Policy Road Map Needed For Electric Cars: Inquiry

Electric  car buyers will get a break in the upfront cost of new cars but face ongoing road-user charges in lieu of fuel tax if new measures arising from a Senate inquiry into electric vehicle (EV) uptake are adopted.

A lack of charging stations coupled with poor policy direction from the Federal Government were cited as significant contributors to Australia’s lukewarm enthusiasm for the vehicles to date.

‘The recommendations will provide a much-needed boost to ensure our country keeps up with the rest of the world in terms of environmentally innovative mobility.’

Chair of the Senate Select Inquiry into Electric Vehicles, Independent Senator Tim Storer, says EVs accounted for less than 0.2 per cent of new car sales in Australia at last count, an uptake five times lower than that in New Zealand, with Northern European and Scandinavian countries streets ahead of that again. Key measures in the report call for the development of a national strategy on EVs as well as an inter-government task force to give it life.

These were among 17 recommendations from the inquiry following almost six months of submissions designed to accelerate the take up of EVs in Australia. The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), the peak body representing the Australian automotive industry, applauded the recommendations, saying they would help promote EV technology in Australia.

Several innovative, low-emission vehicles are already available in Australia but low awareness of EV technology has proven that, without clear government policy or support, their sales will remain slow, says CEO of the FCAI Tony Webber. “The recommendations made by the Senate Select Committee will provide a much-needed boost to ensure EVs increase on Australian roads, and our country keeps up with the rest of the world in terms of environmentally innovative mobility,” Webber says. The report also recommended the Government set strong targets for EV growth in Australia, mitigate tax and duty costs on low-emission vehicles, and implement a comprehensive plan for a public-charging infrastructure.

luxury car

Music has changed, but the song remains the same

WHEN I was quite a lot younger, I was a little bit of a groupie for a number of bands, more often than not English, for some reason, and almost always first-rate musicians, even if set in a rock music context. Even then, I think, I was developing an eye for quality. That’s kind of why punk rock passed me by, why the new wave of the 1980s seemed a bit trite and why I always considered the 1990s something of an abomination, music-wise.

‘To this day music remains an indispensable part of driving, and a road trip is impossible without a carefully curated soundtrack.’


There were the odd bands that popped up and caught my attention, but pop in particular seemed disposable even then and it’s only become more so now. Some of the music my goddaughter and her friends listen to is fine, but I can’t tell one artist from the other – not that it matters, because someone else will be in line for their 15 minutes of fame in about, well, 15 minutes.


I say “groupie”, but being a teenager living on the other side of the planet meant I had to do my groupie-ing from a distance. When the bands I liked toured (an extremely rare event – my favourites seemed never to be the kind of acts that made it Down Under, and some to this day still haven’t) I was often deemed too young to attend the concert on my own, and I was usually unable to talk an adult into going with me.

As I got older, concert-going became easier, but it was still a rare event for the bands I liked to actually come here. The closest I got was seeing them every now and then on Rage on the ABC on a Saturday or Sunday morning. It seemed like Australia was simply too far away and the fan base too sparse to convince them to travel. Which is fair enough.


In later life, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel to where the bands are, instead of waiting for them to come to me. I’m also lucky that we live in an age where some of the bands that were knocking around back in my youth are still playing and performing. I suppose that’s one of the upsides of being in the wealthiest generation in human history – we can afford to sustain nostalgia like no generation before us.


Every so often, though, something happened that made the whole fandom thing worthwhile and made being a teenager on the far side of the world bearable. Not long after I got my full driver’s licence I was extended an open invitation to borrow the car of a friend of the family, and to take it for a good long drive. It was a Honda NSX-T – the one with the targa roof. The NSX is a car I loved then, and I adore the latest one.

In those days, unlike today where you can dump thousands of songs on to a USB stick or log in to a streaming service and drive for a year and never hear a song repeated, we used cassettes to listen to music in cars, and getting the right mix of songs took some planning. This was before compact discs replaced cassette tapes, before mp3s replaced CDs, and before streaming replaced mp3s. It was the days when a carefully constructed mixtape took ages (it had to be created in real-time, of course) and was a work of art.


Knowing this drive was a possibility, I wrote a letter (this story also pre-dates the widespread use of email or messaging services) to the fan club of my then-favourite band. I’m going to spare myself the embarrassment of saying who it was, but I let them know I had this opportunity to spend time in a great car on the open road and asked the band to tell me what tracks of theirs they’d include on a mixtape if they had the same opportunity.


I didn’t expect much to happen, if I’m honest, so I was absolutely stunned when, about six weeks later, a parcel arrived in the mail, postmarked in the UK. Inside was a letter, on which each band member had handwritten the six tracks he’d put on a mixtape, for a total of 24 tracks (they’d also each written a short note wishing me a fun drive). There were some tracks I knew and already had on tape (or on vinyl, so I could get them on to tape), but there were also some I hadn’t heard of, and didn’t immediately know where to find. But my concern was short-lived because inside the envelope there was also a cassette tape – and on the tape the band (or more likely the band’s “people”) had recorded every one of the 24 tracks for me. All I had to do was pop it in the tape player and we were set.


It was one of the finest weeks of my life, to that point. A friend and I borrowed the Honda, put the single cassette into the player and listened to the thing on auto-reverse for the entire time we were away.


That week on the road cemented my love of driving with music and confirmed to me that the guys in my favourite band were the greatest guys in the world. It also introduced me to the NSX and to the concept of mid-engined cars, a joy and appreciation that has only grown over the years.


To this day music remains an indispensable part of driving, and a road trip is impossible without a carefully curated soundtrack. When one of those 24 tracks comes on one of my latest playlists, I am magically transported back to that time and place. And having given this issue some thought over the past couple of days, I’m now going to see if I can lay eyes (and hands) on the latest NSX. Stay tuned.


‘Mad panic’ as luxury car buyers race to beat new tax

LUXURY car dealers in Melbourne enjoyed an unnaturally stellar June following a soft year as car buyers race to buy before new taxes come into effect on Monday.

Today is officially the last chance Victorian car buyers can avoid a potentially significant rise in the on-road cost of registering their cars thanks to a surprise new State Government tax announced in May’s State Budget.

Car dealers, already suffering from lacklustre sales in light of Federal Election distractions and economic uncertainty, have had to manage customer frustration particularly among those who’ll face the unexpected cost on cars ordered, in some cases, months ago.

There’s been “a mad panic this month” in the Melbourne showrooms of high-end car dealers as customers sought to beat the tax, according to Bobby Zagame, managing director of one of Victoria’s most prestigious automotive retailing businesses, the Zagame Group.

“It’s brought forward a lot of people,” Zagame says, saying brands such as Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Ferrari and Aston Martin have seen a particularly large uptick in sales.

“It’s been great, but it’s only one month in a year,” he says. “The next three months are going to be tough.”

Sales at Audi, considered a more accurate barometer of the average consumer, have continued to suffer already waning figures.

“Customers are saying it’s not fair, that they’re not happy but they’ll have to accept and adjust,” he says. It might encourage some to register their cars interstate.

From Monday, the car stamp duty levy is set to rise on a sliding scale from 5 per cent to up to 9 per cent on vehicles valued from $100,001.

Under the changes, cars valued between $100,000 and $150,000 will face duty of $14 per $200 of market value ($7000), while vehicles worth more than that will face an additional $18 per $200 of market value ($9000).

This is on top of 10 per cent GST and the federal government’s 33 per cent Luxury Car Tax (LCT) already charged on every dollar above $66,331.

A $500,000 car is now expected to cost buyers an extra $19,000.

‘With [Victorian] infrastructure-cost blowouts and revenue down from property stamp duty, they have to find the money somewhere.’

Announcing the changes at the end of May, Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas angered car industry players and consumers by suggesting those able to afford “luxury” vehicles are “not going to be particularly fazed by a slight increase in the rate of vehicle duty”.

The Australian Automotive Dealer Association (AADA) has sought legal advice and considered High Court action to test the constitutionality of super-luxury stamp duties imposed by state governments. One view is that the taxes could be viewed as an excise and, as such, should be the province of Canberra under the constitution.

Others in the industry are concerned about the obvious risk of the “contagion” effect of the tax being introduced in other states. Queensland had already moved first, lifting its registration tax by 2 per cent last year, while similar efforts to introduce the tax failed in NSW.

An AADA spokesman says after in weighing up the costs of legal action, the organisation is likely to take more of “an advocacy approach” to the issue by commissioning research on the new tax and its application to determine its likely effect on sales.

Zagame described the move as a “straight money grab” from a soft target.

“With [Victorian] infrastructure-cost blowouts and revenue down from property stamp duty, they have to find the money somewhere,” he says.

luxury car women

Mercedes Wagon By Name, Chameleon By Nature

IT’S no secret that Madam Wheels is partial to a sports wagon. Any wagon, really, provided it has everything on board to bridge the gap between well-appointed daily-drive and an adventurous life. The current crop of luxury wagon offerings do just that, earning ticks to most of the requisite-options boxes.

So the ongoing infatuation with SUVs in Australia is baffling to us when one appreciates how perfectly suited – and sensible – wagons can be to the lifestyle here. Driving them can be thrilling, too. My Audi RS6 is particularly exhilarating to pilot just by virtue of how balanced and responsive it is in any situation I drive it – on coastal crawls to winding alpine sprints, the school run to searingly quick track days.

The purr of its V8 engine heading to red line level is pure joy-inducing, and I often profess my love for the car. The children think I’m nuts. The RS6 was preceded by another Audi wagon, this one an All road which was especially fabulous when the children were little. It drove like a sedan, had better fuel economy than an SUV and came with expansive storage space.

‘I spent a week driving the Mercedes-AMG C43 version of the Estate late last year, and the performance wagon quickly quietened my RS6-affected inner snob.’

But when it came time to swap out the All road a few years back, Audi was only bringing a single-turbo variant into the country. I simply couldn’t have that, knowing I’d be disappointed every time I drove it. So I stepped up to the RS6 and it’s ruined me for life.

I can’t imagine a better car for my needs at this age and stage of life, with active kids and a dog in the mix. Add in the all-road, all-weather 4WD capabilities of an SUV, and wagons really can be the package. So it’s always been surprising there haven’t been more of them on our roads. When that thought occurred to me again recently, however, I started to see more of them, and many were Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estates.

There was a particularly attractive spec of the Estate parked on Fitzroy St, St Kilda, the other day. Painted a gunmetal grey with a black-pack across wheels, trims and windows, it sat low on wonderfully wide wheels and featured red calipers as the only pop of colour. This wagon was no ponce, but looked serious and sexy to behold.

I spent a week driving the Mercedes-AMG C43 version of the Estate late last year, and the performance wagon quickly quietened my RS6-affected inner snob. The sound of the C43’s biturbo V6 made the wagon feel like a track-ready racer dressed in city-going clothes. In Sports Mode, at least. The latest all-wheel-drive Estate is part of a slimmed-down version of the previous C-Class offering, and comes with even more tech and safety bells-and-whistles filtered from S- and E-Class models.

My AMG spec included beautiful wood and hand-stitched leather finishes across the dash, steering wheel, centre console and doors. Despite he wheel’s sportier appearance, there wasn’t a lot of feedback from it. There was plenty coming up through the AMG performance bucket seats, however, which, being on the super-supportive side, relayed the bumps and tremors from the road a little too efficiently.

I like that the adaptive-cruise control button is now on the wheel rather than on a stem from the steering column. I wasn’t so fond of the touch-sensitive pads, also on the steering wheel, used to navigate menus, finding them a bit of a distraction.

Looking past the wheel, a new high-res digital instrument display is set into the dash showcasing Classic, Sport and Supersport display styles. All manner of other information can been called up here, too, though Audi’s Virtual Cockpit experience is still superior in terms of the look of the maps and general usability.

Light and visibility is aided by a panoramic sunroof and 360-degree cameras. And an inbuilt emergency braking system can see and react to other vehicles, pedestrians and bike riders. The Driver Assistance option allows the car to steer straight ahead and change lanes itself with the flick of an indicator. Autonomous driving is a way off yet, however. Otherwise, the silence in the cabin during city cruising and country stretches had me feeling right at home, especially driving in low light when the car’s standard Night Package – with its multi-beam adaptive LED headlights – came in handy.

Technology using multiple radars identifies and displays local speed limits with uncanny accuracy – even picking up the 10 km/h speed zone through the car park of Melbourne’s Kooyong Lawn Tennis Centre. The Estate has the ability, it seems, to fit right in and correctly comport itself wherever it goes.

One new “lifestyle-enhancing” feature will seem silly to some but will give joy to others, provided they’re willing to spend $1000 to include that. Introducing the Energizing Comfort Control system, which not only adjusts music based on desired beats per minute, choose a driving mode and it will pull into line the temperature, in-car perfume scent and lighting, as well.

Overall, there’s a lot to love about the modern Mercedes-Benz. Few companies can match the tech-laden luxury of the German brand’s interiors, its plethora of safety features and array of smarts which make the job of driving feel effortless. And at $110,400 before on-road costs, the AMG C43 Estate might capture a few more hearts yet.


Ferrari’s Super Car In Base-Model Clothing

THERE’S nothing cheap or underwhelming about Ferrari’s new Portofino even if it is the Italian marque’s cheapest ride. At $400,000, this is the vessel Ferrari uses to lure competing-car-brand buyers into the “Ferrari” family. There’s certainly nothing entry-level about the way it performs. In fact, respected automotive reviewers have likened the Portofino’s get-up-and-go to the likes of such heavyweights as Ferrari’s 488GTB or 812 Super fast.

‘How on earth can Ferrari can make a car go so fast and still manage to keep the engine looking so pleasing?’

At its very core, however, the Portofino is built to make you smile. The feel-good mood starting at the front with the leering grill – just get a load of that grin! It sits in front of a neck-snapping V8 engine which has proven to be faster and more powerful than the California T it replaces. With almost 600 horsepower to draw on, the PortoFino can manage speeds of more than 300 km/h and hit 100 km from a dead stop in 3.5 seconds. So it’s no slouch.

That in itself is joy-inducing, even before you pop the bonnet (no easy feat in this car, frankly, because of the oddly offset lever placement). Underneath lies an engine of implausibly wonderful symmetry and balance which leaves one contemplating how on earth Ferrari can make a car go so fast and still manage to keep the engine looking so … pleasing? It’s a typically Italian capability, I suppose. But keeping the engine on display rather than covering it with unsightly plastic panels seems nothing short of a masterful stroke on the design team’s part. No need to hide perfection.

That theme continues inside the car where all materials and finishes are soft, stylish and eminently suitable for a Ferrari. There’s even a special receptacle to encase the Ferrari-red key in velvet so it remains on view for the driver. A carbon-fibre steering wheel typifies what Ferrari’s been doing in all of its modern cars – getting as much functionality on to the wheel as possible. Even turn signals are controlled with the thumbs, which is quite a change from the more conventional stick indicators. It was also home to a neat feature borrowed from Formula 1 cars to indicate the point at which the driver need to up shift gears if driving manually (which, girls, I seriously hope you do from time to time). The LED strip displays a line of red lights which eventually glow blue at the top-end of the rev range, indicating the ideal point at which to up shift.


There are plenty of other digital gauges, dials and informative screens, most of which are configurable and require only a modicum of concentration to get across. A 10.3-inch touch-screen in the middle of the dash includes displays that go beyond navigation (which it does far better than before), and has a host of digital consoles for its systems. Included here is an incredibly sophisticated array of seat adjustments, along with the climate control screen which integrates a clever sliding temperature control graphic. For an extra $9500, you can put an additional screen in front of the passenger seat to keep your companion abreast of your speed, gear shifts, revs – all the fun stuff, really.

Speaking of add-ons, we thought it was a bit rich to expect people to pay additionally for two options which really should come as standard in a car of this stature: parking cameras ($7000) and Apple Car Play ($6800). Chinese cars include these things as part of the deal these days and so should the Europeans. When we mention this to Zagame’s Ferrari sales teams, they not unreasonably point out that it is precisely the Chinese car makers’ volume of cars produced that enable them to negotiate a better deal on these things over what low-volume brands like Ferrari can do. Anyway, very few Ferrari drivers are interested in Apple Car Play, they said.

Fair enough.


The Portofino has four seats but it’s really not fair to call it more than a two-seater. Madam Wheels climbed in and quickly determined it was no place for a 175 cm (5’8”) tall woman for any length of time. Her 12-year-old son claimed it might actually be good for his posture, it was so upright.

In terms of overall looks, this car is just beautiful to look at with the roof up or down (an adjustment either way which takes just 14 seconds with the push of a button in speeds up to 40 km/h). In the boot, a fabric capsule determines how much space is available if you want to put the top down, and can be lifted up to get more boot space. At the rear, a Ferrari plaque outlines all of the added features specific to that particular car. There’s even a tool kit and tyre patch for making repairs on the side of the road. At least you won’t get your hands dirty – Ferrari’s provided gloves. Of course.

On the road, the ride quality is top-notch and it feels absolutely like a daily drive. The steering is precise, direct and fast. And while it’s light, it always feels in control even though the acceleration is insane. The gear shifts are instantaneous, almost imperceptible in Comfort mode and snapping sharply in Sport.

It’s also fantastic at coping with lumpy roads. Yes, it has three different driving modes which change the way the power train, suspension, skid control and steering work, but the really clever part of this car is the damper button on the steering wheel. Push that and, whatever mode you’re in, it will put the dampers into the softest mode, so you can push on hard and ride the bumps softly.

Its body control is so good that we could comfortably fling it through a series of corners, though which and the car hunkered down and blasted through effortlessly. Around town, the turning circle is conveniently tight. And the sound is amazing, despite what people say about turbos having diminished the exhaust note of naturally-aspirated engines. The Portofino sounds just fine.

In short, you can’t disrespect this car. It might be the least-expensive of the Ferrari line-up but you can’t think if it as “just the base model”. Overall, the Portofino gives almost super car performance without being an angry, aggressive beast that throws you around. And it doesn’t come with the increasingly hefty price tags that the 488 or 812 command. Before on-road costs, it’s priced about $400,000 (though the one we tested carried an extra $81,400 worth of options). Overall, that’s probably a bargain for a car that looks, feels and drives every bit like a Ferrari. And surely that deserves a smile.


Economic Woes Dent New Car Sales

economics woes


Sales of luxury cars in Australia reflected the toughening economic climate in 2018, ending the year down in line with sales in the broader automotive market.

New-car sales dropped 3 per cent across the board for the year compared to the all-time record notched up in 2017, according to figures released from motor industry statistical service VFACTS. A weaker housing market, tighter lending from a reforming financial sector and the ongoing drought in rural Australia have all played a part in the deceleration of sales.

“Aston Martin enjoyed a particularly strong run in December to achieve 20 per cent of market share among cars priced at $200,000 or more.”

Some high-end automotive marques defied the trend, however, with British sports car brand Aston Martin parking a 20 per cent lift in sales for the period. The result follows a strong run for the manufacturer of handmade cars in 2017 which drove record profits for the company globall



Aston Martin enjoyed a particularly strong run to the end of 2018 in Australia, achieving 20 per cent of market share in December among cars priced at $200,000 or more.

Porsche stayed among the front runners, with its popular 911 earning an 18.6 per cent increase in sales over the previous year.Ferrari will be pleased with its 15 per cent improvement in sales, too, though will be hoping to top that again this year after recently opening a new $10 million, state-of-the-art showroom on the Gold Coast. The Queensland hub has proven to be one of Ferrari’s strongest selling points, accounting for more Ferrari purchases per capita than any of the larger east-coast markets.

Brands hit hardest last year included Mercedes-Benz, whose SL- and S-classes saw sales decline by about 50 and 29 per cent respectively year on year. More broadly, Tasmania was alone in recording a positive result among Australian states and territories with its 3.3 per cent increase. NSW accounted for by far the largest volume reversal with a 6.6 per cent drop (down 26,306 cars).

SUV’s continued to rise in popularity across the country at the expense of passenger vehicles. The shift to their perceived offerings of greater comfort, flexibility and utility helped account for 43 per cent of all vehicles sales last year. Meanwhile, passenger-vehicle purchases fell to below a third of all vehicles sales for the first time.

Chief Executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) Tony Weber says 2018’s lower results reflected a challenging climate across the Australian economy, including a slowing housing market, tightening of money lending and the impacts of drought.

What these ongoing pressures will mean for 2019 remains to be seen.



highway to hell


Happy New Year to all Madam Wheels readers. The Companion and I are now safely back home from the Christmas road trip but we’ve made a resolution to never again venture out in peak holiday highway traffic. For some reason, this year seemed much worse than any other year.

‘Not one of the Top 20 Dumbest Things We Saw On The Road over the holidays was perpetrated by a P-plater. Just saying.’

We lost count of the number of near-misses we witnessed, caused by people’s inability to safely change lanes (and in one stunning incident, changing lanes and apparently forgetting they were towing a trailer); how many packed-to-the-rafters, roof-rack-laden SUVs full of families and dogs went past us as if we were standing still; and how many people we saw actually on their phones – not just texting, but actually engaged in conversations – while driving.

Tailgating, slow cars in the overtaking lane, cars doing 85 km/h in a 110 km/h zone suddenly speeding up to more than 110 km/h when you try to overtake them, cars going past us downhill at 130 km/h and holding everyone up by going uphill at 80 km/h … we encountered the lot.


luxury car

It’s not as though there was no police presence over the period to try to rein in some of this lunacy. We saw umpteen patrol cars prowling the highways, nowhere more so than between Canberra and Sydney; and, of course, there’s no real way of knowing how many unmarked cars we encountered (just like you never really know how close you’ve been swimming to a shark at the beach). The police do what they can and do a great job, but they can really only deal with a tiny fraction of the sheer volume of idiocy that manifests itself on the road every hour of every day.

Curiously, however, we saw more red P-platers pulled over than any other kind of driver, but not one of the Top 20 Dumbest Things We Saw On The Road was perpetrated by a P-plater. Just saying.

If there’s one thing I cannot stand (let’s be honest, there are quite a lot of things I cannot stand) it’s people who do not respect the craft of driving. I’m not talking about trying to attain Formula 1-level skills and capabilities; I’m talking about the simple ability to negotiate a journey from point A to point B without speeding, randomly changing lanes without indicating, or having to check Facebook or Instagram or make a phone call during the few hours between rest stops.

Rest stops! If one more person tells me they did the run from Melbourne to Sydney non-stop in seven hours I swear to god I’m going to scream. If you did that then you’re a moron. And if you didn’t really do that, and you’re just saying that you did, then what exactly is it you’re trying to say? That you are a moron?

When people claim that speed cameras and breathalysers are just revenue-raising exercises by state governments, I reply that they’re also a tax on the stupid. When people say random breath testing is not worth the effort expended to catch only a few motorists over Christmas, I say talk to the mother of the kid killed by the drunk driver and then have a crack at explaining why it’s not worth trying to stop them.

Recently I read in “From Roadside to Recovery”, a splendid new book by Richard Bragge and Russell Gruen, that more than 1000 people were killed on the roads in Victoria in 1969 alone. The very next year the state introduced the world’s first seatbelt legislation. Thanks to that, and to advances in car design and medical technology since then, the fatality rate on the state’s roads had declined by 85 per cent, and down south they’re seriously talking about hitting a road toll of zero. That result would be nothing short of a miracle, based on what I saw while I was away.

Anyway, time to take a deep breath. We’re home, we made it, and we had a great time while we were away. We caught up with family and friends, and ate too much and drank too much (but didn’t drive afterwards!). The Companion found the space to hone his drone-flying skills; the weather did precisely what he said it would and so we took exactly the right car, and enjoyed a lot of top-down cruising. Touring through some of the most picturesque landscapes in the country really was magnificent. When we were the only car on the road it was heaven, because when it comes to driving, hell really is other people.