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Opinion: Electric Vehicle Reality Check

Toyota BZ4X EV

One manufacturer speaks out. Don’t think they are alone.

If you have been paying attention, and I’m sure some of you do, you would have seen a report that Toyota Australia’s sales and marketing supremo Sean Hanley has issued a word of caution regarding the push for the faster take-up of electric vehicles.

Hanley’s words were a rare, sensible and reasoned voice in a discussion that’s often far from sensible or reasoned.

See, the trouble is, EVs aren’t just a new automotive technology – they also represent an ideology that says cutting carbon emissions, and hopefully limiting climate change, is the most important thing on mankind’s agenda right now. And when it comes to ideological debate, the subtle detail is almost always lost.

Among other things during our Electric Vehicle Reality Check, Hanley points out that if you charge electric vehicles off an electricity grid that relies in any part on fossil fuels (coal and gas) then all you’re doing is transferring the carbon emissions away from the car’s tailpipe to a fossil-fuel power station, a fact seemingly overlooked by the EV ideologues.

4 X 4 Australia Miscellaneous 2022 Toyota BZ 4 X EV 1

Hanley notes that even by 2040, more than half of the world’s electricity is expected to be generated by fossil fuels. Right now in Australia, the percentage is closer to 80 per cent nationally. The only benefit of moving carbon emissions away from the tailpipe to a remote power station is that the air in built-up areas, where vehicle use is concentrated, will become cleaner.

To fully close the environmental loop with EVs, we need a grid powered 100 per cent by renewables. Or you bypass the grid by charging EVs off home solar panels, or via solar-panel or wind-powered public charging points.

It should be noted that Hanley’s caution comes off the back of Toyota unveiling its first fully battery-electric vehicle, the BZ4X (due 2022) and the background of Toyota making petrol-electric hybrids for the better part of a quarter of a century.

4 X 4 Australia Miscellaneous 2022 Toyota BZ 4 X EV 4

The other problem that the EV protagonists miss, especially those in Australia, is that we simply don’t have sufficient grid power for a rapid and significant take-up of battery EVs.

In fact, if everyone swapped their fossil fuel cars to battery-electric cars tomorrow and charged them off the grid, Australia would need an electricity grid with around twice the power than it has now!

As it is, our national power grid barely copes with current demand at high-load periods.

There’s a huge amount of inertia in the automotive industry and switching from fossil-fuel cars to EVs, either battery or hydrogen fuel cell, requires functional infrastructure to be built. And that will take time.

A recent study in California, where EV take-up is far greater than in Australia, showed that nearly 20 per cent of EV buyers want to go back to a fossil fuel car for their next purchase – despite California being well-served by charging stations. The disgruntled EVs owners cited the inconvenience of the public charging infrastructure and the fact they didn’t have a suitable charging facility at home.

4 X 4 Australia Miscellaneous 2022 Toyota BZ 4 X EV 3

The lesson here for public EV charging is that charging stations set up like conventional fuel stations will only work if you can charge your EV in a similar time that it takes to fill the fuel tank of a petrol or diesel car, and that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

EV charging points need to be at places where you are going to park and leave your car anyway; at home, at parking stations, at office car parks, at shopping centres, and so on. Then the slow charging time isn’t an issue.

Unfortunately, all this will take clear forward planning, especially at local and state (and territory) government levels – and that may be too much to ask, going on the previous dud decisions like approving Tesla charging stations where you can only charge a Tesla! Who would approve a conventional fuel station where you can only fill up one make of car? Please…

Making the whole EV take-up even more fraught with problems is the federal government is set to lose up to $12 billion a year in revenue that you and me provide, thanks to the 42.7 cents-per-litre levy we currently pay on petrol and diesel fuel.

So expect to see more of the push-and-shove between the federal government and the state and territory governments, which we have already seen with COVID-19, as we stagger down the inevitable road to EV take-up.

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16 JUN 202