Battery power is here to stay 

A road usage tax by the government will hopefully not deter more electric vehicle users to hit the road

Electric power tools, meaning rechargeable lithium ion battery powered garden equipment have been one of the success stories of the last few years. It was about five years ago that I reported on the spectacular growth of the segment and reports are that it has yet to slow down.

It seems that half the buyers were new to the segment and the battery powered chainsaw they bought last month is the first chainsaw they have ever owned. New entrants to the market – customers who have never bought before is very exciting news. But why did they start buying power equipment?

I have heard as many theories as people I have asked. So, I figured that my theory may as well get an airing as well. 

I think it is all because of mobile phones. Stay with me dear reader – you see mobile phones have all taught us that batteries are safe (don’t mention the Samsung Note 8) and we have learnt how to recharge and it’s all as familiar as brushing our teeth. Using a battery mower, recharging and managing the process is as easy as using a phone.

Cordless garden tools also take away most of the negatives that stopped many consumers from even looking at power equipment, and it’s all based around petrol. Think of your Aunty! She does not want to buy petrol in a can, work out how to add two-stroke oil, calculate 1:100, pour and fill. And the smell! Add to that, irrational thoughts like will it explode, among others.

This is all before it is even started. Aunty then must prime, choke (that always sounded too violent a word for Aunty) and then do the hard work of a pull start before being accosted by all that noise.

Now I used the sexist term ‘Aunty’ above but in fact there is a bit of ‘Aunty’ in all of us. Which is why, the other 50 percent of the cordless tool customers are converts from smelly petrol powered equipment, and that’s why battery power is here to stay.

Can anyone tell me if electrics and electronics is a part of the syllabus for PE mechanics? It needs to be. 

So that brings me to a mystery: why have Electric Vehicles (EVs) been so slow to be taken up in Australia? 

Was the first thing that popped into your head was ‘range’? The things do not have enough range and I could not get to Sydney is what I hear but it does not hold up to scrutiny.

The ABS tell us that 73% of employed people commuted less than 20 km to work. So that is 40 km per day and the range of the cheapest electric car is about 240 km. That’s easy! 

I think it comes back to consumer behaviour and changing the way we think. 

Right now, we all think about ‘filling the car’. We have a choice of about 40 petrol stations on our commute, but only three that we prefer because of brands and discount deals. Yet, I have an almost infinite number of plug-in points for my car and the slow 8amp charger that came with it.

Yes, it takes a lot longer to charge – but then it costs me less time. At a petrol station I must drive slightly out of my way, fill up and pay, and that adds 8 minutes to my journey. At home or the office, I plug in the charger and that adds 22 seconds to my journey. 

Just like charging my phone, I can top it up overnight, or just add a bit of charge before I go out. I can charge my car or phone at work or home while I am doing something far more interesting than inhaling fumes standing on a hot forecourt. 

EVs are not for everyone. If you live in a rented apartment and cannot charge at home or work, then my charging plan will not work for you. Vehicles on the road for ten hours a day also need a fast charger or at least a fast-top up option. The thought of a trip to Sydney or Melbourne would feel like crossing the Sahara on camels. It would mean carefully planning the journey from oasis to oasis, and in my case, public charging stations. If that does not drive you nuts, the government response to EVs certainly will. 

On one hand, the State governments are pushing zero emissions by 2030 yet the SA and Vic government have recently announced a road tax for all EVs based on kilometres driven – a tax that will certainly discourage the adoption of EVs at this time but a tax that may be inevitable.

Australia’s taxing system is set up for ICE vehicles – Internal combustion Engines or petrol or diesel to you and me. Don’t you love finding a new TLA (Three Letter Acronym)? 

Where was I? Oh yes, tax or fuel excise where 42.3 cents from every litre of petrol and diesel sold at the bowser goes to the Federal government. It was supposed to all go to roadworks but that has slipped to 40% to 50%, the rest of the $10.8 Billion going to general revenue.

Farmers who use fuel on the land and commercial fisherman get their excise refunded (as they don’t use the roads). When I learnt that 1 per cent of all taxed fuel was used in outboards and mowers, I asked how we too can get our $100m refunded every year. The Senator I asked just gave me one of his, ‘you poor boy’ smiles.

Let’s talk about my local petrol station that gives me a nice free air pump to check my tyres. But he cannot keep offering that service if I am in an EV and never going to buy any petrol. So, I predict that one day we will see a $1 fee to use the tyre pump. Fair enough.

In exactly the same way, it’s fair to ask EV owners to contribute to road maintenance and not get a free ride on the back of those paying for petrol. As EVs take over, there will be adjustments to be made and no more free air and free roads. It will all be sooner than you think. The UK has announced no new fossil fuel cars from 2030, and just in case my wife reads this, Maserati will have no new petrol cars after 2025 – so I better buy one soon dear? 

Gary Fooks
Gary Fooks is chair of the Blue-Sky Alliance. Gary has been working on small engine emissions standards since 2005 and was announced as the Environment Minister’s Clean Air Champion in 2015.