Electric buses and trucks are already rolling on Australian roads but the benefits are only starting to be understood by buyers.

Amid all the huffing and puffing about a lack of foresight in Canberra and some states slowing the entrance of electric passenger vehicles onto Australian roads, it’s pretty obvious what will happen. As surely as EVs replace petrol- and diesel-powered cars in developed countries around the world, so too will they – as if by magic, one by one – do the same here.

With mainstream marques such as Honda and Volvo declaring they will go all-electric and the UK, a major right-hand-drive market, banning the sale of internal combustion engine cars from 2030, Australia has little choice in the matter. In 10 years’ time, says Chargefox CEO Martin Andrews, “there will be more EVs to choose from than petrol cars and they will be better.”

But what about trucks and buses? About 500,000 commercial vehicles are registered in Australia and 75% of them travel less than 200km a day. Their replacement with electric equivalents (20,000 new trucks are sold each year in Australia) would do much to lower emissions in the transport sector, which places second in emissions to electricity generation.

Day and night

Looking over data collected by Chargefox, Andrews says commercial EV fleets would make a nice complement on the grid to passenger EVs as owners choose to charge them slowly and completely overnight, rather than car-owners who tend to top-up throughout the daytime. He expects the cost of ownership of electric commercial vehicles and petrol/diesel versions to be at parity in two years.

The total cost of ownership is important because a truck should not increase the cost of delivery, so when price parity is reached buyers will take notice. An electric truck already saves on avoided diesel costs, lower maintenance costs and extended life for the stopping gear thanks to regenerative braking.

In Dandenong, Victoria, Glen Walker is overseeing production of an electric truck for the local market as vice-president Asia Pacific of SEA Electric. He says early adopters have focused on emissions, but that’s changing as the market matures.

“A truck is not a lifestyle purchase,” Walker says. “It’s a thing you earn money from. We are pretty close to normalising the purchase as a viable option and alternative on every measure to replace a diesel with an electric truck,” he told a Startupbootcamp webinar hosted by Abs Bulbuliya.

There are also vehicle-to-grid possibilities. Walker said 500 of his trucks are equal the Hornsdale Power Reserve big battery in South Australia. Also, silent trucking could break curfews on deliveries. Taxing EVs is not the way to usher in the future, he says. “It sends the wrong message to the market.”

A little last boost

Battery giant and EV-maker BYD leads the field in China, where marketing and business development manager for Australia and New Zealand Maria Hughes-Carrion says 400,000 electric buses are already in service. She says R&D in the commercial EV field has come a long way since early days where range was found to drop off after about 5,000km. These days, there’s no reason to replace a BYD battery, she claims, and some of the maker’s cars can manage 500km with one charge.

Australia needs “a little last boost” to get the message about EVs and then more brands will come. She sees great opportunity from government fleets, couriers and bus operators to “decarbonise the cities … we have to look to the cities”. In 10 years she expects 30-40% of commercial vehicles will be electric. “The next three years will be very important.”

As manufacturers release electric options and exclusive electric ranges the local market will be forced to adapt, and there will be a profound impact on residual values of existing diesels. In Victoria, the state government moved first to provide subsidies up to $3,000 for an EV as part of its Zero Emissions Roadmap. The plan totals $100 million in support for zero-emissions vehicles, or ZEVs (to include hydrogen), including $19 million for charging infrastructure and targets for 100% electric buses by 2025 and 400 government fleet vehicles by 2023.

Katie Brown, director distributed energy resources and ZEV policy at the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning, expects “at least half” of commercial vehicles sold in 10 years will be electric. Walker, however, concedes that a road train between Darwin and Adelaide may be a bridge too far for electric, “maybe not even in my lifetime.”