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Australia’s Solar Race

Solar Race Car

The ‘Nuon Solar Team’ continues to dominate the solar race across Australia that started in Darwin and will finish in Adelaide.  Racing without conventional combustion engines, the various teams from around the world converged on Darwin having built their vehicles as completely solar-powered electric machines.

There are three categories that are completing the journey.  The first being the quickest team to complete the 3000 km race distance – this race is known as the ‘Challenger Class’.

The second class is the known as the ‘Cruiser Class’, where there are points given to the teams for the number of passengers on board, the amount of energy that they are using in terms of the number of battery recharges that are occurring throughout the journey and the general practicality of the car.  Being a part of the ‘Cruiser Class’, the points aren’t all about speed.

Solar Race Cruiser Class

Finally, the third category is known as the ‘Adventure Class’ which is the non-competitive class, allowing cars built for previous races of the event to run again – usually with new team members.  The ‘Adventure Class’ can also be used as a catchment for those who, while meeting the exacting safety standards, may not have quite made full compliance with the latest race requirements.  This is the category with the more laid-back travel style.

At the end of day three: the quickest team competing in the ‘Challenger Class’ is the ‘Nuon Solar Team’ from Holland.

Nuon Solar Team

Second is the team from Tokai University.

Tokai University Race Team

Third is the team from Michigan University.

Novum Race Team

Just over halfway through the race and there will still be plenty of challenges ahead for all race competitors.  One of the major influences on how well a car performs in this race is the amount of sunshine there will be.  Cloudy days do impact the speed and progress of the cars.

This is an exciting race held here in Australia that is sponsored by Bridgestone, and it’s these sort of races that enable the evolution of production cars being run on electricity and solar energy.  If you can, get out and have a look at the cars as they silently run into Adelaide in a few days time.

Auto Industry News – Q3 2017

We review all the major news events in the automotive industry from the third quarter of 2017.

 

Safety and Environment

In what became the first ever compulsory recall for vehicles in Australia, the ACCC intervened to shine the spotlight on cars affected by defective Takata airbags. The recall eventuated amid a rising number of fatalities worldwide attributed to the faulty components, including a local fatality in Sydney.

Emissions scandals continue to plague manufacturers, with Peugeot and Citroen being looked into for their alleged use of ‘cheating’ devices similar to those used by Volkswagen. The companies join Renault and Fiat Chrysler to be looked into, however, they have strongly denied the accusations. Also being accused of unconscionable conduct, Daimler is facing concerns it sold over one million cars with excess emissions.

In a boost for environmentalists, Queensland’s government announced plans to develop the world’s longest electric highway that will promote the use of electric vehicles.

 

Technology

Fuel technology continues to be a major focal point. Volvo has drawn a line in the sand, as the auto maker plans to begin phasing out petrol and diesel in the coming years. This aligns with legislation in France and the UK that will ban said vehicles from 2040, and China planning to soon ban the production of these vehicles, although Australia isn’t expected to follow suit any time soon.

Locally, the nation could be at the forefront of hydrogen fuel technology, with a world first trial set for hydrogen powered vehicles next year. South Australia even became the first Australian state to endorse hydrogen as the next fuel technology.

On a related note, Sydney will play host to integral trials surrounding the future of autonomous vehicles in Australia, while first round results from testing in Victoria suggest infrastructure and technology are currently ill equipped for self-driving vehicles. Abroad however, and vacuum cleaner maker Dyson is eyeing the electric vehicle market, set to take on dedicated manufacturers as soon as 2020.

Other technology developments include:

 

Legal and Regulatory Issues

The government was caught up in a vehicle ‘carbon tax’ controversy, with auto bodies and car makers slamming a rumoured proposal, although the government went on the front foot to deny its prospects.

Elsewhere, the ACCC commenced proceedings against Ford Australia over its ‘faulty’ auto transmissions, however the car maker announced it will contend the accusations. Also facing scrutiny from the ACCC, Holden settled an investigation by announcing the industry’s first vehicle refund and replacement scheme for the first 60 days of vehicle ownership

However, the ACCC saved its biggest salvo for the broader new car industry, detailing a wide range of concerns regarding the way customers’ complaints are dealt with, the sharing of manufacturer data with independent repairers, and real world fuel/emissions tests. The developments could give rise to lemon laws. Naturally, this provoked concern and consternation from the automotive bodies.
Finally, the Federal Court has requested Volkswagen publish changes to vehicle performance on its website and social media arising from the Dieselgate saga.

Holden: The Day For Closing Is Coming.

Holden, along with Toyota, will cease to manufacture cars in Australia. But how has the process leading up to that day been handled, what about the people involved? Private Fleet‘s Dave Conole had a one on one interview with the head of PR for Holden, Sean Poppit. This is part one of a two part story.

With Holden stopping manufacturing in Australia, what has been the process to wind down making cars up to the final day?
October 20 is the final day of production and we’ll continue building cars up until the final day and it will be full speed up until that point. Let’s say we’re doing 170 cars per day, we’ll stay at that figure right until the final day. Obviously that day won’t be a full production day and we’ll hold a private employee only ceremony at the plant to mark and honour our heritage and our people.
What is being done to support the workers across the factories?
At the plant in Adelaide we’ve got just under a thousand workers there. One of the things that has been ABSOLUTELY non-negotiable from us, right from the outset, have been what we call the transition services and the transition centres. Our HR and manufacturing teams have won several national, and in fact, global awards for the quality of that work.
We’ve got a full time transition centre set up at the Holden Vehicle Operations which is at our plant in Adelaide. We’ve fully decked out the bottom floor of one wing and that’s a dedicated, permanent , centre to assist people in getting new jobs or be retrained. We have independent people from many industries, government support including the military, people from the private sector like engineering groups…it’s been a benchmark piece of work and it’s something we’re justifiably and extremely proud of in the way it’s helped and continues to help people transition.
Up until this chat we’ve had an eighty percent success rate, meaning eighty percent of those that have left Holden since 2013 have found or gone onto new work, while that other twenty percent have either gone into full time study or chosen to retire. So it’s been an amazing success rate which I think is a testament to what we have in place to helping our people transition AND how eminently employable our people are.
That’s some really good news for the people involved, yes?
Absolutely. Not just in the north of Adelaide but in Adelaide itself Holden was seen as a job for life. It’s a great place to work, really fair pay, you get to work with a brand you are passionate about and get opportunities to move around the plant and do different roles. There’s lots of long term employees and we know it (the change) can be daunting to re-skill and re-train which really is the reason for being, these transition centres.
However there will still be roles for current employees, right, in places and roles such as Lang Lang or in research and development?
True. We’ll become a vehicle importer, engineering, and design centre and we’ll still have the second largest dealer network in the country. Our corporate HQ will remain here at Port Melbourne and there’ll still be our team of 150 designers as part of the international design studios and yes we’ll retain the Lang Lang proving ground (south east of Melbourne) and the 150 engineers on site there. What that means is there will be somewhere between 350 to 400 designers and engineers working on local and international products as well as the hundreds of people in the corporate side, sales, marketing etc.
With the new Commodore on the way, how does Holden see the vehicle being received?
We ran a drive day at the proving grounds earlier this year, with the next gen Commodore. We had the V6 and four cylinder version. We had a dozen Commodore customers there. I’ll be up front, we had a couple of them come up and question why they were there, saying yes they were keen to see the proving ground but didn’t have a lot of interest in a front drive Commodore.
(It’s here that Sean shared some quotes from those that attended.)
“I wouldn’t have considered this car, now I’d even consider the two litre, never mind the V6.”
“ I’m really surprised at how well it gets the power down, it feels quicker through the corners than expected.”
“The new Commodore is really impressive, I particularly like the V6 model with the all wheel drive, even the two wheel drive model is not bad and very quick with the turbo.”
It’s going to be on us to present the car in the right way, we don’t imagine for one second it’s going to have the same emotional and nostalgic appeal. Our sales numbers, we don’t expect it’ll sell in the same numbers the locally built car did. But what’s critical, and what was reinforced to us in a pilot program we ran recently…. what we want is for people to drive the car and understand that Holden magic, what made the Commodore so great, there’s a very, very big streak of it in this new car. Rob Tribbiani (Holden’s legendary chassis engineer and the driver of the Holden ute that set a record at the famed Nurburgring) is super excited about the all wheel drive V6 with the adaptive dampers and tricky real differential system, is a real belter. We just want the car to be driven and judged on its own merits.

Will Manufacturers be able to Eliminate Car Crashes?

In recent years, car developments have largely oriented around safety improvements. Manufacturers have honed in on this area, hoping to address the issue of fatalities on our roads. And for the large part, auto makers have played a notable role in reducing the road toll. Further innovations and developments are now being spoken of to maintain this momentum, and possibly, eliminate car crashes all together. But is this really possible?

There are no shortage of measures being designed as a direct response to car accidents. To name a few:

  • Forward collision systems that detect an impending crash;
  • Adaptive headlights which provide visibility around corners;
  • Magnetic roads that ‘guide’ vehicles;
  • Communicative vehicles that ‘speak’ with one another;
  • And the most prominent innovation, fully autonomous vehicles

While each of these innovative measures could help reduce road casualties even further, there’s still a very obvious facet missing from the discussion here. That is, we seem to be doing everything to modify technology, but we’re not actually addressing driver behaviour. In fact, we’re looking to bypass the driver to achieve desired results. Hardly an encouraging fact.

Although making technological changes is all well and good, they introduce a disparity between road users. Those who are driving the latest cars equipped with such technology, and those who do not. Even though many innovations eventually become mainstream across all levels of new vehicles, the time for this roll out is often such that new technology features come along. That is, by the time one feature becomes standard across all vehicles, the next ‘must have’ technology is being fitted into top of the line vehicles. Then the cycle continues.

We’re also not at a level where we can begin to depend on technology at all costs. That is, drivers should not be taught to become ‘dummies’ in their cars, oblivious to their surroundings. The fact is, things can, and sometimes do go wrong when technology is involved, and this is unlikely to be any different when installed in a car where external factors can cause a hazard.

This is where an emphasis needs to return to the person behind the wheel, who ultimately, can still cause an accident on our roads by way of being distracted, poor driving habits, a mistake, or through reckless actions. Today’s licencing requirements are indeed far too lenient. Sure, the burden has increased for new drivers who are on their P plates, but the focus is still misdirected.

It is important new drivers are tested on their ability to drive cautiously and courteously on our roads. This is not a matter for dispute. However, reactive mechanisms have largely been overlooked. That is, if one finds themselves losing control of a vehicle, or in danger of causing an accident, drivers need to be equipped with the necessary motoring skills to avoid or at least mitigate the impact of a crash.

Therefore, as we proceed down the rabbit hole where we increasingly rely on technology doing all the driving for us, we need to be considerate about the impact this will have on driver behaviour. Technological developments will save countless lives but until we also address the skills and mindset of the person behind the wheel, we’re still some time away from getting anywhere near zero road fatalities.

How Will The Police Force Replace Their Fords and Holdens?

We all know that the Holden Commodore has been an Aussie icon on the roads for quite a few years now.  We’ve also all seen Holden Commodores tricked out as police cars… sometimes a bit too close for comfort and sometimes as a very welcome sight indeed. If you are both sharp-eyed and lead-footed, then the sight and shape of any white Commodore of a certain age is enough to get you easing up on the accelerator and slowing down; the shape is burned into your brain like the shape of a hawk is burned into the brain of a chicken (yes, chickens actually do have brains).

It also appears that the red lion vs blue oval rivalry might be alive and well in the police force, as all the points above also apply to Ford Falcons, including the bit about the shape being burned into the brains of the lead-footed.

However, the doors of the Holden factory are closing. So are Ford’s, which means that if our police force wants to have a vehicle fleet that’s up to date, they need to look for another company.  Naturally, car manufacturers around the globe have been eyeing up the contract of providing our police cars… and not just for the honour of the job but also for the very big bucks this sort of contract would entail.

So what are our boys and girls in blue going to be driving?

Rumours are flying thick and fast.  Browsing through the Australian Federal Police and the NSW police websites don’t exactly yield a lot of information about what the new vehicle is going to be – it’s all kept very, very quiet.  However, the rumour mill has popped up a couple of possibilities that could very well be in the running for what we’ll see on the roads sporting the disco lights and with the word POLICE proudly emblazoned on the side (hopefully not pulling up your driveway when you hadn’t dialled 000).

It’s not easy being a cop car.  A cop car has to have great handling and plenty of power and torque for quick responses. It shouldn’t look ridiculous and it should have enough space for all the gadgetry that a modern cop needs. (Question: how come talking on the phone is considered distracting to the common or garden driver but communicating with dispatchers and other units while driving isn’t distracting to a cop?)  A cop car also needs to have enough space to transport the newly arrested naughty people where they can’t be a problem to the driver, and possibly enough space to carry a K-9 officer.  It also shouldn’t cost the earth to purchase or maintain, so that rules out all the fancy wheels used by the police in the United Arab Emirates.  We’re paying enough tax without that sort of expense!

The rumour mill has ground out a few possibilities for what’s going to be the replacement for the Fords and Holdens.  One very likely contender at the moment is the Chrysler 300 SRT .  One of these V8-engined sedans was spotted wearing the NSW Police livery back in May.

However, FCA Australia (the official name of Chrysler Australia) haven’t exactly been trumpeting the winning of the contract all over their website the way you think they would do if they had sealed the contract. There are other possibilities still in the running:

Volvo XC60 SUVs, which provide a bit of off-road capacity plus Volvo’s legendary safety standards, have also been spotted with the disco lights fitted.  Volvo does police cars for other countries, so it’s got a proven track record in this area.

The Kia Stinger is another hot contender and certainly has a beautifully appropriate name – what else would you use in a police sting operation other than a Stinger?  This new release V6 sedan isn’t the only offering put up for consideration by Kia, with the Sorento SUV being in the running. The Kias are hot contenders because as well as offering plenty of bang, they don’t require quite as many bucks as some of the luxury European contenders, such as the BMW 5-series.

Another South Korean in the running is the Hyundai Sonata Active , a number of which have recently been added to the Queensland police fleet, although the rumour mill has it that these needed a few tweaks to the brakes and tyres (and possibly some other tweaks they’re not telling the general public about).

Up until now, the general policy was to use locally made cars as much as possible. However, now that the local factories have gone belly up, it’s quite possible that instead of just getting one or two main marques serving as the police fleet in most states, we’re going to see a range of decent mid-range sedans, station wagons and SUVs in police livery.  Which will make it a problem for the leadfooted among us who have conditioned themselves to react to the shape of a certain model: you’ll never be able to pick a patrol from a distance…

So that’s their game!

Auto Industry News – Q2 2017

We review all the major news events in the automotive industry from the second quarter of 2017.

Sales and Manufacturing

As local auto makers prepare to bow out, both the Victorian government and Federal government have belatedly given the local manufacturing scene a boost in the arm. This comes courtesy of $90m funding and a separate $100mfund respectively. The news would have been immaterial according to the likes of Holden, who claim that despite a second consecutive year of profits, manufacturing cars locally would have been unsustainable. Toyota felt the pain of its local restructure though, as its profits slumped. Ford on the other hand have turned their attention towards the future, including autonomous vehicles and ride sharing services.

On the sales front, compact light hatchbacks continue to lose momentum against SUVs, while sales for diesel passenger vehicles are now approximately half of what they were in 2008. Elsewhere, Mazda was named the most reputable car company in Australia, followed by Toyota and Hyundai.

Ending the quarter, Japan’s auto parts business Takata, who were embroiled in a longstanding controversy surrounding faulty airbags, filed for bankruptcy. With enormous liabilities exceeding 1.7 trillion yen, Key Safety Systems looks set to pounce and acquire the company.

 

Safety and Environment

Data was released showing Aussie motorists are producing up to 50% more emissions than drivers in European cities, while the quality of our fuel ranks 66th in the world. The UK has responded by making a push to reduce diesel vehicle sales and lower pollution, although Australia looks set to defy this trend as SUV diesel car sales soar. Manufacturers’ actions could define the battle though, with the likes of Volvo signalling they don’t intend to continue producing diesel vehicles in the future.

In other news, for the second time this year an enormous haul of counterfeit car parts were intercepted in the UAE. The batch included fake brake pads and head gasket kits, with some of the parts believed to have been on route to Australia.

 

Technology

In the fuel technology sector, things continue to advance. Locally, a report by the National Transport Commission identified fuel efficiency improvements in light vehicles during 2016 were the slowest in 10 years. Furthermore, findings also suggested that Australian motorists continue to move towards larger cars, as green vehicles took a backwards step in terms of the proportion of new cars sold.

The sector could be shaken up however, following a discovery at the UNSW which identified “a cheap way of generating hydrogen from water”. The discovery is leading some to predict the viability of the fuel technology and its local prospects have increased. Whether hydrogen or electricity become the new incumbent(s) remains to be seen, but UBS is tipping electric vehicle prices to approach those of petrol powered vehicles as early as next year, now that worldwide sales have tipped 2m vehicles.

Meanwhile, Roads Australia weighed in about the future of autonomous vehicles, predicting “every new vehicle sold in Australia within 10 years will be driverless”. Further abroad, but still in the self-driving segment, Apple received a testing permit for its driverless technology. Additionally, Google clocked up 1 million kilometres of autonomous vehicle driving including real world tests via an early rider program. Google’s milestone is expected to place it well ahead of any other manufacturers in this area, while also experiencing substantially lower failure rates.

With that said, one US study is suggesting we might move away from owning vehicles as driverless technology is introduced. Even more of interest, some have already started to turn their attention towards the next big potential technology, flying vehicles – something that Uber appear to be keen to get in on.

As for other technical developments, Mazda Australia was spruiking its autonomous emergency braking system as a “safety standard revolution” following its introduction across a wide variety of the auto maker’s vehicle range. Toyota is working on technology that would identify drivers experiencing a heart attack, and safely pull their car over. Last but not least, Apple announced that it will release a system update later this year featuring a “do not disturb” function that comes into effect when it detects someone is driving.

 

Legal and Regulatory Issues

Vehicle emissions continued to be a sticking point for various stakeholders during the quarter. After moves from Paris and London to address emissions testing, the AAA began to press the Australian Government to do more on the issue – as well as further road safety funding. BMW Australia also contributed to the broader topic, taking a swipe at our politicians for failing to promote low emission vehicles such as electric cars. On a related point, the Electric Vehicle Council was launched in Canberra and provided a $400k grant.

Even though Volkswagen set out at the beginning of the year to address its affected vehicles in the local market, the manufacturer drew the ire of many Australian motorists for its software upgrades.

As has been customary for some time now, the diesel emissions scandal engulfed other parties. This time, authorities took action against Fiat and Mercedes Benz over concerns they have been caught up in their own emissions scandals.

Finally, as the focus on autonomous driving gathers steam, ANCAP put forward the suggestion that road laws should be nationalised to facilitate the integration of the technology. Moves to do so would follow the likes of Germany, where laws have been passed to approve self driving vehicles.

 

Making Sense of Car Servicing

Even for experienced car owners, or motorheads, car servicing can be an uncertain and difficult minefield to navigate. From capped-price servicing, to decisions on what parts to use and where to take the vehicle, or even the frequency with which your vehicle enters the garage – there are no shortage of decisions to consider.

First things first, servicing should be considered for what it really is – preventative maintenance. The purpose is to keep your car in good shape and identify any potential issues before they become a concern. As such, the key is to keep on top of your service schedule and book your car in regularly as per its recommended service intervals – often every 6 or 12 months, or 10-15,000km, whichever comes first.

Instead, what many motorists do is wait for a problem to arise and then take their vehicle in for repairs as well as general servicing. The problem with this approach is, not only can preventative maintenance potentially help prevent the issue in the first place, but it can save you considerable money.

Another thing you may want to consider is servicing your vehicle through an independent mechanic. Motorists often feel as though they are obliged to take their vehicle to a dealership for servicing, or they will void their warranty. This is not quite true. If your car is affected by a warranty issue, the independent mechanic will refer you back to your dealer for the manufacturer to subsidise the work. Outside of that, independents can offer very competitive prices, particularly if they utilise aftermarket, rebuilt or reconditioned parts.

More recently, some transparency has crept into the servicing process. Whereas previously a motorist would be flying blind with regards to the prices they would receive, servicing has become a little more structured. Drivers now have access to dealers who offer fixed or capped-price servicing programs, where motorists are provided with a price ceiling for their service, usually for a certain amount of years. As always however, motorists need to pay attention to inclusions and exclusions, the eligible timeframe, the frequency of the service, as well as any other terms and conditions.

The other trend which has become more prominent is menu-based servicing. This details the specific components, and labour, included in your vehicle’s service and their respective cost. Effectively, an itemised breakdown. When referenced with prices for individual parts, this type of summation provides some insight to understand the margins your mechanic is charging.

Accordingly, motorists have considerably greater scope to shop around and compare their service costs between service providers, or for varying makes of cars. With that said, motorists shouldn’t confuse price differences between different car manufacturers as being attributable to the mechanic or dealership. After all, there are a multitude of vehicle-related factors which play their part, not least of which concerns things like availability of parts and the frequency of servicing.

 

Q1 2017 – When One Door Closes, Another Opens

We review all the major news events in the automotive industry from the first quarter of 2017.

Manufacturing

Soon to join Ford and Holden among the casualties within the local automotive scene, Toyota announced plans to close its engine casting and manufacturing facilities on October 3 this year. Australian car part manufacturers could be the beneficiaries, with local parts being touted for use in foreign diplomats cars.

On a global level, the arrival of US President Donald Trump shook things up for automakers, with some of the biggest names under scrutiny for prioritising investment outside the USA.

Despite its issues, Volkswagen claimed the mantle to become the world’s largest auto manufacturer.

 

Safety and Environment

In what is another troubling case, authorities seized over 500,000 fake and counterfeit car parts in Abu Dhabi that were destined for Australia. The issue continues to be one proving troublesome for the industry. In an announcement to combat the problem, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries will implement a new system designed to stop fake parts at the border.

In recent days, the AAA has played a flat bat to the Federal Government’s assertion that motorists would save fuel with the introduction of stricter emissions standards. The remarks come as 17 out of 30 vehicles tested on Australian roads exceeded fuel consumption figures by an average of 25%.

Overseas, and Norway took the radical step to temporarily ban diesel cars in Oslo to reduce pollution. The nation’s measures seem to be working though, with the proportion of EV sales to new cars upwards of 50% this year. The UK has also seen record numbers for registration of EVs.

A large spate of Australian recalls closed out the quarter, with 14 separate announcements made by the ACCC in the first fortnight of March.

 

Technology

Self-driving vehicles received a shot in the arm via an announced partnership between GM and Lyft that will include the largest autonomous test set for next year. In Australia, the South Australian Government committed support to 7 driverless programs. Intel announced a $20bn acquisition of autonomous vehicle technology firm Mobileye, indicating it may well want a piece of the automotive supplier landscape. Germany meanwhile, approved a draft law to allow the technology onto roads.

In disappointing news for technologists and environmentalists, local sales figures showed a huge slump for electric vehicles in 2016 despite the year being a record for new car sales. BMW Australia pinned this on the Federal Government, arguing a lack of incentives has failed to convince motorists to buy electric vehicles.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has committed to invest $55m into technology designed to improve traffic flow and alleviate congestion on our roads.

Another technological highlight saw Mazda propose the removal of spark plugs in favour of a new, world-first fuel technology destined for local drivers.

 

Legal and Regulatory Issues

Formally, Volkswagen pled guilty in a US court over its Dieselgate saga, with fines exceeding US$4bn. This hasn’t closed off all cases however, with numerous other lawsuits in progress. Also looking to put a line under its own saga, Takata agreed to pay $1.2bn in a US court,

Meanwhile, with a local class action in progress, the CEO of Choice called on Volkswagen to offer compensation to local motorists, and the ACCC took exception to reports of waivers from the automaker absolving responsibility. The ACCC also commenced action against Audi for alleged misleading conduct regarding diesel emissions, but the matter has not yet progressed with any further detail.

In a separate matter, the consumer watchdog has indicated it will ban flex commissions for car salesmen.

Renault and Fiat also drew the attention of prosecutors and regulators for diesel emissions cheating concerns. A slew of other manufacturers like Toyota, Peugeot, Citroen, Ford are also rumoured to be subject to investigation, suggesting the industry issue is far from over.

Also before the courts, Tesla was cleared of responsibility in a fatal crash involving one of its autonomous vehicles last year. The decision could have thrown a spanner into the works for a multitude of companies currently betting driverless vehicles will be the way of the future. Lastly, in another autonomous vehicle dispute, one of Google’s subsidiaries and Uber remain locked in a legal battle regarding intellectual property theft.

 

Are Electric Vehicles Losing Traction in the Market

In a year where new car sales catapulted to new heights, surely it would be reasonable to expect that ‘green’ vehicles with alternative fuel technology shared in this growth? If anything, starting from a low base, one might even expect that their year-on-year growth significantly outperformed petrol and diesel vehicles. After all, Australian motorists are supposedly becoming more environmentally conscious and converting to green technology, no?

Imagine the surprise then, reviewing the recent sales figures for electric vehicles and hybrids in Australia throughout 2016. Electric vehicles in the private passenger segment decreased from 220 sales in 2015, to a dismal 65. That’s right. Not only did electric vehicles in this segment fail to make any meaningful progression, but a mere 65 were sold right around the country over the course of 366 days – lucky to have that extra day too.

As you look across the board in other segments, the numbers for electric vehicles don’t get much better. Sales in the non-private passenger sector decreased 30% (101 vehicles sold). The Private SUV sector sold 7 vehicles, down 92% from 2015 – a number just high enough to count on two hands. The non-private SUV sector decreased 93% from 661 sales in 2015, to 42 in 2016. There’s really no silver lining here at all.

Hybrid vehicles fared significantly better than their ‘eco-friendly’ counterparts, albeit underachieved in some areas. Within the private sector, hybrids saw a respective drop of 4% and 21% for passenger and SUV vehicles. The number of sales for each category however, remains somewhat more respectable than those for electric vehicles at 2,588 and 840.There was encouraging progress in the non-private sector for hybrids, with passenger car sales recording a 9% gain (now 8,049), and SUVs notching up impressive growth of 25% to reach 1,148 sales.

Why then, despite the great fanfare surrounding Tesla’s Model 3 last year in April, are alternative fuel vehicles, particularly electric vehicles, struggling to penetrate into the Australian market? Other countries including Norway and India have already announced initiatives to move towards alternative technology, why is Australia late to the party? Is it a case of motorists pinning their hopes on Tesla’s vehicle, and in the meantime exposing the frailty in the EV market?

We’ve heard calls from Federal and state governments, the Australian Greens Party, auto-makers like Audi, and other key stakeholders for electric vehicles to be supported through an assortment of initiatives – cheaper rego, lower insurance premiums, subsidised charging, and even the prospect of toll discounts. These are all initiatives that will no doubt prove helpful – if not for the fact that there are two other pressing issues which steer motorists away from electric vehicles – a lack of infrastructure, and vehicle prices.

When Tesla’s Model 3 goes on sale later this year, it is set to be priced at $47,500. That’s an improvement over current offerings in the EV market, which range between $55,000 and $130,000. However, the reality is, such a price still represents an imposing figure to motorists who now have access to many ‘affordable’ models of regular vehicles from luxury automakers. Combine that with the fact that motorists are still limited for choice in terms of the necessary infrastructure, and it’s no surprise electric vehicles are losing traction in the market.

The Model 3 could be the starting point for a reversal in sales, but without a fundamental shift from other manufacturers, and the necessary support, it could be some time before traditional vehicles are having to fight for their overwhelming market share.

 

New Cars for 2017

With seeing the New Year in auto enthusiasts can get a bit of a spring in their step as they anticipate the new models of car that will be on sale.  This year we’ll be seeing numerous new models for sale in Australia.  Here’s the ‘’heads-up’’ for what’s coming.

The first quarter of 2017 will see the arrival of the Alfa Romeo Giulia, Audi S4 sedan and S4 Avant wagon, Mazda MX-5 RF, Mercedes Benz AMG E43, Mercedes-Benz E350e, Nissan GT-R Nismo, Skoda Superb Sportline, Toyota C-HR, Holden limited-edition Commodores, Holden Trax, Kia Rio, Suzuki Ignis, Maserati Levante, Porsche 911 GTS, the new BMW 5 Series and the Toyota Yaris facelift.

Alfa Romeo Giulia

Toyota C-HR

If speed is your thing then, perhaps, the most exciting car to drive in this bunch will be the new Alfa Romeo Giulia, Mercedes Benz AMG E43, Maserati Levante or the Nissan GT-R Nismo.  Nissan’s 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6 will be hard to beat with its full-throttle 420 Nm, six-speed dual-clutch automatic and AWD powerhouse.  Expect a 0-100 sprint time of less than three seconds.  BMW’s new 5 Series is a ‘pearler’ – combining the best in family luxury and performance.  Holden’s limited edition models will be roomy and comfortable, while the Toyota C-HR looks really cool and is sure to be on the radar for those on the lookout for a new small crossover vehicle.

Roll on into the second quarter and we’ll see the new Hyundai Genesis G80 boasting a V8 5.0-litre option, however the flagship model still sits pretty with a 3.8-litre V6 alternative.  One thing is certain; the Genesis is quiet, large and luxurious.  Ride quality is excellent and the car feels well planted with good grip.

The new Holden Astra sedan will be another great alternative to other mid-size sedans.  We’ll see the new Lexus LC, Suzuki Swift, fast Mercedes-AMG E63 and the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain vehicles.

Want a new off-road king pin?  Then the last half of the year has Land Rover bringing in their next generation Discovery.  This one looks really good.  Staying with the off-road theme, a brand new model sees the Skoda Kodiaq rolling on in.  At 4.70m in length the Kodiaq SUV will be a roomy and practical wagon.  Other models to be on the lookout for are the Mercedes-AMG GT R, Haval H7 and interesting Volkswagen Arteon.

Volkswagen Arteon

Advance warning is always good, and this “heads-up” 2017 new car list is perfect for comparing and making choices over which new car to buy.