'Car Tsar': National, ACT pile onto Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern over 'legitimate use' of utes comments

Opposition MPs are piling onto Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after she suggested there were "legitimate" uses for utes, amid debate over the electric car incentive scheme. 

National MPs have been posting images of Labour MPs in utes, asking if they're being used for "legitimate" purposes, while ACT leader David Seymour has dubbed the Prime Minister "Car Tsar Ardern".

It came after Ardern revealed on Wednesday that the Government considered exempting utes from financial penalties in the electric car (EV) incentive scheme - but ended up ruling it out. 

"We gave them really strong consideration and we're very genuine in that, because we recognise that there wasn't an alternative in the market right now," Ardern told reporters. 

"We did discuss that because we recognised that there is a lag in the technology right now. But after discussing it, debating it and working it through, it was going to be very difficult to operationalise.

"A large number of those buyers of those vehicles are not using them for the legitimate use as those who work in the primary sector and the trades."

In a bid to increase the uptake of EVs, the Government will give rebates or discounts of up to $8625 for newly imported electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles from July 1. Used EVs will fetch discounts of up to $3450. 

The discounts will only apply to vehicles below $80,000 and the vehicle must have a three-star safety rating. The second-hand market will not be impacted.

It came off the back of the Climate Change Commission's final advice to the Government last week. To meet the Zero Carbon Act's emissions targets, it said New Zealand must stop importing petrol vehicles by 2035, since transport makes up almost 33 percent of emissions. 

But the Government has come under fire from farmers and tradies who say the EV incentive scheme is an unfair tax on them as no electric alternatives are available for their work vehicles.  

National leader Judith Collins said Ardern was "dancing on the head of a gear stick" with her "absurd claim" that the Government couldn't operationalise an exemption for farmers and tradies from the scheme. 

"If the Prime Minister doesn't have the power to step in and demand that farmers and tradespeople be spared from Labour's unfair car tax then who can?"

National MPs, including Simeon Brown, Chris Bishop and Joseph Mooney, have posted images of Ardern in Labour MP Kieran McAnulty's ute, as well as Labour MP Stuart Nash standing by his ute. 

"I wonder if this ute is being used 'legitimately' according to the PM?" Brown captioned an image of Nash posing next to his ute. 

Collins posted a depiction of a small electric car towing a trailer, with the text: "Labour's idea of towing the trailer."

Collins captioned the image: "A little life hack for all the Kiwis who'll get slapped with a Car Tax because the PM doesn't think they have a 'legitimate' use for their utes."

Seymour said Ardern should exempt utes from the policy. 

"Ardern has also assumed the role of Car Tsar and is now telling New Zealanders what a 'legitimate' use for a ute is," he said, 'tsar' being the Russian term for emperor. 

"This shows an out of touch Prime Minister wandering into the territory of straight out arrogance. Far beyond reducing emissions, she now believes it is her job to tell New Zealanders what the legitimate use of a ute is."

Seymour also criticised Ardern for telling The AM Show on Monday that Toyota was looking to deliver EV utes within 12 to 24 months. 

Toyota NZ chief executive Neeraj Lala confirmed the company had no such plans, and said it was "irresponsible to suggest that customers stop buying non-electric vehicles immediately until there is an electric option available".

"Did she block an exemption for utes because she wrongly believed electric utes would become available?" Seymour queried. "If so, she should reverse her decision."

Ardern stood by her remarks.

"My point was that there are alternatives that will not attract fees that are being promoted as in the pipeline by manufacturers."