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Australians and EVs poles apart, says Holden

Discharged: While Holden believes there is a future for electric cars, none will be coming to Australia in the near future.

Holden will ultimately persevere with alternative energy but not for now

Holden logo1 May 2015

By DANIEL GARDNER

GM HOLDEN will consider more hybrid and electric vehicles for the local market but warns that until major changes are made to infrastructure and political orientation, alternative energy will fail to garner significant Australian attention.

The company recently announced its second-generation Volt would not be coming Down Under following disappointing local sales, and it cited numerous reasons for the less than satisfactory result.

A relatively low fuel price, geographical constraints, minimal infrastructure and a lack of government support are all part of the problem, says the car-maker.

Nonetheless, Holden still believes electric power is the future of vehicle technology and it will continue to consider electric and hybrid vehicles for our market.

Speaking at the launch of its new Astra and Cascada, GM Holden executive director of sales Peter Keley said while the company would consider alternative energy vehicles, it is unlikely any will be coming here soon.

“We look at everything... but as far as those vehicles being mainstream propositions to us and a key to our future, that's not necessarily the case,” he said.

“Those vehicles will be to demonstrate capability and technology but it's not going to change the market position of Holden in the future.

“We need to determine and derive a certain amount of our volume from a number of core entries. Then there is the opportunity around a number of what we call limited volume entries, but they will be assessed at the time as to what's available in the GM portfolio.”

Mr Keley went on to say that Australian drivers are largely conscientious and will not buy a vehicle unless the figures add up.

“The Australian consumer tends to be quite pragmatic,” he said. “If I’m going to spend thousands of dollars more to obtain the technology to lower fuel consumption and running costs there has to be a business case for me as a consumer and that's lacking. It doesn't stack up.

“We get a few early adopters but the mainstream haven't accepted the premise at this stage. Until we can change the fundamentals of the cost equation that will remain so.”

Despite the poor uptake of the technology in Australia, Mr Keley is optimistic of the long-term future of electric and hybrid models and said Holden would not jump back into the segment until the time is right.

“Its time will come,” he said. “Electric engines will be the future I have no doubt about that. It's at what point in time and that point in time is not today unless either the government mandates it or the price of oil goes up sharply.

“It will come at some point in time but we shouldn't get carried away with one or two car companies actually forcing that situation because it's beyond us.

It's a geo-political and consumer situation.”

In other parts of the world, electric and hybrid technology has already established strong footholds with the United States, Japan and China leading the way, but Australia lags behind, barely registering on a global scale.

GM Holden director of communications Sean Poppitt highlighted some of the problems facing sales of alternative energy vehicles in Australia, but the company had not written off hybrid and electrics in the meantime.

“Distances that we drive, lack of urbanisation compared to European cities, lack of infrastructure, lack of government incentives, price of fuel,” he said.

“There's a whole range of factors that have come together and it's something the Australian consumer isn't screaming for.

“It's always worth pursuing. Certainly the future-looking technology in the Volt was a game-changer but I think consumers voted with their wallet, not just for our car, if you look at passenger car sales for 2014, electrics and hybrids were around three per cent.

“That's a whole bunch of Australians saying this isn't quite the car for us.”

In the US, GM-owned Chevrolet recently revealed its all-electric Bolt concept that was developed and built at the Australian design centre, but despite the significant local involvement, the little zero-emissions hatch won't be sold here for now.

The same goes for the Chevrolet Volt, which sells strongly in its native North America but struggled in Australia with just a single example left for sale here before the end of the line.

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