Many of you probably live in a jurisdiction with a ‘Green’ political party. Did you know that you’ve got Tasmania to
blame thank for that?
The origins of global Green politics date back to the early 1970s, when an environmental party first contested a state election here in Tasmania. On the national scene, the Green movement was solidified during the fight over the Franklin Dam, here in Tasmania, in the 1980s. That campaign achieved national prominence and propelled the Greens into the national spotlight.
Today, they hold one seat in our national House of Representatives (where government is formed) and nine seats in the Senate (our house of review). They’re a very important component in our hung federal parliament. At a state level, the Tasmanian Greens share power with the Labor Party, with each holding 5 seats to form a 10-seat coalition to control the 15-seat Tasmanian parliament.
Greens are on an upward trend. There’s no doubt about it.
The Australian Greens recently announced a new candidate, who will contest one of the seats around Hobart in the next Federal election. Dr Rosalie Woodruff announced her candidature on August 29, having arrived at her announcement in an electrified Daihatsu Charade. Her choice of chariot is important, because it represents a key pillar of her candidacy:
“Tasmania has a huge opportunity to advance a clean energy future through energy reform, renewable energy and energy efficiency. This should not just be high end and high cost. It’s our chance to take advantage of existing skills already in the community,” she said.
“Tasmania needs to jump into the future and develop an electric car conversion industry – we can’t afford to wait for car companies to trickle out new release production electric cars,” Dr Woodruff said.
“Tasmanians sent $620 million dollars out of the state for petrol last year. Fuel costs are predicted to double in the next decade. Every dollar we reduce from that amount is a dollar that stays in Tasmania for something else,” she said.
“Electric cars will make transport costs cheaper for many people in my electorate who have to drive long distances every day. It will create new jobs with a minimum investment in training, and make a huge impact on our greenhouse gas emissions.”
She wants to start an electric car conversion industry here in Tasmania. OK.
Despite the doubts that I’ve expressed over NEVS’s business model, people shouldn’t think that I’m anti-electric. I prefer what I’m used to, the internal combustion engine, but that doesn’t mean I’m not fascinated by the idea of driving an electric vehicle.
As Ms Woodruff might end up being my local MP, I feel compelled to have a look at her proposal and assess whether or not it charges my batteries. The question here is whether or not people will by buy converted electric cars in the numbers needed to support an industry. Given that the suits will probably pour federal generous tax dollars into it, is it worth supporting?
The fundamental question, then, is how many people are likely to take up this industry’s product. That question is decided by cost and outcome.
In this post I’ll take a look at what it costs to convert an existing vehicle to run on electricity in 2012. I’m going to use the costs charged by a professional EV conversion company in Perth, Western Australia. They already do what Ms Woodruff would like to set up here. I should add that there’s currently no business here doing this type of conversion. In fact, if I’m guessing correctly, the very Daihatsu that Ms Woodruff drove to her press conference was probably this one, converted in Sydney.
So what does it cost?
First you’re going to need a donor vehicle. What you choose is up to you, but most donor vehicles are older and lightweight, on order to minimise starting cost and maximise range. If I were to do this for real, I’d probably save a bit more money so that I could import a Saab 95 wagon from the 1960’s or 70’s, like this one.
Most people will go for something local, however, so let’s look at something practical, small-ish but capable of carrying a couple of kids in the back. A Toyota Corolla. This 1988 model is for sale for a mere $800 and looks pretty much rust-free. It’s a four-door with a hatchback so should suit our practicality needs. It’s for sale in Victoria so you can jack that cost up to $1000 once you factor in transportation costs.
The conversion? Here are the bits you’ll need, according to the EV Works website. I’m choosing the medium range parts as Hobart is full of hills and I don’t want to risk running out of oomph when I need it.[table id=1 /]
That’s a parts bill of more than $16,500. The good news is those are Lithium batteries and should be good for a very decent range.
Add the cost of the donor vehicle and you’re up to $17,500. And you haven’t spent a cent on labour yet. If you can do this yourself, you’ll save some coin, but the whole point of starting an electric vehicle conversion industry is to provide work doing conversions, not just selling parts.
I’d be surprised if you’d get this done for less than $20,000.
Back to our fundamental question – would people pay $20,000 for an electric 1988 Toyota Corolla?
Given that the body and interior will still be old and that the car has no airbags or electronic stability control (which is mandatory on all new cars sold in Australia), I’m not so sure that you’ll get families to buy into this. In fact, I don’t think you’d get anyone other than childless green boffins with high salaries and few commitments to buy into this as a serious transportation option.
$20,000 or thereabouts will buy you one of several new small cars in the Aussie market. Those new vehicles have small, modern and fuel-efficient engines that don’t give you range anxiety. They have all the modern safety aids that would be missing on a late 80’s Corolla, including much better crash test results. There’s a reasonable chance they’ll be pretty versatile in terms of their load carrying capacity, too.
Feel free to make up your own mind, but I can’t see an industry like this getting off the ground, in spite of my own fascination with the idea of whizzing my way to work fuelled by Tasmania’s green, clean, hydro-electric power.