Can New Zealand cars go zero-emissions by 2025?

(Getty file)
(Getty file)

While New Zealand's aiming to be tobacco-free by 2025, in Norway they're planning to stub out an entirely different kind of smoke.

Four of the Scandinavian country's biggest political parties have agreed that from 2025, the only vehicles you'll be able to drive off the lot will be electric.

The move thrilled billionaire space exploration and electric vehicle innovator Elon Musk, who called Norway "an amazingly awesome country".

But what about New Zealand? If our space programme doesn't impress him, could we win his favour by following Norway into the zero-emissions future?

Transport Minister Simon Bridges would love to see it happen, but doesn't think we can do it quite as quickly.

"I've been to Norway -- I went there in 2014 and it's incredibly impressive what they are doing in relation to their domestic energy transport system. I think there are some things we could copy from them and in fact, I've been trying to," he tells Newshub.

"But their circumstances are very different to ours inasmuch as if I had $1 trillion in the bank from pumping oil out of the sea floor, if we had $1 trillion in the bank we might also be able to have pretty remarkable policy setting."

Norway not only has the ability to leverage its massive oil wealth into easing the transition, it already has the highest per capita penetration of plug-in electric vehicles in the world, accounting for almost a third of all new vehicles sold in 2016. 

According to electric vehicle industry body Drive Electric, there are only 1304 registered electric vehicles currently on New Zealand roads, so Norway has quite the head start.

"There is an irony in that it is very strong petroleum funding that is allowing Norway to have these world-leading policies that I don't think would be socially equitable in New Zealand, given that it would mean households who can't afford it would be needing to buy new cars," says Mr Bridges.

Not even the Green Party is willing to put a date on phasing out sales of petrol vehicles -- but that's where their common ground with the Government pretty much ends.

Greens transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter says it's not so much Norway's wealth that's put it so far ahead, but its leadership.

"New Zealand is so far behind -- less than half a percent of our cars are electric. We have a long way to go," she says.

"We have a very old fleet and a highly car-dependent transport system. If we had more alternatives to cars, there would be fewer old dungers on the road. If we had better emissions standards, tax breaks for EVs and public investment in charging stations, New Zealand could be just like Norway.

"We have a lot of renewable electricity – it's silly not to be using EVs, both as batteries, and to clean up the air and atmosphere."

Ms Genter insists only a change of Government will see New Zealand catch up to Norway, but Mr Bridges says that's "nonsense".

"The truth is the National Government's electric vehicles policy is much more ambitious, and has many more components to it than the pretty timid policy the Greens put in place."

The Government's package, revealed in May, was slammed as "disappointing and short-sighted" by youth lobby group Generation Zero, and Ms Genter at the time said it lacked incentives.

One piece of it -- allowing electric cars to use bus lanes -- horrified cyclists and public transport fans alike. Ms Genter was one of them.

But Mr Bridges says it's worked just fine in Norway.

"Norway's experience in relation to allowing EVs in bus lanes and high-occupancy lanes was crucial in persuading me we should allow the same in New Zealand. Now, I've copped some flak for that from public transport interests who think it clogs up the bus and high occupancy lanes, but it's also been incredibly effective -- probably the single most-effective non-financial policy to ratcheting up the number of electric vehicles in Norway."

Ms Genter's other concern is that letting cars into bus lanes will slow them down, making public transport even less attractive.

"The best solution is to make it easier for people to get around without having to own a car by bringing our public transport up to scratch and making it safer to cycle and walk for short distances."

Mr Bridges doesn't even see the need to set a deadline -- whether it's 2025, 2030 or whatever -- because manufacturers know which way the market's heading.

"Vehicle manufacturers all now have electric vehicle strategies -- they are all moving into them in a big way -- and there will come a time when firstly they produce more low-emission vehicles than petrol ones, and after that they'll phase them out. This is a considered phasing, rather than one day it's legal, one day it isn't approach."

The one date Mr Bridges has set is 2021, by which the Government wants to have at least 64,000 electric vehicles on the road.

"My clear view is EVs are the cars of the future."