Why is Government dragging its wheels on electric cars?

On the campaign trail, Jacinda Ardern claimed climate change was her generation's "nuclear-free moment".

But nearly two years on, her Government has yet to take one of the most obvious steps to cut New Zealand's emissions.

"Electric vehicles [EVs] can reduce New Zealand's emissions profile more than nearly anything else," says Mark Gilbert, chair of lobby group Drive Electric.

"There have been promises made, dates quoted and not met. This is meant to be the delivery year and still nothing."

The Productivity Commission has said 80 percent of car imports will need to be electric by 2030, and nearly all New Zealand's fleet by 2050, if we're to meet our climate targets.

In 2018 just 1.7 percent of imports were electric, and they currently make up just 0.3 percent of our fleet.

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter and Climate Change Minister James Shaw, both from the Green Party, are responsible for developing the Government's EV strategy. Both spent 2018 promising an EV strategy would be released by September of that year, but now they won't even say if it will be released in 2019.

When asked by Newshub Nation whether the deadline could be met in months, or even next year, Shaw replied: "I couldn't tell you."

So, why the hold-up?

"There are things we could do pretty quickly, but they could have a negative effect on low-income households," says Shaw.

What Shaw is referring to is a feebate scheme where a levy on petrol and diesel vehicles is used to subsidise electric vehicles.

"You can imagine, for example, a poor Mangere family without great public transport options, quite a long way out of town, really does rely on their petrol vehicle and doesn't have the money to go electric because the up-front purchase cost is so high," he says.

"They're in a position where they're going to be buying a cheap second-hand car and at the moment their only option is a combustion engine vehicle.

"So we're mindful that any transition has to be of equal or greater benefit for people who are in those circumstances, as well as urban middle-class families with choices."

Other countries like Norway use tax incentives to encourage EV uptake. Drive Electric has suggested that adjusting the Fringe Benefit Tax or GST could boost the number of EVs in company fleets.

"Companies roll their fleets every two to three years so these vehicles will quickly end up in the second-hand market, which will make them more accessible," says Gilbert.

However, the 2019 budget put no money toward encouraging electric car uptake, and with the Productivity Commission's first target 10 years away, it raises the question of whether New Zealand is in line to miss its targets.

Why is Government dragging its wheels on electric cars?
Photo credit: Newshub Nation.

"I think it is achievable," says Shaw, "but in a non-linear way."

"The uptake of electric vehicles has actually been exponential and that will steepen over time."

Some businesses are ploughing ahead regardless: Meridian Energy has already transitioned half of its fleet to electric and will hit 75 percent by July.

"We want to have a fully electrified fleet across all of our sites and assets at the latest by 2030, I think we'll easily get there by 2025," says Nick Robilliard, Meridian's fleet manager.

"The best thing the Government can do is continue working on different incentives.

"Certainly a feebate system and scheme, introduced in a modest way and progressively managed over time I think is a sensible, fiscally responsible sort of way that they could do it."

Auckland EV owner Russell Baillie is the proud owner of a Nissan Leaf.

"It's the best car I've ever owned," he says.

The Baillie family has gone all-out to improve its environmental footprint. Their house is incredibly energy-efficient, designed to capture heat during the day and retain it at night, with no heating required during the winter.

It is also powered by solar panels and has its own battery storage and even a green roof.

But it's the electric car making the biggest difference to the Baillies' emissions profile, and with the Government dragging its wheels, more people like them are going to have to lead the way.

Newshub Nation.

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