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Why We Shouldn’t Phase Out ICE Vehicles Yet

 

Hello, I’m a mule – the very first hybrid form of transport.

In certain parts of the world – Europe, to be specific – governments have pledge to stop the sales of new cars that are powered by internal combustion engines only (aka ICE vehicles, where ICE stands for internal combustion engine).  This means that any new cars sold in these countries will be hybrids or pure electrics.

First, before we all panic and start stockpiling petrol and diesel because we aren’t ready to ditch our favourite sets of wheels yet, let’s clarify a few things.   Firstly, Australia hasn’t made any such pledge yet, although certain political parties are starting to talk about it.  Secondly, what will be phased out is the sale of NEW cars only.  Presumably, second-hand car dealers will still have ICE vehicles sitting out in the yards (possibly quite a few of them if all the ones that have been kicked off UK roads make it over here).  And they’ll still have to sell petrol and diesel to run (a) the older cars, (b) the diesel or petrol parts of the hybrids and (c) things like motorbikes that haven’t really caught onto the whole electric thing yet.

Nevertheless, I don’t really want to jump on the “let’s phase out ICE cars” bandwagon.  I don’t think we’re quite ready for that yet.

First of all, there’s the issue of range in pure EVs.  Mercifully, we now have enough charging points along the A1 highway so you won’t get stranded in the middle of the Nullabor, but even so, it takes at least half an hour to fully charge an EV.  This means that your Great Australian Road Trip is going to take even longer than it would otherwise.  Plan accordingly.  However, although the main highways around the perimeter are pretty well provided with charging points, there are bits of the country where the charging points are spaced out further than the typical range of an EV.  This is not good news for, say, park rangers, farmers and rural nurses.  The developers are going to have to really, really work hard to get better range for EVs before these groups are going to even think about buying one.  I keep getting this mental picture of some rural midwife trying to head out to some rural woman going into labour but being held up by (a) detouring to the nearest charging point and (b) waiting for half an hour to charge her vehicle.  Don’t even think about what would happen with emergency service vehicles.

I kind of hope that the Powers That Be who are going to make the decisions about our national vehicle fleet go out and spend a day riding shotgun with some of the folk in our rural communities to get an idea of the distances they drive… and at least put in a few more charging points before they decide to kit out all the nurses with EVs.  Not sure what they’ll be able to do for the park rangers.  Carrying about a diesel generator to power up a vehicle in the middle of nowhere kind of seems to defeat the purpose of promoting EVs in the first place.

Anyway, there’s another issue, and it’s one that affect those in cities as well.  Now, the majority of EVs and hybrids are smaller vehicles.  When it comes to practical commercial vehicles that your typical tradie can use, it’s a different story.  Yes, there are some great hybrid SUVs available, such as the Volvo XC90  and the BMW X5 , but these aren’t your typical choice for a tradie.  As for the Tesla X SUV…  I, for one, would start wondering how much my plumber or electrician charges per hour if I saw him/her driving around in a high-end SUV.  At least Mitsubishi and Nissan have some offerings, including a 2WD version of the Nissan Pathfinder  and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV  (which is reported to be the most popular hybrid/EV in Australia).

Your typical electrician, plumber, builder or landscape gardener usually prefers to drive a ute or van, preferably one with lots of torque to tow a massive trailer as well as lots of load space.  I know this all too well, as the other half is a landscape gardener and I’ve seen the amount of gear he carries in the trailer and carts around in various bits of the trusty dual-cab Navara ute.  Given what your typical tradie charges per hour – which has to be affordable in order to be competitive – new cars aren’t usually on the cards.  A phase-out of ICE vehicles would mean that second-hand vehicles would still be an option for your tradies… but what happens further down the track?  If nobody’s bought brand new hybrid/EV utes and vans then there won’t be any second-hand ones for your small-scale tradies to purchase.  Let’s hope that if the phase-out happens, larger operators will get themselves a fleet of hybrid utes and vans that can then go on down the line.  Either that or the banks are going to have to be nicer to owner-operator tradies so they can finance something brand new.

Tradies also clock up quite a few kilometres just around town, which means that even if pure EV commercial vehicles were available yet, your tradies would have to spend ages charging up possibly at least once a day. This means that you could be left waiting for the plumber (assuming he or she does emergency call-outs) for that little bit longer while your toilet refuses to flush and/or overflows.  Half an hour can be a long time when you’re waiting for the dunny…

At the moment, there aren’t a whole lot of hybrid or electric vans and utes out there on the roads – at least not yet.  Renault  has one electric van that’s going to arrive very soon, Haval has plans for a hybrid ute and there’s even talk about a hybrid version of my favourite tradie’s beloved Nissan Navara.  But they’re still in the future (we’ll let you know when they arrive). Even if a big construction company wanted to kit all of its builders out with hybrid or electric commercial vehicles as soon as they hit these shores, this would still be some way off.

There’s also the issue of all the investment and research into biofuels, but that’s worth taking another whole post to discuss.

In short, it’s too soon to talk seriously about phasing out ICE vehicles in Australia simply because we don’t have enough suitable new replacements for the current vehicle fleet that have the range and the practical ability of the petrol and diesel units currently available.  Although your Green Party members living in the city could probably make the switch to purely electric vehicles tomorrow and not be affected (and I hope they’ve already made the switch and put their money where their mouth is), there’s a significant proportion of typical Aussies who can’t make the switch yet and will have to stick with ICE vehicles for a while yet.  Be patient, folks.  Although there may come a day when hybrid vehicles and EVs triumph, today is not that day.

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