'We're irrelevant, we're so small': Bridges says market should decide if electric vehicles take over, not Govt

Simon Bridges - fan of EVs, but doesn't want petrol cars banned either.
Simon Bridges - fan of EVs, but doesn't want petrol cars banned either. Photo credit: Getty Images

National MP Simon Bridges doesn't want the importing of petrol-fuelled cars banned, saying it will do nothing to force the transition to electric vehicles (EVs). 

The Climate Change Commission earlier this week recommended imports of new cars that run on fossil fuels should be banned in 2032, and used cars by 2035. The Government has the final say, and has a legal obligation to respond by the end of the year. 

"I'm all for EVs, I think they're fantastic," Bridges told The AM Show on Friday. "I think we should have incentives, I don't like tax though - I think they hurt the poorest. I think actually if you're a small business person in a van, you can't get an EV, right?"

Bridges has long pushed for more EVs. As Transport Minister in 2016, he set a goal that by 2021, New Zealand would have 64,000 of them on the roads. At the time there were barely 1000 - there's now 27,436.

There's been a slight uptick in new registrations this year, but there's still fewer than 1000 being registered each month - at the present rate it would take nearly 400 years to replace the existing fleet vehicles running on internal combustion engines. 

"Just about every country in the world realises that we're on a transition towards that outcome - it's a question of how long that transition takes," said Environment Minister David Parker, appearing with Bridges on The AM Show. "In the end, they're cheaper to run, there's no pollution, there's less noise. There's a lot of upside here."

While no decision has been made, Climate Change Minister James Shaw has hinted the Government may opt for a more ambitious schedule than the commission recommended. 

"I'm not a patient person and this has been a very long time coming," he told The AM Show on Thursday, noting that it would be Transport Minister Michael Wood who makes the final call, with Cabinet - which Shaw isn't a part of. "The longer we leave it the more expensive it gets and the harder it gets." 

Simon Bridges and David Parker.
Simon Bridges and David Parker. Photo credit: The AM Show

Bridges doesn't think it's necessary, saying the big car manufacturers will either make the switch, or they won't - New Zealand's import policies won't have an impact.

"I think the market is going to do it. Or it won't actually. We're irrelevant, we're so small. These big car manufacturers, either they'll get there and it will sort of happen, with a bit of help from the Government. But that's kind of it. I don't think a ban or anything's going to work."

Reacting to the report, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said climate change was a matter of "life or death" - but Bridges doesn't agree. 

"Climate change is hugely important, but I don't buy into this view that it's a crisis, we should be frightened. The PM said it's 'live or die' - I don't actually think that. They seem to have this view that you've got to have pain to have gain - I don't reckon that's right."

Many of the big car brands have already made moves to ditch fossil fuels, including Volvo, GM, Jaguar and Mini. But the commission's report noted at present, EVs on average cost about $16,000 more than traditional vehicles.

"They predict that in between five and 10 years the price will flip and new EVs will be cheaper than a new internal combustion engine [vehicle]," said Parker. 

He sought to alleviate fears that motorists would be forced to give up their petrol-powered cars, saying any that are already here when the ban comes into place would still be allowed to be driven and sold, as long as they keep working.

"They essentially get used until they're worn out, then they get recycled just as they do now... I don't think anyone's suggesting you won't have a second-hand market in petrol cars until they're worn out. Eventually there will be a transition."