chargers.

Of those surveyed, 69% said they were aware of public stations in the region, but 49% of that was accounted for by the highly visible NRMA charger located at The Farm in Ewingsdale ranking as the top most-known charger.

The findings hit home just weeks after the federal government released its “Future Fuels Strategy” which allocates $250 million to roll out more infrastructure, but which Watt says is focussed on the wrong types of chargers, and the fact that many people already have somewhere to charge.

“Governments are constantly going on about needing more stations, so people are scared there aren’t enough places to charge,” she said.

“It’s giving people the impression they can’t just use a standard powerpoint in their home.”

“It’s also interesting that people want charge points at public car parks, shopping centres, and sport facilities, and so on,” she notes.

“Government want to put chargers on highways, but people are thinking about their everyday lives and where they normally go.

“The other thing is to make sure that all the public stations are powered by renewables, because climate change is a key driver so they won’t use it unless they know it is powered by renewable energy – that needs to be part of the signage and part of the commitment,” she added.

Asked what would help people buy electric vehicles, most respondents said they would like to see reduced sales taxes and registration, as well as exemption from the luxury car tax and grants to help buy an EV. While NSW has introduced an exemption from stamp duty and a $3,000 rebate for EVs under $68,750, there are no federal incentives.

“There’s nothing to help make electric vehicles more affordable for Australians,” said Watt. “They’re aware that cost is an issue but horrified that many costs are government charges – they want to support EVs but taxes are making them more expensive.”

The survey indicated a much higher rate of EV ownership in northern NSW compared to the wider population. While just 1% of Australians own electric vehicles, 10% of those surveyed said they owned an EV, including electric cars, bikes, motorbikes and scooters.

Notably, 27% of those people said they had bought their EV secondhand.

“We were interested to learn that of the 25% of respondents who already own an EV, 27% had bought secondhand – proving a lower-cost, secondhand market already exists,” said Watt.

Disclosure: Bridie Schmidt assisted in the creation of the survey in a role as EV advisor to Zero Emissions Byron.

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