As the next chart shows, hybrids have been in the mix for a long time. And EV sales have long lagged behind, selling a tiny smattering of units. But in 2023, EVS are suddenly ahead.
Hybrids remain a very functional technology with a lot of advantages, but consumers, when given the choice, are pumped to buy a car you can’t put petrol in. Teslas, MG and BYD are meeting that need, flooding the Australian market with battery-electric vehicles in a sudden surge that has, in 2023, tipped the humble hybrid off its perch.
Notably, all these brands are selling made-in-China vehicles. It is the Chinese government’s enthusiasm for EVs, not ours, that is most responsible for the recent uptick in EV sales.
Also by Jason Murphy:
Australia’s EV incentives remain modest, and the price premium on an EV is still significant. I recently was in the market for a car and test-drove the BYD, which is a terrific car. But I ultimately baulked at the $50,000 sticker price.
What the stats show is many people did not. Given the choice, they embraced EVs, especially the $65,000 Tesla Model Y, which has sold tens of thousands of units this year so far.
(nb. Tesla did not report its sales before 2022. Also: You might be wondering, what about MG? MG doesn’t break out sales of its different models by drivetrain, which is why they aren’t included in the chart, despite selling a lot of EVs)
Consumers are revelling in their EVs as petrol prices hover around $2/litre. Meanwhile, brands that did not fully embrace battery electric vehicles are getting left behind.
Most notable is Toyota, which is the leading seller of hybrids, from the original Prius all the way through to the highly popular RAV4. Toyota never leveraged its lead in hybrids to become an EV juggernaut. Instead, it hedged its bets by trying to leapfrog to hydrogen vehicles. Just a handful of hydrogen vehicles have been sold in Australia, most to a Melbourne council that has the country’s only hydrogen-refilling station in it.
Toyota’s choice looks to have missed the most popular part of the technology spectrum: pure battery electric vehicles. Although, it has recently been spruiking a big breakthrough in solid state batteries, which are smaller and lighter. We shall have to see if that comes to anything.
The transport contribution to Australia’s carbon emissions is 18 per cent, of which 10 per cent is personal vehicles, i.e. cars and light commercial vehicles. So, switching to EVs isn’t going to stop global warming in one fell swoop. But it is low-hanging fruit that doesn’t require a lot of coordination or planning – simply making the technology available to consumers is enough to start uptake. Of course EVs are still powered by burning coal in much of Australia, especially in Victoria during winter. To reap their benefits, the hard work of decarbonising our electricity supply still needs to take place.
Also, we shouldn’t overstate the number of EVs sold. While growth is phenomenal in percentage terms, sales remain moderate in absolute numbers. In fact, while sales of EVs increased by 40,000 between July 2022 and July 2023, from 10,000 to 50,000, sales of petrol vehicles increased by 22,000, from 320,000 to 342,000. Diesel sales fell though, from 215,000 to 204,000.
New Car Smell
The rise in EV sales comes amid a more general surge in new-car buying. Car sales in July were the highest July result ever seen. Although, of course, June is traditionally the big month for car buying as people try to get their purchase in before the end of the financial year. 2023 was only the fifth-biggest June on record.