Judith Collins says while she has a lot of fun in an electric vehicle, she isn't a tradesperson who needs to "have a big vehicle with a whole lot of tools in it".
It comes in response to a new Government scheme offering discounts on some new electric vehicles (EVs), but which also puts a fee on new high-emission vehicles - like utes - frequently used by tradespeople.
On Sunday, Transport Minister Michael Wood and Climate Change Minister James Shaw announced a clean car package intended to increase the uptake of low emission vehicles and drive down emissions.
Central to the package is a rebate scheme that from July will offer discounts of up to $8625 for newly imported electric vehicles and $3450 for used EV cars. The discounts only apply to vehicles below $80,000 and it must have a three-star safety rating.
On the flip side, to pay for the rebate, from January 2022 the Government's introducing a fee on new high-emitting vehicles, such as utes. That's led to backlash from Kiwis in some sectors - like tradespeople and farmers - who need those vehicles for work and have few alternatives.
National's vehemently opposed to the scheme, promising to repeal what it is labelling a "car tax". Collins is worried about limited public consultation and the impact on those who need larger vehicles.
"We are not going to tax ute drivers and the people of south Auckland to pay for people who want to have an EV," she told The AM Show on Wednesday.
"It simply does not stack up in terms of emissions or anything else. What it doesn't do too, the Government has specifically included one of the better technologies we should be looking at, which is the hydrogen fuel, because that would actually deal with quite a lot of the big trucks. They should be doing more on that."
She said there are currently several problems with EVs, such as battery life, but enjoys driving hers around.
"I actually drive one a lot in Auckland. That is part of the deal when you are Leader of the Opposition. You get one of these provided for you… I like the EV. It's very fun," she told The AM Show.
"The problem, of course, is that I don't have to fill my car with tradesman's tools, I am not a vet working on farms, I am not someone who really does need to have a big vehicle with a whole lot of tools in it."
Collins personally owns a BMW 7 Series 750i, a "big car" which she describes as "very comfortable".
To incentivise the uptake of EVs, National would remove them from the fringe benefit tax "which would really encourage businesses to buy fleets which then gives you the second-hand market".
Last December, the Government announced it would require the public sector to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. To help with that, it mandated Government agencies to purchase EV or hybrids. At the time, the Department of Internal Affairs said 40 percent of the Crown fleet were "electric-capable vehicles".
The rebate scheme comes off the back of the Climate Change Commission's advice last week that to meet its Zero Carbon Act's emissions targets, New Zealand needs to stop importing petrol vehicles by 2035.
Wood said on Sunday that transport emissions are the fastest-growing source of greenhouse emissions in New Zealand.
"New Zealand is actually lagging behind on the uptake of EVs, so we are playing catch up internationally," he said. "Our monthly registrations of EVs are around half the global average and sales are well below the 50 percent of monthly sales seen in some European countries.
"We’ve already committed to policies that will make a difference, like the Clean Car Import Standard, decarbonising the public transport bus fleet and revitalising rail, but we have to do more.
"A discount on electric, hybrid and low emission vehicles funded from a fee on higher emitting ones is the best policy to increase low emissions vehicle uptake in New Zealand."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged on Monday that the electric vehicle market isn't meeting the needs of those wanting to purchase utes, but reiterated that the second-hand market won't be affected by the tax. That means Kiwis can still purchase pre-owned, higher-emission vehicles already in New Zealand without being affected by the fee.
"Eight out of 10 of the most popular imported used vehicles will either have no impact, or will receive a discount as a result of the policy. So for those who say it will have a negative effect on lower-income families, that's what I would point to," she added.
Ardern said Toyota was talking about bringing EV utes to New Zealand, so "people might delay their purchase in order to start building the market".