Electric cars not a long-term bet for Australia: Macfarlane

BAD news today if you’re in the business of selling electric cars in Australia: the nation’s industry minister thinks you’re backing the wrong fossil fuel-sucking horse.

Speaking at the launch of the Hyundai ix35 fuel cell vehicle in Sydney today – it’s the first hydrogen-fuel passenger car to arrive in Australia – senior government minister Ian Macfarlane said electric vehicles were “an idea, not a solution” to the nation’s future personal transport needs.

“Now, some people say that the solution lies in electric cars; I don’t drive an electric car,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“Some people say that we will have enough fossil fuel to last us centuries; I don’t agree with that, either,” he said.

“The reality is that if you drive an electric car, the chances are it’s being fuelled by fossil fuel-generated electricity. Outside that, it’s an idea, not a solution.

“The ideal solution surely is a car that in the full cycle, something that starts with water and ends with water, and that to me is what this vehicle represents today – the next generation of environmentally friendly vehicles.”

Hyundai’s fuel cell ix35 uses hydrogen to spark a chemical reaction that creates electricity, which is then used to drive an electric motor connected to the front wheels, and emits only plain water.

The tank has to be filled at a special refuelling station – Hyundai’s solar-powered one installed at its Sydney headquarters is believed to have cost about $300,000 – and takes about five minutes, costing less than $60 for a 600-kilometre driving range.

Mr Macfarlane said the fuel cell technology was a better fit for Australia than electric and hybrid vehicles.

“The long-term future’s got to be in a fuel cell vehicle that is zero-emission,” he said.

“There’s no doubt that electric and hybrid technology is a transitioning technology, but in terms of where we’re going long-term, you need a vehicle that gives you the range. In terms of that, it’s only the hydrogen vehicle that satisfies those criteria.

“The electric vehicle will play a role; how much of a role we will see.

“Hydrogen certainly strikes me as a fuel of the future … There are some solutions that hydrogen presents that aren’t available to electric vehicles.”

Even so, Hyundai’s fuel cell has its own hurdles to clear.

For a start, the fuel cell ix35 is not currently available in right-hand drive, meaning that, until an all-new fuel cell-ready ix35 currently under development arrives in about 2016, drivers will have to sit on the wrong side of the car.

Hyundai has also flagged it will need help to make the fuel cell ix35 more cost-effective in Australia – it is expected to be priced about the same as Toyota’s circa-$70,000 Mirai fuel cell sedan that won’t be coming to Australia – and for that it needs government backing.

“We look forward to engaging in industry and partner discussions about ways to further motivate the adoption of hydrogen motoring in Australia and to offering some viable options to our federal, state and local policy makers,” Hyundai Australia chief executive Charlie Kim said.

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