LIKE many involved with the electric vehicle industry, Michael Barwell believes the next year or two will be a "big turning point" in Australia.
For the past five years, Barwell has been among the relative few owners of an electric car in Newcastle. Back in 2014, the self-confessed "tech-head" took a leap to what many were saying was the future and bought an electric vehicle (EV).
Perhaps one of the first in the town to own an EV for use as a day-to-day mode of transport, Barwell now has 78,000km clocked on the car.
The 54-year-old father oftwo offers a valuable starting point to exploring the merits of owning an EV in a regional city.
While EV ownership in Greater Newcastle is still quite low, Barwell - a member of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association - says a boom is just around the corner.
"It's gotten to the state where people's sentiment of wanting to go to the cars has met the ability of the cars to do what they need day to day," he says.
"And with the rise of a lot more charging networks, it reduces the classic thing called range anxiety. That is sort of slowly dissipating."
The Electric Vehicle Council, which represents the industry in Australia, says 5 per cent of all new car sales in 2023 will be electric, up from 0.2 per cent in 2017.
The predicted rise is mainly because technology improvements are bringing down purchase prices, the range of cars is increasing and more manufacturers are jumping on board.
Barwell's 2014 Tesla can be driven 400 to 500km on a full charge, but new models of the same vehicle are now reaching 600km. Similar improvements have been made with the models of other manufacturers.
"I live in Merewether and my office is in Mayfield East. So it's a relatively small commute day to day, but I still head to and from Sydney at least once a month and up and down the coast regularly," Barwell says.
"There are virtually zero restrictions with where I go; I've been to the middle of NSW, the middle of South Australia, with the car and no problems at all.
"The car actually tells you if you're going to have problems and tells you where charging stations are. When people say 'Have you run out of power?' ... it's a bit like, well have you ever run out of petrol? You can do it if you're silly or risk it."
Barwell charges his car overnight or during the day when he can make use of solar power.
The car can be plugged into a 240-volt domestic outlet, but he has installed fast-charging infrastructure supplied with the vehicle at his home and at work.
A full charge via the three-phase outlet at his work takes three hours, while the 32-amp outlet at home takes nine hours.
However, he says charging takes "about 10 seconds" - the amount of time taken to plug it in.
"They're so much simpler, it's really just a battery and motor that sits between the wheels," he says.
"If you were on a normal electricity plan, where you're getting it slightly cheaper at night, it's going to cost you between $300 and $500 a year for the average 15,000km [per year].
"Previously I did have a bigger SUV that was costing me three and a bit grand in petrol."
The EVC says the average cost of running an electric car is $0.33 per e-litre, compared to running a petrol car at $1.50 per litre.
It says the total cost for a Novocastrian of running an electric powered sedan for 15,000km a year, calculated over five years and including servicing, tyres, fuel, taxes and duties, is $127.42 per month.
This compares to running a petrol sedan at $290.55.
Monthly carbon emissions are also reduced to 4.32 tonnes of CO2 with an electric sedan from 13.92 tonnes with a petrol sedan.
Barwell's Tesla, even at five years old, is the bee's knees.
On a drive down behind Carrington coal terminal one afternoon, he shows off all its features.
The driver-assistance system, known as Tesla Autopilot, is a shocking glimpse to the future. But it's also slightly scary. The car can effectively drive itself, with lane centering, adaptive cruise control and the ability to automatically change lanes.
When we stop for a photo, Barwell - standing outside the vehicle - uses an app on his mobile phone to move the car back and forward. The app can also pre-set the air conditioner, locate the vehicle and check its charge.
The car is sleek and sporty and far from what you might picture an EV to be.
"If you're doing any highway driving it's very quiet and peaceful," he says.
"For every electric car, the instant torque that you get means the car certainly feels zippier and quite fast. Because you've got batteries down low, the centre of gravity is low, so the performance as a handling car is excellent."
It's clear from a ride inside that the Tesla cars are at the top of the Australian EV market, and it's even clearer when you learn their price. The latest model S sells for about $120,000, depending on the order.
Tesla knows the price point is out of reach for many, and has been working to produce a cheaper car.
It has just released the model 3, which has a base price of $67,900, climbing to $85,900 for a long-range version and even higher with performance enhancements.
All Tesla vehicles come with a four-year, 80,000 km limited warranty and an eight-year battery and powertrain warranty.
At Cardiff Nissan, sales manager Eddie Tomlin shares Barwell's confidence that EV ownership is about to rise.
Between his dealership and Klosters' in Hamilton, they've sold five Nissan Leafs in the month they've been stocking them.
The Leaf is at the other end of the market. The latest model, the second-generation Leaf, has a range of 250km. It takes seven hours to charge using a type-two charging unit.
It is an impressive car; zippy, spacious, stylish and at first glance, no different to any of the other hatchbacks getting around town.
At $49,900 plus on-road costs, it comes with a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty and five-year battery warranty.
While the 250km range might seem slim, for anyone whose life is based in Greater Newcastle, the Leaf could be a genuine day-to-day car.
If life is a daily return trip from one part of the region to another, with a few trips around that journey, it could be ideal. Tomlin believes electric vehicles are well suited to the Hunter.
However, he says it will require a change in habit from filling up once a week with a petrol or diesel car, to plugging in for an overnight top-up charge.
"From one end of town to the other - as much as we're a big area, we're not that big," he says.
"You get a range of 250km out of the Leaf and that's quite a bit of driving around Newcastle.
"Once people get their head around it and understand the benefits, I do believe we are going to see massive growth in it."
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' Motor Vehicle Census, there were 47 registered electric vehicles in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie in 2018.
While EV ownership in Sydney is unsurprisingly much higher, interest in the cleaner and greener cars appears to be steadily moving north.
Booths Hyundai at North Gosford is Hyundai's only dedicated EV dealership north of Sydney.
The family-owned car dealership made the transition, which involves staff training and installation of infrastructure and resources, this year.
Dealer principal David Booth could not be happier. He says they've been selling, on average, one car per week of each of Hyundai's two EV models: the Kona and the Ioniq (also available in two hybrid versions).
"It's better than we expected," he says. "We didn't think it would take off that quickly. We've been very happy with the response.
"It's generally middle-aged and older [buyers], basically because of economic reasons. They are a few thousand dollars more than the standard-model vehicle - in a petrol or diesel engine.
"Younger families, although they are attracted to them, the sums don't add up to them in the initial purchase price."
Both of Hyundai's electric cars come with a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
Using the provided home charging pack, the Ioniq takes fours hours hours to fully charge, while the Kona takes nine.
The electric Ioniq could be best compared with the Nissan Leaf. It has a range of 230km and sells for $50,000.
"It can go to Sydney and back in a day on one charge, the Kona would do a couple of trips," Booth says. "Even with Newcastle commuting, it's quite feasible with that sort of range."
The Kona is where Hyundai seem to have a niche in the EV market. It is being promoted as Australia's first electric small SUV. With a range of 450km and price of $65,000, it might be the EV most likely to attract buyers who aren't specifically looking for an electric car.
Booth says "it will still take a couple of years before it becomes mainstream", but electric vehicles will be a big part of car sales moving forward.
"That's where the growth is going to be in new cars," he says.
"Everyone is bringing out new models with some sort of battery feature on them - hybrid or fully electric.
"We just thought it was the future. It was a decision we made to invest in that and I think it's paying off for us.
"The indicators are there that it is going to take off from this point."
Both Newcastle and Lake Macquarie councils have moved to install EV charging networks.
City of Newcastle recently unveiled charging stations in Newcastle West, while Lake Macquarie City Council is posed to adopt a draft strategy that will see EV charging stations installed at 10 locations throughout the local government area within three years.
Both Booth and Tomlin believe the councils' investments will boost confidence in potential buyers, but Tomlin says manufacturers are confident charging infrastructure will pop up "basically everywhere".
"There are charging stations now in Newcastle and elsewhere but you see them sitting empty, they're not being used," Tomlin says.
"But we're generally a more cynical buyer here in Newcastle than in Sydney. They're right up-to-date with the tech and the cost of living is so exorbitant; anything to save a few dollars obviously makes sense more so than to us up here.
"Could you survive on it right now, selling electric vehicles? No.
"Is it going to be a big part of the business in the future, yes I believe so. We are seeing more and more inquiries each week."