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Car Talk By Jack Biddle

Is the balance right or is there an open license to create more congestion and compromise safety on our roads?

Last month we covered the introduction of the government’s Clean Car Discount scheme. It was all about helping New Zealand achieve its goal to be carbon neutral by making zero and low emission vehicles more affordable. And judging by recent sales numbers, the offer of a rebate for qualifying fully electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, petrol hybrids and some petrol only vehicles, has seen the motoring public buy into the programme with some gusto.

New vehicle registrations for March this year, for example, saw the Tesla Model 3 (fully electric) reaching the top spot when it came to passenger vehicle sales (949 units). Overall the March new vehicle sales of 21,044 vehicles were the strongest for any month of the year ever, a massive 4,374 units over the previous best month which was back in October 2018.

But while there was a continuing swing toward some form of electrification of our fleet, the sales for March were actually totally dominated by the largest ever monthly registrations for light commercial diesel vehicles. This was mainly because buyers rushed to avoid paying the fees for high CO2 emitting vehicles which kicked in on 1 April.

What these figures tend to tell us, however, is there is still a huge demand for light commercial diesel vehicles in New Zealand. The top three models for the month of March were all diesel utes with the Mitsubishi Triton (2,266) the best seller, followed by the Ford Ranger (1,933) and Toyota Hilux (1,580). Regardless of the rush to beat paying a fee, this trend has been with us for several years now.

No doubt many of those ute sales are fit for purpose while others are for owners who simply prefer ownership of a truck over an SUV, wagon or sedan. And if recent reports are anything to go by, the physical size of some utes coming to our market in the near future is only going to get bigger.

It’s a trend that is showing little sign of slowing, with the race now on to bring to market utes with some form of electrification. Even our prime minister was quick to say, when the Clean Car Discount scheme was announced, that paying a fee was a short term pain for ute owners as we would soon see these vehicles fall into line and be offered with some form of emission reduction alternatives. She was quickly pulled up by some of the new vehicle distributors at the time for being a little trigger happy, but they did concede those wheels are definitely turning.

So it seems the current government is okay with large, heavy and potentially dangerous vehicles continuing on our roads in large numbers as long as they meet their aim of reducing unwanted CO2 emissions. If the Clean Car Discount scheme continues into the future, then there is a possibility these sorts of vehicles may even qualify for some sort of rebate.

If you haven’t already noticed, the fully electric passenger cars like the Tesla and Hyundai IONIQ 5 aren’t that small either, which means our inner-city roads especially are potentially going to become even more congested and become a bigger threat to those driving smaller vehicles as well as pedestrians and cyclists.

One wonders if the government ever considered a rebate or fee scheme based around the weight and size of a vehicle. Surely what our bigger cities especially need are a fleet of small, fuel efficient and/ or electrified vehicles to share the roads with other forms of transport. Is it not better to retain small, fuel efficient petrol-powered cars rather than simply incentivising the motoring public to purchase vehicles that simply tick a box of supposedly delivering environmentally cleaner mobility and that’s about all?

Isn’t it only fair that a reasonably large and heavy fully electric vehicle pays its way based on weight and size even if it means incurring a fee instead of receiving a rebate at time of sale? That way the playing field is a lot more even and consideration is given to reducing the current trend toward larger vehicles that are not fit for purpose whether they be electrified or not.

It wouldn’t take long to see a lot more practical small to mid-size vehicles hit our shores either if the rules were slanted more toward size and weight.

Getting that balance right is critical, or has the horse already bolted is the big question?

Pictured is the Mitsubishi Triton ute was the best-selling vehicle in New Zealand in March 2022.