One Finite Planet

One Finite Planet

Australian fuel efficiency standards: A stall tactic?

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At a time when much of the world is preparing for a transition to EVs, Australia is finally doing what other countries did decades ago and adapting a fuel efficiency standard for internal combustion engine vehicles, or ICE vehicles.

While many advocates for the environment are heralding this as a good thing, I have to wonder if it is really just a way of stalling more concrete steps towards EVs. Given EVs are increasing in market share, and it can take 10 years to change the fleet of new vehicles on sale, this could be a way of “greenwashing” doing nothing.

The news.

The Australian Government is introducing fuel efficiency standards that almost all other countries have had for decades, rather than ratify the Glasgow Declaration for a total sunset for fossil fuel burning vehicles from COP26 to which almost all other comparable countries are signatories.

What is yet to be confirmed, is whether this is a commitment to try and catch up with the rest of the world, or a commitment to remain decades behind.

19 April 2023: The Australian Government is introducing a fuel efficiency standard to save you money at the fuel bowser, bring cleaner cars to Australia and give more choice of cars to buy and drive. It will also help reduce greenhouse gases and other pollution from cars to improve the air that you and your family breathe. Fuel Efficiency Standard to promote cleaner cars

Apparently, this initiative is not only endorsed by the Australian Energy Council, but also the Australian Hydrogen Council, which sounds a lot like it is representatives of the fossil fuel industry!

Finding this, I checked that first link I had found when searching for news announcements and read the page to realise the advertisements were mostly by fossil fuel companies. Looking for an article on what was planned, I had found an industry magazine for the fossil fuel industries! Not a great start, but it does report the news.

More properly, the announcement was of a National Electric Vehicle Strategy, the centrepiece of which will be fuel efficiency standards for new cars. These new benchmarks will be developed after a six-week period of consultation, which is where we come back to the 1970s.

It was president Richard Nixon who passed the Clean Air Act and began regulating how much pollution vehicles in the United States could emit per mile travelled. Ever since, the standards have been tweaked and improved.

Accelerate EV sales? Put a brake on emissions? Great, but roadblocks remain

In summary, the Australian Government has committed to legislation to bring in fuel efficiency standards. Exact details are still to be finalised.

Fuel efficiency standards?

What are fuel efficiency standards?

Fuel efficiency standards were apparently first introduced by the Nikon government in 1970s in the USA as amendments to the Clean Air Act. So they go back a long way.

At present, Australia stands with Russia as the only developed nation with no compulsory fuel efficiency standard at all.

Accelerate EV sales? Put a brake on emissions? Great, but roadblocks remain

The standards work by setting a target “fleet average” fuel efficiency for all brands selling anything beyond a very limited number of vehicles.

Globally efficiency standards work pretty similarly. Rather than banning any particular model or type of vehicle, governments typically mandate that average emissions targets must be met across a carmaker’s range of vehicles sold. To meet them, makers ramp up sales of clean cars to offset emissions from their more polluting models.

Accelerate EV sales? Put a brake on emissions? Great, but roadblocks remain

How much impact will fuel efficiency standards impact the market?

We don’t know yet, because targets and timeframes to meet those targets have not been announced.

It can take 10 years to change to fully change the fleet of vehicles available in new car showrooms, and adoption of this type of standard normally allows for an around 10 year adoption. The devil is in the details, and this could have no impact, or possibly help a lot.

and 10 years from now in 2023, it seems very likely it will be hard to produce a competitive vehicle that is not an EV.

so given it seems likely to be hard to sell much other than EVs by 2033, Australia adapting fuel efficiency standards on 2023 Changing the fleet of vehicles on sale can take 10 years,

What is the potential problem?

The Electric Vehicle Index shows EVs recently became the value for money leaders in the “medium cars” segment, and all signs are that other segments will follow. The result is the EV uptake is on the rise and as a result emissions will fall no matter what happens with government policy.

After the Morrison years, Australia is now under pressure to join the global community adopt the Glasgow Declaration, and given adopting fuel standards could take as long as 10 years, this could be a strategy to stall for so long that it then becomes impossible to even step into the pace of the rest of the world in moving beyond fossil fuels.

More will become clear as details emerge as exactly what is being proposed, but this has the potential to be more evidence that the fossil fuel lobby is alive and well and still very successful in Australia.

Maybe Its Ok if EVs are really just a passing phase?

Recently in Australia last month EVs have outsold hybrids, and headlines such as “Electric vehicle sales in Australia overtake petrol-driven cars in medium category for first time” reflect that the trend is real:

In all categories 17,396 battery electric vehicles were sold in the first quarter, for the first time overtaking sales of conventional petrol hybrids, which numbered 16,101.

Sales of battery electric vehicles were up 49.4% on the previous quarter, with 11,639 sold from October to December.

The association’s managing director, Michael Bradley, said “the shift is on”.

Electric vehicle sales in Australia overtake petrol-driven cars in medium category for first time

Some brands, such as Volvo and Mercedes, have released or are releasing their last ever non-electric vehicles, and while there are others, such as Toyota who just entered a new partnership with Exxon Mobil, are trying to hold back the wave of EVs, but even they are still releasing some EVs in Australia because the trend is no going away.

Even Ford CEO Jim Farley recently stated, at least for the 1/3rd of the global market that is China if not beyond: “The winners will be the companies focused only on EVs.

Table of Contents


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