Publish date: 22 January 2024

With record sales of Electric Vehicles (EVs) in 2023 of around 15,000 vehicles, and The National Transport Commission identifying 700 barriers to the deployment of automated vehicles in Australia, EVs are becoming an increasing safety concern for those of us in the legal industry. We simply are not yet ready for the future of driving. 

Recently, I wrote about the gaps in Australian law as the development and sale of electric vehicles (EV) and automated vehicles gathers pace. The article highlighted seven critical areas with complex gaps still to be addressed, two of which were: Consumer Guarantees and End of Life Disposal.1  

The Australian Financial Review has brought these issues to life recently with the stories of everyday families who have fallen into the unknown traps of purchasing an EV. Families simply wanting to improve their environmental impact, but instead experience near miss accidents, limited battery life, and EV manufacturers refusing to address consumer issues.2  

With more stories like these emerging, the human and environmental impact of failing to address these issues is becoming resoundingly clear – better consumer protection and policies are needed, and regulators must take notice.  

The EV market is growing, and so is the need to prioritise critical EV laws, much the same as there is finally a realisation (at least in New South Wales and Queensland) of the need to invest in the critical infrastructure (e.g. charging stations).3   

China’s BYD outsold Tesla in the EV market in the last quarter of 2023, with a record 526,000 EV’s sold.4 In Australia, EV’s accounted for about 7% of new car sales in 2023, compared to the global market of 18%.5 Although, in Australia the year-on-year increase in 2023 for battery EV’s is a stellar 161%, hybrid EV’s is 20.4% and plug-in hybrid EV’s is 89%.6  

Second-hand EV sales will only increase, and it is inevitable that our cost and environmentally conscious community will lead the charge. But our laws are clearly not there yet. The unfortunate experience of the family referred to in the AFR article shows how critically important it is to have in place: 

  1. Roadworthy checks that are required to assess battery life; 
  1. Consumer guarantees relating to second-hand EV’s, especially the battery life; 
  1. Accurate data from manufacturers as to the life expectancy of batteries (much like we have regulations around emissions and fuel consumption); 
  1. Degraded battery collection and recycling; and 
  1. Anti-dumping laws for old model EV’s. 

It must be borne in mind that battery life expectancy is about eight years or 160,000 – 240,000 km. The cost of a new battery for EV’s ranges from an average $12,000 to $20,000, with some Toyota hybrids much cheaper at $2,500 – $3,400 and some luxury Porsche, Audi and Tesla models costing at around $50,000.00.7  

Adequate laws are necessary therefore to protect consumers who, being cost and environmentally conscious make the decision to buy a second-hand EV, in what is presently a poorly understood and regulated market.  

End of life issues will start emerging, as they have already in China where there are fields of old EV’s simply dumped with no attempt to recycle or reuse the material.8  

If we allow this to occur in Australia, the environmental benefit we gain from EV’s is diminished considerably. The material and emissions that goes into the manufacture of EV batteries and vehicles is not insubstantial (some may be surprised to learn), therefore its benefits can only truly be realised if they have longevity and are recycled/reused.  

Precious metals such as nickel, lithium and cobalt (all of which Australia mines and exports) are critical to EV batteries, and we should be reusing these. Maybe the technology isn’t quite there to reuse these metals, but no doubt it will be coming. This doesn’t mean Australian politicians and safety regulators shouldn’t be thinking and planning ahead. 

We need our politicians and safety regulators to step on the peddle with laws to ensure the safety of these vehicles, as well as protect the human and environmental advantages the EV industry make claim to. 

As published in Lawyers Weekly.

Greg Spinda
Greg Spinda
Special Counsel
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