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Jan 12, 2012

Kohler: this is Carr’s chance to rev the EV engine

You would think, reading the claptrap about why the federal government is giving $34 million to Ford, that there was no such thing as an electric car.

You would think, reading the claptrap about why the federal government is giving $34 million to Ford, that there was no such thing as an electric car and that the world was not rushing towards switching from petrol to electricity for transportation.

But it’s not too late: any handout to General Motors must be tied to a commitment to build an EV in Australia. The government has already helped fund a proof-of-concept electric Commodore that has now been built by Australia’s parts manufacturers; it needs to follow up by making any further cash payments to GM conditional on it actually being produced here.

If car industry handouts are not tied to making EVs in Australia, the government will be making a huge bet on the future of Australian manufacturing, and possibly consigning the Australian car industry to the scrap heap.

The problem, of course, is that Australia is in bed with Detroit, which remains part of the global oil supply chain and profoundly conflicted about moving to EVs.

The Australian Minister for Manufacturing, Kim Carr, was at the Detroit Motor Show this week to announce that his government is giving $34 million to Ford, and presumably he’s over at GM now trying to get them down from the $200 million that they have started their public bargaining with.

The two American car companies have long had a nice racket going in Australia, where every few years they solemnly threaten to close down production of cars here and whichever government is in power, federal and state, in a panic, quickly hands over envelopes of cash, no interest, no repayment, no conditions – beyond continuing to build cars that fewer and fewer people want to buy.

The joint press release from the prime minister and Kim Carr about the Ford handout said: “With a rising dollar and fierce competition from other countries in our region, we need to be investing in manufacturing products that are innovative and competitive.”

First, it’s not an investment but a handout, a ransom, and second, internal combustion engines and cars that contain them are neither innovative nor competitive, even if they are more fuel efficient.

Ford is not working on an EV. Meanwhile GM’s fully electric vehicle, the Volt, was named the 2011 car of the year. It hoped to sell 10,000 Volts last year but its Chevrolet dealers only managed to sell 7,671, so the tone of discussion around the subject at the Detroit Motor Show this week has been: “see, we told you these things wouldn’t sell”.

Considering there isn’t yet a network in place to charge them, I would have thought selling even that many was pretty interesting.

But no one has any idea whether EVs will replace petrol-driven cars, and if so how quickly; any prediction can look both ludicrous and credible at the same time. One thing is for sure though: any car manufacturing industry that bets entirely on petrol is taking a big risk.

The price of batteries is falling rapidly and the decline in price will accelerate once production starts ramping up. Better Place will start rolling out charging stations and monthly subscriptions plans for electricity later this year, and several EV models are already on the market here with more to come this year and next.

EVs are clearly better than petrol-driven cars. They are quieter, faster and cheaper to run; if they don’t eventually entirely replace internal combustion cars, I’m an oil well.

At a factory in Port Melbourne, just up the road from General Motors Holden, a group of parts makers led by Better Place and Futuris have built a Holden Commodore EV at their own expense – with some money from the government – to prove to GMH and the government that it can be done cost-effectively, and they are now driving it around. They have also built a Ford Territory EV.

By all accounts the Australian engineers at GM are interested, but the word from headquarters is that if EVs are going to be built, it’ll be in Detroit, thanks very much. Kim Carr has a chance now to refocus their minds.

** This article first appeared on Business Spectator.  

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40 thoughts on “Kohler: this is Carr’s chance to rev the EV engine

  1. Suzanne Blake

    Electric Cars, with the way electricity prices are, and going up. You would have to charge it 10pm – 7am

  2. LacqueredStudio

    How the hell would you know, Suzanne? Did one of your mates down at the club the other night pull out a spec sheet for the Commodore EV prototype?

  3. Suzanne Blake

    @ LacqueredStudio

    I can only comment on what I have read on the existing electric cars.

  4. Andybob

    Well, yes SB, that’s part of the attraction. Batteriedo an be charged at any time.It may be one way of actually using intermittent generation by wind farms reasonably efficiently, without requiring back up from gas turbines. When the wind is blowing but demand is low, take the wind farm off the grid and divert the output to charging EV car batteries at a convenient short transmission location. Use a battery design that can handle the varying output of the wind farm (varies with the cube of wind speed). Distribute charged batteries to “refueling stations” where consumers can replace depleted batteries with fullly charged batteries.

  5. Suzanne Blake

    @ Andybob

    The problem is the cost of transporting the batteries, fitting them (safety). Outweights the ‘savings’.

    Wind wont work, too much adversery and lack of predictability.

    Thats the trouble with these green schemes, not properly thought through, eg NSW Solar debacle.

  6. LacqueredStudio


    Again, where’s your evidence that transportation and safety costs related to electric cars outweigh the savings? I put it to you that you’re talking out of your arse, yet again.

    And if the rising cost of energy concerns you so much … where’s your critique of petrol-fueled cars over the fuel and maintenance costs they demand?

  7. Edward James

    We have contracted to sell China so much gas at a discounted rate. I wonder if Australia is really that interested in going green on a proven fuel for our transport. Most internal combustion engines will run on gas which we are almost giving away, when the selling price is compared to what we must pay at the pump here. Edward James

  8. Suzanne Blake

    @ LacqueredStudio

    Do you know how many batteries an Electric Car users (around 8 – 16 depending on its size). The cost of sending those around the place and changing over on a petrol station etc. Won’t work.

    if technology improves and its less batteries, they will be heavier and even harder to change quickly.

    I think more fuel efficient diesel cars will beat EV for another decade at current price rates in any case.

  9. Jimmy

    I am far from an expert on EV cars but surely charging them from 10pm to 7am would be common practice as that is when the car would be garaged at you home.

    And as for the rising cost of eletricity, from memory the prediction is about 7-10% this year while petrol prices went up about 15% this week?

    LaqueredStudio – Don’t bother trying to get SB to provide evidence she is allergic to it, even when confronted with irrefutable proof what she is saying is wrong she still backs her opinion.

  10. SBH

    “I can only comment on what I have read on the existing electric cars.’

    Don’t talk nonsense Blake, we all know you can’t read.

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