Persistently higher fuel prices are putting the summer road trip under threat, and new analysis by the Climate Council shows just how expensive it is now to take a petrol or diesel vehicle to the beach. The study throws the cost of driving a fossil car into stark relief by comparing them to electric vehicles.
Across the East Coast, the cost of “filling up” an EV is a quarter to a fifth of the cost to fill an average ICE passenger car, with fuel consumption of 11.1L/100km.
Road trips in a fuel efficient car, such as a Skoda Fabia which uses fuel at a rate of 4.5L/100km, cost two fifths of an average passenger car.
The study is based on an average fuel price of 186.1 cents, taken from the week of 10 December in 2023, and state electricity prices which average out to 29.84/kWh.
But the difference in cost for a road trip during this holiday period was likely to be even more stark: charging with rooftop solar brings the EV fuel cost down, and Australians will be only too well aware of the steep jump in petrol prices to more than $2 a litre during the Christmas-New Year period.
Some 70 per cent of drivers say they’re changing their driving habits, including avoiding long road trips, because of the price of fuel, says Climate Councillor and economist Nicki Hutley.
“Having cleaner cars that are cheaper to run will help relieve the cost of living pressure on households. We’ve crunched the numbers and electric cars deliver the biggest savings but even choosing a more fuel-efficient car can generate big savings,” she says.
For drivers who are looking at buying a new or used car “you’d have to be absolutely mad not to buy an EV right now, ” says EVSE president Chris Jones, just based on the fuel and longer term savings in maintenance, as well as the rising number of cheaper models on offer.
Where is the fuel efficiency standard
A new fuel standard in 2025 will improve those numbers for ICE vehicles, but what is really needed is the long-promised fuel efficiency standard.
In December last year the federal government adopted the Euro 6d fuel standard for light vehicles, which tightens rules around emissions and will come in from December 2025, and also requires fuel upgrades from the same date.
Both of these measures will lift the price of fuel slightly for consumers.
The government estimates the fuel standard alone will cut 18 million tonnes of emissions from the transport sector by 2050, and the fuel upgrade will make more cars available in Australia, as many finely-tuned creations are not sold here because of the low-grade fuel.
But what is needed is a fuel efficiency standard, a system that allows a manufacturer to balance selling individual vehicles that exceed an overall efficiency target with lower emissions vehicles that come under the target. Breaching the overall target incurs a fine.
But with progress on this issue slow, Australia is not expected to have any system in place until 2025 at the earliest.
Jones is worried the government will leave the new rules to the last minute this year following heavy lobbying from Toyota.
“My concern is that the transport minister has been heavily lobbied by a couple of fossils and they’re saying go as slow as you can,” he told TheDriven.
“The problem is they [Toyota] are not ready to sell low emission vehicles in Australia. They’ve had ample opportunity to get ready and they haven’t. You snooze you lose.”
The government has made “an admirable commitment on consultation” on the design of the fuel efficiency standard, says Climate Council head of advocacy Jennifer Rayner. But by now “they should have enough information to get on with it”.
“We’re really optimistic that 2024 is the year when Australia finally gets fuel efficiency standards… we know there’s good policy design being done, we know the government is enthusiastic about doing this, now we need to see it,” she told TheDriven.
With a federal election needing to take place before the end of September next year, the policy needs to be released and legislation passed this year to make a fuel efficiency standard happen during this term of government.
Rayner expects a standard to be set at least until 2030 to give certainty to car manufacturers and clarity to consumers, and also expects a policy on par with other markets which have had fuel efficiency standards in place for some time, in order to catch up.
“Manufacturers around the world are ramping up their manufacturing of EVs, but sales are growing more slowly in Australia compared to other parts of the world because we can’t get access to them,” she says.
“We would expect that manufacturers will respond to a fuel efficiency standard by changing the type and diversity of cars they sell in Australia.”
Australia has around half of the EV and fuel efficient vehicles available in other markets, because of the low fuel quality and lack of fuel efficiency standards to force carmakers to sell more quality vehicles here.
Rachel Williamson is a science and business journalist, who focuses on climate change-related health and environmental issues.