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Could Australia start making electric vehicles?

When the last Australian vehicles rolled off Holden’s production line in 2017, it was the end of an era that reached back to 1948 that saw millions of Holdens, Fords, Toyotas, Leylands, Mitsubishis, Renaults and others produced in Australian factories.

One by one the factories shut up shop and production was left for others overseas. Vehicle production in Australia was no more.

Or was it? Because you may be surprised to learn that Australia is still manufacturing vehicles, though not cars, and that some think that Australia could yet start manufacturing electric vehicles and exporting them to the world.

Buses and trucks are still being built here by Denning, Iveco, Kenworth, Mack, Volvo and Bustech, so there’s still a lot of vehicle-making expertise right here and now.

One academic who thinks Australia should be producing electric vehicles and exporting them to the world is Peter Newman, the Professor of Sustainability Studies at Perth’s Curtin University.

He argues that Australia already produces all the necessary metals that go into an electric vehicle, including lithium, from the world’s biggest lithium mine in Greenbushes WA.

What’s lacking is the large-scale downstream processing for these minerals that adds value to them and gets them one step closer to the finished product in the shape of a car

Turning lithium into batteries is the obvious place to start and we’re already doing that in a small way, with companies like Feline, Gelion and Redflow all making battery cells here in Australia.

But the production doesn’t end there, because Victorian company Sea Electric is already installing its own electric motors into imported rolling chassis (essentially a vehicle without an engine) and supplying them to Australian mines.

Shannon O'Rourke from the Future Battery Industries CRC believes there’s no technical reason Australia couldn’t produce electric vehicles.

"We are closer than most people think to having an end-to-end value chain in Australia,” she said in a recent ABC story.

"What we don't have is global scale, and we need scale to be cost-competitive.”

"If you're not a big player, then it is hard to afford the research and development to maintain pace with global leaders."

Tesla believes that for vehicle manufacturing to start up again it’s vital to scale-up downstream processing of the all-important lithium.

"If Australia is to progress further downstream into manufacturing cathodes, cells and vehicles, it is imperative that lithium refining be scaled rapidly," Tesla said in a submission to the National Electric Vehicle Strategy.

The Australian Industry Group might be stone-cold on the idea of vehicle manufacturing in Australia, but one person who isn’t is tech entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes.

He thinks that the falling cost of power with the rise of renewable energy in Australia combined with its mineral wealth makes Australia an obvious location for a Tesla “gigafactory” making electric cars and batteries.

Written by
Mark Schneider

Mark is a successful copywriter with over 20 years of professional writing experience.

We welcome him as a guest blogger to Fleettorque.

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