For many Canberrans, fuel prices jumping up to more than $2 per litre has been the final straw.
Australia has long been accused of being slow on the uptake of electric vehicles, but as the Russia-Ukraine crisis unfolds and global oil suppliers and motorists grow nervous, more and more buyers are rushing to make the switch.
But if you thought getting into a new internal-combustion car was hard at the moment, EVs can be even more challenging.
At the Canberra Tesla store, wait times for new cars have blown out by months, while the Janrule Automotive Group says demand for their EVs and petrol-electric hybrid models has been “huge” in recent weeks. Janrule is the local distributor for Toyota, Lexus, Mitsubishi, Volvo and Subaru.
Canberra Toyota marketing communications executive Tony Prior says interest in EVs and hybrids has been gradually increasing for years, but there has been “a dramatic spike” in the last few weeks as fuel prices have risen.
“Since the fuel crisis began, orders for hybrid vehicles jumped by 20 per cent, plus we have had an unprecedented level of enquiry coming through for electric vehicles,” he says.
While Toyota may be the overwhelming leader when it comes to hybrids, Tony says the brand is doubling down on efforts to get a fully electric vehicle ready for production. Toyota vows to release 30 new EVs by 2030, starting with the bZ4X SUV in 2023.
“However, Toyota has not yet released an official release date as ongoing issues with production delays have made that difficult to estimate,” Tony says.
Janrule dealer principal Mirko Milic says supply levels have been “disastrous” for the past few months due to a worldwide shortage of semi-conductors, and EVs aren’t exempt.
“EVs and hybrids tend to be affected more by this because of the increased number of semi-conductors they need for their electrical systems,” he says.
Managing director of Canberra’s electric vehicle dealership Ion DNA and chair of the ACT Branch of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association (AEVA), Rob Ogilvie, says his phone has been ringing non-stop.
Rob agrees the current fuel crisis is behind the surging interest in EVs as motorists lose faith in a cheap and reliable supply of petrol or diesel. Like everyone else, he’s scrambling to quench the sudden thirst for EVs.
“We have huge demand; the problem is now a supply one,” he says.
“Factories in Russia and Ukraine have also been forced to close, impacting a number of EV manufacturers, particularly Volkswagen,” he says.
Then there is COVID-19, which is still hanging around and affecting factory production due to isolation requirements.
“The people just aren’t in the factories to produce them.”
To make matters in Australia even worse, Europe put in place new regulations late last year to reduce fleet emissions from automakers.
Each automaker has to sell more EVs to get their average emissions down and avoid fines of 2,000 to 2,500 euros per car.
Rob says that in a bid to avoid the expense, Europe is taking precedence for international EV stock allocations.
“Manufacturers don’t care about us in Australia. They get zero [carbon] credit for it.”
Rob gets second-hand EVs from overseas as a registered independent importer, but he says the cost of replacing the stock has also increased as prices rise in the Japanese and UK used-car markets.
“The trouble is that I’m paying more for them because the auction price has gone up dramatically.”
Rob sees no clear end to the supply issues and says it will be an issue for years to come as long as Australia maintains its current rules around independent imports.
According to current Federal law, the number of cars independent importers can bring in is subject to a cap in a bid to limit a negative effect on the manufacturer’s official importing arm.
“What I think is going to happen is the government is going to be forced to open up the doors to used EVs because we won’t be getting the supply.”
Rob says the swing towards EVs will likely continue gathering speed as governments realise the importance of self-reliance and EVs’ role in that.
“In Australia, we can create our own electricity, whether that be through solar, wind, coal or hydro. Because of this, if you own an EV, you have fuel security. For a lot of people, that’s now the most important thing for them.”