Document dump: Greens lobbied against utes getting exemption in clean car incentive scheme

The Greens lobbied against utes getting an exemption in the clean car incentive scheme, a document dump has revealed. 

A Cabinet paper shows Greens co-leader and Climate Change Minister James Shaw was consulted on the scheme, which will target imported high-emission vehicles with fees while newly imported electric and hybrid vehicles will get discounts. 

Labour often consults with the Greens as part of their post-election cooperation agreement, under which Shaw, along with co-leader Marama Davidson, were given ministerial portfolios.

"The Green Party and the Minister of Climate Change are unconvinced of the rationale for exemptions for utes for farmers only and note biogenic agricultural emissions are already the only significant sector excluded from emissions pricing and hybrid and electric utes are likely to be available within 1-2 years," the paper says. 

"They consider costs of administering an exemption system that only covers a relatively small section of consumers, for that short period of time, are likely to outweigh any benefits."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed last month that the Government considered exempting utes from financial penalties in the 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," she said at the time

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

But high-emissions vehicles will attract a fee of up to $5175 for new vehicles, or $2875 for used imports. The second-hand market will not be impacted. 

The clean car discount will only apply to vehicles below $80,000 and the vehicle must have a three-star safety rating. 

Another Cabinet paper shows the Ministry of Transport and Waka Kotahi-NZ Transport Agency did not agree with giving utes an exemption, despite there being no clean alternative. It's suggested in the paper that ute drivers could afford the fee, described as "small". 

Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson.
Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"Unfortunately at this time there are no hybrid or fully electric utes available, though these are expected to arrive in the market within one to two years," the paper says. 

"While many utes are purchased for productive 'workhorse' use, the rapid acceleration of uptake shows they are commonly bought for lifestyle. Many popular utes now sell for over $60,000, suggesting buyers would not be greatly sensitive to a small fee.

"The proliferation of utes in New Zealand is incompatible with transport decarbonisation, until such time as low and zero emission utes are readily available."

The paper says ute lovers may consider SUVs and vans, given these are already available in hybrid and electric formats both in the new and used market. 

"However, drivers with genuine need for 4WD or open-tray format vehicles will have little ability to avoid paying a fee," it says. "A decision needs to be made on whether them paying a fee is considered an appropriate contribution to social costs, or whether some form of concession is justified."

The Ministry of Transport, Waka Kotahi and the Ministry for the Environment recommended that no concession be given because of the "considerable adverse environmental and health impacts". 

It's noted: "The Green Party has indicated they agree with this view."

Officials said ute and other high emission vehicle buyers would already receive a concession by default, given the fees don't kick in until 2022. 

A consideration was given to remove or reduce the fee on utes with the lowest emissions, or on utes bought by a farming business that meet strict sustainability criteria. But it's noted this would add "administrative complexity". 

In 2020, discussions were held on options for a limited concession for farm vehicles, led by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Waka Kotahi. But there was no suitable national register of farms held by MPI, Inland Revenue or the industry, nor a "suitable legal definition of a farmer". 

The document dump shows electric vehicle (EV) sales in New Zealand were around 7000 in 2019. In 2020, when plans to introduce a Clean Car Discount were trailed widely, this dropped to 5495, in part due to COVID-19.

Officials expect EV sales of around 7000 in 2021, but forecast that this could drop to 2020 levels if rebates are announced but not implemented, or double to 15,000 if rebates are introduced in July 2021.