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There are, however, several impediments before the tipping point comes, before electric cars become a primary choice for consumers across the range.
Significant encouragement began under National Transport Minister Simon Bridges in 2016. The likes of the exemption from road-user charges for a period (now until the end of this year), reductions in ACC costs and better access in big cities were to help increase electric vehicle numbers to 64,000 by the end of 2021.
By late last year the tally, including hybrids, was about 24,000. That goal is still a
long way off. Given a total light-vehicle fleet of about four million, New Zealand is not only going to have to meet that target but rocket past it.
A draft transport emissions plan is due early this year. Because 20% of this country’s total emissions are from transport — they have increased 90% since 1990 and are still going up — action is going to be required.
For a start, the “feebate” policy (where large cars would be taxed to make electric models cheaper), and a vehicle emissions standard could well be on the way. The Government no longer has New Zealand First pulling on the “handbrake” to stymie such measures.
It is argued the emissions standard will be essential if New Zealand is not to become a dumping ground for new and old vehicles than can no longer be sold in other places.
The National Party policy to exempt electric vehicles from Fringe Benefit Tax could also be incorporated. Like this Government’s policy on its own fleet, this could help create a stronger local second-hand market and cheaper options.
Although the Government itself has said the public service will switch to electric vehicles wherever possible, its fleet of 16,000 is small.
The pros and cons of electric cars are becoming well known. They are cheaper to run, better for the environment (although their manufacture and their batteries bring their own environmental costs and carbon emissions) and pleasant to drive.
Nonetheless, they cost considerably more initially, the batteries take time to recharge and their range still causes concern. When numbers soar, new infrastructure will be needed to service them and their power needs.
Nations, led by the likes of Norway, have ramped up incentives. More than half the cars sold in Norway are now electric. Others, including Britain, are picking up the pace and setting dates. Britain plans to ban sales of new diesel and petrol cars by 2030, although some are questioning whether this is realistic. A lot needs to be achieved first.
Car companies, themselves, are looking along the road ahead and making significant decisions to curtail production of petrol and diesel cars.
One serious difficulty for rapid transition in the shorter term in this country is supply at reasonable prices. Those car companies, and the new electric-car entrants, have huge long-term output potential. But demand around the world, off its low base, is rising sharply and New Zealand is unlikely to be at the head of the queue.
While batteries have improved and become cheaper, more improvement is needed. There are also lithium supply-chain issues and concerns about cobalt shortages.
However, those worries about cost, range, charging speed and infrastructure matters are all steadily ameliorating.
Interestingly, encouraged by local enthusiasts, Dunedin has been leading the way. A University of Otago Centre for Sustainability study last April found Dunedin had about 6.1 EVs per 1000 people, compared with 3.8 nationally.
Do not expect the switch to flick on electric cars this year. But the trends are in the right direction. They just need more momentum.