The climate emergency requires us to decarbonise road transport in a hurry
Globally, EVs made up about 10 million of the 80 million cars manufactured in 2022. That’s a good start, but when you consider that there are about 1.5 billion cars in the world, and they last on average between 15 and 20 years, we have a very long way to go.
In Australia, transport is the second largest source of carbon emissions—nearly 100 million tonnes per year and rising. This is inconsistent with our 2015 Paris Agreement pledge to try to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees.
Aside from some ambivalence from Victoria, our governments are gradually improving their support for their electrification of road transport. They need to do more, especially by joining the rest of the developed world in introducing vehicle fuel efficiency standards. They also need to get rid of incentives to buy and run fossil burners.
Carmakers also need to step up. When we buy a car, we are also investing in a carmaking company. Some of these companies have been making money out of putting fossil-burning engines in shiny boxes on wheels for a century or more. So it's no surprise that the lead has been taken by relatively new companies like Tesla and BYD rather than the “legacy” carmakers.
There is a lot more they should be doing. The list starts with “Do no harm”—that is, don't use your market power, access to governments and advertising budget to slow the transition to EVs. And it runs right through to committing to producing zero carbon cars in the next decade. Easier said than done, but some car companies are giving it a red hot go. Others continue to stall and engage in FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). They are the new version of the tobacco lobby.
You and I can also play a part. If we do need a car, and we can afford to buy or lease a new one, by buying an EV rather than a fossil burner we are helping to gradually push the latter out of the market, reducing carbon emissions over the lifespan of the car. There is also a rapidly growing secondhand market.
The biggest change you can make as an EV buyer and driver is to recharge using renewable energy. The second biggest is to choose a car that has created relatively low emissions in the manufacturing process, is energy efficient to drive, and can be largely reused or recycled at the end of its normal lifespan.
That is where we come in. We have looked under the hood/bonnet to get and compare the data on 22 passenger cars you can buy or order in Australia right now--and on their makers, in case you want to vote with your wallet and buy from a relatively environmentally responsible company.
There are other guides to, and rankings of, EVs or their makers. The Green Electric Car Guide is the only one that is specific to Australia, looks at whole of lifecycle impacts, and also focuses on car companies. It is also the only one that is up-to-date as at 30 June 2023. Whether it continues to be updated depends on whether TEC can attract ongoing funding for this project.
To read more, download the full report here (pdf - 2.4Mb).