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Light vehicles

In Australia, ‘light vehicles’ mean passenger (M category) or commercial (N category) vehicles under 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle mass.

This includes:

  • sedans
  • wagons
  • sports utility vehicles (SUVs)
  • utilities (utes)
  • 4‐wheel drives
  • vans

Note: motorcycles (L category vehicles) are not included.

On average, passenger cars in Australia use 40% more fuel than cars in the European Union, 20% more than the US and 15% more than New Zealand. This is largely due to:

  • the Australian preference for heavier vehicles with more powerful engines
  • Australia having a lower proportion of diesel-powered engines
  • relatively lower fuel prices in Australia compared with Europe.

In addition to the air pollution caused by conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, residual oil can pollute the land, waterways and oceans.

Some European and Asian countries are phasing out petrol and diesel cars over the next few years or by 2040 at the latest.

Zero-emission vehicles will become more popular with increased availability, greater ranges and lower pricing. Switching to zero emission vehicles: 

  • reduces Australia’s emissions
  • reduces air pollution
  • has wide ranging health and environmental benefits.

‘Green’ vehicles

A ‘green’ vehicle is defined as an environmentally friendly vehicle that uses less fuel and produces low or no emissions that impact on the environment and the air we breathe.

The Green Vehicle Guide

The Green Vehicle Guide helps Australian consumers who want to choose a less emissions intensive vehicle and save on vehicle running costs. 

Compare the greenhouse and air pollution emissions and fuel economy of different cars (including 4-wheel drives and light commercial vehicles) at greenvehicleguide.gov.au.

Use the fuel cost and CO2 calculator to estimate your annual fuel costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

Fuel-efficient conventional vehicles

What makes a conventional car more fuel-efficient and less polluting than another is determined by technologies such as:

  • guidance indicators for more efficient gear changing
  • automatic transmissions that make the best use of gear ratios
  • engine-off technology that turns off the engine when the car stops
  • braking systems that feed energy back into the car battery
  • low profile tyres that reduce rolling resistance
  • lighter weight for better fuel efficiency
  • more aerodynamic bodies that reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency
  • engines that are more efficient and use lighter materials.

All new conventional light vehicles sold in Australia are required to display a Fuel Consumption Label on the windscreen. The label shows the vehicle’s fuel consumption in litres of fuel per 100km (L/100km) and its emissions of CO2 in grams per km (g/km).

Fuel-efficient cars use less fuel to travel a certain distance so you can travel more kilometres for fewer litres of fuel – and spend less on fuel.

In general, cars that uses 6 litres or less per 100 kilometres are more fuel-efficient than average.

Hybrid vehicles

Hybrid vehicles use a combination of petrol engines, electric motors and batteries to power the vehicle.

How hybrids work

  • When driving at highway speeds, generally only the petrol engine is used. However, some hybrids can exceed 100 km/h using only the battery.
  • During deceleration and when brakes are applied, kinetic energy is captured and used to charge the batteries.
  • In an urban environment many hybrids only use their electric motor. 
  • During heavy acceleration, both the petrol and electric motors are in use.
  • Some hybrids can be plugged-in for charging, as well as being charged while driven.

Hybrid cars are very efficient for city driving, because only the electric motor is used and the frequent stop/starting regularly recharges the batteries. Hybrids are also fuel-efficient for country driving, although some fuel-efficient conventional cars can achieve similar or better levels of fuel economy.

Consumption labels for non-plug-in hybrids

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are hybrid electric vehicles whose battery can be recharged by plugging it into an external source of electric power, as well as by its on-board engine and generator.

Non-plug-in hybrids are required to display a Fuel Consumption Label when first sold as new. The same labelling applies to all conventional light vehicles.

Plug-in hybrids (and fully electric vehicles) are required to display an Energy Consumption Label. This label shows the vehicle’s energy consumption in watt hours/km, the expected range when fully charged, fuel consumption in L/100km and CO2 emissions in g/km.

Electric vehicles (EVs)

EVs are defined as plug-in vehicles powered at least partly by electricity.

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are electric vehicles that exclusively use chemical energy stored in rechargeable battery packs to power at least one electric motor with no secondary source of propulsion.

BEVs produce zero tailpipe CO2 emissions.

Depending on the model, the distance range for EVs between charges varies from around 130 km to 800 km per charge. Ranges are increasing as the technology improves.

If 100% renewable energy such as solar power is used to recharge the batteries, the energy is free and greenhouse gas emissions are eliminated.

Maintenance needs are low, given that EVs have far fewer parts and much less mechanical complexity than conventional vehicles.

The road ahead

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has forecasted that EV ownership is expected to surge from the late 2020s.

This is because of government policies across Australian jurisdictions that enable falling costs, greater model choice and availability, and more charging infrastructure.

By 2050, between 92% and 99% of all vehicles are expected to be battery EVs.

A nationwide EV charging network is growing across Australia. State and territory governments are making significant investments in public chargers, with around 2,000 new government-funded charges expected to open in the next 12 to 18 months. The private sector is also investing, as the demand for public chargers increases.  This includes electricity network companies, existing oil and gas companies, motoring associations and independent charge point operators.  

There are several websites that list EV charging stations available across Australia including:

DRIVE with care

People are driving EVs on Australian roads more than ever.

The increase in EVs will unsurprisingly lead to an increase in the use of public charging facilities – especially during peak travelling periods.

As with any long trips we have taken in the past, planning can provide a smoother experience to get from A to B.

See our tips and tricks on how to make the most of your EV road trip.

Support for EVs

Clean Energy Finance Corporation funding

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) is helping to make green car loans cheaper with over $140 million invested through lending companies.

This helps drive increased EV ownership in Australia. 

More information about the CEFC is available on the CEFC website.

Electric Car Discount

The Australian Government introduced the Electric Car Discount legislation in 2022.

The legislation provides a fringe benefits tax exemption for eligible cars made available for employees by employers, commonly through salary packaging.

The Electric Car Discount is already making EVs cheaper by helping to reduce the upfront cost of an EV.

More information on the Electric Car Discount is available on the Australian Taxation Office website.

Motorcycles and scooters

Motorcycles and motor scooters are popular choices for commuting as they need less fuel and are cheaper to run than cars. They're generally easier and cheaper (sometimes free) to park.

Electric motorcycles and scooters are extremely cheap to run, and are roughly comparable in performance with their petrol-engine equivalents of the same size and weight.

The electric versions are plug-in vehicles, usually with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. They produce zero emissions and can have a distance range between charges of over 200 km.

Ways to reduce fuel consumption

There’s no need to warm up a modern vehicle and have it sit idling.

Change gears sooner rather than later to keep engine revs down. If driving an automatic, ease back on the accelerator when the vehicle gathers momentum, and the gears will change up more quickly and smoothly.

Empty the cabin or boot of any heavy items. Remove roof racks when not in use.

At higher speeds, using air conditioner is more efficient than having the windows down.

Don’t overfill the fuel tank, stop at the first click. Any more is lost in overflow and evaporation.

Other transport options

Public transport

Depending on where you live, public transport may even be quicker than driving and can give time to read, do some work or relax while commuting.

Park and ride facilities have car parks with connections to public transport. They are usually located outside main centres and cities. Commuters travelling into city centres can leave their vehicles at the facility and transfer to public transport for the rest of their trip. The vehicle is retrieved when the driver returns.

Cycling

A bicycle is a very cost-effective means of transport.

Bikes are generally much cheaper to buy than cars or motorbikes and use much less energy for their production. Using a bicycle for transport means you'll also save on fuel and parking costs.

Cycling is a way to include regular exercise into your day or routine. It can lead to long-term health benefits like increased strength and muscle tone, fitness, and reduce stress. It reduces traffic and parking problems, greenhouse gas emissions and air and noise pollution.

Electric-assist bicycles are another option. They reduce the amount of effort required from the cyclist—this can be especially useful on hills.

Electric-assist bikes are much heavier than conventional bikes due to the battery, motor and other associated components. The battery may need to be recharged regularly depending on how much you use the electric motor and how far you ride. A bicycle shop can provide further advice.

It's important to stay safe when cycling. Ride defensively, scan the road, show common sense and courtesy, and you'll improve your safety and reduce the risk of an accident.

Make sure you:

  • understand and obey the road rules
  • wear a correctly fitted and fastened helmet that meets current Australian Standards
  • install and use front and rear lights, reflectors and a bell
  • take extra care in the rain as roads become slippery and visibility can be poor
  • wear brightly coloured and/or reflective clothing
  • maintain your bike.

Walking

Brisk walking is an excellent way of getting your 30 minutes (or more) exercise per day.

Walking helps prevent cardiovascular disease. There is a strong link between walking and reduced rates of obesity, adult-onset diabetes and osteoporosis. Walking can also improve your sense of wellbeing.

If you have children at primary school you could find out if their school has a walking school bus, where a group of primary school children walk with two adults to and from school. One parent 'drives' at the front of the bus, while the other parent supervises the rear. The walking bus picks up passengers along the way at designated bus stops.

This is a fun and safe way to take children to school. The children meet and mix with other children in their neighbourhood and parents can make new contacts and friends in their local community.

Read more

Light vehicles

Travelling with children in cars (translated into your language) Starting Out Safely

Electric Vehicle Council 

Fuel and Energy Consumption Labels Australian Government

GreenVehicleGuide Australian Government

Plug in: Energy tech guide Energy Consumers Australia

Australian Electric Vehicle Industry Recap 2022 Electric Vehicle Council

State of Electric Vehicles 2023 (Australia) Electric Vehicle Council

Language translations VicRoads 

Public transport

ACT Transport Canberra ACT Government

NSW Bus Transport

NSW Ferry Transport

NSW Train Transport

NSW Light rail Transport

NT Public transport Northern Territory Government

Qld Translink Queensland Government

SA Adelaide Metro Government of South Australia

Tas Metro Tasmania 

Vic Public Transport Victoria 

WA Transperth Government of Western Australia

Walking and cycling

ACT Active commuting ACT Government

NSW Walking and cycling NSW Government

NT Cycling Northern Territory Government

Qld Cycling Queensland Government

SA Getting to school Government of South Australia

Tas Walking and Cycling Tasmanian Government

Vic Bicycles VicRoads

WA Cycling  Government of Western Australia

Walking and cycling to school

ACT Ride or walk to school ACT Government

SA Way2Go Government of South Australia

Vic Walking School Bus Government of Victoria

WA Your Move Government of Western Australia