‘Some refuse to sit in them’: The multibillion-dollar gamble to get Australians into electric cars

It gave the world the Corvette and the Camaro, the Trans Am and Pontiac GTO; cars that idled with a rumble and then roared, that were built to appeal because of their sound and fury rather than despite it.

Today General Motors is gambling that it can convince markets in Australia and America to embrace a new motoring thrill: silence.

“Culturally, between the United States and Australia, there is a romanticisation of the gas vehicle, and that will be an adaptation that societies will make over time,” GM’s vice-president of global public policy Tom Cooney told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age during a briefing to international journalists this week.

“General Motors and other automakers will still be making ICE [internal combustion engine] vehicles for several years to come, but this change is coming, and we’ll be well-positioned for it.

“You’ll still be able, for a number of years, to be able to get that full-throated Camaro or Corvette Roar or a Chevy Silverado or something like that, but this change is coming,” said Mr Cooney.

According to Mr Cooney, a former diplomat whose job it is to liaise with governments around the world on behalf of GM, the rise of electric vehicles was not just necessary for the environment but is inevitable because it has been committed to by national and provincial governments around the world and embraced by the industry.

“This is coming down the pike one way or another.”

To that end, GM has a goal to be carbon-neutral by 2040 in fleet, its operations and its facilities.

By 2025 it aims to have 30 electric models available around the world and it is spending US$27 billion on that vision.

But how will it make those who have loved GM’s petrol engines over the years overcome their scepticism?

Mr Cooney believes many will be won over when they learn more about the capabilities of new electric vehicles. Those who want longer distances will be able to buy cars with bigger batteries. Commuters happy with shorter battery lives will save with smaller ones.

Asked the same question, Jack Hund, who is in charge of launching GM’s new electric vehicle plants, believes that electric vehicles may just win people over with their very silence.

“When you’re in the Hummer EV, for example, and you go from zero to 60 [miles per hour] in three seconds silently, I think that that excitement will accelerate the enthusiasm over the electric vehicle,” he told the Herald/Age.

GM may have its work cut out in Australia, where the debate over electric vehicles risks being woven into climate politics.

During the last federal election the Coalition warned voters that in supporting the adoption of electric vehicles the Labor Party wanted to “steal” peoples weekends and as recently as last Monday Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor rejected them.

“I’m not driving an electric car,” he said. “I live in regional NSW and drive huge distances each year – 60,000 or 70,000 kilometres. So, I need something that can handle the hard roads and the distances.”

Two men trying to overturn scepticism about electric vehicles in Australia are Dan Bleakley and his brother Tim. Dan, a former engineer who has worked in the coal and oil industries before he became a climate activist, recently lent Tim his Tesla to take to the coal mine outside Clermont in Queensland.

The two have since been producing videos recording coal miners experience the acceleration of a Tesla for the first time. The first of the videos, featuring a miner called Mark being forced back into his seat and swearing joyously as the car raced to 100 kms per hour without gear changes, has now been shared by Tesla fans around the world and seen by over 200,000 people.

Mr Bleakley says the experience of driving his car from Melbourne to his hometown to introduce the car has helped breakdown barriers that built up over the years as his friends worked the mines that he opposed as an activist.

But not all were convinced. Some, he says, refused to sit in the car, let alone test drive it.

Extracted from The Sydney Morning Herald

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