What's keeping Kiwi drivers out of electric cars?

by Peter Griffin / 20 March, 2017

Photo/Getty Images

Lack of choice and incentives are major factors.

I always thought that by the time I could afford to buy a new car, technology and market economics would have advanced to the point that it would be powered by electricity. Alas, the new-car smell I’m enjoying for the first time is shot through with the familiar whiff of 91 Unleaded. We are apparently on the cusp of an electric-vehicle revolution, but for me it’s another gas guzzler and that vague sense of guilt every time I fill up.

I tried hard to go electric. I wanted to see the little green indicator on the dashboard displaying the virtuous, renewable-energy-powered ­kilometres I was clocking up. I was ready to lobby my ­apartment block’s body corporate to install ­charging points in the garage. I trawled online electric dealership EV Central for weeks looking for a good buy.

But when it came down to it, the economics just didn’t stack up and the bland and boxy selection of electric cars available left me uninspired. For $42,000, I could have picked up a 2016 Nissan Leaf Tekna with 2500km on the clock. Instead, I opted for a new, much roomier 2016 petrol-powered Nissan Altima for $30,000.

Sure, if I was a commuter, the Tekna’s fuel savings would have mounted up – it has the longest range of the Leaf line, offering up to 200km of around-town driving and costing about $6 to fully charge.

Janet Stephenson: “We want efficient vehicles.”

But I walk to work and I need a mid-sized sedan rather than a shopping cart. I was willing to make some sacrifices in the name of sustainability, but found myself lost in the yawning canyon between small cars such as the Mitsubishi i-Miev and the BMW i3, which has a price tag of $82,000. The upcoming Tesla Model 3 fits the bill but isn’t on sale here yet, and priced at US$35,000, it will ­probably sell for more than $50,000.

The choices among plug-in hybrids, which ­combine an electric motor and petrol engine, are also limited. The only affordable option is a used Toyota Prius, for $35,000-$40,000 (with low ­kilometres), which will see you mistaken for an Uber driver.

You can see why our electric-vehicle fleet is tiny – about 2500 registered cars. The cost savings in fuel consumption and maintenance are compelling for drivers who do big distances, but with little in the way of subsidies, green sentiment is the only incentive to go electric for most Kiwis.

Yet experts say electric cars won’t make much of a dent in our overall greenhouse gas emissions, anyway. “Just relying on electric-vehicle uptake won’t take us very far very quickly,” says Janet Stephenson, director of the University of Otago’s Centre for Sustainability.

“Even if we got to 2% of the light-vehicle fleet being electric by 2022, that represents only about a 0.18% reduction in New ­Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

Transport accounts for a fifth of our total emissions, and trucks, buses and vans ­carrying people and cargo represent most of that. “Policy is needed to influence all the other vehicle imports so the right ­signals are sent that we want efficient vehicles entering the fleet,” says Stephenson.

Our weak emissions trading scheme is failing to send the right price signals to the market, says Massey University sustainability professor Ralph Sims.

The carbon price applied under the scheme – to which drivers ­contribute through fuel tax – is about $18 a tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2).

“A small car typically produces two tonnes of CO2 a year, so paying about $36 a year through the emissions trading scheme is little incentive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he says.

Mid-sized electric models will come, the driving range of electric vehicles will increase as motor and battery technology improves and the sex appeal of the Tesla will give the whole industry a much-needed kick.

But given the fundamental lack of drive to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, I wouldn’t be willing to bet that when I trade in the Altima, it will finally be for an electric car.

This article was first published in the March 4, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener. Follow the Listener on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to the weekly newsletter.

Latest

Norah Jones’s new beginning and return to New Zealand
104817 2019-04-21 00:00:00Z Music

Norah Jones’s new beginning and return to New Zeal…

by Russell Baillie

The jazz songstress is staying inspired by writing with others.

Read more
Bill Ralston: Only fundamentalist Christians should be hurt by Israel Folau
104814 2019-04-20 00:00:00Z Social issues

Bill Ralston: Only fundamentalist Christians shoul…

by Bill Ralston

Israel Folau’s social-media post might condemn the Wallabies to Rugby World Cup hell, but the rest of us should ignore him.

Read more
What happens next with the Mueller report?
104863 2019-04-20 00:00:00Z World

What happens next with the Mueller report?

by Noted

Did Trump “corrupt” with intent?

Read more
The Heart Dances: Lifting the lid on the culture clash behind ‘The Piano’ ballet
104740 2019-04-20 00:00:00Z Movies

The Heart Dances: Lifting the lid on the culture c…

by Russell Baillie

Documentary offers an intriguing look at the clash of artistic sensibilities behind adapting The Piano into a ballet.

Read more
How this remarkable native insect is being saved
104836 2019-04-20 00:00:00Z Planet

How this remarkable native insect is being saved

by Jenny Nicholls

Principles of bird conservation are helping to save another remarkable native you’ve never heard of.

Read more
Environment Ministry 'unashamedly proud' of bleak report's honesty
104868 2019-04-20 00:00:00Z Planet

Environment Ministry 'unashamedly proud' of bleak…

by RNZ

The Secretary for the Environment Vicky Robertson said she was proud of the report's honesty and it was an important stocktake for the country.

Read more
The new What We Do in the Shadows is more dad joke than demonic
104712 2019-04-19 00:00:00Z Television

The new What We Do in the Shadows is more dad joke…

by Diana Wichtel

Diana Wichtel reviews a new American TV series based on the hit Kiwi comedy.

Read more
Louis & Louise is a satisfying exploration of gender and identity
104230 2019-04-19 00:00:00Z Books

Louis & Louise is a satisfying exploration of gend…

by Brigid Feehan

In her latest novel, Julie Cohen traces the parallel male and female lives of a single character.

Read more