WEEKEND READ: Power shortage

Electric cars could save the planet, yet they’re hit with the luxury car tax here in Australia, and that’s not the only thing.

I’ve been an electric car fan for a long time. Some friends in the USA, back in the last electric car era, had two General Motors (GM) ‘EV I’ cars – the stars of the movie Who Killed The Electric Car. They did the only thing it takes to turn any car driver into an EV fan: turn one over to me and say "see you in a few days.”

Making this car was a grudge project for GM, forced into existence by a ‘clean air’ mandate from the California Air Resources Board, CARB. But nobody told GM’s engineers that; for them this was a labour of love, and the car absolutely rocked.

I was hooked.

Driving an electric car feels like stepping into a jet aircraft after a lifetime of flying little bug smashers with propellers. Eerily quiet, they have a flat torque curve from zero rpm. Putting your foot down – at any speed – commands an instant kick in the back. They operate with ease at US highway speeds.

The EV’s only real challenge was range, as a function of the available battery technology. As anyone who watched the movie knows, GM couldn’t kill them off fast enough as soon as CARB lost their nerve in the face of extensive political lobbying from the car industry at the time.

Fast forward to today. Tesla Motors have created an electric sports car for today. It’s the first full production EV since the EV I era and like the EV I, it rocks: 0-100 km/h in less than four seconds. Over 360 km range – far more than most Australian cars in the real world. Silent. Pretty. Zero tailpipe emissions. Able to be charged from solar panels on your own roof.

I had been wanting to buy an EV ever since I was hooked on the GM EV I, all those years ago. So it was no surprise that I became the first (and to date, the only) Australian to order a Tesla Roadster. Mine gets built in Q1 2009.

But I expect a battle to get it legally on the road in Australia. While it’s a fully crash tested and California-legal road car, it’s also left hand drive.

Unlike in Europe and the UK, a curiosity of the Australian registration system is that it’s perfectly okay to register a left hand car here if it’s a 30 year old Caddy (and probably a death trap in a crash), but not if it’s a current production model.

I guess this is designed to protect the so-called local car industry.

Taken a look at the local car industry lately?

That industry – and sadly, politicians here too – seem to think hybrids are the way of the future, but in fact they’re the way of the present.

Meanwhile, take a look at the financial state of GM now. Talk about adapt or die!

But the greatest irony to me is this: to bring the car in, so I can start battling the registration regulations, I first have to pay the punitive and ill-conceived luxury car tax. And this is really going to hurt for a $US100,000 car at current exchange rates.

When the luxury car tax was jacked up even further a few months ago, the independents managed to carve out a minor reduction in that impost for fuel efficient cars. This was for a fossil fuel consumption rate below a defined threshold.

But sadly nobody thought to argue for the obvious amendment: a zero luxury car tax rate for cars with zero fuel consumption.

Surely, saving the planet isn’t a luxury?

Simon Hackett is co-founder and managing director of Internodeand a prominent technology advocate.

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