Australians are in love with big polluting cars – here are some alternatives

<span>Photograph: AP</span>
Photograph: AP

A recent report on the carbon emissions intensity of new light vehicles sold in Australia found that emissions only fell by 2% in 2021 despite electric vehicle sales tripling.

In fact, of the top-selling models in Australia, seven of the top 10 were either larger utes or SUVs.

It’s fair to say Australians are having a love affair with large polluting cars, and that’s hindering Australia’s overall emissions improvements. It’s also encouraged by tax breaks that push people towards dual cab utes.

“Transport emissions in Australia have already increased between 2005 and 2019 by about 22%, and we’re on track [in] 2030 for transport emissions to still be higher than 2005 levels,” Jake Whitehead, the head of policy at the Electric Vehicle Council said.

“Whereas every other sector is expected to contribute to a 43% reduction [to meet Australia’s Paris agreement targets] transport emissions are going to be higher. That means farmers, manufacturers, miners, industry, energy [and] every other sector is going to have to take that burden from transport and cut their sectors even further because we haven’t acted quickly enough.”

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“There’s about 45-odd electric vehicles available in Australia now, so there are many out there that do suit people … but it doesn’t suit everyone because we don’t have that broader range.”

“To get that broader range we need a fuel efficiency standard so we can have all types of electric vehicles coming into the country to suit all types of lifestyles and businesses.”

So what are the alternatives, if any?

Here we take a look at the 10 top-selling vehicles in Australia in 2021 and similar electric and hybrid models that are available.

Top-selling vehicles and alternatives

1. Toyota HiLux – 52,801 sold – from $24,225emissions: 182g/km (combined urban/highway)
There is no direct replacement for the Toyota HiLux currently on the market, partly because Toyota has lagged behind other manufacturers on electrification and instead has backed hybrids. The new-generation HiLux range is expected to have a hybrid option when it is released in 2023. That’s not to say there aren’t electric utes out there: both the Rivian R1T and the Ford F-150 Lightning are both good electric alternatives but are not available in Australia – yet.

The Rivian R1T electric truck in Times Square
The Rivian R1T electric ute could provide a good alternative to the Toyota HiLux, the Ford Ranger or the Isuzu D-MAX when it becomes available in Australia. Photograph: Ann-Sophie Fjello-Jensen/AP

2. Ford Ranger – 50,279 sold – from $29,190 – 210g/km
Ford has been leading the pack with electrification of utility vehicles with its Ford F-150 Lightning. There are rumours it is working on an EV version of the Ranger but any movement on this will still be years away. In the meantime, the Rivian R1T is another alternative but is unlikely to go on sale until 2024. If size isn’t your priority, Australian company-owned ACE EV are taking reservations on the ACE Yewt.

3. Toyota RAV4 – 35,751 sold – $34,400 – 137g/km
The good news is that in the mid-sized SUV market, there are actually lower emission options available on the Australian market already and more to come. Beginning with the RAV4, a hybrid version is available from $40,450 (107g/km). Toyota has been working on a fully electric mid-sized SUV, the bZ4X, which is due for release in Australia in 2023 with prices expected around the $70k mark. Hyundai has released the Kona Electric with a range of 484km and a starting price of about $57,429 and Chinese carmaker BYD has released the Atto 3 electric SUV.


4. Toyota Corolla – 28,768 sold – from $25,395 – 81g/km
The Toyota Corolla is the most fuel-efficient vehicle in the Top 10 with 81g/km of emissions. Finding a lower emissions alternative is easier in the small-medium car category. A new Nissan Leaf starts at $50,990, but a secondhand one can be picked up for about $20,000. Another alternative is the Volkswagen ID.3 hatchback when it lands in 2024 or 2025.
5. Toyota Landcruiser – 26,633 sold – from $60,830 – 250g/km
The Toyota Landcruiser is a beast of a vehicle and one that many Australian farmers and other primary producers rely on. Yet many are used to take short trips around the suburbs. If this describes you, the best option is to swap it for something smaller, given it is currently the most polluting on the list. If you rely on one for serious work there are no exact matches in EV models – although there are companies that do electric conversations. Toyota is rumoured to be working on a hydrogen-powered V8 engine for the Landcruiser, which would eliminate greenhouse gas emissions but NOx emissions could still be a problem.

A view of the all-new Kia Niro EV automobile during the 2021 Seoul Mobility Show at the Korea International Exhibition Center in Goyang, Gyeonggi province, South Korea
The Kia Niro EV is on the compact side but could replace Hyundai’s i30. Photograph: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

6. Hyundai i30 – 25,575 sold – from $25,990 – 157g/km
The Hyundai IONIQ Electric is a good replacement option, albeit with a higher price tag of $49,970. Others in the Volkswagen range, including the ID.4 and ID.5 electric SUVs, may also serve as good alternatives when they are introduced at the end of 2023. When in doubt there is also the KIA Niro electric vehicle in the compact SUV market.

7. Isuzu Ute D-MAX – 25,117 sold – from $64,990 – 190g/km
Again there are no great immediate options but if you’re in the market for an EV ute, try the Rivian R1T and the Ford F-150.

8. Mazda CX-5 – 24,968 sold – from $32,390 – 158g/km
Mazda have begun releasing their own range of electric vehicles, including the E35 Astina and the MX-30, although they can be a little pricey. In other brands, the Tesla Model Y is a good alternative.

9. Toyota Prado – 21,299 sold – from $60,830 – 208g/km
The Prado is another offering in Toyota’s bulky 4WD range. On top of the models already mentioned, the Tesla Model Y may be another good option for those wanting something with a little less impact on the environment.

Related: Electric vehicles: four things that will help Australia shift gears after a ‘decade of denial’

10. Mitsubishi Triton – 19,232 sold – from $41,990 – 204g/km
Mitsubishi is another one of the big car manufacturers that hasn’t exactly been keen on bringing electric vehicles into Australia. The company has instead been sticking with its plug-in hybrid electric vehicles such as the Outlander Plug-in Hybrid. If you’re loyal to the brand and wish to get into a cleaner vehicle, this may be the go – or you can wait until the other electric utes land in the Australian market.

Solar savings

EV alternatives come at a premium, but savings on fuel add up over the long and medium term – even if you are buying energy from the grid. But if you are lucky enough to have rooftop solar, you can save even more.

According to Solar Citizens’ fuel-savings calculator, the Tesla Model 3 LR is a close match to the Mazda 3 and costs just 22% to charge over one year. Fuel for the Mazda 3 costs about $14.63 per 1ookm, whereas the charging cost for the Tesla Model 3 LR per 100km is $3.35.

Of course, there are other ways to save on fuel costs and emissions: switching to a smaller, more efficient vehicle, or ditching the car for public transport, walking and cycling are all great options. But for now at least, the love affair with big cars looks set to endure.

Additional reporting by Royce Kurmelovs