Why it’s so hard to buy an electric car

Blink and you may miss it. On Wednesday 23 March – the web page permitting – around 100 brand new Ioniq 5 electric SUVs was offered for sale by Hyundai.

They won’t be available for long, and good luck trying to get hold of one. More than 16,000 aspiring EV customers have registered for the first-come first served offering. It’s like trying to buy a ticket to a Rolling Stones concert. And if it’s anything like the first offering last year, the web site will probably crash anyway.


Welcome to the cut-throat world of trying to buy an electric vehicle in Australia.

The Ioniq 5 has won multiple awards across the world, and is highly sought, particularly with its vehicle to load facilities. But it’s not the only EV that is nearly impossible to buy.

Tesla now says there is a 9-month wait for its best-selling Model 3, by far the most popular EV in Australia. The long awaited Model Y is still not even available for order in Australia.

Kia has only 500 of its new EV6 electric vehicles – also with vehicle to load – available in Australia, but it says demand is 10 times more than that. Volvo has 1500 orders for its XC40 but can only service one third of those this year. Polestar has thousands interested in its Polestar 2, but is also on rations after making the first of its Australian deliveries last week.

BMW says it is working with HQ in Munich to secure more supply. “At present, local delivery timing from order placement on a new BMW iX3 is approximately six months, while delivery timing for new BMW iX and i4 models is between six to 12 months depending on the variant,” a spokesman told The Driven.

The story with other car makers is equally bleak. Seven of the top 10 selling EVs in Europe in 2021 are simply not available for sale in Australia. That includes the Model Y and the two Volkswagen models, the ID.3 and the ID.4.

The main reason is simple.

When the Australian federal Coalition government went out of its way to demonise and mock EVs in the last election campaign – “they won’t tow your boat” and “they’ll ruin your weekend”, prime minister Scott Morrison told us then – most global car makers decided to make other plans.

They put Australia at the end of the EV queue. They had other reasons to do so, too. Australia is one of the very few countries in the world that has no vehicle emissions standards. The country that leads the world in the uptake of rooftop solar is seemingly determined to be at the tail end of the transition to EVs. What a waste of rooftop solar!

The Coalition intransigence on a coherent EV policy – it had tested the waters on emissions standards once, but was cowered by the “carbon tax on wheels” headlines in the Murdoch media – means that the car makers have no incentive to sell EVs in this country.

They prefer to send them to Europe instead, to balance out the emissions from more polluting SUVs and 4WDs. And it’s the Australian customer who pays, because they are served up with inefficient fossil fuel engines (or mechanical fart boxes as they should be known) that even the government’s own data  says adds around $600 to the cost of fuel per car, per year.

It’s insanity, and that figure is ballooning now as petrol and diesel prices soar, thanks to the war in Ukraine, the lingering impacts of Covid-19 on supply chains, political turmoil in Europe, and the spike in commodity markets.

Car makers say that enquiries from customers are jumping significantly, even though the lowest cost EV is in the mid $40,000s, and most are pitched between $60,000 and $80,000.

Most states have tried to make EVs more attractive by offering rebates of $3,000 for EVs priced below 68,750 (or $58,000 in Queensland), but the simple fact is they are hard to find.

Hyundai says dealers are reporting a big increase in EV enquiries, up to 20 per cent in some areas. “At showroom level, there is plenty of interest and much more chat from people who were there to look at ICE vehicles,” a spokesman said.

Indeed, the conversations that The Driven has had with readers suggests that those who were once patiently waiting for their fossil fuel car to die peacefully before lining up for an EV are now looking to fast-track that process. But have few if any options.

Tim Wilson, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Toyota Australia president Matthew Callachor and Minister for Energy Angus Taylor pose for a photo with a hydrogen-fuelled car in Melbourne. (AAP Image/Pool, William West)

Of course, it is not as though this federal government is incapable of acting quickly. It is now considering at least a temporary reduction of the fuel excise tax in an attempt to deflect the political costs of rising fuel prices ahead of the May election.

Late last year, when a shortage loomed for Adblue, an ingredient critical for diesel engines such as delivery trucks and the Ford Everest that energy minister Angus Taylor uses, the government moved into overdrive to secure supplies. And they were happy to promise  billions of dollars as a safety net for oil refineries.

Morrison and his ministers have not been photographed sitting or driving in an electric car, but they have been happy to promote hydrogen fuel cell cars. Of course, this is just about kicking the can down the road.

You cannot buy a fuel cell car in Australia. About a dozen or so have been leased out by Toyota on special deals to the likes of hydrogen advocate Alan Finkel, but not to the general public. That’s because there are only a handful of refuelling stations in the country, and each of those cannot cope with more than a handful of refuelling events each day.

What chances are there of this situation changing any time soon? Not great. The surge in fuel prices is making EVs a compelling purchase, particularly for fleets.

And while Labor has a more coherent EV strategy than the Coalition (their climate and energy spokesman Chris Bowen recently got a Tesla), they are also balking at the emissions standards, possibly due to the same fear of Murdoch media as the Coalition.

Australia has already become a dumping ground for dirty cars that would not be allowed on the roads in many countries. And not much is going to change anytime soon.

If anything, the dropping of the fuel excise, even for a short time, will further delay the arrival of EVs. The weekend could be a whole lot cheaper, cleaner and more fun. But not in this country.



giles parkinson

Giles Parkinson is founder and editor of The Driven, and also edits and founded the Renew Economy and One Step Off The Grid web sites. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years, is a former business and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review, and owns a Tesla Model 3.


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