Utes 'bigger than ever': The 'super-sizing' of the urban light truck in NZ

Utes cause more pollution, more traffic congestion and more dangerous driving, Woodward says....
Utes cause more pollution, more traffic congestion and more dangerous driving, Woodward says. Photo: Supplied
This week the Government announced a levy on new utes to help pay for subsidies for electric vehicles.

Four of the top 10 best-selling new vehicles in New Zealand in 2020 were double cab utes. Yet 10 years ago neither utes or SUVs featured among our best-selling vehicles. In a time of urgent attention to climate change how did it come to this?

Or is this all a stir up by the cycling lobby?

Alistair Woodward is a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Auckland with a focus on public health and climate change. He has been leading research into the increasing weight of our vehicle stock and the risks this poses.

Utes cause more pollution, more traffic congestion and more dangerous driving, he says.

Federated Farmers has protested that the heavier vehicles needed by farmers and tradespeople are not currently available as electrically powered vehicles. The levies will come in on 1 January 2022, but heavy electric vehicles could be four years away.

However, Woodward said utes were proliferating on New Zealand roads and so was the damage they caused.

Utes and SUVs emit 1.5 times more carbon dioxide - and Woodward said they were becoming increasingly popular, even as concerns about climate change skyrocketed.

"Fast food servings have got bigger than ever, the average New Zealand house has 50 percent more space than it did 20 years ago, our vehicles are super-sizing as well - they're all putting on weight.

"The double cab ute seems to stand out as a particularly obvious example."

New Zealand's vehicle buying trends tended to follow those in the United States, he said.

Vehicle trends often begin in the United States, before reaching New Zealand, Woodward says....
Vehicle trends often begin in the United States, before reaching New Zealand, Woodward says. Photo: Getty Images
Light trucks started out in the United States being used mostly for farming or trade purposes, but Woodward said aggressive marketing had seen these heavy vehicles being adopted for family transport

"That's what it's mostly used for now."

A University of Auckland survey found two thirds of ute and van trips on the city's roads were for non-work purposes and 20 percent were for shopping.

"Utes are being used in ways that they were not designed for. A lot of the ute capacity is not used - underused utility really," Woodward said.

"That's inefficient and... hazardous and it's damaging for the environment."

Only a minority of the utes and vans observed on Auckland roads appeared to be commercial vehicles, about three out of 300 utes were towing something, while a quarter had bullbars or nudgebars on the front.

"There are not too many kangaroos or bulls in Ponsonby, but there are plenty of utes with bullbars."

The problem was that bullbars caused more severe injuries when a vehicle hit a person, he said.

"In Auckland, the number of pedestrians that are killed or seriously injured each year is rising.

"Almost two thirds of the injured road users in Auckland are either pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists, so the safety of people using the street under their own power is a big issue."

Studies of driver behaviour show people change when they get behind the wheel of a large vehicle.

People driving big vehicles tend to drive faster, take more risks on corners and were more likely to drive while their judgement was impaired by drugs and alcohol, he said.

"You're more detached from your environment, because you're higher up, because you've got a bigger car around you, because you've got a bigger cab in front of you.

"If you're more isolated from your environment, then you don't necessarily respond in the same way as if you're more intimately connected with the environment and more aware of the people around you."

Professor Alistair Woodward says utes and vans cause congestion by taking up more space on city...
Professor Alistair Woodward says utes and vans cause congestion by taking up more space on city roads. Photo: Supplied
When hybrid and electric utes come onto the market, they will have lower environmental impacts.

However, they would still take up more road space and cause more serious injuries, Woodward said.

"Fully electric utes will be even heavier than diesel or electric powered ones and therefore from a hazard point of view, they will be an even greater concern."

Woodward's own mode of transport includes five bikes and a Mazda 3 light car.

He said it was important to give people choices, but the consequences had to be weighed up.

"The increasing size of the vehicle fleet has consequences... it's pollution, it's climate, it's risk to other people, it's snarling up traffic and getting in the way of urban efficiency.

"It's a case of thinking about alternatives to super big utes - how big is too big?"

Some utes in New Zealand weighed two and a half tonnes and Americans were driving utes weighing three and a half tonnes that would no doubt soon hit New Zealand shores, he said.

"At what point do we say the balance is tipping here and we really need to find ways of encouraging and supporting alternative forms of transport, particularly in the city."


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Ah yes so comes the woke speak and war on anything other than a ev and bicycle.

Ah yes so comes the woke comments and war on anything other than the current means of transport!
Like “politically correct” before it, the word “woke” has come to connote the opposite of what it means. Technically, going by the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definition, woke means “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)”, but today we are more likely to see it being used as a stick with which to beat people who aspire to such values, often wielded by those who don’t recognise how un-woke they are, or are proud of the fact.

Yes, what's out there to replace the ute? (CRICKETS) Nothing mate...zero...zip...nada. You are correct about applying the term woke. What term does one use to describe people who want to make people poor for no reason? Idiotic maybe? There are no other options for farmers until electric utes hit the market? If the government is serious about forcing people into electric vehicles then force everybody driving an environmentally unfriendly vehicle to pay ie...anybody not in a hybrid or electric vehicle. I totally agree with the comment about passing on the cost to consumers. As I grow my business (A FARM) and I need to purchase more Utes I will. That extra money I pay I will pass on to you. It's a cost of doing business. It won't hurt me a bit. The average person will be paying the price. Im OK with that. Are you?

So a man with five bicycles wants to tell everyone what sort of vehicle they're allowed?

The government can add a tax on the purchase of a ute, $3000, $ 5000, make it $10000. I don't care, I'm a farmer and I need a ute. I'm just going to pass that cost on to all of you. So in essence, I still get the ute I need, you are paying higher food prices and nothing has changed. What a great idea. So when you are paying $3 more for milk don't blame me...blame the government.

Biking in Dunedin is a farce, it is not safe given the recent bike lane introductions, its not easy given our cities topography and it's also not common sense given out climate. I'll be warming up coal burner for a few years yet.

The focus is still on individual owned vehicles which is frustrating.. We need more ride shares, more free shuttles in inner cities, broader bus and train networks.. I wish that was a bigger focus.

Yea bloody electrified and woke cyclists, wanting to tell us what to drive etc bla bla (yawn). So, let's hear the advantages then, or "utility" of using these trucks as part of an urban lifestyle. Hmm? I'm listening. Only hearing crickets, so far

This is an informative and very timely article. What has become the predominant use of these Urban Assault Vehicles is unnecessary and quite counter-productive. An attitude of looking after number one while ignoring the overall consequences seems to have become prevalent. These vehicles can be intimidating (whether intended or not) to the occupants of more eco-friendly ones, take up more road space, and block other motorists view unnecesarily - a safety hazard. Are they often over-compensation for some other issue of the owner's? And following American trends is becoming less of a good idea every day, next we'll be legally packing a concealed firearm to go with our Texas bohemoth!

I agree, very timely indeed. The most ignorant and higest offfending sector on Dunedin's roads are, yes, cyclists. I live in fear of them everyday, especially at traffic-light controlled intersections where they turn from road users to pedestrians without hesitation, consideration for others others and none for themselves. It seems their safety has to be cared for by others as these particular cyclists don't car eabout others, only how precious their own needs are above others. I would dread t think how they would behave in a ute. Now Mazda 3s I have one of those nice car, but twice the size of its earliest predecessors so it must also be contributing. I find the artcle shallow, smug and pretty underwhelming.

When do you say enough to all these stupid things the government is trying to do? I own a small business making women's clothing. I made $80, 000 last year. My rates were $3000, my dog licensing just arrived and is $218. I paid DCC roughly 5% and now I'm going to get gouged another 5% by the national government because I need a ute? They dont do anything for me! Might as well shut down and go on the dole!

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