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Welcome to the Electric Wonderland

The problem for transport operators wanting to improve their environmental credentials is the trade-off between cost and capability

By Gary Worrall | November 25, 2011

With the number and type of electric vehicles available in Australia increasing, the problem for transport operators wanting to improve their environmental credentials is the trade-off between cost and capability.

Right now, a full electric vehicle is significantly more expensive than its internal combustion-powered siblings, which means operators will be looking for real-world savings to justify the upfront cost.

The biggest single change would be the elimination of ongoing fuel purchases, a full charge, which provides around 150 kilometres of driving and costs in the region of $3, which is a lot cheaper than 9 litres of diesel at $1.40 per litre.

With range a limiting factor in the vehicles currently available, the most likely operations will be restricted to inner-city pick up and drop off work, with the attendant issues of parking zones.

Rather than risk the wrath of parking inspectors while not racking up parking charges in secure stations and then having drivers walking the rest of the way, the ability to park virtually anywhere on crowded city street could be the incentive required.

Brisbane Mayor Graham Quirk says while he is open to considering ways to encourage couriers to use more efficient and light-weight vehicles in the CBD, Brisbane City Council has no plans to relax laws for electric vehicle operators.

“I’m all for encouraging innovation, but kerbside space in Brisbane’s CBD is at a premium and my view is that it shouldn’t be opened up exclusively to those couriers who can afford these new vehicles,” Quirk says.

“That said, I would encourage those couriers who aren’t considering a change to electric vehicles to explore other options like offsetting emissions from their fleet, which council currently does for all of its trucks, buses and ferries.”

Another ongoing cost is the annual registration charge, which becomes a can of worms for regulators struggling to keep pace with technical advances.
Currently, all non-concession vehicle registration charges are based on the number of cylinders or rotors in the engine, despite a classification for ‘electric’ as a fuel type. However, full electric vehicles do not have any cylinders or rotors.

While charges for third party insurance would remain, one solution attractive to operators would be to remove the actual registration charge, although only a small annual saving it would help make zero emission vehicles a practical option.

In Queensland the Department of Transport and Main Roads opts to charge electric vehicles as a one cylinder engine, however there is no clear national policy and each state applies its own charging methodology.

Also unclear at this time is whether the Australian Taxation Office will waive GST on the purchase price of electric vehicles, as part of the Clean Energy Bill, which is aimed at introducing clean energy sources to Australia.

By eliminating the GST component, while the purchase price would remain above those of traditionally-powered vehicles the gap would be closer.

Unfortunately, the track record of bureaucracy in dealing with technological change in this country is not a good one, with the approval of hybrid vehicles a case in point, so that the first models were a generation behind the available technology.

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