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Cheapest electric car in Australia

If you’re in a hurry to buy one now, the bargain choice EV is clearly to be found at your Hyundai dealer.

Electric vehicles are many things - fabulously silent, wonderfully free of exhaust pipes and thus emission free, torque-tastic and thus great fun to drive - but one thing you wouldn’t describe them as is “cheap”.

The car companies that make them, and actually sell them in Australia - Nissan, Renault, Tesla, BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz - would probably claim they are at least “affordable”, but when you’re paying as large an amount as $47,490 for a car as small as the Renault Zoe (think Mazda2 size), that’s a big call.

So what are Australia’s cheapest EVs, at present, and will electric vehicles get cheaper, generally speaking, in the future? Or, in short, should you buy now - and start saving the planet - or wait a while, until we have those little niceties, like a charging network, and government incentives, that make EVs so popular in enlightened, Nordic countries (in Norway, in 2018, 31.2 per cent of all new vehicles sold were electric, up from just 5 per cent in 2013).

What is the cheapest electric car in Australia?

It’s a bit of a moving target this one, so it pays to keep checking, because every new player on the market certainly wants to be able to claim it is the cheap electric car motor on the market. 

As recently as last year, Renault’s very cute, cool and funky (and small) Zoe was the cheapest electric car in Australia, at $47,490 for the entry-level Life market, which is quite a lot when you consider you can have a similarly sized Mazda2 for far less than half that.

A new version of the Nissan Leaf - one of the world’s first mass-market EVs and the winner thus far in total sales (although it was outdone in a very recent year, 2018, by Tesla’s Model 3, which is tipped to cost around $55,000, when it finally arrives Down Under) has been coming for some time, however, and the smart money was on Nissan wanting that “cheapest EV” headline. 

Almost but not quite was the actual top-line figure, because a new Nissan Leaf will cost $49,990 when it finally arrives in August. Getting under the $50K barrier was obviously a major goal for Nissan Australia and pre-orders are said to be firm. 

The Leaf will give you a claimed 270km of range, which is the one figure that most buyers are looking at.

That puts it ahead of what is now officially the cheapest electric car you can buy today, Hyundai’s Ioniq Electric, which costs $44,990, and will give you a claimed range of 230km. Hyundai also has the far trendier looking, and bigger-batteried Kona Electric as part of its electric offering, but it will cost you a heftier $59,990 - a price that does get you a range of 449km.

It’s a bit of a step up, in both price and style, when, you look at the BMW electric car price. The very modern and truly wondrous inside BMW i3 will set you back a shocking $68,400, and that will get you what BMW suggest is a 200km range off every charge, which is still enough to get most people through a week of commuting with just one good charge on the weekend.

All the EVs we’ve looked at so far - including the Tesla Model 3 (with its impressive range of 350km), which is at least a sedan rather than hatch but is still a small car - are very much city cars.

At this stage you can put a deposit down on the highly desirable Model 3, but no one can tell you for sure when it might actually arrive.

You’ll also have to wait for the first electric entrants from Audi and Mercedes-Benz, but both of them are very different from the city-sized EVs that have made the running so far.

The Audi e-tron is a very large, spacious and exciting SUV, due to go on sale in Australia in the second half of 2019, at a truly eye-watering price somewhere north of $140,000 (the exact figure is not yet confirmed). It claims to be able offer 400km of range, but achieving that figure would be somewhat miraculous.

Actual range vs claimed range tends to be a very variable equation with electric vehicles, but if you drive something as big, heavy and non-aerodynamic as the e-tron hard and fast, or off-road, that range figure is going to shrink very quickly indeed.

Mercedes-Benz is following fast in Audi’s wheel tracks with its own sci-fi-looking electric SUV - the EQC 400. It, too, will arrive later this year, at a price yet to be determined, but possibly closer to $100,000 than the Audi. It will offer “at least 400km” of range, and fantastic good looks to boot.

If the idea of an electric SUV seems outlandish, it shouldn’t, because there’s already one out there on our roads, albeit in small numbers; Jaguar’s I-Pace.

To be fair, you might not quite know what it is, at first glance, because it’s a very unusual shape, but then there’s nothing ordinary about this fantastically modern and truly exciting to drive new EV from Jaguar. The only downside is that its price starts at $123,814, and can rise sharply from there. 

It offers a claimed real-world range of more than 400km, and is fantastically spacious inside. Once again, though, if you push your right foot too hard or too often that range is quickly reduced.


Will EVs get cheaper?

Remember when plasma televisions cost $20,000 a pop, and the early adopters - and the stupidly rich - bought them anyway? And within a decade they were a bit passé and you could get one at Bing Lee for $2000?

Well that’s bit like the situation with electric vehicles, although the price drops won’t be quite as sharp. One day, it seems increasingly likely, just about everyone will have one, and the prices will certainly drop as their acceptance grows. 

At this stage, EVs are a tiny percentage of the Australian car market, and achieving mass - which will certainly be helped by the kind of government incentives being mooted - will definitely bring their prices down.

No less a math genius than our current Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has pointed out that high prices are one of the big reasons Australians aren’t rushing to buy EVs… yet.

“The reason why Australia has such a poor level of take-up rate for electric vehicles is because they are expensive compared to other cars,” Mr Frydenberg said.

The lack of the kind of government subsidies that other countries offer - like cash back, free registration, access to special lanes, free parking, charging stations - might also be a factor. That does, however, all look set to change.

According to a report by industry research firm Energeia, both the price and the range of electric vehicles will match petrol-powered cars in Australia within a decade.

As that playing field levels, EV sales will quickly rise, their report predicts, with electric cars making up 100 per cent of new-vehicle sales by the mid 2040s, and reaching price parity with petrol vehicles in the early, or possibly mid, 2020s. 

In short, you’re going to buy an EV one day, it seems, but it will be a lot cheaper, and possibly more practical, if you wait a while. 

If you’re in a hurry to buy one and start saving the planet now, however, the bargain choice EV is clearly to be found at your Hyundai dealer.

List of EVs by price

Hyunda Ioniq Electric$44,990
Renault Zoe$47,490
Nissan Leaf$49,990
Tesla Model 3(estimated, available to order) $55,000
Hyunda Kona Electric$59,990
BMW i3$68,400
Tesla Model S$115,000
Tesla Model X$165,000

Are you ready to make a leap into the future and buy an EV, and if so, which ones spark your interest? Tell us in the comments below.

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