National accuses the Government of subsidising unsafe cars in its 'clean car' policy

National is accusing the Government of subsidising unsafe cars as part of its proposed 'clean car' policy on electric vehicles (EVs).

The latest car safety advertisement from the New Zealand Transport Agency features small cars they label unsafe in a crash - some of which the Government says would be discounted under its proposed scheme. 

Under the proposal, vehicles that emit over 250 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre (CO2/km) would be considered heavy polluters so importing those vehicles would come with a financial penalty of up to $3000.

On the flip side, new imported smaller vehicles that produce zero emissions - like the Hyundai Ioniq - would be eligible for a discount of up to $8000, while used zero-emission cars would get $2600 off. Low-emission cars such as the Mazda Demio would also be discounted but the subsidy would be at a lower rate.

"We're making three-quarters of NZ's most popular cars cheaper".
"We're making three-quarters of NZ's most popular cars cheaper". Photo credit: Supplied

The Labour Party made up an advertisement with examples of some of the cars which would be discounted. 

Newshub checked the safety ratings of the cars advertised by Labour in the scheme.

It features a new model Suzuki Swift which has a 5 star rating, as does the Toyota Prius - so they're considered safe.

But cars like the Honda Fit and Toyota Vitz scored poorly with just two stars. The Mazda Demio scored even lower, with a one star safety rating. Older models of the featured cars also have low ratings.

Older Swifts are also unsafe. The official Used Car Safety Ratings gives Swifts manufactured between 2005 and 2010 two stars, while the 2011-2016 model gets just one. A recent report even recommended banning them.

National leader Simon Bridges says the Government has been sending mixed messages saying these cars are unsafe while also saying we should subsidise them.

 "This Government is completely all over the place when it comes to EVs and small cars," he said. 

But Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter, who led the proposed 'clean car' policy tipped for 2021, told Newshub Bridges was wrong.  

"No unsafe cars are going to be brought in and subsidised under this scheme."

She said by the time the scheme begins the vehicles imported will be newer models than those currently being advertised by Labour and the Government - and the new models will be safer. 

"We want vehicles that are safe and better for the climate - and we can have both," she said.

"We have to have both - we don't want unsafe cars on our roads and we don't want cars that are going to destroy the planet on the road."

National has also accused the scheme of being a "tax grab" saying figures from the Ministry of Transport show more money will come in from the penalties on heavy emissions vehicles than will be paid out to those buying cleaner cars. 

"This is a sneaky tax grab at the expense of New Zealanders' safety," he said

Again, the minister says he's wrong. Genter promised every single dollar that comes in through the scheme will go back into it - the discount rates will be flexible. 

What that means is, if Kiwis dig-in and keep buying heavy emission vehicles, all the extra money will go towards discounts for EVs and low emission cars - the subsidies will be boosted the following year to chew through the extra cash.

Genter said Bridges "did nothing" to reduce carbon pollution while he was Transport Minister. She said roads deaths increased by 50 percent under his watch.

"I think the National Party is desperately spinning and trying to scaremonger about a policy that they don't understand because they don't have any solutions for climate change."