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BMW boss slams lack of green-car incentives

Coming soon: BMW Australia managing director Phil Horton calls the i3 electric car, due here within 12 months, a “massive thing for the company”.

Time for Australian government to better support green vehicles, says BMW chief

27 Aug 2013

BMW Group Australia managing director Phil Horton last week joined a growing chorus of car company chiefs suggesting greater government incentives be introduced for electric and alternate fuel cars.

Furthermore, he urged the federal government to follow the lead set by Europe and parts of the US to encourage a general move into greener vehicles – alternate fuel or not – through imposing tougher emissions regulations and getting thirsty old ‘clunkers’ off the road.

Incentives for electric car owners in parts of Europe and the US include free trips on toll roads , reduced road and car taxes (stamp duty, for instance), dedicated road lanes and immunity to congestion charges applied in megacities.

The German luxury car-maker will join a small clique of car-makers – most notably Nissan, Mitsubishi and Holden – selling electrified vehicles Down Under when it introduces the image-boosting i3 hatchback in mid-2014: “a massive, massive thing for the company”, according to Mr Horton.

EV and plug-in hybrid sales barely trouble the industry scorer here in their short existence, with only 167 sold this year, two-thirds of which have gone to non-private buyers.

14 center imageFrom top: BMW Australia managing director Phil Horton and the BMW i3.

The i3 will join models such as the Nissan Leaf EV and the Holden Volt and Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrids (the latter due early 2014), albeit from a higher starting price of around $70,000.

Nissan Australia CEO Bill Peffer and his counterpart at global alliance partner Renault, Justin Hocevar, have both called for more government support to get EVs off the ground here this year. Renault remains keen to introduce the Zoe EV hatch here in the near future.

A lack of substantial government policy that encourages the purchase of zero- or low-emission cars (beyond, perhaps, a partial luxury car tax exemption for cars that use fewer than 7.0 litres of fuel per 100km) is often cited as a factor in these low sales – alongside the dearth of charging infrastructure, high entry costs and so-called ‘range anxiety’.

“I guess it would be a positive start if a government of any colour took emissions seriously,” Mr Horton told GoAuto.

“It is very surprising again in a mature market like Australia that apart from some tweaking with the luxury car tax around emissions, there’s precious little emissions regulations.

“And it’s very clear that in markets which have really done an awful lot, particularly Europe and some American states, the customer isn’t interested really in emissions … they have to be led, either rewarded or penalised.

“It’s government that have led the massive reductions in emissions and the massive improvements in fuel economy all around the world, saying, ‘If you don’ t do this, you’re going to pay more stamp duty, or road tax or whatever it is in a particular country’.

“Basically, it’s usually a little bit of carrot and quite a lot of stick.” The Gillard government took up mandatory CO2 emissions standards as an election issue in 2010 – targeting a national average of 190 grams per kilometre by 2015, and a further reduction to 155g/km by 2024 – but the issue was sidelined soon after transport minister Anthony Albanese called for submissions to a discussion paper in 2011.

As GoAuto reported earlier this year, the Australian vehicle fleet averages CO2 emissions of 199g/km, suggesting the proposed figures could easily be tightened further.

“Up until six months ago there looked to be a glimmer of hope that there would be some movement on some emissions targets on cars, but that’s now been put on the back-burner by the current government, and I’m not sure that the Coalition will have it high on their list of priorities, especially in the first term,” said Mr Horton.

“The irony is that the technology already exists, because you can’t sell cars in Europe unless you’re engine meets EU6 regulations. But you’ve also got a lot of clunkers on the road here which shouldn’t really be there.” On the subject of tightening emissions regulations – “it’s not all just about us selling some i cars” – Mr Horton said he was “amazed” to learn there was no nationalised scheme requiring vehicles of a certain age, more likely to emit carbon dioxide in excessive degrees, to pass an inspection. Certain states have such policies, but across most of Europe they are nationally mandated.

When asked if he would support Mercedes-Benz Australia’s recent call to cut the current luxury car tax exemption for fuel-efficient vehicles from its current 7.0 litres per 100 kilometre limit to just 5.0L/100km, Mr Horton replied: “I’d be behind anything that gave preference to, or encouraged customers, to drive more fuel0efficient cars”.

But, he added, “the whole LCT is completely iniquitous anyway, so why not just flick it”.

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