Electric car sales still a trickle in Australia

22 May 2015
 by 
, CarsGuide

The electric dream is fast turning into a nightmare - Australian sales of electric vehicles have dwindled to a trickle.

In the first few months of the year, Mitsubishi hasn't sold a single car, Holden has moved just seven and Nissan has chimed in with 49.

Latecomer BMW has claimed the top spot with 70 sales of its recently released i3.

EVs have been around for five years here but they remain a hard sell for the industry — as popular as a pair of thongs at a snow resort.

In this time just over 1000 EVs have found a home — comprising 103 examples of the i3, 237 Mitsubishi i-MiEVs, 246 Holden Volts and 506 Nissan Leafs. This represents just 0.01 per cent of the market.

The Mitsubishi is now available only by special order and Holden has just announced it is pulling the plug on the Volt. The last Volt for sale here, a demonstrator, awaits a buyer in a Perth showroom.

There's a double-whammy for early adopters of electric technology as they pay extravagant prices for new models and take a major hit on the resale value.

Nissan remains upbeat about the future of Leaf but has been forced to slash the price. Originally $51,500 plus on road costs, it's now $39,990 drive-away — but even at this reduced price sales are slow.

It's early days yet for the i3 hatch, launched here late last year, but it's small and expensive at $63,900 (a range extender option adds $6000).

There's a double-whammy for early adopters of electric technology as they pay extravagant prices for new models and take a major hit on the resale value.

For example, you can take your pick from a handful of late-model, low-kilometre i-MiEVs advertised online for as little as $15,000 — this is a car that cost more than $50,000 to put on the road.

The same applies to the Leaf and Volt, although the latter fares a little better with its range-extending petrol back-up engine.

Mitsubishi has moved away from full electric cars to plug-in versions with petrol back-up. Its plug-in Outlander will be joined soon by plug-in versions of the ASX and Pajero.

"Obviously there's not a great deal of support for electric vehicles in Australia at the moment," says a Mitsubishi spokesman.

"We know other manufactures are planning to bring in plug-in hybrids. We just hope there's a groundswell of activity and they become more appealing as time goes on."

At $41,000 a Volt will have lost 37 per cent of its value in the first year, based on drive-away prices.

Holden will continue to support customers who had bought the Volt, priced from $59,990. "Our figures indicate that 12-month-old Holden Volts will fetch approximately $38,000-$41,000," the spokesman says. "This figure is in line with resale values for many conventional vehicles."

But at $41,000 a Volt will have lost 37 per cent of its value in the first year, based on drive-away prices.

Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries chief executive Tony Weber says studies by the International Council on Clean Transportation show government incentives around the world have had a positive impact on electric vehicle sales.

"Alternative energy platforms for motor vehicles generally come at a higher cost," Weber says. "Countries where electric vehicles have sold in reasonable quantities have government incentives in place to cover, at least in some part, the additional purchase price of the vehicle."

Redbook's local chief exec Ross Booth says electric vehicles are more akin to technology items than other cars, drawing parallels with laptops and iPhones.

Without government support and an increase in the number of charging stations, he says, the situation is unlikely to change. But he says sports EVs from companies like Tesla could change the way people perceive electric cars.

"It's a good looking sports car that happens to be electric," he says. "There's a lot of pent up demand for the Tesla and that should carry forward into the used car market. That's got nothing to do with it being electric, it's got to do with stuff you want to buy. It's all about the latest and greatest."

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