Electric vehicle sales accelerate to record highs in New Zealand

Environmental awareness and government-backed subsidies have contributed to the spike, while Australian purchases remain stuck in the slow lane

Increased awareness of the climate crisis, soaring petrol prices and a government rebate scheme bolstered sales of electric vehicles in New Zealand to record highs in December, analysts say – with uptake now far outstripping that of neighbouring Australia.

Official figures for light vehicle registrations – covering almost all passenger cars – showed battery-powered EV sales rose to just over 20% last month, from less than 4% in January 2022.

The market share for new petrol vehicles fell to a new low in December of just over 35% of light vehicles, down from 51% a year ago.

The Labour government introduced a so-called “clean car” rebate in July 2021; in its current form, the scheme allows buyers of new or used low or zero-emissions vehicles to claw back up to $8,000 (NZ) of the price, paid for by levies on higher-emitting vehicles. From this month, importers must also ensure all cars comply with carbon dioxide emissions standards, with penalties for non-compliance.

The government scheme has been so popular that it has paid out double the amount in rebates that it has collected in fees, leading opposition parties to decry it as unsustainable. In 2022, 16,223 new purely electric vehicles were registered in New Zealand, compared to 6,897 in 2021.

“It’s the discount scheme combined with the awareness that climate change is now pretty much held as a problem by the vast majority of New Zealanders,” said David Crawford, chief executive of the Motor Industry Association, when asked to explain the increase.

The limited supply of electric and hybrid vehicles in New Zealand has led to long waiting lists. Crawford said increased supply was partly reliant on Australia’s uptake of electric vehicles, as manufacturers made cars to the same specifications for both countries, along with Japan.

For the whole of 2022, battery-electric vehicles made up about 15% of new light vehicle sales in New Zealand. In Australia, which does not have a federal subsidy scheme, 3.39% of new cars were electric last year.

Crawford said industry representatives from Australia would cross the Tasman later this month to study New Zealand’s clear car rebate and tax scheme.

Both New Zealand and Australia however, still lag behind many European countries, such as Norway, where EV purchases are so heavily subsidised that they make up more than 80% of new sales.

Electric and hybrid cars make up a fraction of New Zealand’s overall car fleet, and the rebate scheme is a good start but not the entire solution to the country’s transport woes, one analyst said.

“We have one of the oldest and dirtiest car fleets anywhere in the developed world,” said Craig Renney, chief economist for the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions. “We need an integrated approach to this problem, which also includes decarbonising our public transport fleet.”

The price of electric vehicles – even with the government’s discount – remains too high for low-income families, who are now also paying the additional tax when buying petrol cars, Renney added.

The government announced last May a target of 30% electric and hybrid vehicles on New Zealand’s roads by 2030, as part of its plan to reach its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.


Charlotte Graham-McLay in Wellington

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
New Zealand woman creates her own electric car for $24,000
Rosemary Penwarden says the vehicle, powered by home rooftop solar, has been running smoothly for three years and has thanked oil companies for the motivation

Tess McClure in Auckland

27, May, 2022 @12:36 PM

Article image
Judith Collins named New Zealand National party's new leader
Tough-talking conservative politician will take on Jacinda Ardern at polls in September

Charlotte Graham-McLay in Wellington

14, Jul, 2020 @11:44 AM

Article image
Jacinda Ardern considers coalition despite New Zealand election landslide
Prime minister says she will be ready to form a government in two to three weeks as New Zealanders enjoy return to normal life

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Auckland

18, Oct, 2020 @4:37 AM

Article image
Leading New Zealand was ‘greatest privilege’, says Jacinda Ardern at final event
Outgoing prime minister given rapturous welcome at political gathering as she dismisses claims that abuse and threats contributed to her departure

Charlotte Graham-McLay in Wellington and Tess McClure in Rātana

24, Jan, 2023 @6:10 AM

Article image
New Zealand opposition in disarray as election nears – can 'Crusher' Collins fix it?
Hopes were high when Judith Collins assumed the leadership of National, but after a horror week the challenge facing her party seems huge

Charlotte Graham-McLay in Wellington

24, Jul, 2020 @8:00 PM

Article image
Who is in the running to replace Jacinda Ardern as New Zealand PM?
The New Zealand Labour party will pick a new leader on Sunday, after Ardern’s shock resignation. Who are the top contenders?

Tess McClure in Auckland

20, Jan, 2023 @4:56 AM

Article image
New Zealand: Chris Hipkins taking over from Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday
Sole nominee secures Labour endorsement for prime minister, with Carmel Sepuloni as deputy, and incumbent’s last engagements on Tuesday

Tess McClure in Auckland

22, Jan, 2023 @2:41 AM

Article image
New Zealand to enshrine protections for pill testing in ‘world first’
Advocates say the law, which will come into force next week, is the first to take drug checking out of a legal grey zone and protect the practice

Tess McClure in Christchurch

01, Dec, 2021 @4:45 AM

Article image
New Zealand election: Jacinda Ardern promises stability as she sets poll date
Vote on 19 September will also see referendums on legalising euthanasia and recreational marijuana

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin

28, Jan, 2020 @6:51 AM

Article image
‘The worst electric vehicle policy in the world’: automotive coalition pans Victoria’s EV tax
Proposed tax will kill the state’s nascent EV market and make it impossible to meet its own emissions targets, critics say

Royce Kurmelovs

21, Apr, 2021 @5:30 PM