Electric vehicle sales in Australia more than tripled last year but were still far lower than in a majority of developed countries, industry data shows.

The Electric Vehicle Council says 6,718 full electric and hybrid plug-in vehicles were sold in 2019, up from 2,216 the year before. Sales of combustion engine cars fell 7.8% over that period.

The release of the industry group data follows Britain this week announcing it would ban new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2035. The Electric Vehicle Council said the spike in sales in Australia from a low base suggested consumers wanted the technology despite it being yet to receive the support offered elsewhere.

“The good news is that the number of Australians buying EVs is surging despite a lack of government incentives or support,” the council’s chief executive, Beyhad Jafari, said. “The bad news is that even with this strong growth, EVs still only represent 0.6% of sales. That compares poorly with 3.8% of sales in Europe and 4.7% of sales in China.”

Support for EVs was a significant point of difference between the major parties at last year’s federal election. Labor promised a target of 50% new car sales being electric by 2030.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, accused the opposition of wanting to “end the weekend” by forcing people out of four-wheel drives, while the minister for small business, Michaelia Cash, told tradies only the Coalition would “save their utes”.

But the government has promised its own national EV strategy, to be finalised by the middle of the year, and government agency data has forecast that half the new cars sold will be electric by 2035 even if there is no policy to support their uptake.

The Coalition considered introducing the vehicle emissions standards proposed by Labor, which would have required light cars to on average emit 105 grams of CO2 per kilometre, and received advice it would have a net economic benefit, but decided against it.

Jafari estimated if Australia offered similar incentives as Europe and China there would be 50,000 new EVs on Australian roads. “Given that Australian decision makers at all levels are eager to start taking stronger action on climate change, transitioning away from combustion engine vehicles would be an excellent place to start,” he said.

The British prime minister, the Conservatives’ Boris Johnson, announced on Tuesday a ban on selling cars that were not fully electric would be brought forward from 2040 to 2035. He said it would come even earlier if possible.

Electric vehicles remain on average significantly more expensive than combustion engine cars, though the number of cheaper models is expanding. Analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance have projected a rapid fall in the cost of lithium ion batteries will lead to EVs being as cheap as petrol equivalents by 2025.

In August, a transport and infrastructure department spokeswoman acknowledged electric car uptake in Australia was slow compared with other countries and said there would be a rapid change in new car sales once the technology was price competitive.

But the spokeswoman said it would take some time for that to be reflected on Australian roads. “EVs are not expected to be a significant part of the passenger vehicle fleet until well into the 2030s,” she said.


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