Clean Car Discount: Government hopes higher-emitting vehicle fee increase will get Aucklanders out of utes - Carmel Sepuloni

The Government is slapping higher fees on higher-emitting vehicles to dissuade people from "driving around with utes in Auckland", Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni says.

It was revealed by Newshub on Monday the Government was poised to announce major changes to the Clean Car Discount scheme. 

Those changes, including increases in fees paid by higher-emitting vehicles such as utes, were confirmed on Tuesday morning.

The Government is also giving out a higher rebate for hybrid or electric vehicles. Low-emitting petrol cars, however, were now ineligible.

Transport Minister Michael Wood said it's estimated the Clean Car Discount will save New Zealand from importing 1.4 billion litres of petrol. At current prices, the economy will save an average of $325 million a year on fuel, out to 2035, Wood said.

Sepuloni, responding to questions about the changes and how they would impact the rural sector, told AM on Tuesday there were also people in urban New Zealand driving utes.

"There's also a number of New Zealanders - and we see a lot of these in Auckland, too - who are driving around with utes in Auckland where they're not necessarily needed for practical reasons. Sometimes they are but they're not necessary and, hopefully, this will actually persuade them to move to electric vehicles."

The maximum charges high-emitting vehicles will now be slapped with is $6900 for new and $3450 for used, the NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi said.

Sepuloni believed the changes are "really important" due to the significant uptake of electric vehicles.

More than 100,000 Kiwis had taken advantage of the rebate before the changes were announced on Tuesday.

But National's Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown, echoing fellow right-bloc party ACT, said it was "a kick in the guts for our farmers and tradies who rely on utes for their jobs".

"Now those farmers and tradies will have to pay even more for Labour's failed policies with higher penalties on utes and light commercial vehicles."

Brown questioned whether the scheme was a "bread and butter issue", referring to what Chris Hipkins promised to focus on soon after becoming Prime Minister.

"Chris Hipkins says his Government is focussed on 'the basics', yet Labour will continue subsidising wealthy people to buy Teslas while increasing taxes on our farmers and tradies," he said.

"National will axe Labour's ute tax, end subsidies for people buying Teslas and work with the vehicle importation industry to put in place sensible long-term policies which reduce our emissions while allowing Kiwis to continue getting the vehicles they need."

It was a view shared by ACT leader David Seymour who called it “one of Labour’s dumbest policies”. 

“Making cheap, reliable cars more expensive for tradies and farmers in a cost of living crisis for no environmental gain will go down as one of Labour's dumbest policies.

"In reality, Labour doesn't give a stuff about the tradies, farmers and working New Zealanders who are doing it tough."

However, Sepuloni said the scheme was "hugely" helping New Zealand with its carbon emission reductions.

"Keep in mind, [the fee is] not for existing vehicles... and so people are not buying a new ute on an annual basis," she told AM host Ryan Bridge, when asked why farmers have to pay more.

"It's not an expense that they can expect to have to endure in an ongoing way and so it is a one-off when they buy a new ute, and it's the way we designed this scheme so we could pay for subsidising electric vehicles so we could encourage the take-up.

"Certainly, there are farmers, tradies... they're more likely to use utes because of the need for their type of work and we understand that. We're hoping, moving forward, that the technology will improve... in such a way that, perhaps down the track - it's not unrealistic to expect this - that electric vehicles may be able to be used by those that currently have to use utes."