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Electric vehicles have for the first time overtaken petrol-driven cars in a race up the sales charts in the medium-sized car category.

Internal combustion engines still dominate passenger vehicle sales in all other categories, but three out of five new medium-sized cars sold in Australia in the first quarter of the year were powered by electric batteries, according to new figures from the Australian Automobile Association.

The association said the latest figures showed the switch the EVs was inevitable, and called for bipartisan political cooperation to manage the phase out of petrol cars.

The Australian Automobile Association reports that sales of medium sized EVs have overtaken petrol vehicles for the first time. Credit: James Brickwood.

“The shift is on,” said the Association’s managing director Michael Bradley. “We encourage political parties to work together to put all Australians in the best possible position to adopt low and zero emissions technologies that best suit their lifestyles, household budgets and consumer needs.

Australians bought 7,866 battery electric medium-sized between January and April, up from 2,988 in the previous quarter. At the same time 4,205 medium-sized internal combustion engines were sold.

Electric utes were not so popular: only 13 models were sold in the first quarter, compared to 154, 108 standard ones, according to the Association’s Electric Vehicle Index. Australians remain big fans of sports utility vehicles: 125, 829 small, medium and large petrol-powered SUVS were sold, trailing in the dust the 8894 electric four-wheel drives.

The Albanese government announced on Wednesday that fuel efficiency standards will be applied to new cars for the first time as part of its strategy to drive uptake of cleaner cars.

Fuel efficiency standards act as pollution caps and limit average emissions, measured in grams of CO2 per kilometre, produced by the overall fleet of vehicles sold into the market by a manufacturer to encourage them to sell more EVs.

The government will consult for six weeks with industry over the settings of the cap and aims to release draft legislation in time to impose the standards by the start of next year.

The Coalition said on Thursday supported the uptake of EVs and was open to supporting Labor’s reform, but would review the strategy before finalising its position.

Bradley backed the government’s move and said pollution caps will create an incentive for car makers to send a greater range of EV models to Australia.

“Without a fuel efficiency standard, car manufacturers won’t prioritise the sale of their most technologically advanced products to the Australian market,” he said.

The Albanese government announced on Thursday $40 million in support via the Commonwealth’s green bank for discounted loans on EVs, delivering a discount between $1,400 and $2,500 depending on size and length of the loan.

Funding from Clean Energy Finance Corporation has been directed to non-bank lender Firstmac to provide a discount on loans for EVs under $90,000 with strong emissions standards.

Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen said discounted loans would drive sales of new EVs, which in turn would grow the market for second-hand models.

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