Transport agency tipped off about over 200 possible breaches of Clean Car Discount from 51 dealers

Figures supplied on Friday showed dealers made up a higher proportion of rebate claims than usual in December.
Figures supplied on Friday showed dealers made up a higher proportion of rebate claims than usual in December. Photo credit: Getty Images

By Eloise Gibson of RNZ

The transport agency has been asked to investigate further alleged abuses of the now-scrapped Clean Car Discount, this time over possible breaches covering 231 vehicles across 51 dealers.

An anonymous complainant supplied the agency with details of vehicles they said were wrongly advertised for sale by car dealers who had claimed rebates themselves, by promising to keep the cars for their own use for 90 days.

Dealers were allowed to claim EV rebates for cars they registered to themselves, but only if they signed a statutory declaration saying they would use the vehicle as a company car, courtesy car or demonstration vehicle for at least three months.

Many cars registered in dealers' names in December would still be within the no-sell period now.

RNZ understands Waka Kotahi/New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) looked into the tip-off and confirmed to the complainant's representative that staff believed six of the listings were in breach.

The agency did not clarify why it believed the other instances did not breach rules.

Waka Kotahi would not comment on the complaint, saying only that it was "committed to investigating any alleged abuses of the Clean Car Discount scheme, and taking appropriate [action] where any breaches are established".

"We are currently investigating a small number of alleged breaches - we're not in a position to comment on the detail of those investigations while they are underway," it said in an email.

After asking questions of Waka Kotahi, RNZ also received a statement from Transport Minister Simeon Brown addressing alleged abuses of the scheme.

"I have made it clear to NZTA that I expect them to undertake investigation and enforcement action where there has been any alleged abuse of the scheme," he said.

"I have asked NZTA to provide me with regular updates on their enforcement action to claw back any money that has ended up with individuals who were ineligible for the subsidy."

The latest development comes after RNZ revealed a man shopping around for EVs had complained to NZTA that he was offered a vehicle by a dealer who said they had claimed the rebate on the vehicle in late December, and was willing to pass the subsidy on to him by offering a lower price. That was in February and within the 90-day period.

NZTA is still looking into that complaint.

The man, who did not want to be named, supplied RNZ with a text exchange where a car dealer offered to discount a vehicle by the amount of the subsidy, saying the vehicle had been registered in December to claim the discount. He said the dealer assured him he was allowed to do that.

"It really rung an alarm bell with me," he said.

"If they've said this to me once, how many other vehicles have they got there?"

At the time, the agency told RNZ that complaint was the only one it had received.

Both dealers and individual buyers rushed to take advantage of the rebates in December, the final month for claiming them, after the incoming government announced it was canning payments of up to $7000 each for electric vehicles.

Figures supplied on Friday showed dealers made up a higher proportion of rebate claims than usual in December.

Previously released figures showed almost a fifth of government subsidies claimed for electric vehicles during the final month of the Clean Car Discount were paid to car yards, not individual buyers.

More than 10,000 subsidies in total were paid out on vehicles registered in December: 1906 to car dealers for company cars, compared with 8488 payments to individual purchasers.

On Friday, Waka Kotahi supplied RNZ with figures showing the proportion of car dealer rebates in December was almost twice the the average ratio over the life of the scheme.

Over the duration of the scheme, just over 192,000 rebates were paid. Of those, 21,000 were to dealers - a little over a tenth.

EV registrations plunged in January.

From March, dealers will be able to legally sell cars they claimed rebates on under their own names in December, with the date this becomes legal depending on the date of registration.

RNZ earlier asked Waka Kotahi if it was checking whether vehicles registered to car yards were on-sold and registered to a new buyer within three months.

The agency said it "actively monitors the change of registered person transactions on applications submitted by dealerships within 90 days".