WHEN Justin Harding accelerates silently out of a carpark, passers-by do double-takes.
“People wonder what on Earth is going on with that mysterious car that seems to go without starting its engine,” he says, happily.
His number-plates reveal the secret: ELCTR0. Harding, an engineer from Blackburn, finished converting his Mitsubishi Lancer to battery power two years ago.
Tomorrow, he’ll drive it to Hawthorn for the annual Electric Vehicle Expo at Swinburne University, from 10 am until 4 pm. The free event is coordinated by the Alternative Technology Association.
There’ll be electric bikes and factory-line electric cars from Tesla, BMW and Nissan, as well as several models converted by tinkerer-enthusiasts.
Credit: Justin Harding
Electric cars have been slow to take off in Australia. Figures compiled by bloggers suggest that five years ago, there were just over 100 around the country.
By the end of 2014, the number had only risen to 1900 (including plug-in hybrids). But most of those – nearly 1200 – were first registered last year.
Next month, luxury electric carmaker Tesla will open a showroom and charging station in Richmond. The company launched in Australia in December and has announced plans to open charging stations spanning the route from Melbourne to Brisbane by 2016.
There are already 23 charging stations around Melbourne, many of them free. The City of Moreland built the state’s first fast-charging station at the Coburg civic centre in July 2013, and there are now 6 across the municipality.
The council’s climate change officer, Stuart Nesbitt, oversees its electric vehicle program. “One of the barriers to buying these cars is the perception that there’s not enough public charging infrastructure,” he says. “Where possible, we’re trying to expand it.”
There are two electric cars in the council’s fleet, but that number will increase, Nesbitt says. New research conducted for the council shows that electric vehicles can be cheaper over the life of a typical lease, because of their low running cost.
For his own commute, Nesbitt – a former diesel mechanic – has traded in his car for an electric scooter. He fits the demographic for electric vehicle enthusiasts in Australia: they’re often well educated middle-aged men, early adopters of technology, who have solar panels of their own.
But Nesbitt thinks it won’t stay that way: “Electric vehicles are now where mobile phones were with the Motorola brick in the 1980s,” he says.
Credit: Justin Harding
Harding’s car cost about $20,000 to convert, mainly in batteries. In 2009, when he began the project, DIY was the only option. Now, every major vehicle maker has electric cars in planning or production, and their price has fallen significantly.
“The more I looked into it, the more I became convinced that electric vehicles are the way of the future,” he says. “It’s just a more sensible way to power transport, rather than burning fossil fuel and capturing explosions. The simplicity and efficiency of an electric motor wins hands down.”