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Victoria throws switch on EV trial

On trial: Nissan's Leaf electric vehicle is likely to be a contender for Victoria's public electric vehicle trial once it arrives in about 2012.

Up to 30 electric vehicles to go on trial in five-year public test of plug-ins

General News logo26 Feb 2010

By RON HAMMERTON

AUSTRALIA’S biggest trial of electric vehicles (EVs) has been announced by the Victorian government to test the impact and benefits of the emerging technology, including demands on the electricity network, as it attempts to steal the march on other states as the Australian EV industry leader.

The Victorian transport department hopes to lure about 30 full electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids from vehicle manufacturers for the five-year “real-world” trial which will involve testing both the cars and a variety of charging systems in a different environments, from major fleets to domestic duties, mostly in private hands.

About 200 representatives of potential stakeholders – including car-makers, electricity companies, major fleets, vehicle-charging technology companies, component makers, academics and motoring groups – packed the formal briefing in Melbourne today, underscoring the wide interest in EV development in general and this project in particular.

Interested parties have been invited to submit an application to join the trial by March 26, but it was made clear that corporate groups looking for a free ride should not apply, as they will be expected to contribute to the cost of the vehicles if they want the benefit of the resultant data and research results.

When the trial hits the road later this year, the challenge will be to access suitable cars, as most major manufacturers are not planning to launch vehicles in any volume in Australia until 2012.

A handful of Mitsubishi i-MiEVs are expected to arrive in Australia this year, but it is unclear if any of those will be available for the Victorian trial.

80 center imageLeft: Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid and Holden Volt.

Toyota also will begin fleet trials in Australia of a small number of plug-in hybrid Priuses this year as part of a world-wide test of 500 units of the new-generation green car, and there is potential for these trials to include participation in the Victorian program as part of the company’s government fleet trials.

Nissan Australia is expected to sign up, as it already has a memorandum of understanding to supply EVs to the Victorian government (and NSW), presumably with its forthcoming Leaf electric cars. However, at last report, the Leaf was not due in Australia until 2012.

Holden’s plug-in hybrid ‘range-extender’ Volt is also not scheduled to arrive until 2012.

Before then, boutique EV conversion companies might help to fill at least part of the void as they promote their wares.

The government’s trial managers do not care where the EVs come from, as long as they comply with all federal and state regulations and the donor companies are prepared to work within the trial parameters.

The transport department’s sustainable and active transport policy director Fiona Calvert said the trial had been designed to be flexible to allow it to grow and change as it rolls out until 2014.

“We have a gap in our knowledge about electric vehicles,” she said. “This trial is to fill those gaps.”

Ms Calvert said that although the trial program would last five years – one year of planning followed by four of operations – the government would not be bound to wait until all the data was in before acting on issues such as rewriting regulations to allow for kerbside charging of electric vehicles.

Private drivers will get a chance to put their hand up for a chance to test one of the cars when the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV) runs a ballot for an as-yet unknown number of cars via its Royalauto magazine in the third quarter of this year.

Successful applicants will be notified in May, with the first on-road trials beginning in the second half of this year – if cars are available.

Some government funding will be available to grease the axles of the trial, but fleets will be expected to pay a notional cost for the trial vehicles for the period they use them, which is expected to be at least three months to provide a meaningful test. The companies will not be expected to pay the high cost of an EV prototype, though.

“This means the fleets will be no worse off through participating in the trial in terms of vehicle capital costs,” the transport department says. “They may have savings in the costs of powering the vehicles, as the electricity consumed is likely to be less than the costs of buying petrol or diesel for a traditional vehicle.”

Private individuals are expected to get the vehicles for free, but all participants will be expected to pay for the electricity which must be “green” power and will be closely metered as part of the data capture process at the point of charging – either at their home, workplace or public charging stations that are expected to be established in small numbers by private operators.

Ms Calvert said the trial would not just focus on the technical aspects of EVs and necessary infrastructure, but also the experience of EV drivers, fleet owners and other stakeholders to help shape future government policy to pave the way for a new, low-carbon era of transport.

She said Victoria and other states and the federal government had formed a joint task force to share information on EV activities and policy to help ensure a national approach to the issue.

That co-operation is unlikely to extend to manufacturing, however. Today’s briefing was preceded yesterday by a Victorian-government sponsored think-tank of motor industry representatives, component makers and other interested parties to workshop ways of encouraging EV manufacturing in that state as a way of securing the Victorian motor industry – the biggest in the country.

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