Christopher Luxon misspoke by saying National would keep Government's EV discount scheme, party says

National says leader Christopher Luxon misspoke when he told AM the party would "keep the Clean Car Discount", the Government rebate policy it's previously criticised. 

The comment prompted a press release from Michael Wood with his Labour transport spokesperson hat on, welcoming National's "U-turn". 

But a National spokesperson has since confirmed to Newshub Luxon misspoke and meant to say the party supported the Clean Car Standard.

Speaking to AM on Wednesday morning, Luxon responded to attacks by Labour over National's climate policy. 

During his remarks, the party leader suggested National was in favour of keeping the Clean Car Discount, the scheme which provides a rebate of up to $8625 for low and zero-emission imports, funded by a fee on some high-emitting vehicles. 

National has previously blasted the policy as a "car tax", arguing it provides a discount for people to buy expensive electric vehicles, like Teslas, by taxing farmers and tradies who need high-emitting vehicles, like utes, for their job.

"We have got a situation at the moment where we have got a Government that is taxing people with utes and there is no alternative and actually subsiding wealthy Tesla drivers by giving them subsidies," Luxon said on Wednesday.

"We think there would be a different way to do it. We would keep the Clean Car Discount and make sure we have low-emissions cars coming in."

A few hours later, Labour's transport spokesperson Wood released a statement saying Luxon had "seen the light" and done a "U-turn".

"It's great to see Christopher Luxon has finally figured out what the rest of New Zealand has known for some time, that the Clean Car Discount is helping Kiwis upgrade to cleaner, more environmentally friendly vehicles that save them money, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and ensures they can play an active role in cutting emissions and responding to the climate emergency."

Wood, who is the current Transport Minister, said National had previously "misrepresented" the policy as a "ute tax" and this "flip flop" showed the party is "all over the place with climate policy".

"Luxon continues to talk up the fact they signed the Paris Agreement, yet when questioned cannot point to a single action they will actually take to meet our obligations. He should tell us what else he would do to meet New Zealand's climate goals."

But a National spokesperson has confirmed Luxon misspoke and meant the Clean Car Standard.

The Clean Car Standard imposes carbon dioxide emission targets on importers to incentivise importing low-emission vehicles. 

National opposed legislation in February that established the standard, but the party's transport spokesperson Simeon Brown said on Wednesday that National does support the Clean Car Standard. 

"The Land Transport (Clean Vehicles) Amendment Bill legislated for both the Clean Car Standard and the Clean Car Discount. We opposed the legislation because we opposed the Clean Car Discount."

In response to Luxon's clarification, Wood tweeted: "This is now getting incredibly confusing."

"The Clean Car Standard is a key policy to support the importation of clean vehicles so National’s change to supporting it is welcome but why support that but now not the discount to consumers."

Newshub revealed last month the Government has paid out subsidies for 4233 Nissan Leafs through the Clean Car Discount, just ahead of 3852 Tesla Model 3 vehicles. However, $33 million has gone towards the Teslas, compared to $16 million for the cheaper Leafs.

"This is a reverse Robin Hood scheme. It's taking from people who don't have a choice about what kind of vehicles they drive like farmers and tradies and it's giving it to people who can afford to buy the expensive luxury vehicles like a Tesla," Brown said at the time.

The scheme was also found not to be revenue-neutral as expected. Newshub reported $62.8 million had been collected through the fee on high emitted, compared to $95 million paid out in subsidies. The Government is looking at a rebalanc but Wood said the scheme had still been an "outstanding success". 

"What the clean car discount has done over the last year has increased our intake of zero-emissions vehicles to one of the highest rates in the world."

He continued to praise it on Wednesday. 

"Across the programme we've supported Kiwis to purchase around 38,200 Daihatsus, Fords, Hondas, Hyundais, Mazdas, Mitsubishis, Nissans, Subarus, Suzukis, Toyotas, and Kias (79 percent of total vehicles), paying out over $113,000,000 (60 percent of the total rebates) on these vehicles.

"We need to make moves now to give Kiwi commuters more options – this has been brought into stark relief following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent impact on fuel prices."