New Zealand EV Market Seeks New Normal — Dips to 4.1%

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Is it too early to tell where the New Zealand electric vehicle market will settle in the medium to long term? I hope so, as the figures from February are slightly worse than those of January 2024. We are still waiting for a recovery from changes in government policy.

James from EVdb describes the February numbers as “subdued,” at around 4.1% of all light vehicles. The sedan market was more encouraging at 8.9% penetration. We need more electric utes! This penetration rate is much lower than the 2023 average of a little over 27%.

747 plug-in vehicles were added to the New Zealand fleet in February 2024, 482 BEVs (double January’s numbers) and 265 PHEVs (about the same as in January). That’s out of a total of 18,094 light vehicles (again, double January’s numbers). EV numbers are increasing, but not at the same rate as the fossil fuelled portion of the market.

It looks like Jacinda Ardern’s plan to make New Zealand the Norway of the Pacific is suffering a setback. Government policy does make a difference. James tells us that, “As of the end of February 2024, there are over 73,000 fully electric light vehicles (plus almost 31,000 plug-in hybrids)” on New Zealand roads. Plug-in vehicles now make up a little over 2% of the on-road fleet. He calls the end of the clean car discount, coupled with the introduction of the Road User Charge, a “one, two punch” that signals to the market “buying an EV is a dumb idea.” As such, it may take more than a quarter to ascertain the new normal in the NZ EV market.

Although still low, this level of fleet penetration is leading to a call for more mechanics trained to work with electric vehicles. Who do you call if your EV has a problem? A mechanic, an electrician, or a software engineer? As EVs age, there will be a need to expand on the skills of those called to repair them.

Martin Grzelka, an electric vehicle training consultant working with dealerships in New Zealand, tells us: “If someone is not well trained on the technology, the technician doesn’t really know what to look for and how to diagnose certain things as technology has changed, the misdiagnosis can be a costly thing.”

My thoughts are that plug-less hybrids have been available for the past 20 years and the skills in repairing them should be transferable to BEVs and certainly to PHEVs. All training needs to be current with both the new and the old technology — this is not just an issue with EVs.

The top 10 best selling battery electric vehicles sold in New Zealand in February 2024 were:

  1. Tesla Model Y (145 — year to date, 170)
  2. BYD Atto 3 (23 — year to date, 28)
  3. Ford Mustang Mach-e (20 — year to date, 29)
  4. Kia EV6 (17 — year to date, 19)
  5. Audi e-tron GT (14 — year to date, 14)
  6. BYD Seal (13 — year to date, 43)
  7. Hyundai Ioniq 5 (12 — year to date, 14)
  8. MG4 (12 — year to date, 24)
  9. Kia EV9 (9 — year to date, 17)
  10. Toyota BZ4X (9 — year to date, 32)

BMW seems to have fallen off the chart, as has the Subaru Solterra (only selling 6 units last month). I would expect the chart above to reflect New Zealand’s EV imports more truthfully than January’s top 10 figures. BYD’s numbers should pick up, especially as more units of the “affordable” Dolphin arrive — only one sold in February.

New Zealand has robust used car import industry, with 90 used EVs imported. Nissan Leaf numbers doubled month on month. Used BEVs are not included in the top ten figures above, but they are as follows: 69 Nissan Leafs; 5 Tesla Model S; 3 Peugeot 2008; 2 Tesla Model X; 2 Nissan e-NV200; 2 Nissan Sakura; 2 Audi e-tron; 2 Jaguar i-PACE; 1 Renault Zoe; 1 Mazda MX30; 1 Peugeot e-208. No hydrogen cars were sold.

The podium is occupied by the usual suspects, with the gold going to Tesla, the silver to BYD, and the bronze to Kia. As in the global race, the challenge is to fill the third spot. Tesla has a commanding lead with 42% market share, BYD lags behind this month with 10%, and Kia is nipping at its heels with 8% market share.

The 8 top selling plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) in February 2024 were:

  1. Mitsubishi Outlander (42 — year to date, 52)
  2. Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross (22 — year to date, 40)
  3. Mini Countryman (16 — year to date, 30)
  4. Porsche Cayenne (12 — year to date, 36)
  5. Land Rover Defender (8 — year to date, 21)
  6. Lexus NX (7 — year to date, 15)
  7. Volkswagen Tuareg (6 — year to date, 20)
  8. BMW X3 — 6

Mini has gone back to December figures. And for those who need to know, there was one Bentley Flying Spur PHEV sold. The Bentley comes with the option of a PHEV incorporating a 2.9 litre V6 engine. If you need to ask the price, you clearly cannot afford it! In February, 1890 (this a number, not a year!) plug-less hybrids took 32% of the New Zealand market, mainly Toyota RAV4s. It is worth noting that Toyota only sold 39 units that ran on petrol alone and 97 on diesel. HEVs are doing their part to reduce dependence on imported oil. Petrol-only vehicles took 49% of the market, and diesel 11%.

The majority of discussion on the NZ EV Facebook page has been about the introduction of the road user charge (starts April 1st — no, not a joke, it really does!).

A review of the road user charge (RUC) by a NZ select committee has come to these conclusions:

Re: plug-in hybrid EVs: “The majority of us consider that a 30% reduction of the RUC rate effectively accounts for any additional costs in fuel excise duty.”

Re: the rate for EVs: “We understand that very efficient vehicles pay less than their fair share. We do not believe that amendments to the bill can address the underpayment by efficient petrol vehicles. We think that the way to do so is to move as quickly as possible to a system where all vehicles pay RUC based on distance and vehicle weight.”

Re: the impact on climate & EV uptake: “The RUC Act 2012 is not intended to encourage a transition to any particular fuel. In addition, we think that the comparably low rate paid by efficient petrol vehicles is the primary cause of any distortion.”

I agree — distance and weight should be the considerations and the RUC should apply to all vehicles. In broader news: severe weather events, fuelled by climate charge, are causing an estimated NZ$1.7 billion in damage to NZ roads — discouraging EV uptake will not help. The road user charge will not fund it. Governments need to seek better solutions.

Rewiring New Zealand has produced a report (available here) with some great graphs demonstrating the total cost of ownership advantage of electric cars charged at home.

Good news: Tesla is building a new showroom in Auckland and is seeking more staff to enable its expansion. More good news: earlier this month, as part of an article about Australia’s EV penetration, I included a photo of a petrol tank blocking chargers in a NZ national park. Readers will be glad to know that the tank has now gone — but in a strange twist of fate, so have the chargers. Perhaps collateral damage in construction?

In NZ, a replacement petrol tank was stored in front of the EV chargers at a national park. Photo courtesy of Darren Dempsey.

In a year of competing narratives, it is a case of wait for the dust to settle and seek data. Is the uptake of EVs slowing? In NZ, yes. Globally, no. Some are rubbing their hands and saying: “Told you so — just an expensive gimmick!” I am taking a global view and awaiting the data as it is revealed.

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