Electric cars too costly for some - Turners CEO

9:01 pm on 1 February 2021

Start shutting the door on petrol cars and prepare to go electric, New Zealand. That's one message from the Climate Change Commission, in a major new report that outlines a plan to address rapidly rising emissions.

File photo of a Nissan Leaf.

File photo of a Nissan Leaf. Photo: 123RF

It proposes banning petrol car imports by 2035, along with slashing livestock numbers by about 15 percent and closing Tiwai Point.

But with some barely able to afford to heat their home, questions are being raised on how people are expected to afford an electric car.

Turners is the biggest car retailer in the country, but fewer than 5 percent of its sales are for electric vehicles. While a new EV will set you back over $50,000, used models start from $15,000.

Turners chief executive Greg Hedgepeth said the reality was that was too much for most people.

"It is early days and there's still some water to go under the bridge, but it's certainly going to have an impact on the average Kiwi car buyer. A lot of those people are sub-$10,000 cars [buyers] and they're not necessarily going to be able to come up with more money just to buy a more fuel efficient car," Hedgepeth said.

But the Climate Change Commission's report states decarbonising the vehicle fleet is a key part of making New Zealand carbon neutral by 2050.

It proposes phasing out the imports of petrol vehicles, which would see 40 percent of the light fleet electric by 2035.

Hedgepeth said any legislation around EVs could push up the cost even further. Much like other cars, most used EVs come from Japan, and there's a limited supply.

"When that legislation comes in, no doubt more New Zealand dealers will be competing and bidding on those EVs that come through, so that could potentially push the price up further.

"No one really knows how high those prices might go once that demand starts getting pushed up."

He added that some workers needed utes and families needed people-movers and "there just isn't a fuel-efficient EV option available for those people".

He worried that would see people hold onto those older vehicles for longer, which would be worse for emissions.

Long time social policy researcher Charles Waldegrave said although the environment needed to be a priority, many New Zealanders could not afford basic needs.

"We have to cost out how people on low or low-middle incomes - how that can become affordable to them."

There were two options, he said.

"Either the cost comes down - and that's going to take quite some time, or there's going to have to be some form of subsidy. Otherwise, we will increase poverty and have greater inequality."

The Climate Change Commission suggested either a feebate or subsidy to reduce the upfront cost of EVs, but there was no detail on how big this would be.

Transport minister Michael Wood is reportedly looking at incentive schemes for EVs.

More emphasis on public transport sought

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Tamatha Paul Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Wellington city councillor Tamatha Paul, who holds the council's climate change portfolio, is disappointed public transport isn't front and centre of plans to tackle emissions.

"I would have liked to see a stronger mandate from government saying 'hey we're really keen to work with local government and transport providers to make sure public transport is available for everybody'," Paul said.

"We really have to start at the base level which is people that have to get to work and that can't necessarily work from home that have big families and low incomes... and what works is public transport."

Paul planned to make a strong submission on the commission's report and supporting ambitious action on climate change.

The final report will go to the government before the end of May - and it will then need to decide what to do with it.

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