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Should Australia make electric vehicles?

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Brought to you by The Echo and Cosmos Magazine


New report advocates for reviving onshore vehicle manufacturing – electrically.

Australia could benefit hugely from setting up an onshore electric vehicle manufacturing industry, according to a new report from the Australia Institute’s Carmichael Centre.

The report states that Australia’s renewable energy potential, mineral resources and highly skilled workforce make it an optimal place to manufacture electric vehicles.

Thanks to the resilience of our remaining automotive manufacturing supply chain, a surprising amount of auto manufacturing work – including components, specialty vehicles and engineering – still exists here, says lead author Dr Mark Dean, a research fellow at the Carmichael Centre.

The report outlines a range of initiatives and policies that governments would need to implement to kickstart the industry, including tax incentives to encourage onshore processing of raw mined materials – particularly lithium for batteries – a long-term vocational education strategy, incentivising global manufacturers to set up here, rapidly electrifying government fleets with local cars, and establishing an EV Manufacturing Industry Commission.

We used to have the industry, says Gail Broadbent, a researcher in electric vehicle uptake at the University of New South Wales, who was not involved in writing the report.

It’s only four years ago that it closed, so there’s no reason why the educated, skilled workforce isn’t there.

In addition to the existing skilled workforce, the report points out that much of the engineering infrastructure needed to make vehicles is still around and could be repurposed.

That report rightly points out we’ve got the minerals to make the batteries, we’ve got all the materials we need to make cars – so there’s no reason not to value-add, says Broadbent.

There are places in Australia where the existing manufacturing industry has reinvented itself, connecting with advanced technologies.

The report highlights the Tonsley Innovation District, at the site of the old Mitsubishi factory in the southern suburbs of Adelaide, as an example of government support provoking this sort of development.

The Tonsley Innovation precinct would be a terrific location for EV manufacturing, says Giselle Rampersad, Professor of Innovation at Flinders University’s Tonsley campus, who also wasn’t involved in writing the report.

It includes an innovation ecosystem of large companies, small and medium enterprises [SMEs] and is underpinned by the education sector of [Flinders] providing research and a skilled workforce, as well as the VET sector.

Rampersad says that while defence has been key to many of these developments, SMEs operate across several manufacturing sectors and the intent is that spillover benefits can be felt in other sectors, such as EV manufacturing.

According to Rampersad, educational areas that need attention to build up an EV manufacturing workforce include engineering (mechanical, robotic, electrical and electronic) and computing (IT and cybersecurity), as smart systems are required in EVs to track usage and also in new advancements related to autonomous features.

While it’s clear that the industry wouldn’t be starting from scratch, onshore EV manufacture would still need a big investment from government to get up and running – and it would need even more work to guarantee locals would buy the EVs.

Broadbent says that one of the best ways to encourage local uptake is for governments to guarantee they will preferentially purchase Australian-made electric vehicles for their fleets – another initiative suggested by the report. As well as providing confidence for manufacturers, such a policy would have a social effect.

It sends a message to the country that the government thinks they’re good enough to buy, says Broadbent.

It’s also a way to normalise the vehicles.

All the workers who get to use them in their workplace, get to use them without having to go to the trouble of buying one, says Broadbent. They get to see how they work, and they can appreciate the benefits, and it starts a lot of conversations.

This is why several state governments are currently planning to transition their fleets to EVs, even absent of local manufacturing.

Price and infrastructure are much more complicated issues to tackle on uptake. Widespread charging stations, better incentives to buy and sell EVs, and better regulations on pollution all need to be introduced to make EV usage more widespread.

People want the infrastructure, and without that infrastructure, it ain’t gonna happen, says Broadbent.

Rampersad says that electrification is a journey,”  noting that EVs are part of the transition to more advanced vehicle systems, such as solar cars. EV manufacturing [is] a vital stepping stone in strengthening manufacturing capability to shape a bright future.


This article was originally published on Cosmos Magazine and was written by Ellen Phiddian. Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.

Published by The Echo in conjunction with Cosmos Magazine.


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13 COMMENTS

  1. The money to buy Electric Vehicles is not here in Australia.
    The money is overseas. So start a manufacturing industry subsidised by the government for export to the United States.
    Sales will increase and bring the cost per unit down to the pocket of the average Australian.
    That is reversing of how the Holdeb car started in 1948. General Motors of the United States started the GMH Holden car and made the vehiclefor the Australian wage and salary earner. At the moment Electric vehicles are far too expensive. The price must come down for Australians.

    • That is not my understanding of how the Holden car industry started here in Australia. Anyway, however, in terms of starting our own electric car industry in Australia, we surely missed the boat and that opportunity when then PM Tony Abbott shut down the car industry here in Australia in 2015. If we do start up again, we need to be much more focused on the vehicle types (SUV, ute, vans etc.), the markets to build for (not only Australia, but the Asia-Pacific region), and the production line workforce (although production lines are much more automated and use robots and robotics, a skilled labour workforce would still be required from our own population and Pacific islanders , as a more productive way to counter China’s growing influence and incursion into the South Pacific.). If only our then Govt. leaders back in 2015 should have had the foresight and negotiation skills to bargain with the multi-national car firms , that if they wanted further car industry subsidies to keep their Australian manufacturing plants open they needed to be transitioning to electric, hybrid and hydrogen vehicle design and manufacturing! What a short sighted missed opportunity that was in the lucky (but not do smart) country…Australia (and also New Zealand)!!!

  2. With so little uptake of EVs we would be about the last place to build them. The government buying some is not going to justify it. I believe we should be building Electric Buses. They are bulky to transport from overseas, we can tailor to our market and still use a lot of the existing car building skills and infrastructure.

  3. Expect your power bills to double to fund the massive electrical infrastructure required.

    Don’t make the batteries here. It’s a highly polluting process, and the batteries need to be replaced every few years.

  4. We have a stupid question. “Should Australia make electric vehicles?”
    The intelligent question is “Why aren’t Electric vehicles being made in Australia?”
    It would have to be because the Australian government will not put money into it.
    The Morrison government pulled the money out of the Australian car industry and Holden And Ford manufacturing collapsed.
    Manufacturing is just about at a stand-still and the government wants unemployment to go down to about 3.6 percent
    So to do that the interest rate does not go up on houses, The price of Houses has skyrocketed and they are now are priced at about $1.6 million each.
    So who is losing here? The public.

  5. Good comment Emily. I agree that we should make EVs in Australia. I think a ute/SUV would be the best vehicle to make.
    A big battery & Vehicle to Grid technology.
    The Tesla Cybertruck is too big, & most of the US offerings are equally big. I feel there is a niche for a reasonable sized
    ute about the size of the old Holden/Ford Australian offerings. The SUV, & a Van offering could use the same platform.
    This would suit many Government uses, so to have the Government preferential contract would help the local manufacturing,
    as well as in the future, increase the Used EV market.
    A ute this size might also have some export potential. We have exported vehicles to our neighbors inc NZ for instance.
    Charging: Chris is not correct about the EVs requiring larger networks. The current networks can handle vehicle charging,
    but there may need to be modifications in the future. As Vehicles charge faster, the peak demand will increase, but this could be
    handled by using local batteries or Supercapacitors to store & quickly release charge. (This was proposed for a bus in the N Rivers,
    so the technology exists). I see these changes being similar to the Horse changing to ICE vehicles. The change is inevitable.
    What is not said about EVs is that it wioll have a positive effect on Austrtalia´s Balance of payments. Even changing 30% of
    vehicles could save $Billions. It will require changes, & I feel the Vehicle to Grid will also be a Virtual Power plant.
    This is my Crystal ball future view: the Virtual Power plant works by the vehicle being available as a Power sink or Source.
    The vehicle manager (driver) can set a lower limit that the charge can go down to, but the grid can sink excess power when
    available, but draw in times of need. This will likely be a commodity, with traders using the Virtual Power plant to trade energy.
    This could be your Energy retailer, or a Trader you purchase EV charge from. Remember this is new technology, so it will take
    time for the technology to establish a market, but I feel it will happen.
    For the doubters, you will be able to refuse to trade power, but you may pay more to charge your vehicle. Most Vehicles only
    travel low daily distances anyway.
    I am talking as an EV owner. We have owned an ev for over 8 years: initially an Imiev that was used to commute locally, & charged overnight.
    We have added a 64Kw Kona EV about 18 months ago. Most of our charging comes from our roof PV system. This vehicle has aq 400Km+
    range at highway speeds, & costs us very little to run (ICE equivalent economy to abt 1.5L/100Kms) Service is also much lower cost,
    abt $250 every 20K Kms. The Kona now has abt 48K Kms, & I expect to keep it for 6-8 years, so TCO is really low.
    Batteries: Most EVs have long warranties on the batteries (8 years on the Kona for instance). Recycling Lithium Ion batteries is possible, &
    I feel it will be performed in Australia in the future. (Tesla has a battery repair/re-processing in Adelaide for instance). Remember, most
    current Li batteries are in consumer devices, not vehicles. Once vehicles begin to be scrapped, I feel the recycling capabilities will be available.
    The other consideration is the battery technology is changing: The new Australian Teslas now have a battery that is easier to recycle.

    So, please stop the FUD. EVs are here & will gradually take over the market. This will not happen overnight, but considering we have about the worst
    ICE standards in the world, it needs to happen so our cities & towns become cleaner, both pollution & noise wise.

    • Problem is, once EV is cheap and common, they will make internal combust unobtainable without get EV to be an equivalent replacement.
      If they would just introduce EV and leave combustion alone, people could purchase based on there requirements.
      I’m not opposed to getting an EV for running around.
      When I have to travel long distance, or have a serious job to do, I need my combustion.
      People don’t like being forced, especially for lies about it being a cleaner option.
      Much like them saying giant computer chips and windmills aren’t damaging to the environment so we have to get rid of coal and gas.

  6. Chris,
    both types of vehicles will be available for some time, but I feel the ICE option will quickly become more expensive. (ICE vehicles have increased up to 20% in abt 12 months, but evs are relatively stable in price. Most will choose EVs because they are MUCH cheaper to run, if abt the same price. ICE vehicles will get more expensive because of the greater difficulty building them, & development cost amortisations spread over fewer vehicles.
    Tesla 3 is now cheaper than a similar specd BMW ICE powered. Why would you buy a BMW at that comparison?

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